National Alliance on Mental Illness
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NAMI StigmaBuster Alert: August 27, 2005
Reader's Digest: That's Outrageous!
In the September 2005 issue, Reader's Digest columnist Michael Crowley ("That's Outrageous") calls for schools to fire incompetent teachers, but in doing so, disparages people with mental illness.
Wayne Brightly, a middle school teacher who flunked a state certification test twice, had a friend, Rubin Leitner, use a fake ID and take the test for him. Cheating is bad -- no argument there. But Crowley writes (p.39): "Even though Leitner was no Einstein -- he has a history of mental problems and had once been homeless -- he scored far better on the test than Brightly ever did."
No Einstein? Mental problems? Homelessness? Reader's Digest needs to know that intelligence has no relationship to mental illness or homelessness. People with mental illnesses who may become homeless are not stupid—nor does their medical condition reflect a lack of integrity.
Ask them to apologize. Send a message, including your full name, address, email address and daytime phone number.
You Said It (Letters)
Television: Humor vs. Stigma
Fall is the season when TV networks premiere new shows. One show we've been fighting since spring. Two others are tasteless. And another show is borderline and requires monitoring.
On September 1, Warner Brothers (Kids WB!) premieres the new cartoon series, Loonatics. NAMI StigmaBusters protested the show in March and June 2005. WB has stonewalled. Let's try again. Also send letters to local newspapers protesting the irresponsibility of a television network that "programs" kids with offensive slang that undermines the U.S. Surgeon General's call to end stigma.
The FX cable network recently unveiled Starved, advertised as "a shamefully funny comedy about splurging and purging." The National Eating Disorders Association says there is nothing funny about anorexia or bulimia. NAMI agrees. Support NEDA by contacting FX and the show's commercial sponsors.
John Landgraf, President and General Manager
It's not clear yet whether Crumbs will premiere in the fall or mid-season on ABC. But its plot line doesn't sound promising: "Estranged brothers Mitch and Jack Crumb reunite in their small hometown to deal with their mother Suzanne, who is being released from a psychiatric country club and has yet to discover that her ex-husband is about to have a baby with his new girlfriend." In a short video on its Web site, Mother Crumb (Jane Curtin) says about her discharge: "I could go home on Thursday, but the schizophrenics are performing Grease [that night]. There's only two of them, but they do all the parts. I couldn't miss it."
Advertising on Fox TV in advance of the premiere on September 14th (9:00 PM ET) has been offensive, but Head Cases, about two lawyers, one with anxiety disorder, the other with an "explosive" disorder, may still have the potential to become another Monk. When Monk first appeared, its premiere also rang stigma alarms. This year, it won a SAMHSA Voice Award.
Where does humor end and stigma begin? Right now, Headcases is borderline. NAMI is in contact with Fox TV raising concerns and they are talking with others. The network says the characters will be shown "gaining the upper hand on those who attempt to stigmatize them [and] triumphing over adversity." Ironically perhaps, actor Adam Goldberg, who appeared in A Beautiful Mind, is one of the show's stars.
NAMI will continue to monitor the show and raise concerns directly with the network. Please watch the premiere and tell us what you think.
Whether the show survives is another matter. It will be competing against ABC's Lost in the same time slot, as well as two other new shows: Criminal Minds on CBS and E-Ring on NBC. It may not be around long.
Stella March, National Coordinator