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 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!
at 17:44 on 23-10-2014, Michal
I haven't been following Gamergate very closely, but this video has an interesting take on it. Even if it is narrated by a paper puppet.
at 01:59 on 22-10-2014, Arthur B
Gosh, the more you dig into STGRB the wilder it gets. I have to wonder how many people involved are trolls who fully understand that they are using anti-bullying as a cover for bullying and how many STGRBers actually believe their line.

This site seems to give a decent rundown of what's going on behind STGRB.
at 20:15 on 21-10-2014, Pear
Oh, like, Stop The GR Bullies? YEAH. Hale, one of the authors, seems surrounded by people who have no clue about boundaries and constantly enable her stalking of people. This isn't the first time she's become obsessed with someone and followed her around (though thankfully this time she didn't dump chemicals on her victim. She's written up her account of her own stalking on Thought Catalog, for the morbidly curious.)

Her own mother sent her the link to STGRB. That place is really weird and its authors lack self-awareness. They will actually post things like, 'It has been reported that this awful reviewer works here and has been seen at x place at y times with her husband. She is what we call a stalker.'

Right, then.
at 18:37 on 21-10-2014, Arthur B
This has a lot of overlap with those people who try to claim that posting a bad review on Goodreads somehow constitutes bullying, hasn't it?
at 18:12 on 21-10-2014, Pear
It has never been a good time for women to Have Opinions On The Internet, but the mainstream media is covering more and more of GamerGate and the numerous women who have had to flee their homes (hmmm what was it about ~*seeing the good*~ come out of this again), and now there's reports of reviewers (both women) being stalked and, in one case, assaulted by authors they critiqued.

Round-up of incidents here.

There are, unfortunately, a not insignificant number of authors who think the stalkers did nothing wrong, and even some feminists are like YEAH GOOD ON YOU FOR EMPOWERING YOURSELF KATHLEEN HALE or w/e, even though her stalking victim was another woman.

I'm not saying men never get stalked or assaulted for their opinions (I've def heard of a dude SFF author being stalked) but this is an undeniably and dangerously gendered dynamic. I don't actually identify as a woman but I live as one and am usually understood as one, it's pretty scary to think that if I leave a tartly phrased review I might get my privacy violated or a wine bottle cracked over my head.
at 18:15 on 20-10-2014, Robinson L
Well, that last one did have an awfully strange tang to it ...

Oh dear, that's just given me a thought. I need to check ... Yes, it's just as I feared, Julian's Ferret Food review of Milliways has gone the way of the Cordova biopic. Such a shame; I particularly thought the 38 points out of 30 for ambiance, though mathematically paradoxical, entirely deserved, and under the circumstances, quite appropriate, as well. (Though to be honest, I did think 6 out of 10 for price was a little churlish considering it's all handled by compound interest anyway.)

Arthur: If you're linking to or otherwise crediting your source I don't personally see how that'd be a problem. And more articles from you would always be welcome, Spooktober or not.

at 00:47 on 20-10-2014, Shim
Is that why I've been having these blackouts recently? I thought it was just one too many Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters over the weekend.

You had a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster? That explains virtually anything.
at 23:05 on 19-10-2014, Arthur B
And of course Event Horizon underscores the whole
"you really shouldn't get involved in Sam Neill's marital issues"
at 22:37 on 19-10-2014, Alasdair Czyrnyj
I would have thought
"don't build a sex octopus in a flophouse"
was obvious enough, but you can never tell with some people. On the other hand, Sam Neill's method for getting rid of pests with an old shoe, a feather, and the lid off a toilet tank is a very handy thing to know.
at 21:35 on 19-10-2014, Arthur B
I watched it recently and am planning an article.

For my part, I think it's the most accurate film about divorce ever made and is crammed with useful advice for ways you can navigate the aftermath of a breakup. (Mostly of the "don't do this" variety, but even so.)
at 19:14 on 19-10-2014, Alasdair Czyrnyj
Well okay then, I can do that.

Also, since you've been delving into the video nasties, have you considered Andrezj Zuwalski's Possession? It got on the list, but was never persecuted. I tried writing something about it, but, well...words failed me.

I will say this, though: I was sold on the movie by the one-sentence summary of "a paranoid schizophrenic explains why they think their marriage disintegrated." This is an accurate summary.