Joy Behar is the New Ignorant
By Debbie Costello Smith (original post here)
I was watching The View the other day, largely because Bradley Cooper was on to discuss his role in Silver Linings Playbook. The movie is about a man who has bipolar disorder and has a setback after a traumatic personal event. It just so happens that it is set in Philadelphia, Cooper’s hometown and mine. Cooper went out of his way to assert that the director wanted an “authentic” portrayal of the protagonist, and nothing disparaging was said about the character, just that it was hard to play when trying not to stereotype his challenges. Joy Behar, allegedly an educated woman who is a former teacher, in preparation to asking him a question, said something like “there were a lot of crazies in this movie.” Then, without any apparent catalyst, said: “Bipolar is the new black.” I was astounded and honestly, angry. I told my husband what she said, to which he responded: “Joy Behar is the new ignorant.” I thought it was a perfect retort.
At first, I intended to write to The View, or maybe even write on Ms. Behar’s Facebook or Twitter account (not sure if she has them); however, I decided that the responses would probably only serve to aggravate me further. I honestly don’t trust the attitude of the population at large about views on mental health. I was sure she would take cover in being a comedian. I actually enjoy sarcastic humor. On this occasion; however, it was awkward, uninformed and inappropriate. Whoopi Goldberg tempered the comment by saying that she was black, but not bipolar. As another comedienne, Whoopi might have been being sarcastic, but it came off as a way to offset the inappropriate comment.
Bradley Cooper ignored the remarks and maintained a professional demeanor as he again reiterated the intent of the director to present an accurate picture of the challenges of the disorder. At the time, I hadn’t seen the movie (I have since), so I didn’t have an opinion on the movie. My reaction to Ms. Behar’s comments was visceral. There are actually two parts to her slur: (1) referring to characters as “crazies” and, (2) suggesting that bipolar disorder is the new trend. These opinions are definitely suggestive of the stigma that impedes progress in diagnosis, treatment and self-esteem.
Let’s take the first part….”crazies.” For that moniker to be assigned to characters in a serious movie is ignorant. Let’s say this was a Monty Python movie. Crazy could be a term that would fit some of the characters and their behaviors. They are supposed to be over the top. Crazy referring to people who are struggling with mental illness is unacceptable from anyone, never mind someone who professes to have worthwhile opinions. I am sure that there was a time when people who had medical diseases, like chronic migraines, were called “crazy” because effective diagnosis and treatment weren’t developed. Symptoms were real. Pain was real. Crazy they were not.
The disappointing thing to me was that there was no uproar after the fact. When one of The View members says something that people take offense to, the following day or so, they clarify their intent and often apologize. Not another word was said in ensuing days. I watched the movie this past weekend. I didn’t find the characters to be crazy in any way. Yes, they had some exaggerated responses to things, but that is the nature of bipolar disorder. What was significant to me was that the so-called “normal” people in the movie had quirky behaviors (Robert De Niro was obsessive compulsive and a bookie/gambling addict; Cooper’s psychiatrist was an avid Eagles fan who painted his face half green at games, etc.). This is life. We all have some unusual habits or beliefs. In the case of Cooper’s character, his behavior often crossed into the realm of mania – the point where it was diagnosed an illness and interfered with his life. Cooper’s and Jennifer Lawrence’s characters actually came through at times as the more stable and insightful of the group. They rose above their challenges and accomplished something really significant to them. Crazy is an insulting term that had no place in the discussion.
The second part, “bipolar is the new black,” was so flip and ignorant that I was actually dumbfounded. Where the hell did that come from? Why was that even necessary to say? She obviously doesn’t know from what she speaks. One in four people suffer from a mental illness. Three people in a hundred have bipolar disorder (10 x that number if creative). The cost of disability for mental illness is greater than all cancer and heart diagnoses combined. Statistics indicate, however, that a small portion of people with mental illness ever get care (lack of insurance, stigma, cost of prescriptions, etc., etc.). I spoke with a world-renowned expert on bipolar disorder and asked if he believed that BD was being over diagnosed. He adamantly disagreed with that assessment; in fact, studies show that BD Type II is many times more prevalent than currently thought.
There is more discussion about bipolar disorder, not because it’s trendy, but because people are beginning to talk about it. I’m taking a course on the relationship between mental illness and society and it’s enlightening. One author suggests that reduction of stigma and improved outcomes will only happen when there is a coming together of a community bound by a similar cause. In the case of mental illness, many people are still hesitant to admit that they have a diagnosis in that realm because of the reaction of others…maybe because of the attitude of people like Joy Behar. What’s sad is that she is supposed to be intelligent, educated and informed, at least capable of asking relevant and researched questions. If she were performing in her role as comedienne, one could possibly be more forgiving (although that form of comedy would still be completely tasteless), but she was assigned the role of interviewer.
I’d like to think that she was an isolated case of bias and ignorance. I prefer to think that people are better informed and that they are learning more about bipolar disorder with more empathy toward those who deal with its challenges. Unfortunately, I think her views are more common than I’d like to believe. I wanted to scream at her. I wanted to be a guest on the show and tell them what I’ve learned. Unfortunately, I’ve contacted shows before with no response. I’m not connected in that world. I take some solace in the fact that Bradley Cooper never sunk to her level; that he had the courage to portray a man with acute bipolar symptoms in a very compassionate way; and, that he is now speaking out about the stigma surrounding the disease. We can only hope that people who are connected like him will be able to mobilize that community strength that will educate the public and Joy Behar.
In the meantime, go see Siler Linings Playbook, if for no other reason than to support mainstream cinema willing to address the subject in a winning way. I was never impressed with Cooper when he was chosen as People’s Sexiest Man. I am now impressed with his courage, empathy and tolerance of uniformed and rude interviewers. I am proud that he is a fellow Philadelphian. I’d say Go Eagles! , but I still have to live in Atlanta and I love my adopted Falcons. Even some of the most emotional opinions can be changed.
Here’s hoping for a new view on mental illness and more Bradley Coopers.