So, seeing as Vanity Fair is releasing the photos of Space Mom’s last photo shoot today, I thought I’d pick up one of her pet causes and run with it. Mental Illness.
I know for a lot of you that brings up thoughts of Victorian asylums, or for some of us, the spate of unjustified committals of friends during the great insurance scams of the1980s, when teenagers found themselves committed and drugged to the eyeballs, often because they’d been being teenagers. At the same time some of us whose parents did not subscribe to the insurance companies in question couldn’t access mental health care when our lives depended on it, and sometimes they did.
Mental health is still a touchy subject in all of society, not just geek culture. Media is particularly egregious about the way in which they depict mental illness, and geek media is one of the worst offenders.
Take Batman, the man himself and his rogues gallery of villains.* Sometimes we have no idea what the inciting incident is (Joker), but in some cases we do. Harley Quinn was seduced then abused by the Joker. Mr. Freeze is grieving for his dead wife. And Batman himself has never fully processed his parents’ deaths, and instead of getting therapy, dresses up like a bat and punches other mentally ill people in the face. Not to mention his wards, the Robins, where he often takes mentally traumatized teenagers (children), and traumatizes them further.
And it’s not just Batman. Magneto could stand several dozen, possibly hundred, therapy sessions, all of the X-men… If they didn’t arrive at the mansion traumatized, they certainly got that way not long after.
There is a pervasive air that letting the things you’ve been through paralyze you is weakness, and seeking mental health treatment is weakness. How often do we SEE a superhero in therapy? So rarely that John Kovalic of Dork Tower fame created an entire comic around the concept, Dr. Blink Superhero Shrink , because no one had ever seen that before, outside of the group therapy session in The Tick cartoon, which was played for laughs. Dr. Blink is an awesome comic by the way, if you haven’t read it.
Which is not to say that comics always get it wrong. One of the hands down best issues of Superman includes a scene where he talks a potential suicide down off the ledge (literally) instead of doing anything against her will. This is an epically well-written scene, and I can’t say enough good things about it.
Another excellent Supes moment is when Billy Batson reveals himself to Superman as DC’s Captain Marvel. The scene I’m talking about is about halfway down the page.
See, when Superman is written well, he can be incredible.
Superheroes may have amazing powers, but they are still people beneath it all. People with damage, who have lost loved ones as part of their story arc, who have taken amazing amounts of physical damage, who have killed. Not to mention all the other fucked up shit in their backstories, like Cap waking up 70 years in the future, or Bucky Barnes having to deal with a lost arm and. having been the Winter Soldier, or Captain Marvel (Marvel) losing her friend (boyfriend?) in the same explosion that gives her powers.
Now, some female characters do admit to dealing with the trauma in their past. Carol Danvers, for example, has a storyline where she takes the other Avengers to task for letting a stranger mind control her, impregnate her and take her away from them to have the baby. She also has anger issues directed at Rogue for her stealing of Carol’s powers and memories. However, she still never talks about seeking treatment.
But even then, we don’t see a lot of what the PTSD really entails, outside the accepted avenue of anger. We don’t get to see Cap breaking down and sobbing when he realizes he’s alone in the future. We don’t get to see Magneto hugging his children and never wanting to let them go, although we do see its inverse, keeping them at arm’s length out of fear that he will get too attached and lose them. We don’t see the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver deal with the trauma of being second-generation holocaust survivors (this is a very real thing).
Between the years of 2009 and 2012, 27,602 US military veterans committed suicide. And even the VA who gathered the numbers thinks that this is a very conservative estimate and that the real numbers are much, much higher. Many veterans do not seek treatment for the PTSD that drives them to suicide because of societal stigma. The ones who do often have trouble accessing resources because the VA is desperately underfunded, and the Trump administration plans to cut funding further. Tell me again how this is supporting our troops.
Don’t you think it would help maybe just a couple of veterans to see Captain fucking America talking to a counselor to get over his own PTSD? Maybe even just mention in the movies that he does have a therapist, and that it is helping? Anything to help destigmatize seeking treatment, particularly for men.
Space Mom would want us to keep talking about this, and that’s what I’m gonna do. Expect some more posts on this topic.
*BTW, mentally ill people are far more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators.
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