Thursday, August 4, 2011

Temporary Madness Hiatus

The Weekly Madness will be undergoing a temporary hiatus. My personal and professional life are both in upheaval right now - between preparing for another move and training for a new job, I am 100% completely swamped and sadly don't have the time and energy necessary to keep up my indignant rants. As soon as I stabilize a bit more, I will resume your regularly scheduled Madness. Should be a few more weeks.

Thanks for everything and hope to see you soon,
R

Saturday, July 23, 2011

"Positive Attitude" makes me Mad

Greetings, Citizens.

Today I want to talk to you about my Job Search, which is largely responsible for my repeated delays and cancellations over the last few weeks.

Now, Job Searching is depressing - everyone knows it - but that's not actually what I'm here to talk about today. I mean sure, it would be great if there were a less depressing way to do it than sending out 100 applications letters, hearing nothing from 95 of them, and hearing "no" from the other five after making time in your day to interview with them, but it's not really what I want to focus on. I want to focus on what to me is one of the most enraging parts of the Job Search process: Positive Attitude.

Virtually every single job posting you see, ANYWHERE, asks you to have a Positive Attitude, rendering the request redundant to begin with, so I'm already frustrated. But moving on: what is a positive attitude? Well, no one really seems to be able to agree on it, so now we're not only using a ubiquitous word, but also a meaningless one. Great. Still, I'm getting the subtle impression that my cynicism here is not falling under anyone's definition of "positive attitude," so now I feel ostracized for being skeptical about the completely arbitrary word choices of my company.

Basically, what "Positive Attitude" seems to mean is that you will do exactly what they tell you without thinking or complaining about ANYTHING, ever. Unless they ask you to think about it, of course.

Well, okay, this isn't terribly surprising; most jobs are like this, we know that, we begrudgingly accept it, and we go to work every day because we have to. Man, this really IS depressing, unless you're lucky enough to already think exactly like the company that hired you. But ultimately it's not really revolutionary enough to be discussed on The Weekly Madness; so why am I talking about it? I'm working up to something here - the grand daddy of all "positive attitude" schemes I've ever run into.

First point: if a company doesn't give you their name - or the name is something generic like "Integrity Enterprises" (randomly generated example) that yields several conflicting results when googled - do not interview with them. It is a scam. Even if it isn't a complete scam, it's probably a waste of your time in one way or another; let me tell you a little about my recent experience with such an interview, and why it made me so Mad.

I'm going to skip over the bulk of the agonizing of this interview, which was in an un-reschedulable group setting, filled with hyperactive self-proclaimed caffeine addicts (No, really?) that cussed and shouted and "didn't want to be the bad guy" and kept trying to get us all to leave by saying "some of you aren't going to make it, and you should just walk out right now - not to mention that the whole presentation was bookended with The Zohan, that Adam Sandler flick about an Israeli super-soldier becoming a hair dresser. This was to drive home that they "are not corporate America;" no, they like to have fun.

Don't get me wrong, I like to have fun too. But I don't really think an interview is the time to be having "fun," especially not when it's in the passive form of a movie screening. Really makes it seem to me like they're trying to make you forget what happened in the middle of the presentation by putting something ridiculous on either end. i.e, brainwashing us. But whatever - I do remember the middle of the presentation, as I practically stormed out when we got to it.

This was one of the MANY segments in our 2.5 hour group interview about how important it is to have a Positive Attitude. Now, I can handle your generic "positive attitude" where you are able to come into work and put a good face on it, especially for the customers, but are allowed to complain about things that suck on occasion. I mean, most companies, when they talk about "positive attitude," seem to mean that they just want to make sure they are hiring someone who can come in and do the work, even if they didn't have a great day/morning/whatever. Well, this is problematic; it definitely discriminates against people with profound depression; but from a purely business standpoint, it kinda makes sense. You want to hire someone who can work efficiently on a day-to-day basis.

My point being, I and many other Mad folk can handle this, more or less; especially if we're lucky enough to get a boss or coworkers that like to complain along with us on occasion. But that is not the kind of "Positive Attitude" this job wanted. What this job wanted was stated in big bold letters: "If you don't focus on any of the bad stuff, then nothing bad ever happens!" I'm basically quoting here. This job is encouraging people not only to never speak of anything unpleasant at work, but to never even THINK about unpleasant things; moreover, they go so far as to demonize those who do as lazy, selfish, and unmotivated. Anyone who thinks about anything negative has a "bad attitude" and is not welcome.

It's interesting to hear this kind of talk from people who are constantly shouting at us (trying to "Git Excited!"), and constantly talking down to the "hypothetical" members of the audience who "weren't going to cut it," and insulting anyone who had a different approach to "attitude" than them. The speaker went so far as to liken a person's description of their weekend, which was full of trials, to "Bullshit, bullshit, bla bla bullshit." This person also went so far as to suggest that everyone has been through roughly the same amount of crap and so no one has a right to talk about theirs as being worth particular notice. She cited her divorce while being laid off as an example; truly, a tough situation, but not by any means the worst you could expect to encounter in the work environment. The lack of sympathy is absolutely astounding.

So, this woman who is talking to us about positive attitudes is an overly excited, overly judgmental, extremely callous-seeming person, whose supposed three children I find myself praying for their deliverance. My point being, her own attitude does not seem to be "good" at all - it is merely high-energy and completely conformist and without sympathy. But she gets to hype it up as "Positive," all other attitudes as "bad," and force an entire room of people to agree with her because we are all desperate for a job.

This is a problem. This is actively programming people to become a part of a cultural system that represses and oppresses even the most basic expression of feeling and analysis. I feel like even Psychiatry would generally hold that it is usually dangerous for a person to never even THINK about what has troubled them; and most psychologists would definitely uphold this point. The fact of the matter is that misery and suffering are part of the Sapient existence, and if we don't actively work to integrate those experiences into our beings, they linger and lurk and fester and turn into very ugly personalities.

Hmm, kind of like the person who was giving the presentation, it seems. To illustrate exactly what I'm talking about in a non-Mad context, I will tell you that this job was to be a manager of a fragrance wholesaler, and we were all asked about our favorite cologne/perfume. I told her that I don't wear any because it is bad for my throat as a performer, which is true: airborne scented oils in high concentrations are damaging to throat, and every little bit matters when you need to project to the rooftops. Her response to this was basically to make fun of me and then move on.

How is this a positive attitude? It sounds more like being a bully. Because, guess what, that's what she is. Why? Because she has zero sympathy anywhere in her body, because she consciously and willfully squelches all "negative" feelings in her until she is nothing but a whirling dynamo of action, caffeine, and thinly veiled hatred.

These people are so fake, caffeine basically is their personality, but they talk about how they love working at this job because they get to be "who they are," and if you like getting to be exactly who you are then you'll love it to. Except I'm not fake, I'm real, and that means that I have shit in my life that I might want to discuss with my coworkers on occasion, as I'm sure they want to discuss with me; it's called "Kvetching" in Yiddish, and it is a cultural concept of bonding over the act of shared contempt. And you know what? Everyone does it. For these people they probably do it more often over the most recent celebrity scandal, safely transplanting it out of their own lives, while also removing any shred of substance from the act. Fine, I don't want to Kvetch about Usher anyway.

I was surprised to hear back from this job after the interview that I had passed. I thought, surely my hatred for them most have been rolling off of me in waves. But apparently you can't detect such things when you have a "Positive Attitude." So I told them I wasn't interested because I like to be negative, it makes things more real, and finally got a pause out of their hyperactive chipmunk on crack routine. Don't think they'd ever heard THAT one before.

See the thing is, I can work in an environment where I have to pretend to be in a better mood than I am, but not an environment where I am never allowed to think a negative thought about anything of substance. Not only would this kill me to try, but I simply wouldn't last; I would crack in front of them and get canned in the middle of the training program, wasting tremendous amounts of time and effort for naught. But even if I could get through that, it really would be emotionally toxic to do so. And this is really the heart of what I'm getting at here: This monolithic "Positive Attitude" construct is BAD for people. Patently. It isn't just repressive to Mad culture, it actively cultivates very unhealthy cognitive and emotional patterns in everyone it touches, Mad or not. For the supremely chill it will probably hit them less hard, as they have the emotional privilege of not feeling as upset about things, but it will still stunt their emotional growth.

I'm not saying the workplace needs to be a place where we can process our deepest emotions. But we at least should be able to blow off some steam; otherwise we're just lying to each other the whole time. Which only makes it harder to feel okay about blowing off steam in any other context. It's hard enough as it is, "Positive Attitude" doesn't need to make it any worse.

Sound off if you're feeling me on this, Mad Ones.

Sincerely,
R

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Delayed Madness

Madness will be delayed this week. I hope to put something up this weekend but this night simply isn't conducive to good mental health. See you soon, citizens.

-R

Friday, July 15, 2011

Madness as the new "Other"

Greetings, Citizens.

Tonight, I present you with another potential re-hash of many old ideas in a new form. Hopefully it will stick in your craw in a new way and leave you inspired. It is derived from many of the ideas utilized in my theory on Marxism and Mental Illness. It is an exploration of the deployment of "Mental Illness" by the Status Quo as the new "other."

The fact of the matter is, the Status Quo has been demonizing an "other" as part of its standard operating procedure since the dawn of mankind. From women, to people from different countries, to people from different cities; heathens, Jews, Puritans, barbarians, you name it. There has always been a scapegoat for people to blame all of their problems on; some nebulous "other" who, by virtue of being "other," exist as a sort of barrier that defines, by exclusion, who the status quo "is." "We are (insert group name here), and we're not like (insert "other" name here); we're better than them." These days, we are finding less and less obvious cases of this kind of dichotomy, but that isn't because the behavior has gone away; it has merely taken on another aspect.

To be sure, this kind of bald-faced othering DOES still exist. In today's culture, 7/14/11, many Americans view Immigrants this way, as do they view people who are gay. The term "homosexual agenda" is testiment to this fear of the "other" and what "they" will do if allowed "their way." This fear is a principle ingredient in constituting a sense of identity for the Status Quo, by providing them a common enemy to unite against.

On a subtler level, we see the same thing take place with Mental Illness. We are the ultimate other; those of us with a mental illness have something about us that it is institutionally valid to fear, discriminate against and outright judge. You see, for many rational-thinkers, it is no longer sufficient to take part in the identity-forming fears of immigrants or gay people or Jews or pagans; such individuals are, more or less, institutionally justified. This does become a complicated issue of semantics, but the bottom line is, you're not SUPPOSED to judge those people any more. That's not "PC."

But it is "PC" to judge the Mentally Ill. Even if is not PC to judge them as "bad" (though it certainly is a common practice, especially in the media), it is definitely PC to judge them as unfit, unsound, and generally not worth the same amount of attention as a person who is not Mentally Ill. In short, a Mentally Ill person is a second class citizen, via official Psychiatric sanction.

Now, there may well be some people who fall under this classification who probably should be treated as second-class citizens; vicious murderers and worse, people with absolutely no moral backbone and no hope for redemption. But this is just one type of person found under the category of "mentally ill," along with individuals like myself, and even milder-mannered people who simply have "depression." People who are doing their best to be good, who care about goodness, who feel they care about it more than anyone else around them. But despite this, our cries go unanswered, or dismissed as "mentally ill."

Whenever medical personnel agree with me, I am a bright young boy. When they disagree, I'm manic. It really does seem to be that simple; no one will admit it, but the number of times I've seen it happen is staggering. Mental Illness is used to excuse complete ignorance and persecution of dissenting ideals. And Psychiatry is getting away with it because humans seem to have a built-in need for there to be an omnipresent "other" to fear and reject.

It's despicable on so many levels, even a purely utilitarian one. Madness is just humanity's way of trying out new ideas; evolution is a process of mutation and selection. If we worship the status quo of Psychiatry as much as we do now, we do not allow for mutation; only selection. This cannot possibly lead to any real growth of the human spirit. Many of the world's most brilliant inventors and creators have been retro-actively diagnosed (a pathetic project on Psychiatry's part to "universalize" their modern findings, granting them additional agency by making it seem like "bipolar" has ALWAYS existed and isn't something they basically invented to categorize a behavior pattern) with a "mental illness," and it has often been attributed as a major source of their inspiration. If this is true, I can only assume that their inspiration would have been completely devastated by the medication and therapies of the modern approach.
This otherization of mental illness is not just bad for those who are different, but for the species as a whole. Humanity NEEDS us to keep on being mad to supply the energy for our own self-revolution. At least that's my take on it.

Hope you found something to agree with, Citizens. See you next week.

Sincerely,
R

Friday, July 8, 2011

Cinematic Mental Health Movement

Greetings, Citizens.

This week I met with an interesting fellow by the name of Andrew Senn. He and his collaborators are putting together a group of like-minded individuals who have experience in the mental health system - those who have been put through it, so to speak. They are working on creating a video-based documentary to help add a new level of identity to various diagnoses and "symptoms," hopefully giving more freedom for empathy and understanding and encouraging people to have a real discussion about what "mental health" even means. I spoke with them so fervently about so much that I basically wore myself out!

They are still in the early planning stages but I think they have a lot to offer. Anyone who has been through the mental health system and lives in the Twin Cities area should definitely send Andrew a message and let him know that I sent ya. If you'd like his contact info, let me know so I can give it to you privately and not plaster it all over the internets.

Til next time,
R

Thursday, June 30, 2011

No Madness this week

Due to mentnical (mental/technical) difficulties, Madness will be cancelled this week. Wish me speedy rejuvenation, Citizens, and we should be back to the regularly scheduled Madness next week.

Sincerely,
R

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Meds

Greetings, Citizens.

About 1 month ago I was able to get off of medication. Truly, a triumph of the human spirit and the support and camaraderie of my friends over an over-medicalized, overly-drug focused Sanity Machine otherwise known as Psychiatry. I did this without asking for the advice of my psychiatrist, and without conferring with my parents, who have heretofore been fairly involved in my treatment. I didn't confer with them because I felt confident they would not be supportive. However, a few days ago I decided I needed to tell my family that I was no longer on medication. I had planned on telling them all along, I was just waiting for the right time, and I thought it was upon me.

Well....perhaps I was right. But it ended badly anyway.

Without getting into a lengthy explanation of the ensuing debate or some kind of undignified he-said/she-said, suffice to say that my family confirmed, with flying colors, their crippling dependence on a medical model of suffering and malady. It was kind of staggering, not so much because it was unexpected, but because of how incredibly unscientific the approach proved to be. They are convinced that I need to be on medication, because I must have some kind of chemical imbalance in my brain, with pitifully little evidence to support this theory. When I pressed this point, they cited my multiple hospital visits as evidence, and even confirmed their belief that an internal chemical imbalance is the only probable cause for such an event.


Why? Why does a self-avowed scientist cast aside all sense of inquiry, all sense of study, for such a ridiculously narrow-minded evaluation of a situation? If you ask me, Occham's Razor suggests "He was hospitalized because he was responding to stimuli" is more likely than "He was hospitalized because he had a strange, unobservable, inconfirmable anomaly in his brain." Scientists shouldn't attempt to classify something based on a cause that can't be studied, observed, predicted. It's one of the reasons why anti-seizure medicine makes more sense to me than anti-depressants - you can directly measure the electrical activity in someone's brain, and it has been repeatedly confirmed that certain electrical activity corresponds to seizures, and that certain chemical treatments can regulate that activity, thus helping the seizure (as far as I know).
And guess what? When they thought my problem might be seizure related, they took EEGs. Several. And none of them provided conclusive results; experts all just scratched their heads. So if anything, the science suggests my problem is NOT medical. Yet still a scientist insists it must be, because surely nothing else could be the cause.

How has this happened?

Some of it is undoubtedly due to personal hangups which are not really my intention to discuss, at least not in direct relation to my family. But some of it is due to the system itself, and the pervasive air of medicine and medical cause that thrums in our zeitgeist. The over-medicalization of health and distress by psychiatry and the media has gone so far as to actually undermine the scientific integrity of practitioners. This is my theory, anyway.

All advertisements for treatment for "mental illness" focus on medical treatment and medical cause; all drugs assume a chemical cause and even most therapy, although it is less often advertised, seems to assume that something is internally wrong. One virtually never sees any ads suggesting external causes for these things, except perhaps in a few rare cases such as domestic violence. And the advocacy community is not helping: the argument is about funding FOR PSYCHIATRY or insurance parity FOR MEDICAL TREATMENT, virtually never about changing the way a community behaves so as to limit the need for treatment in the first place. Even the people trying to make things better for us in the grassroots level, like the folks at NAMI, hyper-medicalize. Given all of this it is no small wonder that even doctors can forget that other things might be responsible for traumatic experiences.

Of course, the way I see it, this is fairly deliberate. After all, the more our health becomes dependent on medicine, the more the entire nation becomes dependent on a new service industry. That's good for the economy in theory, and moreover, allows the engines of our society's status quo to continue turning; because if the problems come from society, then society is a problem. And a cultural institute like psychiatry, whose heritage is the Enlightenment's project of turning the entire world into an encyclopedia, cannot tolerate the idea of society's nature itself being a problem, at least not in this advanced stage. Its office is to be the guardian of morality; the terminology has changed, but "mental illness" is basically the new state of Sin in our culture.
After all, rarely do you hear of a serious crime being committed without mental illness being dragged into the fray.
And only the priest-psychiatrists can heal you of this Sin. And oh, it's not your fault that you are a Sinner, you were guided into it by evil chemicals (or if you're lucky, other evil Sinners), and our holy chemicals can guide you out. But resist our love and our way and you are embracing the Sin, which is a blasphemy against Us and must be punished.

That's how it feels. Can anyone who has been through the experience tell me I'm wrong?

People make everything about meds. ALL THE TIME. It's like a permanent state of assumed PMS - "You were so moody today. Have you been taking your meds?" "Oh, you weren't on your meds? Well that clearly explains your behavior." It's as foolish as any other of the many baseless assumptions that fundamentalists of all creeds make, such as your homosexuality being caused by not having accepted Jesus into your heart. The only difference is that this brand of fundamentalism is endorsed by the APA, an organization that is solely responsible for endowing a university with the acreddidation necessary to confer degrees in counseling psychology. In other words, even though there are many ground-breaking programs out there that are trying to bring a humanist approach to the psychological and psychiatric field, they will never be able to produce accredited healers because the APA disagrees with their approach. So no one learns about the alternative possibilities...

So it is all about the meds.

BAH. MADNESS.

Sincerely,
R

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mad Therapy

Greetings, Citizens.

It's Thursday...it's 12:51pm as I begin writing this particular Madness, which is much earlier than I usually get Mad on a Thursday, but I've been feeling particularly Mad lately and I just couldn't wait until this evening to discuss with you a very crucial issue.

Therapy.

Now it should be no secret to regular readers of the Weekly Madness that I am not a huge fan of psychiatry. Psychiatric meds have proven to be little better than a stopgap measure for myself and most of my companions, which I would not have as much of a problem with if it was better understood by the populace as a whole and Psychiatry in particular that this is the case. Though it is undeniably true that some medicine provides concrete and needed help to some individuals, it is equally undeniable that much medicine forces itself on unwilling and un-needing individuals in order to uphold a status quo, in the best of cases (personal vainglory and ambition in some of the worse cases.)

But there are alternatives to psychiatry for treatment, and one in particular that is more or less valued by the system at large, and it is called Therapy. My relationship with this strange entity is long, storied and rather complicated, and from it I feel I have learned much about Therapy's nature and uses. In today's Madness I am going to discuss the pros and cons of Therapy as a model for aiding the mental and emotional well-being of the Mad, and focus in on what specific things can make Therapy helpful or toxic.

I would like to begin with the most important disclaimer of all: the right time to go to therapy is when you want to try going to therapy and have the support necessary to do so. Not when your psychiatrist suggests it, not when your family pushes you towards it, and not when anyone in your life threatens to cut you out of theirs if you don't go to it. With only a very few outlier exceptions, therapy will be more destructive than constructive if you are not there willingly and with the support of those around you.

That said, people will try to "convince" you to go to therapy. To those people, I encourage you to reference my Crash Course in Care segment on being an advocate; to those dealing with such people, well....don't listen to them too much. Therapy has some things to offer and a lot at stake, so it is worth hearing out the testimony of others and reaching your own conclusion about the information presented.

Now, on to the topic itself. The big T. What is it good for, what is it bad for, and what are the signs and qualities of good and bad therapists?

Therapy is dangerous. You are walking into a room with a stranger and sharing your most intimate secrets, with absolutely no assurance of being judged fairly. You have to lay your heart and soul on the line every time you try out someone new, or discuss a new topic with someone familiar. Make no mistake, therapy is a stressful, scary process, even if you have a long-standing relationship with the therapist in question, and so it is best engaged in only if you have some kind of external support system to fall back on. Essentially, Therapy is best used as a supplemental processing tool in a stable, supportive environment. You need to know that, after the Therapy session, you can come back to a friend, roommate, parent or relationship partner who will be able to give you unconditional support in recovering from the session.

Very bad things can happen if you do not have this kind of support network in at least one person outside therapy. If you have no one at all, you may end up trying to find that unconditional support in the Therapist - this is particularly common of survivors of a few particular kinds of abuse. It leads to a very unhealthy relationship that many practicing Therapists will not hesitate to take advantage of in a most destructive way. If you do have a support system, but their support is conditional, or inadequate, or otherwise toxic, all of the work you process in Therapy can be completely undermined by that system. If you make an important realization, they may deny it; if your therapist makes a troubling suggestion, something you really aren't sure about, they may push you to consider it; ultimately, this dynamic creates and fosters the development of a dual state of being, where you are caught between your "true self" and your "patient self," the self you present to your family, friends, and doctors. They will be working on the "patient self" because the "True self" is not being spoken to or allowed to speak.

When I say "unconditional support," what I mean is unconditional support of YOU. That means, if you say "I hate this therapist and I never want to go back," their response is "Great. You never have to." Note: they should not ask about helping you find another one until it comes up organically in the conversation; Therapy must always be your choice.

Now, if you do happen to have that kind of support, then Therapy might be a viable option for helping you to deal with your distress. When the therapist is doing their job well, they will provide a sounding board for you to process your struggles off of, and can help you set goals and specific challenges in your internal processing. This can be extremely helpful for survivors of various kinds of abuse, as well as for people with any kind of powerful emotive cycles. I don't think there's anything wrong with a powerful emotive cycle, but you have to know how to ride it, and a therapist can be very helpful in this respect. Sometimes.

Sometimes they can be remarkably UNhelpful, however. If your issue involves an external source, the therapist's ability to be helpful immediately and sharply declines; if you are lucky, though, they may be able to give you some good ideas for how to deal with those external sources in a way that ends up working out for the better. But this requires you and your therapist to have a similar worldview of "better," and any schisms in this field become more noticeable when third parties get involved. This gets even force when the third party is not a person, but a concept or force.

One of the most destructive pieces of advice I've ever received from a therapist is the advice of integration. It is a very popular concept in psychology these days, and refers to the idea of coalescing the scattered parts of a psyche (or, in the case of people with multiple personalities, their various alters) into a single, working whole, thereby eliminating the conflict between those parts. To me, that sounds about as feasible as solving the Middle East crisis by taking every single country, dissolving their borders, and putting one big border around the whole area and labeling it "Middle-Eastistan." It is my fervent opinion that portions of a persona separate out because they need to. Trying to force, coerce, or even coax them back into a whole is to deny the truth of their purpose.
Now, it is possible that some fragments will eventually fulfill their purpose and, with no more reason to be separated, will begin integration on their own. That is fine. But it should never be assumed this is the case.

Trying to integrate certain parts of my psyche has led to terrible damage to my self-esteem and to some absolutely wild coping mechanisms on the part of those fragments at risk of integration. Reasonably, they resisted. It wasn't pleasant.

Having said all of this, I think we are beginning to get a picture of what Therapy can be good for, and what Therapy can be very bad for. But for Therapy to be good, the therapist must have certain traits, and they must never do certain things.

A good therapist must work for you, never against you. They must directly challenge only the most outright and explicitly dangerous ideas you present, and even then in a gentle, non-combative manner. They are the professional and you are the one who is proverbial on trial, so they owe it to you not to get defensive if you present an idea that they disagree with. If they can't do this, they have failed and should be dismissed.
They must never pressure you, but rather allow you to reach your own decisions and conclusions. They must be ready to engage with your issues in the manner that you wish to engage with them, and not try to force you to look at anything in particular.
They must not be Behaviorist in nature unless you have a phobia so crippling that you would rather go through a very disturbing therapy than continue to endure it, but even then I might recommend trying to find an alternative. I will probably rant about Behaviorism in more detail on another occasion, but the short of it is that in my humble opinion it is the purest bane of all healing psychology.
Edit 1: The following point is concerning therapists and therapy as it exists now. I am not inherently opposed to the creation of a system whereby spiritual and emotional counsel could be wed - indeed, I believe they should be, ideally. But most practitioners in the world we occupy are simply not prepared to do this effectively. That is my belief.
A therapist must never counsel you in spiritual matters. Even if you have the same spiritual worldview, spiritual counsel should remain separate from the active processing of serious emotional issues. Putting these things too close together is a recipe for disaster. Spirituality can help you with emotional processing, and therapy can hep you with emotional processing, but combining the two causes a bleeding over between various areas that just isn't wise to attempt to deal with. If your emotional issues are directly related to a spiritual matter, you may want to avoid personal therapy until you have enough of a support system - even if it is just through online forums - to try to separate these issues in your processing.
Similarly, I don't advise seeking overt emotional counsel from a spiritual figure in your life, but I am less insistent on that point.
This one should be obvious, but a therapist who is rude to you, insults you, belittles your intelligence, invalidates you in any way, or otherwise tries to harm or take advantage of you, is garbage and deserves to be disposed of. Immediately. This is usually hard to do, unfortunately, but if at all possible it should be done.

A therapist must be prepared to act like an advocate for you, which means they are on your side. This means that, as you process, and your opinions start to change, their opinions will also appear to change. This is because they must help you to reflect yourself, and so they must take on a similar affect. This doesn't mean they should outright lie, but rather that they should acknowledge YOUR truth as the most important truth in the room. Anything less is unacceptable.

Please share this list around and please feel free to add to it. See you next time, Mad Nation.

Sincerely,
R

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Enlightenment and Mental Health

Greetings, Citizens.

I have been reading a book called "The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception," by Michel Foucault. It's a bit of a tricky read for those unfamiliar with academese, but it has some utterly fascinating insights. These are insights that have changed the way that many theorists discuss pertinent issues in today's world, including concepts of performance, identity, and the methods of knowledge creation and preservation (also called "epistemology"). Even halfway through the book, I can already draw some very interesting relations between the developments suggested by the text and the way that mental health works in our modern society.

To spare you all a mind-numbing history lesson, I'll try to focus in on what I found to be one of the key points. In describing the evolution of medicine around the turn of the 19th century, Foucault writes:
"Medicine must no longer be confined to a body of techniques for curing ills and of the knowledge that they require; it will also embrace a knowledge of healthy man, that is a study of non-sick man and a definition of the model man. In the ordering of human existence it assumes a normative posture, which authorizes it not only to distribute advice as to healthy life, but also to dictate the standards for physical and moral relations of the individual and of the society in which he lives" (34 from Vintage Books, trans A.M. Sheridan Smith).
Here Foucault indicates a crucial turning point in the history of medicine and a possible birthing point for the very basis of "normative medicine" that psychiatry depends upon. In essence, the Enlightenment created an historical moment where the principle of "reason" was triumphed to the fullest extent possible, concluding that a scientific process could be utilized to the fulfillment of all of man's needs, including his moral ones. Because of this union of science and politic, medicine becomes a political tool, and is used to prescribe and proscribe in accordance with the perceived prosperity of the state it works for.

In some fields, this makes sense; from a strictly physical standpoint, the study of the phenomenon of "epidemic" and the environmental constituents that make it up, for example, lend themselves very well (although not completely without problem, of course) to the health of both the people and the state. In theory, anyway, this kind of longitudinal study can produce valuable insight into causes and cures of ailments in the physical bodies of people and the state institutes they comprise. For example, this kind of study is what leads to industry health regulations - arguably, a standardized criteria of ways to avoid health that is necessary for body-political regulation.

But as it crosses out of the physical realm and into the moral/emotional one - and admittedly, this can be a very blurry line - the standardization starts to make less and less sense, and it exposes the system for the tool of the powers-that-be that it is.

This ultimately calls into question the entire project of The Enlightenment, something that a grand play called Marat/Sade has done time and again. We observe that revolutionary forces of so-called "reason" still end up preserving themselves through tyrannical assertion of a specific value-set which must crush all who oppose it, however hypocritical this may end being.
Of course the flip side of this is the pathetic lukewarm liberalism of our "postmodern" society which refuses to take a strong stand on anything, and instead just let life happen while absently protesting things that are noisome. Hopefully we can find an alternative some day, but right now the very idea is making my head swell up and clog.

So, I think I will end it on that note: just some food for thought for you good citizens of New Madia.

Fare thee well!

Sincerely,
R

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Imperialism and Mental Health

Greetings, citizens!

A somewhat "intellectual" rant for you all this evening, I invite you to consider the concept of Imperialism. In a university setting, and to some extent in politics, imperialism is an extremely salient concept used to denote the tendency of large power structures towards Empire, that is to say, to dominate the resources and means of production of all those around them. Rather than seeking to establish fair and balanced trade, they find an excuse to colonize, either in word or in deed (these days much more in deed than actual word of course), and establish their own system, values and rules in the place of what was once there. It is generally agreed upon that this kind of approach is old-fashioned and unsustainable, and should be left by the wayside; what comes in its place is more likely than not a more subversive and just as potent form of cultural purification, but the point remains that the concept in general is frowned upon.

That is because, on at least some level, our society claims to understand that we should not judge an "other" just because it is "other," indeed we support the idea that difference should be celebrated (in theory anyway). We believe, especially in academia, that it is important to allow cultures to retain the right to define their existence on their own terms.

Unfortunately, that courtesy is not being extended in practice - but more than just on the geopolitical scale, this concept also applies to the Mad conflict. I submit to you, New Mad Nation, that the current medical system, especially vis a vis mental health, is imperialist in nature, and therefore is severely outdated and in need of reform. I hope that this analogy will work even for those in academia who heretofore have been all too happy to leave this subject to "the medical professionals."

Imperialism stems from the concept of a Greater Society, where the Polis, or center of power and "culture," reaches out to the colonies to "civilize" them. This is done purely for the economic benefit of the Polis, but the "civilization" of the colony is offered as a fair exchange. Sometimes, the colony in question will even receive some of the proffered benefits - that is part of what makes imperialism so difficult to resist. It isn't ALL bad; a powerful overlord can offer powerful resources.

I think the parallels to mental health are clear, here: Psychiatry is the center of power and "culture" when it comes to the coveted "sanity" resource, and it sees the Mad as "uncivilized;" not only do we have problems, but we are HELPLESS to solve those problems without Psychiatry's intervention. That, for me, is one of the key issues: this concept of helplessness. Psychiatry insists on itself with all the fervor of an invading empire, which insists that the colonies it invades are helpless to culture themselves, ignorant fools in need of wisdom.

Like with an empire it becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The presence of an invader damages the natural infrastructure and establishes new cultural norms that leave the colony confused, hurt, and estranged from their resources. In this condition, they DO become helpless to some extent; when enough damage is done by the invaders, only the invaders can help them rebuild. And then the invaders are validated for "rescuing" them; and many of the colonists will come to believe in their invaders because they have no other choice.

Psychiatry claims it is trying to help us, but its major objective is not our aid, but social stability. This has always been the project of mental hygiene: social control. By reaching into the areas with a different approach to society, to emotions, to thought, and instating their own ideals - often by force, and I do mean this literally if you will consider the number of people forcibly interred in mental hospitals which are little better than brainwashing facilities in some cases - psychiatry acts as an empire seeking to consolidate its power. Dissent will not be tolerated - it will be colonized, subjugated, and thus "civilized" until it doesn't desire dissent anymore.

Sometimes psychiatry DOES help people. But at what cost? If psychiatry is ever to be a valid method of treatment, it must be an /option/, not a mandate. And even though it is less of a "mandate" in some senses as it used to be - though not as much less as you might hope - this is only because it has already secured such a prominent social position that it does not NEED to mandate on the overt. It exists as an internalized mandate in the society itself. When a person is in enough trouble, the automatic assumption is that they see a psychiatrist. If the person doesn't want to see a psychiatrist then they are considered to be refusing to accept their situation, or refusing to seek treatment, or in some way refusing/being obstinate: like a stubborn child. Even though you are less likely to be dragged off by psychiatry (though it does still happen), you are now pushed into it by all of the good "citizens" of the Psychiatry empire.

It's sort of like this - Psychiatry allows you a form of social currency. Consider a hypothetical Polis and neighboring Colony that have different forms of currency. The Polis invades the Colony and takes away their form of currency, substituting their own. Eventually, the strictness of the Polis' presence declines, and the Colony is allowed to use its own form of currency again, but it has been without said currency for so long that it is difficult to find any, difficult to understand how to use it; moreover, citizens of the Polis have moved to the Colony to help "civilize" it, and they don't accept non-Polis coin. So even though you are technically "allowed" to have your own money, it is difficult to use even among your fellows, and citizens of the Polis will not do business with you.

The only way to use Polis money is to become a citizen of Polis and be ruled by all of its laws for citizenship.

The only way to be accepted by the Psychiatric empire is to accept the language of "mental illness" and be ruled by those laws.

I submit that the Mad would have a much stronger currency if we weren't fighting with Psychiatry for the right to even have one. I think that there would be many new and valid ways of discussing distress, deviance and madness, ways that are invigorating, not invalidating, ways that inspire change, rather than enforce the status quo - if we could just have a chance to establish a culture for ourselves.

But the one unique thing about the Mad colony is that we have never been allowed to have a public culture. Like many marginalized social groups, science and medicine have been working diligently to never allow us to coalesce into a working community. GLBT individuals have begun to remove themselves from the Mad category through hard work and advocacy, but the category still exists. It has existed for all time. And for a very, VERY long time, it has been the subject of imperial authority: if not from psychiatry, then from its predecessors; the asylum of Charenton, and Bethlehem. (Pronounced in a cockneyed accent, "Bethlehem" sounds like "Bedlam," which is where the term comes from).

We have never been given a chance to make a culture on our own terms. I hope to live to see the day when we are given that chance properly.

Sincerely,
R

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mad Perspective on "Next to Normal."

Greetings, citizens.

This week I've decided to offer some input on a rising star in the world of media and madness: the musical "Next to Normal." Although I haven't had the opportunity to watch the show in person, I've heard about it from many sources, read many of the lyrics, and watched several key scenes on YouTube. Admittedly, this does not enable me to give an exemplary dramatic critique of the piece as a whole, but that isn't really my aim here. Rather, I wish to examine how the show succeeds and fails at promoting a healthy understanding of mental health and distress, and I believe I CAN do that from the bits that I have gathered.

The first thing that struck me about this show was its apparent refusal to use the labels of psychiatry: although many telltale behavior patterns are demonstrated, no diagnoses are ever used, and words like "Manic" and "depression" are used sparingly. Psychiatry itself is rather gleefully lampooned, with a rendition of "My favorite things" from "The Sound of Music" being used to list the litany of prescription pills that are thrown at our heroine, among other such jokes. Therapy is given the limelight, and as a general rule I will always take therapy over psychiatry; however, I worry that by presenting it as a clear-cut and in some ways superior alternative to psychiatry, it places therapy on a bit of a pedestal, which is always a problem.

The songs themselves reveal some very deeply felt emotion, and it seems to be handled relatively well; they are very personal, without trying to make too many sweeping generalizations, while still hitting on a few core experiences that often crop up in the consumer (of mental health care) community: the flattened experience of medication and missing the breadth of feeling that came before; the feeling of isolation from not being able to get true understanding from those who are trying to care for you. There is a lot of genuine pathos and I think it goes a long way towards advancing a sense of empathy in the general public for the experience of the "mentally ill." (Here I am distinguishing between those and the "Mad" because they are not always the same).

I see two problems with this approach, though: one, it creates a "double" for the experience of "mental illness," a representation of a lived reality, which invariably presents something less than accurate due to the series of translations it must endure (thought to action, action to vision, vision to thought), while also creating in some viewers an undeserved sense of proximity and understanding as a result. This can cause the representation of the experience to backfire, and instead of increasing actual ability to relate, it can further embed the expectation that the "normal" people have greater understanding and that the "sick" people must submit to their wisdom. I think this sort of thing is difficult to avoid whenever a marginalized group is represented, and the key to overcoming it is an awareness in the production that the problem is there.

And that is where "Next to Normal" really seems to fall short. Although its personal sensitivity is strong, it is just that: personal. It is deeply focused on the inner lives of a small family and two or three other figures whose lives are intertwined with theirs. This is important, do not get me wrong: they craft a message of patience, care and support, where inner demons can be allowed to work themselves out and dealt with to the ultimate betterment of the people in question, and this is absolutely necessary. But, it is only half of the picture: Next To Normal seems critically lacking in awareness of the social aspects of mental health. Although Psychiatry is criticized as an institution, the social schema that Psychiatry supports do not seem terribly represented.

What we get, then, is the message that it is solely up to the people who are suffering and their immediate supporters to "get over" their suffering. We get a lot of good insight into the struggles and triumphs of this process, but we see it in a vacuum: we do not see the social pressures on those who are helping to do less; we do not see the ridicule placed on those trying to make "real life" work while struggling with their suffering; we don't see the day-to-day jargon which dismisses pain and distress so simply, which reifies the "mental illness" model and invalidates so many.
Nor do we see the more direct causes of many forms of "mental illness," the hostilities of our culture: abuse, rape, neglect; all forms of human cruelty, including many so horrible they cannot even be discussed, even here, still go on in the daily lives of millions, maybe even billions at a time, to varying degrees. This callous culture we live in supports these things and in turn supports the destruction of mental health. But, as far as I can see, Next to Normal has no real accountability for this component.

Perhaps it is not Next to Normal's intent to challenge society in so direct a manner; indeed, to do so would probably come off as ball busting and be very poorly received. That kind of diatribe can't be accomplished by anything less than a masterful execution of the Theater of Cruelty, or some other inventive and in ways heretical theatrical creation; Next to Normal is not such a production, but rather part of the "Theater of Psychology." Although it makes use of what might be called "American Magical Realism," it is still essentially realist and has a very "Broadway" feel about it. As such, it is geared to pluck at heartstrings with deeply personal stories, and in this I believe it succeeds.

The question we must ask ourselves, as citizens of the New Mad Nation, is if plucking at the heartstrings of people whose minds are still shut will do us much good.

I suppose, then, my summary in short is that Next to Normal is a good start, though it has a few flaws that I would love to see corrected in future versions or different takes on the concepts, the most grievous being that it over-emphasizes the individual's psychology in dealing with their distress, while undermining the role of social environment. This could possibly be chalked up to its deep focus on the family environment, a smaller and sometimes more vital version of the social environment, however; and in this, they do a very thorough job of examining impact.

Next to Normal is humorous at times, and usually by making fun of the people in power: psychiatry, the "normals," even therapy on a few occasions. I like this. All in all I do hope to be able to pay to see a production at some point, as I believe it does good things for raising awareness of the basic realities of "mental illness" in our culture without reinforcing an overly psychiatric paradigm. Much as I would like to take the world up in a Mad storm, I must concede that such a storm would probably be lost on people who still conceive of mental illness as something that gets you dragged off by men in white coats.

To any of you who have seen this show, if anything about my analysis seems particularly inaccurate, I encourage you to correct me. I would greatly value the input of anyone who has actually witnessed the performance.

Thanks as always, New Mad Nation. We'll see you next week, topic unknown.

Sincerely,
R

Friday, May 20, 2011

Graduation: A Mad Analysis

Greetings, citizens of the New Mad Nation.

It's been two weeks and a day, and things are starting to "settle down" around here - move was successfully completed, apartment checked out of, internet access restored, graduation achieved, and the swirling portal to dimensions of cyclopian horror in the oven has been sealed for all time (or until the Makio Star rises on the full moon, but that only happens like once every couple thousand years...)

In short, we're back.

There's a lot of things on my mind right now, but I think I will start with my planned remarks for this week, and discuss the concept of commencement exercises, looking at the specific example of the exercises at my Alma Mater. We'll be analyzing them from a Mad perspective, of course.

Now, where to begin? I suppose I should mention my commencement, just over a year hence now. The speeches were inspiring to many, but still offended my Mad sensibilities; so much so that I wrote the Dean an angry email on the subject. When I later emailed him on another subject and he responded to that, but not to my concerns about the commencement, I confronted him, and he said he never received the letter. I don't know if that's the truth or not, I really don't, but these days I am inclined to believe he simply didn't care to engage with my criticisms.

I was livid; I felt the speeches, although they carried many run-of-the-mill inspirations, rode largely on the trampling of the already marginalized groups in the community, further deepening our anger and ostracization. This year, the speeches managed to be somewhat less offensive on the whole - if only because our President's speech was primarily just self-serving, self-pitying, and lacked even enough substance to offend - but still carried many of the common themes of ignorance and oppression. They appear in the form of what is asserted and what is left out; what is mentioned and what is ignored. I will here list some of the themes that came up in this year's commencement exercises and explore the problems with them.

1. Family love and support - One thing that college speeches love is to talk about how wonderful families are. Your family helped pay for you to go to school, and your family helped raise you smart enough to make it in school, and your family helped you when you were struggling in school, and your family will continue to love and support you now that you've graduated from school. I suppose some speakers feel that laboring this point will help validate the parents who took the time and effort to be present at commencement, and encourage them to support the school in the future. Others must have nobler intentions, like an honest belief in the goodness and strength of the family unit. For whatever reason, it comes up - a lot.
   And yet never are any of the problems with family mentioned - no nods are given to the graduates who come from abusive families, none to the graduates whose families might not approve of their decision to pursue an academic career. There is no mention of the child whose family loves them for graduating but hates them for being gay, and so can never truly support them; no concept whatsoever of those who do not have a typical family, or any family at all. And I believe it is foolish to assume that none of the above mentioned group have made it through four years of college; people are capable of amazing things, and sometimes the most amazing things happen only when all outside support  is taken away.
    What I am saying is that some people have made it through those four years without relying on their family because their family is unreliable. Sending you to college does not make your family dependable; it means they made a decision to help you do something. Big decision though it may be, it is just one decision, and it must be weighed against an entire lifetime. Moreover, some families did not support their children at all in going to college; some really did have to make it on their own. So when commencement speakers talk of the love and support of the family, they are talking of an idyllic myth; something that many of the graduates may enjoy, or believe they enjoy, but that an undeniable some distinctly lack.
    What happens when a survivor of an abusive home has to listen to a speaker talk for ten minutes straight about how wonderful their family is, and then be forced to applaud for him afterwards, or else risk the stigma of not applauding the speaker and therefore being "other"? The survivor is forced to accept, in a small way, the correctness of the speaker, because they cannot challenge him in any appreciable way; their psyche is thus wounded and their conviction weakened against their abusive background. While some people who have come from this kind of situation may have grown strong and independent enough since leaving their families to not be wounded by this, not everyone has; and even those who have will certainly not appreciate having to listen to the myth of the ideal family being perpetrated when they know so clearly how false it is.
   Never believe that monetary support is the same as love. It could just as easily be manipulation, or even just a sense of obligation on the part of the supporters. We must look deeper. And when speaking of families, we must always be cognizant of the fact that the family is a site of trauma as well as support, and we must be careful to qualify our speech in such a way as to recognize those who have suffered from their families. Of course, the trick here is that by recognizing them, we can all too easily end up ostracizing them, and this is also unacceptable. To whit, the real solution might not be to have a speech about family at all; I can't imagine a terribly successful speech in the form of "Some of you have unsupportive families, and that sucks for you. But the REST of you, wow, you sure are lucky!" True though it may be, it comes off pretty sour.

2. "Our college is a special place." - I don't know if other commencement exercises feature speeches like this, but at mine, there is always someone talking about how wonderful the college is. This is similar to the family issue, in fact it is almost identical: while many people have found the community of the college to be special, inclusive, supportive, and all around magical, others have undoubtedly not. I would be shocked to find out that there were more than a handful of graduating classes in the history of colleges where one of the students had not been raped at the school in question, by a fellow student. And if virtually every class of students has at least one rape survivor (and these are very conservative figures, I believe; statistical evidence to support this would be lovely, to those who know where to find it), then every commencement exercise is obligated to be sensitive to that fact, and to not paint the college as an inherently wonderful place full of inherently wonderful people.
   Like a family, the college may have offered some good things, but it probably came at a high price for at least a few. If not rape, then something else: the Queer Union not liking your "kind" of homosexuality and excluding you; a teacher boldly insulting your spirituality in class and receiving no punishment whatsoever; a general air of disapproval and malcontent from the entire student body, because you are not "chill" like they are. And just like with the lauding of the family, the ritualistic observance of the Alma Mater's sublimity at a commencement exercise tries to force the wronged student to abandon their just complaints; if they don't applaud, they are singled out further still, and regardless, have to listen to the bald-faced lies being told by the speaker and not shout out in contest.
  I understand that it is only natural for a commencement speaker to discuss the school in question; it is the point of departure, after all. But there must be a way to do so that is honest. It is especially perplexing to me, that at the commencement exercises of a class that has spent four years supposedly dedicated to the pursuit and development of knowledge - four years of problematizing every single text presented to us - so much hard fact is simply washed away and replaced with the convenient fiction of the college's greatness.
   Perhaps the problem stems from pure ignorance. Perhaps these speakers are simply unaware that anyone could have a legitimate complaint about the school; perhaps they have chosen not to see the pained and anguished faces, or convinced themselves that those faces, since usually silent, are also irrelevant. Of course, from experience I can tell you a different story: you see, I was often one of those pained and anguished faces, but I was rarely silent. No, it was the others who attempted to silence me; to tell me that my concerns were overblown, that I jumped to conclusions, that we could not hold people accountable for their actions, that we could not be divisive because "we are a community here." The assumption of community is a fiction that people cling to violently; so violently that, when presented with a critique, they will seek to undermine that critique's validity before ever engaging with ti. The great error of our analytical academics is that we never turn that harsh eye on our own community for more than a flickering moment, in response to some infraction of universally agreed upon ethics like hate speech. The results of these conversations are typically foregone, and no real progress is made.
   My point here is that for whatever reason, people do not seem to want to accept that there were serious problems with their school. At the moment of commencement they want to remember it as a haven. I suppose I can understand this desire, for those who are capable, but it is deeply offensive to those who can only remember the entire process as a trial. For myself, there were certainly pockets of goodness, but it was largely an obstacle course and in many ways incredibly disappointing. I will not be looking back on my school as an incredibly wonderful place, and it was disheartening to hear it called that in the commencement exercise - more than making me hear something untrue, which invalidated my experience, these speeches reinforce the erroneous assumptions of others. The practice of commencement is a ritual and has ritual power associated with it, and words said during it that do not go challenged become etched into the memory; people form lasting impressions based on these actions. Speaking only of the college's good qualities - hyperbolized, at that - while completely ignoring the bad, indeed acting as if they don't exist, continues to mire people in the complacency that prevents change from ever taking place.

The vast majority of other themes and ideas can generally be boiled down to one key issue: ignoring the suffering of the students. If their hardships are ever noted, it is typically in passing; it is never treated with any real gravity. And it is noted with gravity, as it was at my commencement, it is only to note something that is somehow "other": the student suffered before the school, but thanks to the school is no longer suffering. These messages are infuriating to those who are suffering more because of the school, and make no mistake that they exist. Beyond this, speeches are generally given with the assumption that the students all follow the "normal" model of existence, whatever that norm happens to be for the school; even at a school where gender fluidity and non-traditional families are embraced, that very act of embracing labels them "normal" in that context. For the students who do not fit these norms, the speeches are hollow and ignorant of their experience, and that dismissive nature continues to push them further off the radar of their fellow and deeper into marginalization.

There's plenty else I could still say about this year's commencement - the subject matter of our President's address was a single blog post he made on the Huffington Post, and our guest speaker made the egregiously bad-taste decision of describing countries without easy access to hospitals as "helpless" - but I think I've ranted enough for now.

Hopefully, next week we will be looking at a media review, this time of a musical: Next to Normal. It is, as far as I know, the only touring musical to ever focus squarely on themes of "mental illness." Should be exciting, one way or another.

As always, thank you for your attention and care. Farewell, citizens.

Sincerely,
R

Friday, May 6, 2011

Finals (no madness)

Greetings, Citizens.

No madness this week - my roommate and I are busy conquering college once and for all.

For that matter there may or may not be a madness next week when we conquer graduation once and for all. Time will tell, I suppose.

Thanks as always,
-R

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Asexuality and Psychiatry

Greetings,

As might be obvious by the fact that I am plainly in no way, shape, or form a passionate Aries, I am not your usual blogger.  Your usual blogger was kind enough to give me some help with homework last week, and to express appreciation I have chosen to guest blog for him.

As far as I am aware, asexuality is very new to public understanding.  Science has understood asexual reproduction for quite some time, but the term "asexuality" used to describe a sexual orientation is fairly new.  Even newer is the idea that some people who, for whatever reason, do not experience sexual attraction or do not desire sexual relationships might still desire romantic ones.  Many times when I (or when people I am close to and have talked to about this subject) have attempted to discuss asexuality with others, the reaction is to assume that something is wrong because we do not want sex.

"Well...okay so...were you raped as a child?"

I have gotten this question a lot since I started discussing my asexuality.  I often respond by asking why this is relevant.  The LGBT community has already had to make strides to dispel the myth that lesbianism or male homosexuality are "caused" by abuse, and this battle is not won either.  I am romantically exclusively attracted to women and so I identify as gay despite my asexuality.  When I came out this way in high school, I did receive the occasional stupid question about whether or not I was raped as a child.  The assumption was often that a love for women could not possibly just be natural, clearly a terrifying Satanic monster of a man must have forever scarred me and warped my fragile, innocent mind.  Now, the assumption is that the same Satanic monster must have damaged me so badly that not only am I afraid of men, I'm also just afraid of sex in general.  Aside from the extreme frustration I feel at the assumption that if someone is raped, the perpetrator MUST be male, I get very frustrated with the assumption that any sexual or romantic orientation that deviates from the heteronormative mold must be a result of trauma.  Both my coming out experiences (my gay one and my asexual one) have exposed me to this breed of ignorance.

So what is the difference?

In the DSM-IV TR (the current diagnostic manual for psychiatric disorders), homosexuality is not included.  Granted, there are still therapists (like the one I saw in high school) who will look for ways to pathologize homosexuality anyway.  Generally speaking, however, most psychiatrists and psychologists at least medically understand that homosexuality is not an "illness" or a "disease."  This is not so for asexuality.  In the current DSM, there is a disorder known as Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD) characterized by a lack of sexual desire or fantasy for some period of time.

I'm not completely ignorant on the topic of sexual pathology.  I'm a psychology minor at an overrated, highly expensive liberal arts college and I took a course in abnormal psychology my sophomore year.  We learned in this course that for something to be called a "mental illness," it must be a source of distress for you or those around you.  With this in mind, one might think "oh well in that case an asexual can just tell a psychiatrist he/she is happy that way and then he/she won't be diagnosed that way, right?"

Wrong.

In a society where asexuality is already very poorly understood, many men and women who are asexual enter relationships with partners who do desire sex.  Not wanting to threaten the relationship (or their chances at having any relationship) many asexual individuals have sex while deriving very little (if any) enjoyment from it.  In some cases, the asexual person in question will believe he or she is simply not ready or isn't in the mood or what-have-you.  This is what happened to me in my last relationship a couple years ago.  I told my partner I was not ready for sex.  It was obvious that she was becoming frustrated and impatient.  I would essentially force myself to kiss her and not feel anything.  No intimacy, no arousal, etc.  So, if you had asked me "does your lack of sexual desire cause you distress?" I probably would have said "YES!"  At the time, I had no idea that non-sexual romantic relationships were an option.  All I could see what that something about me made me unsuited to relationships and yes, that made me miserable.

My experience here is actually not that different from the experiences that many homosexuals likely had when homosexuality was pathologized in the DSM.  Originally, all homosexuality was seen as a mental illness.  In later revisions, homosexuality was only pathological if it presented itself as an "ego-dystonic sexual orientation."  This essentially meant that, like many people who would fit the bill for Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder, homosexuals were only pathologized if they did not want to be homosexual.

So in other words, if you're sick of belonging to an orientation minority that:

1. Cannot legally marry in most states.

2. Can legally be fired from jobs in many states.

3. Is often rejected by religious communities and families alike.

4. Is still widely discriminated against, stereotyped, and socially excluded.

5. Has a more difficult time finding people to have relationships than their heterosexual counterparts.

You must have an illness that requires therapy and possibly medication.

----

Hold up.  If you are unhappy because you are a member of a marginalized group of people and are having trouble finding happiness in a world that does not accept you, that means you're sick?  Does this seem ridiculous to anyone but me?  In the case of homosexuals, especially in light of many of the gay suicides in the news, some people are beginning to understand that the distress homosexuals might experience surrounding their orientation does not derive entirely from their own psyches and may actually be a reaction to the world they live in.  Though asexuals generally will not get fired from their jobs for being asexual, even heteroromantic asexuals do share many things in common with homosexuals:

1. Many of us still have parents who want grandchildren and are disappointed in us and/or for us.

2. Many of us still have friends who we will grow apart from because our interests, beliefs, and lifestyles are different.

3. Asexuals who want romantic relationships are likely to enter relationships that do not meet their needs.  Many of them will be pressured into being sexual relationships.  Unlike homosexuals who at least are generally aware that homosexuality is an option and may seek it out when they realize heterosexuality is not working out, asexuals often do not know that non-sexual relationships are an option and will continue to live unsatisfying and often emotionally damaging lifestyles in relationships that do not work for them.

5. In some cases, asexuals are victims of "corrective" rape by partners who wish to "show them" that they are not truly asexual, just like homosexuals can be victims of such rapes intended to prove that they are "really" heterosexual.

Obviously I am not interested in starting oppression Olympics between asexuals and homosexuals.  I have seen it happen before, ie: an asexual will express frustration at not being able to find a visible community and a homosexual individual will say that the real victims are those seen as sexual deviants, not those who are abstaining, blahbiddy blahbydoodahday.  I do not care whose pain is "worse" than who else's.  My point is to express that there are valid reasons for an asexual person to dislike who he/she is that do not relate to an "illness."

It is my opinion that sex is something a person should only engage in if he/she wants it for himself.  It should not happen if an individual is having it exclusively to please someone else, to keep a partner who will otherwise leave, or to prove something about his/her value or worth.  I keep wondering how many of the countless Americans who are on libido medication, marriage counseling for sexual issues, and so on and so forth might simply be asexual and unaware of it.  Of course I am not going to say that all (or even most) people with low sexual desire are genuinely asexual and would be best off in non-sexual relationships.  But if even some of the people diagnosed with HSDD are asexual and are exhibiting signs of a natural, healthy orientation, that is a problem.

Also problematic is how asexual is treated.  Let's imagine a marriage where one partner is sexual and the other is asexual.  To avoid gender stereotypes, the sexual person is named Teri and the asexual person is named Jaden.  They go into marriage counseling.  Teri wants to have sex every day and is extremely upset that Jaden does not seem to enjoy sex at all.  Jaden never wants to have sex and is upset about being pressured.  No psychiatrist is likely to tell Teri to take sex-drive eliminating medication so that both partners can be asexual.  Instead, most psychiatrists will focus on Jaden as the source of the problem.  Jaden will be put on medication or at the very least put into treatment designed to turn Jaden into a fully sexual person.  This quickly becomes an issue of privilege.  Who is being pathologized and why?  Why, in a situation where two partners have differing levels of sexual interest, is one considered healthy and the other not?

Jaden will likely be asked about early experiences with sex and messages about sex.  "Were you abused as a child?"  "Did your parents tell you nice things about sexuality?"  "Do you feel that sex is dirty/shameful/etc?"  I could just as easily turn these questions on Teri though.  "Did an abuser make you feel like your only worth was sex?"  "Did your parents tell you that you had to have sex in order to be valued in a relationship?"  "Do you feel like you can't be intimate without sex?"  "Do you resent people who won't have sex because it makes you feel insecure about your own desire?"

Most people would laugh at this.  They'd say, "but Teri wanting sex is NORMAL.  Of course a therapist isn't going to ask those questions because there's nothing wrong with Teri."  But who says there's anything wrong with Jaden?  Is Jaden unhappy with being asexual, or is Jaden unhappy being in a relationship that requires an undesirable activity?  This question, which seems important to me, is not asked often enough.

Sincerely,
A Friend of Rius

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why Katy Perry (the artist) Is Ruining Everything

Greetings, citizens.

A bit early today, because I'm anxious to finally get this done: the long-awaited "Why Katy Perry Sucks" article of The Weekly Madness.

Before I really dive into this, I want to put on a disclaimer: I do not know Katy Perry personally, nor do I know anything about her nature as a human being, other than that she will do unwise things for money and fame, which can be said of most people. For all I know she is actually a kind-hearted individual who wants nothing more than to elevate the human spirit through music. But whatever the truth may be about Katy Perry the person, the artistic persona and facility known as "Katy Perry" has a tremendous amount to answer for. For the remainder of this article, the words "Katy Perry" will be in reference to that institution, and whatever implicit association the person may or may not have to it.

Now, why Katy Perry specifically? There are tons of artists who have committed crimes of conscience against various groups of people, surely; as I observed in my previous article addressing one of Katy Perry's songs, it is actually a very difficult phenomenon to avoid. As I said there, I still don't have the stomach to perform an exhaustive investigation as to which band/artist is truly the "biggest" offender. For the time being, my own awareness is settled squarely on Katy Perry, because she alone has managed to insult my own sensibilities from almost every aspect, and done so thoroughly enough to burn that name into my mind.

Lets take a look at this offense list.

First of all, we know from my aforementioned previous article that Katy Perry perpetuates unacceptable stigmatizing of and misinformation about the word "bipolar," per her song "Hot and Cold." Thanks to her, a countless swath of pop-lovers now believe it is totally acceptable to blow someone off and not even attempt to understand them, simply because they have a diagnosis. Admittedly, part of the blame for this falls on society in general for failing to educate people adequately, to guard them against such ridiculous influences; ridiculous though they are, I know from experience that far too many fall victim to them. And the sources should be held accountable.

Katy Perry, please change the lyrics of your song to something not so incredibly marginalizing and offensive. And let me be clear, here, that I am not just talking about the use of "bipolar" anymore. There is also a pretty choice line about how the boy in question "change[s] [his] mind like a girl changes clothes." It may be valid to be frustrated by someone unable to make up their mind about their feelings towards you, but don't drag women's fashion into it, Katy. Even Lady Gaga is hard pressed to address that issue without being problematic, and you don't have anywhere NEAR the kind of chops that she does. Not only do you sound like an idiot, but you encourage everyone who listens to you to do the same. This, in turn, leads to lots of invalidation all around - reinforcing stereotypes about fashion and gender norms is a great way to marginalize those who don't meet them. Your smarter fans may be immune to some of this, but your common denominator, especially the young ones, are not.

Again, parents and other guardians should take a role here in protecting their charges from this kind of mind-numbing stupidity. On the other hand that is awfully hard to do when it's the most popular thing on the radio and if your child doesn't listen to it, they are summarily unpopular. Artists like Katy wield a tremendous amount of power in that respect and it offends me to see them abuse it by dropping casual reinforcement of such ridiculously outdated stereotypes.

Which brings me to Katy's breakthrough hit, through which I was first introduced to my long abiding hatred for her - "I Kissed a Girl." Now, if I haven't already made it clear, my opinion of mental health discourse and Madness in particular is that it can serve as a mode of expression for all forms of marginalization and oppression, as any such experience can harm one's mental health and since "otherized" thinking and Madness are essentially linked. As such, when we have a song like this, about "experimental" sexuality, it catches my attention.

This song received critical acclaim from a portion of the feminist community for acknowledging the existence of female/female relationships in a pop song, and a portion of the bisexual community for giving exposure to people who enjoy the physical company of men and women. It also received raging, terrible fury from the feminist and bisexual communities for its token, even fetishization of female/female relationships, and its reinforcing of the stereotypical image of the "bisexual slut." Frankly, I'm inclined to agree with the latter analysis.
With lines like "It's not what good girls do" and "I hope my boyfriend won't mind it" (paraphrase), this song pretty clearly demonizes anyone who legitimately does want to "experiment" with a consenting partner, and given how hard it can already be in some communities for a person to discover a non-heteronormative sexuality, I don't think we need any more of that kind of discouragement. Katy Perry is making it harder for bisexuals AND lesbians to be taken seriously, and that should make anyone Mad. And you will be considered Mad if you challenge Katy Perry thusly to any of her fans, who are legion.

It goes deeper than this, though; this song is just an example of an overall trend in Katy Perry's work, especially evinced by her recent candy-themed "California Girls." Her whole image is built on the "nice girls doing things they shouldn't" stereotype, which is actually a form of social poison. It reinforces the paradoxical expectation of women to simultaneously be innocent/naive and to have near-freakish libido (quoting a particular rap artist here, who wants "a lady on the street and a freak in the bed"). This is a project worked on from youth: young girls are taught to protect their innocence and wait for true love, and as soon as they reach hormonal age, they are bombarded with messages of how they must have sex. The only way to rectify this dissonance is with something like Katy Perry: craft a "good girl" persona that is also capable of being "bad."

In this manner, not only are girls forced into a crippling blend of identity crisis and the spectacle consumption (e.g. upholding damaging stereotypes) that results, but sexuality itself is completely degraded. It is reduced to a "naughty" act, with all of the lack of seriousness that terminology implies. This process, which personae like Katy Perry reinforce, turns sex into a scripted sequence of the "good girl" doing something "bad," but it's okay because of (insert justification here). Even within the rules of this system, people are being encouraged to do things they shouldn't, which wears on the soul. And looking at it from the outside, the system creates a model of sex divorced from practical consideration of real consequences, like pregnancy or STDs or the devastating emotional effects it can have, by overemphasizing the fabricated consequence of "not being a 'good girl' anymore."

And let there be no mistake that the "good girl" archetype is being pushed and prized. Katy Perry offers us another star example with her hit single, "Teenage Dream," a song with less substance than the Twilight novels (burn) and an even higher dose of implicit pedophilia. The premise of this song, essentially, is that "teenage" love is somehow more pure and perfect, especially as it is coupled with the "innocent" veneer of Katy Perry's persona, heightened by lyrics concerning the impact of "buil[ding] a fort out of sheets." This child-like activity stresses that the significant aspect of the relationship is its innocence. The song goes further still, the prechorus suggesting that the characters "go all the way tonight - no regrets, just love," a mere half-step away from saying point blank that sex and love are the exact same thing. Hasty decisions, framed in a context of naivety and immaturity, are prized here, and the overall impact of the song is one giant shout that "good girls" are somehow more desirable and appropriate.

What is insidious about this project is that it doesn't attempt to undo logical and emotional wisdom entirely, but rather to cripple it by creating a false paradigm for it to operate in. People go through all the right motions of weighing their options and trying to come up with an informed, good decision (we hope), but their context for doing so is one where the biggest concern is whether or not it matches the "good girl" stereotype. Even if a given person manages to escape that trap, others around them - potential boyriends, especially - will likely not have escaped, and will expect them to behave in accordance with that paradigm, and be upset if they don't. This leads to a general debasement of the populace into people who rarely think about the potential consequences of sex, and an utter estrangement of the few who do.

But before I completely lose the track of my argument here, I'd like to bring things back to more familiar waters for this site: Depression. What, Katy Perry has something to say about this phenomenon, too? In a manner of speaking, yes. See "Firework," one of the most-played singles between roughly November 2010 and Current.  "Firework" is part of an increasing trend of seemingly "upbeat" or "empowering" singles, whose popularity owes largely to their ability to make people feel special about themselves, a feat that is admittedly very, VERY lacking in our current market, if the above is any indication.

And somehow, even this manages to work completely the wrong way. Like many of the recent "empowering" movements, such as the "It Gets Better" campaign, it places most, if not all, responsibility for improvement squarely on the shoulders of the person who is being beaten down. "Firework" urges people to recognize their inner beauty and to let it shine, dazzling everyone around them, which is a beautiful message in theory, and a completely perfect way to get even more ostracized and beaten down in real life. This kind of message works wonders for a person who is more or less accepted to begin with and is going through a rough time, and is completely and horribly invalidating for someone whose life actually is awful and has no colors to show that can improve the situation.

I will concede that there is one line that catches my interest, as it is somewhat unique and somewhat helpful: she suggests to the listener that doors may be closed to you precisely so that you can open new, better doors. This suggests the need for change, which is good, but even this does so in a way that, again, puts all responsibility solely on the sufferer, and moreover takes blame away from the people causing suffering by suggesting that the "closed doors" are somehow meant to be. That's got to do wonders for a person being shut out by all possible sources of support, to believe that this is what they deserve.

What Katy Perry is doing is trying to take an empowered viewpoint to the disempowered, and that simply does not work. There is, as many current ethnographers and anthroplogists and other theorists on the human condition are discovering in the post-colonial world, a "violence of the assumption of proximity." Katy Perry does a huge violence on the seriously depressed by assuming that her viewpoint and philosophies are compatible with theirs and in any way helpful. To some, maybe they are, but I know that to many they are another notch on mainstream "sanity's" bedpost of conquest over mental health: be a Firework like Katy Perry tells you to, or there's something wrong with you.

Anyone who doesn't follow this "obviously" upbeat and inspiring message could be labeled a malcontent. The Mad get Madder.

As a final thought, consider that most of Katy Perry's work, like most artists these days as I understand it, is very heavily controlled by the producers in question - thus my insistence that we not view this rant as anything inherently against Katy Perry the person, but rather the artist/institute. And viewing it that way, what we see is an entire company dedicated to institutionalizing these anti-Mad, anti-thought, and overall extremely problematic mindsets. It is especially concerning to see a song like Firework, so directly concerned with people getting themselves into a better place of mental health, being concocted by such an obviously institution and money-motivated organization.

Ponder that and tell me that mental health itself isn't being made into a commodity in our culture, subject, like all commodities, to the regulations of the institutes responsible for them.

Thanks for your attention and your patience, New Mad Nation.

Sincerely,
R

Friday, April 15, 2011

No madness this week

Hi everyone,

I am taking a break this week. I am feeling a little overwhelmed between the fact that I finally got employed and am now working a very stressful job, and the bajillion other things that are piling up everywhere. We will return to regularly scheduled Madness next week.

Part of the New Mad Nation's philosophy, where "it shall be okay to not be okay," is an acknowledgment and acceptance of people's distress sometimes preventing them from being able to function. I hope you have all taken this to heart and will excuse my very brief hiatus.

Thanks as always,
-R

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Distress in the media - "Strength in Friends" and "Bitter loner" tropes.

Greetings, New Mad Nation!

This is my 16th post. That means we're starting my 16th week. Man, I can hardly believe it sometimes; we've definitely come a long way. Are you telling all your friends? Because this train isn't going to stop, but progress might get tedious without some fresh injections from the community. I need ideas, stories, anything to rant about, towards, or in support of. I can come up with my own if I dig enough, but I want to make sure the Citizens have a voice. Want to write a guest blog? Go for it! Email it to me at multimage99@aol.com and we'll see about getting it posted. Otherwise, the comment box below is your friend and mine.

All that said, it's time to dive in to my topic for this week, which is distress in the media. A few weeks ago I suggested that I might make a rant about the tropes of "strength in friends" and "bitter loner," and now I've decided to go ahead and do just that.

I'd like to start with something that I actually support, for a change, and talk to you about Little Miss Sunshine. Say what you want about this movie from any other angle, but it has a unique and refreshing approach to distress and dysfunction. The uncle, Steve, starts off having just been released from a hospital after trying to kill himself. This fact is handled rather without delicacy by his family, and thus with tremendous realism. It isn't over-dramatized, and he is given the chance to have his own narrative about it. Whether you agree 100% with everything he says or not, he is not portrayed at any time as a completely broken man who needs to be "shown the light" - in fact, he actually acts as one of the strongest voices of reason in the entire cast of characters. The man who was hospitalized is frequently saner than anyone else in the family. And that's exactly what I'm talking about when I say that the labels of "mental illness" don't necessarily have anything to do with your mental health!

Little Miss Sunshine really stands out amongst movies about mental health, in my experience and opinion, perhaps rivaled only in stark humor and insight by Harold and Maude, although I would absolutely love to have other titles added to this list. It honestly handles the fact that turbulent emotions are sometimes the only appropriate ones; it shows that "bitter loners" can still be functional human beings and that, while relying on family can be powerful, it can also suck. The whole affair ends with everyone but the family themselves being completely scandalized, chalking up a victory for "dysfunction" in a glorious subversion of the standard approach, where either the dysfunction would disappear, or it would somehow cease to be "dysfunctional" because everyone would approve of them. They are weird as fuck but once they accept that, they are successful. It's awesome.

Most movies that deal with distress are not like this.

Take the classic scene in Return of the Jedi, where Luke and the Emperor enjoy a brief philosophical battle with such perfect lines as Luke's observation, "Your overconfidence is your weakness," with the scathing rejoinder, "Your faith in your friends is yours." This pretty much sets up, from a long time ago (1983 - "and a galaxy far, far away"), the dichotomy between Goodness/Friendship and Evil/Solitude in Western film. It is hugely popular in Blockbuster releases and other media designed for mass consumption. Take the confrontation between Harry Potter and Voldemort towards the end of The Order of the Phoenix. It's basically the same damn conversation! Harry comes to understand that Voldemort's weakness is that he has no friends and therefor no one he can really trust. Everyone wants to stab him in the back because he is evil incarnate and therefor not to be trusted himself. Evil has no self-coherence in the overaching narrative; that kind of cooperation is reserved solely for "the good guys."

The lesson that being good wins you friends and being evil gets you stabbed like the Ides of March is a good one, I think, but A.) Totally inaccurate and B.) easily read backwards. Never mind the moral lard we're injecting people with about the nature of good and evil, let's take a look at the implications about friendship and solitude created by this paradigm. While it doesn't logically follow that, if evil implies backstabbing, then backstabbing implies evil, that won't stop people from subconsciously creating that association. Likewise, the association is made between having friends and being good.

I don't like this. Often times people are stabbed in the back precisely /because/ they are good people, and they are surrounded by imbeciles, non-believers, or downright villains. True, this is often the premise for a one-man hero adventure film - take Hot Fuzz for example, although since this is also a parody it rather proves my point for me - but he is always rectified in the end and everyone is on his side; it turns out the whole thing was just a misunderstanding, more often than not, and once the truth comes to light, everyone is his friend again. This strikes me as patently unrealistic.

Perhaps a more pressing issue is this question of friendship and goodness being associated, which by extension indicates that a lack of friends is a lack of goodness. The "bitter loner" trope emerges thus. We often see such a character redeemed by finally being able to accept the good graces of those around him and mesh with "the team." Even if he retains a certain "loner" feel, he still has "friends" now and that makes everyone more comfortable and clearly labels him as "good" once and for all. You see this a lot in video games, where you can never be quite sure of the new character's allegiance due to his aloofness, until he finally learns the meaning of friendship. (I'm looking at you, Amarant of Final Fantasy IX. [And Auron of FFX, Cloud of FFVII, Squal of FFVIII, Shadow of FFVI, etc. etc.) This can make for a compelling story line on occasion, but I feel the theme is repeated to the point of absurdity - rarely if ever does a loner character stay completely without friends, while still able to act in the name of "good." The one notable exception in this series that I can think of is Kain from FFIV, who actually IS used for evil, and even though people try to befriend him once he finally proves "good" again, he cannot accept their forgiveness and remains a loner basically forever - after he helps the good guys defeat evil, he abandons them. I LOVE this character. Not that I necessarily agree that you should run away from people trying to forgive you (I don't necessarily disagree either), but the moral ambiguity and the realness of it are just damn compelling.

Why, in almost every other case, does the loner end up with friends? Why do we have an obsession in our society with seeing this outcast "rectified" by joining up with the rest of the cast? I notice this more in the "mainstream" A-list films, of course; more independent work is often rife with exceptions to this, which I always appreciate. But the bulk of mass media will rarely have a character who is both unambiguously "good" and also a perpetual "loner." Is it because people are afraid of loneliness? Even when it is embodied in someone else, it seems.

Now it may seem that I have gone completely off topic here. Why, on a mental health blog, am I arguing about morality? Because what this kind of media message about goodness suggests is that loners are "not good." If they were, they would have friends. Mass media teaches us that "bitter loners" are either completely ambiguous about morality or, if good, must eventually develop friendship. Even The Batman in movies like The Dark Knight acts as an unequivocally "good" loner only through force of sheer necessity - he doesn't actually want to be estranged from the people of Gotham, and in his own dark way is indeed championed by them. Though "dark," he is still a friend of the people. Meanwhile, kids who sit alone in their room, refusing to hang out with those around them, often for completely legitimate reasons, are stigmatized for their decisions. Everyone knows, thanks to these kinds of messages, that if loners are not out fighting crime, they must be bad people, or at the very best of serious moral ambiguity. Why else would they avoid the rest of the "good" people out in the world?

This is all to say nothing, of course, about the countless onslaught of media messages that portray distressed teens and adults as whiney, mopey, "emo," and otherwise worthless, which do NOT help. True though it may be that some people deliberately cultivate this aesthetic, many others certainly do not, and they are much maligned by the seemingly deliberate conflation of these two sides on the part of the media.

I could spend another hour or two ranting about the fallacies in the "Strength in Friends" trope, especially in terms of how group-thought is often a consequence of this idea in real life, which leads almost exclusively to marginalization and oppression, particularly of those with mental or emotional turmoil, but I think you're starting to get the gist of my point by now. I'd love to see some additional suggestions and observations, or even some counters to any of my points - of all the Madness I've Madnessed so far, this is one of my most open and conversational. What are your takes on this issue? I'd love to know, I'm not 100% married to any of the ideas above; after all, I've never conducted any kind of thorough study on major blockbuster hits over the past thirty years (although now I almost want to!). That's why the discussion aspect is so important, I think.

Thanks as always for reading, fellow citizens. I look forward to next week, where I may expand on this discussion to cover the way that the News media handles similar issues of "loner"-ism - or anything else the Citizenry suggests.

Sincerely,
R