Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bipolar Barack

Some time ago I wrote a post that questioned the practical feasibility of electing a U.S. president with openly diagnosed bipolar disorder. I caught some flak for that, but I have changed my point of view only today, thanks to this mind-blowing story by The Onion. This changes everything. Vice-President Biden is helpfully diagnosed as well at the end of the first clip. If President Obama starts to put on a lot of weight, we'll know why. (No, this is not a cheap shot at bipolar disorder; it's merely hilarious).


Anonymous said...

Love your blog. But how do you respond to people diagnosed with a serious label such as bipolar who consider this sort of thing representative of the unacceptable domain crossing between illness and negative insult? Is their refusal to accept the description of hilarity to be expected as part of their symptom cluster?

Novalis said...

That's a good and complicated question, and I'm sure the Onion piece does cross over into tastelessness. But arguably anyone--even a doctor--should reserve the right to be tasteless every now and then, and perhaps there is no better place for that than an "anonymous" blog. One can't dwell in the sublime all the time.

There is certainly nothing amusing per se about the grave illness of full-fledged bipolar disorder. But I found the piece amusing for two reasons. One, Obama has come down to earth in public estimation, so this parodies the kind of "gotcha" story that Fox News, for instance, might run. Similarly, the reference to Asperger's is not funny because Asperger's itself is funny, but because it is applied to Joe Biden, whose social miscues are well known.

Also, and this may not have been the authors' intention at all, but it also lampoons the notoriously flexible and all-explaining aspects of bipolar disorder as a diagnosis, a bagginess that does a disservice of course to all those with unambigious Bipolar I Disorder.

To avoid abject burnout, it is necessary at times to laugh, not at patients, but at the sometimes absurdity of the profession and its process. Any offense is surely not intended.

Pete said...

I loved this clip because I thought it was laughing 'with' as opposed to 'at' Barack, our adulation of him and subsequent bringing down to earth, the ubiquity of mental illness, Bipolar (II) as a catch-all diagnosis. I agree that Bipolar I is very serious but lots of us show symptoms of highs and lows and could (on an off day) get caught up in the diagnostic net. Thanks for the laugh!

Anonymous said...

Funny. Bi-polar. I've had to develop a thick skin over the years to live with myself because of some of the stupid, embarassing, alarming things i do when i'm not quite right. But at the same time i've had to smile (perversely perhaps) at some of the very same things. it's all contextual... errr... or something. Richey

Anonymous said...

I may be old fashioned but do like
the previous name of bi-polar disease
"Manic-Depressive" as a title.
If one has ever married one with this illness (un beknowest to them at the time) ,you would know from where I talk.No comedy there.

Retriever said...

Remember the old story about how, to a policeman, the world is divided into two kinds of people: perpetrators, and those not yet caught? Well, I belong to a family like that: everyone has a diagnosis or shouold have...(in the eyes of some). I tend to joke that when our clan moves to town, some shrinks say with relief "Yes, honey, we will be able to afford to remodel the kitchen after all..."

One of our saving coping mechanisms has been humor. The more tasteless the better. I loved the Onion piece. Even tho I sometimes get fed up with the site, I go back to it.

I grew up on Monty PYthon, who are so rude and disrespectful and make so much fun of everyone that they can't be accused of prejudice. So I like some humor about mental disorders. Better sometimes to laugh than cry or despair.

Also, having grown up in ENgland, I miss political satire, and the way they mock all politicians. In this country, if we mock the pretensions and contradictions of our political leaders, we can risk severe consequences. Our political muggers do not have much of a sense of humor. Or are at least not quite as resigned to being the butt of jokes as the Brits...

BUt it's tricky. I can howl with laughter when with friends or family who are either sufferers or who care for family members who are, but I tend to react furiously when the uncaring and ignorant blessedly lucky ones (who have no ill family members) jeer or make fun. So it's okay for people in "the family" to joke about it, but not those outside.