It’s a checkered history. Obsessive-compulsive traits have often been played for laughs (see the twitching doctor in Bringing Up Baby or hysterical accountant Leo Bloom in The Producers), mined as a source of mild amusement (as in the introduction of Jimmy Two Times, who says everything twice, in Goodfellas), or regarded as aberrant and obnoxious (e.g., the insurance executive who neatly arranges his desk in The Incredibles). The reason: repeated action–the basis of comedy. Being obsessive is, well, ridiculous.
In reality, however, OCD is a serious disorder that can pervade a person’s life and daily activities. Television, to a certain extent, has lifted some of the stigmas attached to the condition, with shows such as Monk going far to address the frequently trauma-oriented roots of it, but even that series pointed to the supposed humor in obsessive-compulsive behaviors. (And don’t get me started on The Odd Couple.) The fact is, we’re used to seeing caricatures of people with mental illness onscreen, and it’s hard to accept a truly serious, credible portrayal of someone combating the psychological barriers of OCD without a guffaw or two.
Humanity’s come a long way since the days of visiting asylums to chortle at the inmates. Movies such as David and Lisa and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden have helped change perceptions of mental illness, but they’re countered by flicks such as 50 First Dates or Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, in which issues such as short-term memory loss and Tourette syndrome are used as funny plot devices. Repeated, involuntary motion provides more laughs than compassion … until you experience it first-hand.
I know that experience intimately—as I have OCD. So does Setter. Because the author of this blog has it, too, and struggles every day to engage in normal, everyday activities that most people take for granted.
So in light of that, I’d like to ask Hollywood for understanding. Films can still be hilarious without making fun of OCD. Let’s find another movie mine for source material … unless it can be treated with the same empathy and respect informing the best aspects of our society.
That’s no tall order. It’s just the best one.