Text of Letter to Corporate Leaders of Sony, Mattel, and Max Steel from Richard C. Birkel, Ph.D., NAMI Executive Director

Aug 28 2001

August 28, 2001

Howard Stringer
Chairman & CEO
Sony Corporation of America
550 Madison Avenue, 34th Floor
New York, New York 10022

Robert A. Eckert
Chairman & CEO
Mattel Inc.
333 Continental Blvd.
El Segundo CA 90245

Jeff Kline, Producer
Max Steel TV Series
Brookline Productions
8680 Hayden
Culver City, CA 90232

Dear Sirs:

I wish to raise very strong concern over products for which you are responsible that contradict the U.S. Surgeon General's call on the entertainment industry to help eliminate the stigma that surrounds mental illnesses.

NAMI, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, represents more than 220,000 families, each with a son, daughter, spouse, sibling or parent with a severe mental illness. In recent months we have received reports from parents appalled at the character "Psycho" featured in the Max Steel television series and sold as an action figure by Mattel. In addition, Sony is promoting hurtful, inaccurate, dehumanizing stigma about people with mental illnesses in connection with violent video games.

NAMI's Stigmabusters program previously has contacted you by telephone or fax with the following specific concerns:

  • The animated TV series Max Steel, with the enemy "Psycho," sends a wrongful message to children that people with mental illness are violent villains.
  • The Max Steel "Psycho" action figure, with an exploding head and "psychoblaster," marketed for ages four and up, equally promotes stigma among youngsters who need to learn that mental illnesses are brain disorders that require treatment like any other illness.
  • Sony's violent video game "Twisted Metal: Black" involves dark, threatening characters released from a mental institution. The game is an affront to people who, through no fault of their own, manage biologically based brain disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder. One in five Americans experience mental illness. Such games not only treat them with contempt, but also perpetuate the stigma that prevents people from getting help when they need it most and greatly impedes recoveries.

The insensitivity reflected in these products is especially disturbing in light of the fact that suicide is the third-leading cause of death among teenagers and young adults in the United States. Ninety percent of suicides are the result of mental illness. For children especially, taunts of "psycho" and other epitaphs can be the first barrier to saving lives.

Corporate irresponsibility of this nature in marketing products is not limited to the United States. In a global economy, the offensiveness is multiplied considerably. Mental illness knows no boundaries and exists as a primary concern of the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as NAMI's colleague organizations worldwide. Your products were subjects of concern at NAMI's recent annual convention in Washington, D.C., attended by representatives of 25 countries. I expect they also may contribute to discussions at the First International Conference to Reduce Stigma on September 2-3, 2001, in Leipzig, Germany.

In both the United States and abroad, your respective reputations are at risk.

NAMI hopes you will recognize a responsibility to the national and world community, as well as parental concerns. Please withdraw these products and pledge to avoid perpetuating stigma in the future. Please exercise your power responsibly as leaders in the entertainment industry.

Sincerely,

Richard Birkel, Ph.D.
Executive Director

 

cc:
Mel Harris
President & COO
Sony Pictures Entertainment

Bob Higgins
Senior Vice-President, Creative Affairs
Sony Films Family Entertainment

Matt Bousquette
President, Boys Entertainment
Mattel, Inc.