A few days ago, the New York Times ran an Op-Ed piece by Jamie Stiehm, whose sister just happens to be a writer/contributing producer of Homeland. And, no surprise here, its Jamie’s manic episode that was drawn upon to make the main character, Carrie Mathison’s, experience with bipolar so real. Right down to Carrie’s obsession with green pens and different colored highlighters (which are all at my elbow as I type).
Homeland had a great night at the Globes last Sunday. “…Claire Danes, the show’s incandescent star, was nominated for, and then won, the Golden Globe for best actress in a TV drama series; the show also won for best TV drama.” This has the bipolar community (and my husband) abuzz with kudos and hope that this series will help fight the stigma bipolar disorder carries.
But, will it?
Conflict is what makes stories interesting. Ask any novelist, screenplay writer, basically anyone who tells stories for a living and they will tell you that without some good conflict, you ain’t got nuttin’. What made Carrie such an interesting character in Season 1 is not that she is bipolar, but that she was very good at setting up her own conflicts. She set up illegal surveillance to watch a suspected terrorist, stalked the man, had sex with hm, fell in love with him, compromised her job as a CIA agent at every turn and, let’s face it, sometimes acted pretty loony in the process. Although the above made for great plot points and conflict, there’s not much I can do with that to fight stigma. Because Homeland is all about characters, not bipolar. And Carrie has some serious character flaws. When we are trying to fight the stigma of an illness, an individual’s character really has nothing to do with any of it.
Fighting stigma is about educating people about the illness at hand and dispelling any misconceptions. People need to be educated about bipolar disorder without muddying the waters with flawed character traits. Only when people understand the illness can they begin to see that just because someone is bipolar, it does not mean our national security will be threatened. If anything, Homeland is bad for fighting stigma. What makes Carrie Matheson a great character is exactly what makes her bad for fighting stigma.
Jamie Stiehm concluded her NYT Op-Ed article, “So let a thousand conversations bloom. Secrets held up to light and air lose their power in the public square. Spies know it as keepers, and writers know it as tellers.” True. But, it’s still up to us Bipolars to set the agenda for the conversations about fighting stigma. We need to lead participants down a path not about a fictitious character on a TV show, but down a path of education.