Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Putting the Caped Crusader on the Couch

This article from the New York Times looks at the recent trend in DC Comics to redefine the world in which its superheroes live. It's too soon to say how well this is being received.

H. Eric Bender, Praveen R. Kambam, and Vasilis K. Pozios suggest that it may be time to deal fairly with mental illness their new contemporary world. If they want to update the fictional worlds of their characters, they should also consider updating the language and eliminating stereotypes.

Putting the Caped Crusader on the Couch

RESPONDING to years of declining readership, DC Comics — the publisher behind Superman, Batman and other superheroes — recently reintroduceditself with 52 new titles, featuring characters and story lines that better reflect today’s diverse sensibilities.

But it remains to be seen whether that diversity will include more accurate portrayals of mental illnesses. Although the reintroduction is in full swing, it’s not too late for DC to use its unique and influential position in American pop culture to combat harmful stereotypes.

Comic books have long relied on mental disorders to drive their most memorable villains. Consider the Batman line, in which the Joker, Harley Quinn and other “criminally insane” rogues are residents of Gotham City’s forensic psychiatric hospital, Arkham Asylum.

Introduced in 1974, Arkham grossly confuses the concepts of psychiatric hospital and prison. Patients are called “inmates,” decked out in shackles and orange jumpsuits, while a mental health professional doubles as the “warden.” Even the antiquated word “asylum” implies that the patients are locked away with no treatment and little hope of rejoining society.

Contrast that with real-world forensic psychiatric hospitals, where patients are typically incompetent to stand trial or judged not guilty by reason of insanity. These individuals are not inmates, since they have not been convicted of crimes and are not incarcerated.

Or consider the promotional material for a recent Batman comic featuring “Le Jardin Noir,” France’s own Arkham, which reads, “Someone has freed the lunatics, and unless they can be stopped, they’ll turn Paris into a surreal Hell on Earth!” If “lunatics” were replaced with an epithet for another minority group, would we consider it acceptable?
Read the whole article.

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