Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 15:04 on 05-11-2014, Axiomatic
On the subject of Downfall parodies, I'm always vaguely disappointed when the parody doesn't somehow manage to work in Stalin into the subtitles when Hitler says "Shtalin".
at 10:28 on 05-11-2014, Arthur B
In the meantime...I believe there's something of mine that's been waiting patiently since late October?

Will check in with editor; didn't push it earlier because I didn't want your article to be shoved off the front page by my horror posts too quickly.
at 05:53 on 05-11-2014, Michal
PSA: Downfall is an excellent film and y'all should watch it you haven't already.
at 05:47 on 05-11-2014, Alasdair Czyrnyj
Funny you guys should mention Downfall, considering I just finished writing something about video game Nazis.

I just spent two days and about 4,800 words writing about video game Nazis. What is wrong with me.

I'll get it uploaded in a few days; need to let it sit before revision. In the meantime...I believe there's something of mine that's been waiting patiently since late October?
at 00:36 on 04-11-2014, Robinson L
Masterful indeed; I know the whole point of the exercise is to make the subtitles appear to fit with the action of the scene, but I think the re-mixer here did a particularly good job of it.

I've seen comments singling out the "Just use a male avatar; he'll leave you alone," line; and I agree that was particularly on point.

The final line, though you can see it coming a mile away, is also so perfect that the video literally could not have ended with anything else.

I think my favorite part, though, is more style than substance: the line "Fucking Feminazis" is particularly hilarious considering the source material for the video, and it comes at a time when the camera is on a young officer next to him nervously adjusting his uniform.
at 23:45 on 02-11-2014, Arthur B permalink
at 09:35 on 30-10-2014, Janne Kirjasniemi
I didn't mean to say that anyhting should be PR for health facilities, since definitely there is still much to criticize in it. But the thing is, like Cheriola put it, that the story is usually told from the point of view of the neurotypical person and the whole thing treated as a horrible ordeal amongst the raving lunatics. There is a certain stigma in mental illness, although there are positive examples as well. And quite often the real patients are treated as freaks, rather than as afflicted people. It's those kinds of things as well as giving the idea that psychiatry today is just the same as it was fifty years ago.

A healthy person in a psychiatric hospital is a classic trope though, but more interesting is the play on power the mental patient-psychiatrist relation entails. The psychiatrist, as well as other psychiatrist personnel, wield a considerable amount of power over the patient, and after a psychiatrist diagnosis is done, it isn't usually reversed, so that remains as a part of one's life even if the person gets better. So if a person is diagnosed as mentally ill, without being so, how exactly is that proved to be otherwise? In a genre work it is usually enough to just show that what was considered to be delusions, but that is a more complex issue in a more conventional setting. And of course the power relationship always contains the suspicion, that a diagnosis can be just wrong, as the knowledge of the patients condition is defined by the psychiatrist. All the diagnostic methods today, at least in countries where there is proper care, define psychiatric conditions needing treatment and confinement by whether there is danger to the patient or those around them. But this of course is not necessarily and completely so in every conceivable combination or in situations, where the assumptions of both the science and its practitioners are faulty in general, or in that particular case. I don't know what larger point to make, but that is just more interesting to me, than portraying a stint in the psych ward as just a very horrible plot point. In the 1680s the playwright Nathaniel Lee was committed to Bedlam, by his landlord if I'm not mistaken, and he commented the situation later like so: "They called me mad, and I called them mad, and damn them, they outvoted me", which in someways could describe the situation in any forced containment, whether justified or not.

Anyways, Cheriola, thanks for the Murdoch Mysteries recommendation, Ill try to check that out. The Dracula thing is interesting as well. I guess the problem with Victorian and earlier institutions was not the malevolence of the institutions as such, but rather the definition of a mentally ill person as someone who is without mind or sense and thus not really human(the origins of which can be tracked to early modern times at least, although many point to Locke) and to be treated as someone not really capable of any rational thought or even feeling. I wonder if anyone has ever depicted the York Retreat in fiction, that would perhaps be a real life exception to the rule, as well as many institutions designed for the wealthier people.
at 22:53 on 29-10-2014, Arthur B
On the other hand, I think the problem is that if going to mental hospital or otherwise seeking treatment always ends up at best opening a horrible can of worms and at worst ends up with horrible, brutal abuse as the result, that just contributes to people's overall reluctance to seek help, and even considering what systemic abuse and neglect does exist I don't think people need further discouragement on that score.
at 22:47 on 29-10-2014, Andy G
I don't think films have a duty to do PR for modern mental health or care institutions, where there's a lot of systematic abuse/neglect. However, there is something in the idea that it's artistically redundant to endlessly criticise historically-dated manifestations of social problems (which just leads to self-congratulation) rather than facing up to the forms these problems take now.
at 19:07 on 29-10-2014, Sonia Mitchell
I can't think of a single instance where a Victorian era (or style, in the case of some fantasy) mental institution wasn't filled with staff that's wilfully malvolent and abusive. Such is the nature of genre tropes, I suppose.

I know you're talking about modern work, but for Victorian-era texts an interesting case is Dracula. The asylum there was really rather progressive - not least because the idea of releasing a patient who appeared to be better was not out of the question. As a contemporaneous depiction of an institution for the well-heeled, it's pretty interesting.

(One could argue that Renfield's vampirism demonises the mentally ill, but actually I think the portrayal is more subtle than that).
at 03:48 on 29-10-2014, James D
Well, I guess that's a little better. (I just said "nope" and switched off at that point. I may come back if I hear good things about the show - so far I've only read that it's distinctly lacking in interesting female characters and that the only PoC character is both othered and comes across like the Wise/Magical Black Friend Adviser trope. For now, I have better things to watch.) Still, what kind of medical hospital would let a patient choose to forego anaesthesia? I don't think that would be legal. If not for ethical patient treatment reasons (especially if they think the patient is mentally ill), then for reasons of not traumatising your nursing staff by making them do this.

I don't know, he was out of the mental hospital within about 5 minutes anyway. Honestly after only one episode, I think it's much too early to fairly judge the characters. The black angel character is kind of othered, but I mean, he's an angel, which are typically portrayed as white, so they get points for non-traditional casting, at least. He certainly could become a Magical Negro trope character, but at least in the few brief times we got to see him in the first ep, while he did help Constantine, he definitely seemed to have his own agenda and was antagonistic as much as he was friendly. Re: female characters, there was one but I think she got written out already? I guess we'll have to wait for that too. If you're iffy on the whole thing it makes sense to wait and see how the season pans out.
at 23:46 on 28-10-2014, Cheriola
Actually, I was wrong. Murdoch Mysteries, set in late Victorian / early Edwardian era Toronto, has one of the characters (the show's original coroner, who upgraded to psychiatrist over the course of the series) work in a sanatorium for middle-/upper-class patients that looks pleasant. The only episode that deals directly with the patients, as far as I can remember, is about various phobias, and the patients act more or less well-adjusted aside from their particular problem.
But this is the kind of show that has entire episodes about women's liberation and has said psychiatrist explain the concept of "born this way" to her former boss when he asks her to have a talk with his teenage son whom he suspects of being gay. It is amazingly left-wing for the setting.

(Actually, Murdoch Mysteries is another rarely watched show that I can heartily recommend, if you like police proceduals / murder mysteries with earnest, polite, goody-two-shoe main characters. I find it delightfully refreshing among all those jerk-with-a-supposed-heart-of-gold anti-heroes these days. The show also doesn't take itself too seriously, with quite a number of historical or genre in-jokes, and one episode per season jumping headlong into horror/scifi tropes by having cases look like committed by vampires, aliens, or the like. Though you need some tolerance for drawn-out will-they-won't-they and Americans being routinely presented in a rather unflattering light.)
at 22:21 on 28-10-2014, Cheriola
What pisses me off is not just the way the staff of modern psychiatric hospitals are maligned by making the place a house of horrors (I have relatives who are working in the field). There would be a place for that, at least in the context of shining a light on still occuring abuse, even if it has become more rare and mostly isn't actually institutionally sanctioned anymore. (I.e. you could still show individual staff members being abusive or neglectful, but not things like standardised procedures that are needlessly painful.) However, I don't think that place is fantasy/supernatural genre fiction where the whole terror of being made vulnerable like a institutionalised person is exploited for shock value.

What gets me more is that the abuse almost never is told from the point of view of characters who aren't neurotypical. In fact, the other patients, who really are in need of help, are usually presented as part of the horror of the place, with over-the-top abberant behaviour or they are even presented as dangerous. That kind of writing implies that the abuse is only bad because it happens to people who don't 'deserve' it for being mentally ill or non-neurotypical. (This article on Fangs for the Fantasy puts this argument in much more detail than I have the eloquence for.)

In the recent last few episodes of Boardwalk Empire (set in the late 1920s), for example, the audience is led to sympathise with a character who got herself a sentence in a psychiatric hospital instead of getting a prison sentence for the carefully planned murder of a random stranger that we did see her commit. The hospital is closed but quite pleasantly appointed (no cells or anything like that), but it also features a strict and domineering nursing staff and a head doctor who seems to operate (possibly hysterectomy, though the incision we saw was more in the area of the stomach) on patients just because he can, without their consent. The viewpoint character isn't quite what you'd call well-adjusted, but she was functional in the outside world, and the other patients in the hospital are shown as having loud angry outbursts or they are delusionally mumbling or having fits - the whole gamut of Hollywood 'crazy'. Nevertheless, it's the murderer we're supposed to sympathise with and feel bad for because she "doesn't belong" in that place, and because the other patients around her are a potentially dangerous Other barely capable of acting human.

I'm trying to come up with examples where mental institutions are genuinely treated as places of healing in historical or fantasy fiction... Well, there was one episode of Supernatural that had a harmless mental hospital with kind and helpful staff (aside from one doctor who abused one of his patient's superpower to commit larceny, but he wasn't actually abusive, IIRC). Doctor Who's Shakespeare episode was critical of a Bedlam house for the sake of the genuinely ill patients. (Though, on the other hand, that was also a case of serious modern self-righteousness. How were these places supposed to feed and house their inmates without having a revenue stream like charging fees to let people watch the inmates for fun? It's not like the NHS was possible before the British Empire and cheap fossil fuels created wastly more public funds.) Sleepy Hollow started out well in it's first season - another case of neurotypical viewpoint character unjustly incarcerated, but at least in this case she wasn't treated badly, her room looked comfortable, there were no creepy other patients, and she really had committed a crime. (And as it turns out, she committed the crime specifically to get herself locked up.) But then in the second season the same institution is apparently willing to apply un-sedated electroshocks to a different neurotypical character (who had confessed to a few murders to cover for his daugther who killed people while possessed by a demon), explicitly for the purpose of torture, on the say-so of the local police chief, who knew very well that the character was only pretending to be psychotic to get out of a prison sentence. They don't actually do it, because the character's lawyer steps in, but still: What the hell?!

Hm... I think the only time I've seen a non-modern mental institution portrayed as a place where well-intentioned people genuinely want to help their patients as far as possible with the medical knowledge of the time, was the movie "Restoration" (set in the 17th century), which is told from the viewpoint of a doctor.
I can't think of a single instance where a Victorian era (or style, in the case of some fantasy) mental institution wasn't filled with staff that's wilfully malvolent and abusive. Such is the nature of genre tropes, I suppose. I wonder where that specific one is coming from, though... Some work by Dickens, perhaps? Or another period author who was exposing real world abuse in hopes of better governmental oversight?
at 20:11 on 28-10-2014, Janne Kirjasniemi

I haven't seen Constantine yet, but the comic series has had its good phases, as well as bad. I understand your criticism of comparing it to The Knick, I realize it is not a very complete analogue. It is an excellent show though. But perhaps it does reveal another aspect of this thing. The mentally troubled, especially those that have been consigned to asylums have always been viewed quite differently than patients suffering from other distempers(assuming the person in question is mentally ill, which is of course another matter), which is often accounted for by the terrifying nature of a condition that effects the mind, which raises disconcerting and frightening thoughts for those considering themselves sane.

This comes through in a narrative in differing ways, where a hospital is always a more benevolent as a setting than a mental hospital. A doctor in a hospital is a more heroic figure, even if they have bad characteristics and even though the conditions and the level of technology in a hospital might be horrifying(although Masters of Sex offers an interesting view on the horrific things done because of ignorance and prejudice in connection with gender and sexuality).

Whereas the mental asylum as a concept, all the way from Bedlam house to the Victorian mad house to the lobotomies and to Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest offers a very much darker picture of the damned mad and the ways they are tormented by often malevolent medical workers. In Kesey's case it is more the malevolent case and the patients in a more positive light, of course. And although such depictions do have basis in the tragic history of the psychiatric patient, it is sad that psychiatric hospitals set in contemporary times would choose to resort to this sort of classical hell. Unless they want to make a point about underfunding or lack of medical resources and education.

So yes, a patient foregoing anaesthesia and relaxants for ECT would be gross negligence, especially as it is used as a last resort in very serious cases of mental illness, where the patient is basically at the mercy of the doctors in any case. So in a way, it is an equivalent of showing disturbing and antiquated means of surgery in a modern setting without any even remotely credible medical handwaving and purely for the shock value of the thing. And if we consider the respectful treatment of patients in general from the point of view of technology of care, showing mistreatment of psychiatric patients in a modern setting is ignoring positive developments in the field for cheap shocks.

Of course this all brings into view the issue of the psychiatric patient as an object for the use of power by the psychiatrist and society at large, which I guess there is no point in getting into here, but depicting psychiatric patients merely as the suffering victims of a malevolent institution is surely doing them a disservice as well, especially if it is set in a contemporary setting.

at 19:33 on 28-10-2014, Cheriola
I think the movie featured some un-sedated electroshock 'therapy' as well, but in a flashback to when Constantine was a teenager. So that would set it sometime in the early 80s, I suppose.

Well, I guess that's a little better. (I just said "nope" and switched off at that point. I may come back if I hear good things about the show - so far I've only read that it's distinctly lacking in interesting female characters and that the only PoC character is both othered and comes across like the Wise/Magical Black Friend Adviser trope. For now, I have better things to watch.) Still, what kind of medical hospital would let a patient choose to forego anaesthesia? I don't think that would be legal. If not for ethical patient treatment reasons (especially if they think the patient is mentally ill), then for reasons of not traumatising your nursing staff by making them do this.

If it is a problem, it goes back to the comics as much as the TV people.

It is a problem. Please don't belittle the lack of bisexual (esp. male bisexual) representation in the media if you're not part of the affected group yourself. And from what I hear from the people who are and who read the comics, they are pissed as all hell. A character doesn't become heterosexual just because the original sexuality never comes up again, just like a bisexual person doesn't become hetero if they marry someone of the conventionally acceptable gender or only date such people for fear of social reprisals. (This kind of thing is a very sore spot with the community, as far as I can gather.)
From what I've read, the writers of this show know that the character was supposed to be bisexual, but didn't think it was an important part of his characterisation, so they dropped it. Which... yeah. That might sound like logical reasoning from a heterosexual perspective (and a better excuse than "We didn't want to lose the all-important young hetero male demographic by even just paying lip-service to the fact that the hero isn't exactly like them." ) but to everyone who isn't hetero, it just proves once again that the dominant sexual majority has no sense of empathy and no idea what erasure feels like.

Hospitals weren't terribly nice places for a long stretch of time, but it would be extremely weird to see a hospital in modern setting depicted like the one from the Knick.

Now that is kinda unfair to The Knick. I haven't finished that show yet, but I thought it was remarkable how much that hospital was NOT represented as a place of unnessecary suffering and abuse, like 19th century hospitals usually are. There were a lot of racial injustices, of course, but even the most jerkass doctors and health officials were as determined to minimise harm and keeping people alive as they were ambitious for fame and eager to experiment with new techniques (on otherwise doomed patients). I was particularly surprised when they said they wouldn't operate on the guy who had pneumonia and couldn't be properly sedated with ether, considering military surgeons still sometimes amputated without anaesthesia in WW1, as far as I know.

While we're recommending new shows: It's not perfect and the accents are sometimes hard to understand, but really have a lot of time for what the new feminist western show "Strange Empire" is trying to do. Can't be recommended without a huge trigger warning for (as of ep. 4 so far only attempted or briefly mentioned backstory) rape and forced prostitution, but other than the dark subject manner, it really is a rare gem. If you want a show primarily about half a dozen well-rounded female characters, who mostly are supporting each other and who have lots of agency despite their dangerous situation, and the most central of which are all either WoC or non-neurotypical (one of the main characters, the unofficial doctor, is autistic), and which deals heavily with issues like racism and the genocide of the Native peoples, this is your show. I think there is even a character who might be either trans male or a lesbian hiding in a male persona for self-protection, but that was only one very brief scene of said character trying to flirt with the autistic woman and being rebuffed because the autistic woman is married (to her adoptive father/mentor who appears ot value her more as an experiment than as a person... so hopefully there's a divorce coming down the line.) Still, you don't introduce a male character clearly played by a female (or at least faab) actor just for the purposes of one brief scene, so I'm hoping that there will be more to this.

Don't let the 'sexy' promo photos turn you away, by the way. The black woman doesn't dress like that in the show at all (she's the madam of a brothel, not one of the prostituted women herself), and the native main character gets a vest that fully covers her cleavage shortly after the pilot.
at 10:55 on 28-10-2014, Arthur B
Finally someone responds to GamerGate by making a game out of it... can you make the call between Stormfront or GamerGate?
at 18:07 on 26-10-2014, Janne Kirjasniemi
Modern depictions of Bedlam Houses are very iffy, especially if they're seen as punishment for something, which is just so 18th century. As if mental issues weren't enough by themselves, you're house of healing is a literal hell. Hospitals weren't terribly nice places for a long stretch of time, but it would be extremely weird to see a hospital in modern setting depicted like the one from the Knick.

In my memory, Constantine's bisexuality was in play at least in some of the stories by Azzarello, although I haven't read the comics completely.

I second the recommendation to Rick and Morty. It is truly a distinctive scifi work and it is incredible how Roiland and Harmon take a scifi concept and really go all the way with it and what a premise like that might entail. Some of the episodes were, I think, even better than Futurama at its best, perhaps exactly because of the bleakness. They reall dare to go pretty far without clutching at straws of sentimentality, which is always rare, but very rare on tv.

By chance I've been watching Snuff Box on youtube and Berry is great in that as well, although that is a very weird show. Should try Garth Marenghi and Mighty Boosh too, Berry was great in the IT Crowd.
at 17:56 on 26-10-2014, Arthur B
Al - if you liked Darkplace, check out Man to Man With Dean Learner, it's kind of a semi-sequel and it nicely expands on the Learnerverse.

I may do an article on the two series to round off the month, in fact, because I absolutely love Darkplace. I think I only held off talking about it before because I assumed everyone on here had already seen it.
at 17:14 on 26-10-2014, Alasdair Czyrnyj
With regards to Constantine's bisexuality, I was under the impression that it was established very early in the character's history, maybe back when Alan Moore was writing him...and was mostly ignored by everyone who came after. If it is a problem, it goes back to the comics as much as the TV people.

And speaking of TV, I found two new shows to enjoy this month, which is a real accomplishment since I don't have cable! I finally watched Garth Marenghi's Darkplace on Youtube, and I don't understand why none of you people told me about this show before. It's amazing. It's like watching Tommy Wiseau's Kingdom Hospital. I'm not surprised it only lasted one season; it's really only one joke, and I'm not sure how much farther you could go with it. But damned if it isn't funny. (I also have to give mad props to Matt Berry, who may have the most charismatic voice in the English-speaking world.)

I've also started watching Rick and Morty, an animated show that appeared on [adult swim] last year. Basically, imagine Back to the Future if Doc Brown was a sociopathic alcoholic supergenius and Marty was his dumb emotionally abused grandson. If you liked Venture Brothers or Futurama, you'll probably like it. Fair warning though; it does get amazingly dark, but I would say it handles its subject matter better than most other shows on [adult swim] would. It's good fun if you're a bleak, horrible person. Just like me!
at 16:14 on 26-10-2014, James D
I saw it too, and from what I remember he was only undergoing that drastic treatment because he demanded it. He felt super guilty over getting the little girl damned to hell and it was sort of self-flagellation, from what I gathered.
at 14:38 on 26-10-2014, Cammalot
Are they not keeping to Constantine's original timeline, then? He was in the institution in the late 70s, if I recall. (In the comics. I enjoyed the film, but it has very little in common with the series.) I don't know that this improves the situation much in terms of what the show is saying to us *today* even if it is set in the correct time, but I think it's also a problem if the show is presenting 1970s medical care as modern.
at 01:59 on 26-10-2014, Cheriola
I thought I'd give the new Constantine show a chance, even though they're straight-washing the main character. (Or so I'm told - I've never read the comics. I just enjoyed the visual effects and imagery of the movie a lot, and I always love a good fantasy based on Christian mythology. Of course, Tilda Swinton awesomely playing a genderbending angel also helped... (The second link is very spoilery. Best scene in the whole movie.)

But 30 seconds into the first episode I'm already rolling my eyes and calling bullshit. I think that's a new record. (Apparently the main character has voluntarily entered a mental hospital and is getting electroshock therapy in the introductory scene. Clearly without being sedated and getting muscle relaxants first, so it looks like medical torture. Utter nonsense for modern electroshock therapy. Which is really only used in rare cases like drug-resistant clinical depression anymore anyways, AFAIK. Also, the whole "neurotypical person undeservedly suffers abuse in a Bedlam-style asylum, 'cause who can possibly sympathise with mentally ill and non-neurotypical people who have a high likelihood of being abused in the real world, am I right?" trope really needs to die in a fire.)
at 00:17 on 25-10-2014, Arthur B
(Best ones which aren't in those two blogs: 1, 2.)
at 00:13 on 25-10-2014, Arthur B
Your puppet might make all sorts of claims about GamerGate, Michal, but actually it's about ethics in game journalism. No, really it is!