The names of mental health diagnoses change all the time -- committees meet to throw out some, suggest new ones, change the definitions of the ones that stay, and so on. They are not “real” things like a virus or a fungus or a bacterial infection or a broken leg. The “health” parallel doesn’t always hold up. Sometimes a syndrome that is quite common and seemingly “real,” just vanishes. Like, for instance, the belief that a limb is paralyzed when physically it is not. It was called “hysteria.” Lots of people had it. Now it’s gone. Before anyone thought up a name for post-traumatic stress syndrome, people were just having a nervous breakdown or shell-shocked. Many people the world over are assaulted, raped, humiliated, damaged, bereft -- and just get up and go on. No syndrome. No name for one. Just life.
When I was in seminary (early 80’s), the big junk category diagnosis was “borderline personality,” which mean anyone who was unpredictable and didn’t always play by the rules. (I guess. I was supposed to be a “borderline-borderline personality.” So were both of the co-therapists of my most useful “growth group” in Hartford, Conn, which is a therapy town.) But now everyone seems to be back to the all-time fav, “paranoid schizophrenia.” Most people interpret that as just plain crazy, seeing ghosts and making trouble. But then the rebuttal -- so true it’s a poster -- is “you’re not paranoid if they’re really after you.” As for schizophrenic, some people just call it multi-tasking or attention deficit disorder.
I jest. But paranoid schizophrenia is the dominant mode of much of our media life: movies, books, vids, newspapers and blogs. Thrillers. Someone is after us and we’re having an identity crisis. This evening I watched “State of Play,” the more recent American version that was adapted from the much longer earlier BBC series. Little was the same, from the plot premises to the character development. BUT both were paranoid and both were schizophrenic. It’s just that the diagnosis worked out in different ways, according to our national paranoias and shattered identities.
In England the markers were still class distinctions, old school affiliations, money and hubris. In America the markers are political and religious conservatism, and the corporate corruption that has risen out of the Bush wars. In the English version there were discussions, in the American version there were shootings. One factor that threw the American version in a totally different direction was casting the boss as Helen Mirren instead of Bill Nye, who always projects a sort of amused tolerance at the folly of it all and a sense that he is way ahead of everyone else in understanding the possibilities. Mirren was reduced to doing a sort of “Prime Suspect” imitation without the cigarettes. She just shouted, seemingly powerless to do anything else because of the unreasonable “new owners.” The cops, on the other hand, were passive and obedient.
Russell Crowe filled up the screen and the story. He is NOT paranoid. He projects his schizophrenia, if there is any, out to a great disheveled mess of notes and documents. He’s a laser, right through the story. This is quite unlike the reporter in the English version. But this guy is an Aussie. Aussies know who they are. It might not be quite nice but effective.
Here’s the story on American Affleck, a near textbook perfect case: “In paranoid schizophrenia, delusions are often focused on the perception that you're being singled out for harm. Your brain misinterprets experiences and you hold on to these false beliefs despite evidence to the contrary. For instance, you may believe that the government is monitoring every move you make or that a co-worker is poisoning your lunch. You may also have delusions of grandeur — the belief that you can fly, that you're famous or that you have a relationship with a famous person, for example. Delusions can result in aggression or violence if you believe you must act in self-defense against those who want to harm you.” He’s subtle, but that’s really where his American head is. First it was communists, now it’s international corporations and terrorists. Then a preggers girl-friend. As for Pointcorps, their invented name for Blackwater which has now changed its name to Xi, my personal opinion is that that’s not paranoia -- it’s real. And WORSE than in the movie.
These days “paranoid schizophrenia” is seen as something different from a psychological problem. Rather, it is considered a true organic brain processing problem with the most convincing evidence for that being auditory delusions that can be induced by using magnetic waves against the temples. Voices, music, and so on. This movie definitely depends on a conditioned-reflex sound track to build tension and a sense of danger in the same old parking garage shoot-out, the same old taping-from-the-next-room, the same old silhouette at the end of the flourescent-lit hallway. Don’t we all dream these?
The DVD discussion of how great the director was rang a little hollow, I thought. The talk about the set for the newsroom was not as convincing as the same talk for the English version. There was a boast that they filmed the underside and idiosyncracies of Washington DC instead of the same old halls and monuments. I, for one, can’t recognize the underside of Washington, DC. Seemed way too white to me. I did like that inflated moving crab though.
But the real point of this blog is not a movie. It is how much we live out in our ordinary non-movie lives the suspicions and premises that we’re in someone’s sniper sights, that someone is running a scam at our expense, that the cops are inept and the politicians are corrupt, that the international corporations are totally out of control. In Britain the class system at least offers a few guidelines and handholds, but what is there in the US? I’m astounded that the Supreme Court has continued the line of rulings that seem to me to have begun in Florida during the Dubya election scrape. The covers have come off the oil industry now. (Adam Curtis has posted some very interesting info about the origins of BP. http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/) Some people seem determined to replace Obama with Palin, which is too ridiculous to even use as a frat movie premise. What does it take to end the Korean War? We may see an atom bomb blossom sooner than we think.
Will it ever stop raining? I think it is raining on me more than anyone else and I am hearing music: “Raindrops keep falling. . .” My tomato plants are rotting. The universe has it in for me. My house is so sodden that the doors are swollen shut. HELP! HELP! Call Harrison Ford !!! Call an Aussie !!!