"By reason of mental disease or defect"

What better way to greet the weekend than with a conversation about insanity defenses, after all? …But seriously, B.E. folks — how do we feel about the role that pop-culture portrayals of “notorious” psychiatric or cognitive defenses play in our societal understanding of 1) mental illness and 2) its toxic relationship to criminal “justice”?

“You said a mouthful, SDB.” I sure did! I’m in the middle of previewing Monsters Inside: The 24 Faces of Billy Milligan — I’ll have a full review next week; Eve had an excellent overview of dissociative identity disorder’s (second) moment last month — and I can’t stop thinking about

  1. various diagnostic “clusters” over the years (The Catcher In The Rye implicated in the assassination/attempts of Lennon and Reagan);

  2. ham-fisted portrayals of certain diagnoses on police procedurals, i.e., Cynthia Nixon in the ninth-season premiere of SVU, “Alternate”;

  3. how those same procedurals choose to portray any cognitive impairment or delay, and how much more widespread those differences are among felony defendants than neat narratives can manage;

  4. and last but definitely not least, how we unconsciously receive everything from Sybil to Paradise Lost to Law & Order-verse episodes on rare conditions like “sexsomnia” [eye-roll emoji] — and whether these shows and movies and books can create compassion for defendants, or merely reinforce the idea that everyone except the cops is trying to get away with something.

I mean, I think we have part of our answer in re: item #4 (see: the numerous instances of cops thinking a Tazer is “social work”). I do wonder what our responsibility is as consumers. People watch and read a lot of true crime in order to be scandalized, then comforted in turn by forensic psych’s ability to identify and explain The Big Bad — fine, no judgment. And actors are seldom going to pass on the ham buffet that is a non-integrated set of personalities, let’s face it. But I wonder if some of these properties, like COPS, shouldn’t be re-interrogated and then put aside indefinitely. — SDB