Obsessions, Compulsions, and the Media

Willow Rickert-Osborne
Pop Culture 254

When examining the media and its content it’s often found to be loaded with stereotypes. The effect of these over exaggerated characters are supposed to liven the television show or movie they are placed in. However, sometimes these stereotypes are damaging to the viewers. For example, obsessive compulsive disorder is the focus of this paper and was analyzed through three different popular culture artifacts: As Good As It Gets, Monk, and The Big Bang Theory. After dissecting each primary source there were a few comparisons that lead me to my conclusion: characters with OCD stay the center for comic relief while half of the disorder is disregarded. Because of this, the media is reinforcing negative and unrealistic stereotypes as opposed to breaking them.

To give some context on the disorder Heyman et al states that OCD is a widely common mental illness (424). Symptoms associated with the illness include the patient suffering from obsessions and compulsions (most of the time). Sometimes obsessions and compulsions can be separate. Thus, recurring similarities are “…anxiety about harm… a need for symmetry or orderliness, often associated with counting, ordering, and arranging compulsions; unwanted fears and images about committing aggressive or sexual acts; and compulsive hoarding” (Heyman et al 425). In other words, OCD is a branch of an anxiety disorder that causes the brain to have unwanted thoughts that result in some of these compulsions listed above.

 

The first pop culture artifact I chose to analyze is As Good As It Gets, a movie filmed in 1997 with Jack Nicholson as the main character: Melvin Udall. In order to see how the media wanted this movie presented to the public it was important to watch one of the main trailers. Some of the focal areas of emphasis in the trailer start off with the Melvin Udall being extremely rude to his neighbor. After that, Mr. Udall is automatically called appalling by the narrator, a freak show, and the worst person on the earth. Watching the trailer doesn’t give the same effect as just listening the words. This is because while the narrator says these negative comments about Melvin, he is acting out in ways that are considered funny or immature. For instance, in the trailer Melvin is seen dancing around in his favorite restaurant mocking the people who are sitting in his seat, which he sits in every day, and jumping over cracks in the sidewalk. Thus, in order to really see how damaging the trailer can be it’s important to analyze it. According to college professor Bill Hudenko, Jack Nicholson did a great job at portraying the disorder in daily life compared to other media depictions. Therefore, Melvin definitely exemplifies the characteristics of someone who has obsessive compulsive disorder. A few reasons he does a successful job portraying the disorder lies in his actions. For example, Melvin has to lock his door three times before he leaves his house, his candy is separated and color coded, and he eats breakfast at the same diner every day. While you read this you may be wondering why I chose an artifact that is almost twenty years old as opposed to something current. Well, I wanted to choose an older artifact so I could compare it with some of the newer ones that will follow. While I think the movie As Good As It Gets is trying to make an attempt at raising awareness about the disorder it does it in a more negative light when compared to Monk or The Big Bang Theory. Despite the fact that Jack Nicholson successfully depicts some of the common actions that people with OCD experience he is still portrayed as an unfriendly bully who is misunderstood.

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Another primary source that displays the identity of obsessive compulsive disorder is the television show Monk. This show’s main character is a detective living a perfectly normal life with this disorder. He displays some of the more common compulsions like washing his hands and organization in comparison with As Good as It Gets. In one episode Monk was at the doctor’s office and there were a few vials of blood on the counter. Of course the blood wasn’t evenly placed in the vials, so he mixed the different blood types together in order to get them to be level with each other! He does this with decaf and regular coffee pots in another episode as well. However, the whole point of this series is to show that people with this disorder can lead normal lives and have careers. While it is a comedy it can still be inspirational to its viewers because it gives the audience the idea that obsessive compulsive disorder is something that can be conquered and functioned with on a daily basis.

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Lastly, Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory shares signs of obsessive compulsive disorder as well. This can be seen in almost every episode when he goes to visit his neighbor Penny. He has to knock on her door three times while saying her name in order for it to feel right. There was one episode where she came to the door before the third knock and he had to ask her to shut it so he could finish his ritual. Sheldon also is very serious about where he sits on the couch as well as his spot in the parking lot of the college where he works. His consistency and dramatic attitude if that consistency gets broken is common in patients with obsessive compulsive disorder.
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After reviewing all three of the pop culture artifacts it’s important to recognize that there is some truth in these stereotypes. For instance, a lot of the compulsions are very typical for people who suffer from this disorder. However, these tics are not as funny as they are portrayed in the media. Experiencing these compulsions can be extremely isolating and emotional and that is something neither one of these sources addresses. Also, the other side to the disorder is never discussed which would be the trigger for these compulsions: the obsessions. According to Heyman et al. in the Clinical Review, the obsessions are uncontrollable thoughts that the patient has and in order to eliminate the stress/anxiety from these unwanted thoughts they are acted upon through the compulsions. Thus, compulsions are unwanted actions that are uncontrollable. In other words, this disorder is something that cannot always be contained physically or emotionally.

Despite the issue that the media does not fully portray this disorder within it’s characters it is also important to realize that it can. As of now our stereotypes on mental illness in the media give the general public a preconceived idea on how people with mental illnesses act and what type of people they are. The result of this is a growing judgmental society. For instance, so far violence is one of the most common stereotypical characteristics of a person who has a mental illness (Stuart 5). This isn’t just addressed in tv shows or movies either. The news is another culprit for the negativity that surrounds mental illness. In short, news reporters want to draw in a large audience, so over exaggeration is very typical within news stories. However, there are some reporters out there that are honest and true to the story, but still choose the negative story because it will attract a larger audience (Stuart). While these are common issues in the media that shape our perceptions from early on we can start to change how our ideas are formed about mental illness. We can achieve this change in perception by putting more emphasis on positive stories or even a balance between the negatives and positives. By doing this we won’t be prone to believe people who suffer from disorders are so different from the general public.

Learning Moments:

Before this class I was pretty ignorant to the media. I think that’s one reason why I chose this SINQ. I was a hermit. I don’t have Facebook. I don’t have television. I didn’t have the knowledge to analyze the media because I wasn’t constantly interacting with it. However, this class forced me to become comfortable with this all consuming pop culture. For example, in week three we were given a hand out that would help us during the process of dissecting an ad: Deconstructing an Advertisement. This assignment was engaging on a level I had never been with advertisements. In order to test out our new knowledge we were prompted to use this handout and analyze an advertisement for e-cigs. After this, I started to really think about the ads I am subjected to on a daily basis and why or why not they interest me. Some more resources that encouraged this basis for analysis were given to us in week two which were three videos focused on analysis moves. These included “acknowledging bad habits”, “identifying purpose and form”as well as “microscope”. The first move, “acknowledging bad habits, stressed that they key to truly making a strong analysis is to be an objective thinker, while “identifying form” forced us to understand who the ad was for and “microscope” encouraged us to see details and realize that they are there for a reason. Analysis wasn’t something I was particularly good at. However, by having these resources under my belt I feel more confident when it comes to analyzing pop culture media.

Bibliography
As Good as It Gets. Dir. James L. Brooks. Perf. Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, and Greg Kinnear. Tristar, 1997. Film.
The Big Bang Theory. CBS. 24 Sep. 2007. Television.
Deamer, Kacey. “Cleaning Up OCD Stereotypes”. buzzsawmag.org. 15 November 2009. 29 October 2015. Web.
Heyman, D Mataix-Cols, N A Fineberg. “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder” Clinical Review. 333.7565 (2006): 424-29. Print.
Monk. USA. 12 July. 2002. Television.
Stuart, Heather. “Media Portrayal of Mental Illness and Its Treatments: What Effect Does It Have on People with Mental Illness?” CNS Drugs. (2006). 99-105. Print.

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This entry was posted in Fall 2015 by rickertosbornew. Bookmark the permalink.

About rickertosbornew

At heart I am an artist and I am really interested in the visual arts. I am a barista at a local coffee shop in SE Portland where I live with my boyfriend and my cat. In my free time I like to look for forgotten treasures at thrift stores, hiking, camping, and working in my tiny garden.

3 thoughts on “Obsessions, Compulsions, and the Media

  1. Hi Willow,

    I have an aunt that has these extreme OCD tendencies. For example, before leaving to go anywhere, she has to go in and out of the house multiple times checking if all the doors are locked, all the lights are off, and if the stove is turned off. It is indeed not as funny experiencing these situations in person. It’s frustrating for my aunt and the rest of the family.

  2. Hello Willow,
    I thought your essay was well put together and easy to read due to the ideas flowing really well with each other. I like how you used an old artifact in order to compare how OCD is portrayed. It seems that OCD is now being shown in a more positive light. As you said, Melvin was seen as an unfriendly bully, while the other shows you listed the people with OCD were seen in a more positive light. Sheldon’s OCD was meant to be something that the audience laughs at and in Monk the character’s OCD is used to show that the character can still live a normal life despite the disorder.

  3. Willow,
    I found your topic really interesting. I hadn’t ever considered how OCD is portrayed in the media, but now I realize people with this disorder are often seen as funny, and that isn’t fair. I’m really glad you brought this disorder to light. One part that struck me as interesting is the color organized candy. I have eaten Skittles by color and in a specific order since I was a kid. It really bothers me not to, and I always find it interesting to hear about other people doing this as well.

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