The Curmudgeon’s Corner
The Media + Robin Williams
August 17, 2014
It would take longer than the time I have left on this earth to discuss all the complaints I have with our current news media; however last week’s performance exemplifies many of them. I spent much of my time this last week being dumbed down by CNN. You might ask ‘why didn’t you simply turn the channel?” and my answer is: if I had not watched it I wouldn’t be able to complain, besides where else is a news junkie to go? MSNBC and FOX news function as political propaganda machines rather than as news organizations. I had some hope for Aljazera USA, but was told by Time-Warner that I must buy a separate cable box in order to get it on the kitchen TV where I prefer to get my morning news. I suppose it is a coincidence that Time-Warner is the parent company of CNN.
Perhaps you have noticed that CNN only does one story per week; although that story is repeated continuously until something juicier comes along. Each retelling is presented with great fanfare as “breaking news”. Occasionally, they might break in to mention some trivial world events such as the numerous wars raging throughout the world, or the plight of the millions of refugees throughout the world facing starvation, genocide or slaughter. I sense they would prefer to focus on domestic stories for it must be cheaper to use reporters from affiliates than to hire independent foreign correspondents, which the closing of most of their news gathering facilities throughout the world necessitates.
The story to which I am referring mercifully ended in less than a week as it was recently replaced by the shooting in Missouri, which remains at the top of the charts. This morning there was breaking news that the Governor was planning to visit Ferguson again. How exciting! As you may have guessed the suicide of Robin Williams was the story of the previous week. I have always been a fan of Robin Williams and thought he and Johnathon Winters were the two funniest men in the world. My wife commented the other day that Robin had “kind eyes”, and watching the clips on TV, I had to agree. I was also impressed that his humor was not at the expense of others. There is no question that this man was a comedic genius in addition to being an exceptional actor.
Prior to my bitter old man days, I was a psychiatrist and as such have always had an interest in what makes people tick. I have found the genius thing to be especially interesting. For example, how is it that the brains of so called savants can perform unbelievable acts of genius when in all other areas they are so limited? In my younger days I had also done some research into attempting to learn more about suicidal behaviors. With these sorts of questions in mind, I found myself listening to a parade of so called experts discussing Robin’s life and tragic death. Physicians generally spend a lot of time attending lectures by various experts; consequently I have had a lot of experience in this area. I have even pretended to be an expert myself on occasion. Somewhere along the line some medical truth teller defined an expert as “someone more than fifty miles from home with slides.” I felt a CNN mental health expert could be characterized as “a smooth talker with an agent.”
With the exception of Dr. Oz (really smooth) who did give a short but accurate monologue about depression, I felt the experts sounded like amateurs. I feel sure that it would take any first year trainee in psychiatry about 15 minutes to diagnose Mr. Williams. His history of depression, and substance abuse, quick, nay lightning fast wit, periods of impaired judgment, racing thoughts, and family history were absolutely diagnostic of Bipolar I disorder. Bipolar disorder frequently gets bad press, and I felt this would be a wonderful opportunity to dispel some of the myths about the disease. Many historians now think that many of our most creative people have been afflicted in some form. Robin Williams certainly was in that group.
Arthur Miller, the playwright once said that he had not been able to write anything worthwhile since he started on lithium (a mood stabilizer) but he felt wonderful. This is the man who wrote Death of a Salesman in one day. Yes, bipolar patients can be incredibly productive until they run out of gas and fall into a pit of intolerable hopelessness, and despair. I don’t believe any of us who have not experienced that pain can truly understand suicide.
Robin Williams paid a big price for his genius, and I can’t help but wonder if in the past I may have stifled some potential genius’s creativity by treating his Bipolar disease. Yeah, unintended consequences can be a bitch, but I wager that Robin would have gladly traded fame and fortune for euthymia.