A 30-second promotional clip for today’s episode of “Dr. Phil” is disturbing, beyond question. It shows Shelley Duvall, from “The Shining,” “Popeye,” “Nashville” and other well-known films talking to the fake doctor about her mental illness.The syndicated advice show’s promo shows Duvall, almost unrecognizable, talking about how her “Popeye” co-star, the late Robin Williams, is alive and “shape-shifting.” She says she is being threatened by Robin Hood’s Sheriff of Nottingham, and that a “whirring disc” is inside her.
The ad ends with Duvall, 67, telling Phil McGraw, “I’m very sick. I need help.”
She certainly sounded like it, and looked like it too.
Now Dr. Phil is being criticized for exploiting a vulnerable mentally ill woman for her audience drawing powers. The daughter of Stanley Kubrick, who directed Duvall in her most famous role as Jack Nicholson’s terrorized wife in “The Shining,” is leading the charge. Vivian Kubrick called for a boycott of the popular daytime program, tweeting, “You are putting Shelley Duvall ‘on show’ while she is suffering from a pitiable state of ill health. Unquestionably, this is purely a form of lurid and exploitative entertainment — it’s appallingly cruel.”
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:
Is it unethical for “Dr. Phil” to feature Shelley Duvall this way?
“How, people ask, can you shoot four people, one of them a President, and ever see the light of day again? If any act requires permanent confinement, isn’t it this one? The answer should comfort us, not terrify us: the rule of law applies to everyone, even the notorious. (Edited to add: or, at least, it ought to.)..
Is John Hinckley, Jr. dangerous to society? Doctors don’t think so after 35 years, and he’s successfully completed many outside visits and excursions to date. Is it dangerous to have a legal norm that the gravely mentally ill who commit violence may eventually be released? I doubt 35 years of forced treatment and confinement is the sort of leniency that leads anyone to violence. What about exceptions to the rule of law? If we ignore the rules and evidence because a particular person is sufficiently notorious, because of our gut, how dangerous is that?”
—–Popehat lawyer/blogger Ken White, in a post explaining why the outrage of some over the imminent release of John Hinckley, Jr. is one more example of the public and the news media being willing to jettison the basic principles of American justice because it seem right.
(Answer: Very dangerous indeed.)
I admire Ken for his post (as I do for most of his posts) because first, it is extremely timely, with both conservatives and progressives itching to jail various individuals—cops, Hillary Clinton– who they just know deserve to be in prison, and thinking that’s justice. Second, Ken was much nicer in his explanation than I would have been.
I mostly missed this controversy, in part because it doesn’t seem to me that it should be controversial to anyone with the level of comprehension of our criminal justice system that a mature, educated and responsible citizen should have. Where’s the controversy? Hinckley wasn’t found guilty of trying to assassinate President Reagan and wounding him and three others in the process. He was acquitted, because he was so crazy that under the insanity defense, he was found to lack the necessary mens rea to find him culpable for his own acts. He wasn’t sentenced to spend all this time in a mental hospital as punishment, but as treatment. Now that doctors have found him sane, of course they are letting him out. He committed no crime, in the eyes of the law, and sane people who have not been convicted of crimes get to be free, like you and me.
What’s so hard about that?
Well, it is hard for some people, and Ken is remarkably clear and patient in explaining why, as he says, we should be comforted that a Hinckley is still protected by the rule of law.
I won’t blame Jodie Foster if she isn’t comforted, though. That’s a lot to ask.
We know that Omar Mateen planned an attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. We know he used a pistol and an AR-15 rifle—which he purchased legally– to shoot over a hundred people, leaving 50 people dead and 53 injured. We know he was homophobic, that the FBI interviewed him three times, and that he had pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State as his deadly assault began. We know that his father is a pro-Taliban, anti-American activist. We know that the shooter’s co-workers noticed that he was unstable, but that his bosses were reluctant to take any action for fear of appearing “racist.” We will Mateen’s ex-wife says he was prone to violence and that she believes he was mentally ill.
We will undoubtedly learn more. Still, that’s a lot of data. Isn’t it possible to objectively, dispassionately weigh and measure causes and effects and come to fair and reasonable conclusions that can guide policy without partisan gridlock?
It is possible to at least try, but so far, pundits, elected officials and activists aren’t trying. They are allowing confirmation bias to dominate their thoughts; what matters isn’t what caused this tragedy, but what they want to believe caused it.
To arch conservative pundit Michael Walsh, for example, the problem is that the United States allows Afghanis and Muslims to be citizens:
Ah, Afghanistan, the land of sexually primitive boy-molesters who channel their aggression into wife-beating and mass murder…That’s par for the course for marriages to Muslims, as many real American women who’ve married one of them knows. Flowers, limos, candy… and the second after the vows, domestic prison and beatings for life or until they can escape….The Florida shooter is Exhibit A why the notion of “birthright citizenship” — he was an Afghan Muslim who by sheer chance was born in New York — needs to be drastically curtailed in light of changed circumstances.
“I find it rather astonishing that anyone would be so naive as to imagine, in this day and Information Age, to think that it is a good idea to simultaneously a) be mentally ill and b) play attack dog on the Internet…if you have a mental illness and you are foolish enough to attack me, then you can be certain that I will exploit your weakness to whatever extent I happen to find useful or amusing…If you are weak, then for the love of God and anything else in which you happen to believe, do not attack the strong!”
This Ted Beale, alias Vox Day. Let us never speak of him again.
—Theodore Beale, writing as “Vox Day” on his blog, commenting on Popehat blogger Ken White’s post about his clinical depression, which was highlighted on Ethics Alarms here.
The whole post must be read to get the full flavor of Beale’s ego-soaked viciousness. It is also a good example of signature significance: only a self-professed “cruelty artist” would produce such offal, even once. Yes, being a cruelty artist is unethical.
Ken’s interest in gaming and science fiction has the unfortunate side-effect of making him aware of Vox Day, a science fiction writer who has built a following based on his espousal of misogyny, homophobia, and other vile causes metastasizing on the dark side of the far right. He also, obviously, believes in encouraging the stigma of mental illness, which marks him as ignorant.
My only guess as to why Ken bothered to scratch this human boil is that he was annoyed by Beale/Day’s sexist, racist machinations regarding the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and the.Hugo Awards. It all smelled of Gamergate to me, and like that convoluted mess, my interest in it (and ability to research it sufficiently to comment intelligently on it is best described by reference to George S. Kaufmann’s description of his interest in crooner Eddie Fisher’s love life:
Mr. Fisher, on Mount Wilson there is a telescope that can magnify the most distant stars to twenty-four times the magnification of any previous telescope. This remarkable instrument was unsurpassed in the world of astronomy until the development and construction of the Mount Palomar telescope.The Mount Palomar telescope is an even more remarkable instrument of magnification. Owing to advances and improvements in optical technology, it is capable of magnifying the stars to four times the magnification and resolution of the Mount Wilson telescope.Mr. Fisher, if you could somehow put the Mount Wilson telescope inside the Mount Palomar telescope, you still wouldn’t be able to see my interest in your problem.
Chris Marchener had several excellent posts today, but I am re-posting this one as the Comment of the Day for several reasons. It was in response to another commenter’s opinion that Fox News anchor Shepard Smith was not inaccurate to call Robin Williams a coward for succumbing to his suicidal urges. To the contrary, Smith was wrong, and his statement was cruel and irresponsible. Suicide arising out of mental illness runs—indeed, gallops—in my family: a great-uncle and three cousins killed themselves, and I knew the cousins and their battles with mental illness well. Sadly, much of the public is unschooled in what mental illness does and how and why it so often leads to suicide. Chris’s explanation of why Smith was exposing his ignorance may help enlighten some of the many who need enlightening. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, “Why Fox News’ Robin Williams Gaffe Matters.”
It is quite easy to play armchair quarterback when you are not cursed with an affliction that renders you powerless to find comfort. You said “It’s borne of being unwilling to face the hard truths, make the hard changes, take the big risks needed to alter one’s own circumstances.” That perspective is fine when you are talking about behavioral sociopathy but when the chemistry in the brain is altered the individual has very little or any control over the outcome. I’ll bet that Robin Williams did more to face his demons than most anyone else would who do not also suffer from a chemical disorder of the brain. Unless you have some personal insight into his medical history a blanket claim of being a coward is unjust.
At this time, there is no prosthesis for remedying the destructive processes of mental illness other than using drugs to alter the brain chemistry. Unlike a prosthetic limb there is no guarantee that the medication will work as desired. Furthermore, as my wife and I have found out the hard way, long term use of anti-seizure and anti-depressives can have a high rate of mortality from the medications themselves.
Calling someone a coward after the fact is not merely unnecessary and hurtful it turns some people away from acknowledging the need for help. All reports show that he did seek help and did his best to confront his problems head on. Despite that he succumbed.
Wait…I think I’ve seen this wreck before!
Richard Hernandez’s enraged rant at the National Rifle Association for getting three people stabbed to death by Elliot Rodger signaled that this mass killing would be exploited to the max by a succession of unscrupulous and/or irrational activists, social critics, and pundits, and, as my son used to say before he stopped respecting the French, “Voilà!”
The burgeoning ethics train wreck looks like it might be even more infuriating than most, though nothing, ever, will be able to top the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman Ethics Express for pure, widespread, unethical lunacy. Early indications are that the usual suspects will try to wring lessons from the crazed acts of a very unusual, spectacularly deranged, unsympathetic creep as if the fair and obvious answer isn’t there for all to see who are objective and smart enough to perceive it: this one mad act proves nothing. Not about the U.S., men, not about whites, not about guns, not about law, not about Hollywood. Nothing.
It’s a big country, and there’s lots of time before climate change destroys us all or something else does first. The attack of Elliot Roger is the opposite of signature significance, an utterly meaningless convergence of factors with fewer lessons to teach than other odd but deadly events, like the Great Boston Molasses Disaster of 1919, or the St. Pierre Snake Invasion of 1905. He means nothing, and should be shunted aside to obscurity as quietly and quickly as possible, so his undeserved notoriety doesn’t set off differently motivated but similarly unhinged sociopaths who are teetering on the brink. Unfortunately, that would require journalists, politicians and single-issue fanatics to be fair, logical and responsible. Continue reading
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