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In which Erin sets her standards for the blogosphere too high. September 29, 2010

Posted by Erin Ptah in Personal.

As soon as I heard the title of the Rally To Restore Sanity, the first thing I thought…okay, it was “Oh, man, awesome.” But the second thing was “This is going to stir up some angry social-justice blog posts, to which I will object.”

Sure enough, here’s one.

I object.

First things first: The blogger takes the position of considering “insane” to refer to to “the 26.2% of Americans who experience a diagnosable mental illness in a given year“. This strikes me as slightly dubious (the reasoning, not the statistic; it flattens the spectrum of possible severity of mental illness, in a way that I think exaggerates the low end or minimizes the high end or both), but let’s go with it for now, because it makes this sentence just weird:

No one in Stewart’s entire machine thought twice about invoking the experiences of an entire group of people who are already oppressed and using them for their own purposes.

Do you see the disconnect here? The blogger refers to “Stewart’s entire machine” as a completely separate entity from the aforementioned 26.2%. As if people with mental health conditions couldn’t possibly be working for The Daily Show.

And, you know, there’s still a case to be made along the lines of “not all of the 26.2% are necessarily offended, but some are, and I’m speaking for them.” Problem is, the end of the posts recommends a couple of other blogs, including The Gimp Parade. When a commenter points out the potential offensiveness, the blogger defends the word as “being used in a reclamatory sense”, i.e. by someone who is personally affected by it, and has the right to use it. Which begs the question: why presume that whoever came up with the name of the rally does not have that right?

For that matter, who’s to say that Stewart himself isn’t one of the 26.2%? He’s pretty open about a lot of his areas of privilege (straight, white, rich) and marginalization (Jewish), but he’s never to my knowledge said anything one way or another about his mental health. Maybe this blogger has heard some interview that I haven’t, but my hunch is that she’s running on the presumption of Not Mentally Ill Until Proven Otherwise. That’s irritating at the best of times, and even more so when exhibited by someone who’s actively trying to advocate for us.

Personally, though, it doesn’t matter to me who came up with the name or what their mental-illness credentials are. I like it. It works for me.

See, here’s the thing. I’m one of the 26.2%. So are several members of my close family. (The statistic doesn’t include learning disabilities, or that “several” would jump to “most”.) Mental illness has had effects on my life. These are probably on the low end of the severity spectrum, all things considered, but they’re there.

And you know what? My life would be better with more sanity.

Saying that has nothing to do with “my life would be better without my family” or “I need to be eliminated to fix America” or “our experiences and opinions are worth less than those of the other 73.8% of Americans.” I am not my diagnosis. There’s a reason it’s not called the Rally To Restore Sane People. It’s not about individuals being inherently bad or less worthwhile; it’s about this quality that is affecting our government policies, our media coverage, and our national discourse, for the worse.

My particular slice of the 26.2% is the 9.5% with a mood disorder; there are times when I would not qualify to attend a gathering of happy people. That doesn’t mean I would object to someone distributing a Mixtape To Restore Happiness. There may well be some anxiety issues mixed in there, but, likewise, I am all for those who are interested attending a Seminar To Restore Confidence.

And maybe I don’t fall under this blogger’s strict definition of “sane”, but you know what? I’m going to the Rally To Restore Sanity. And I expect to enjoy it.

The irony of all this that I haven’t even mentioned is that I would love for some blogging-type mental-health advocate to sink their teeth into TDS and TCR. In particular, I would be over the moon if someone with heavy-duty anti-ablism chops did a critical overview of The Colbert Report‘s portrayal of a character with unspecified but undeniable mental illness. (NB: SAD, self-harm, anger meds, hallucinations.) In what ways is this perpetuating stereotypes? In what ways does it challenge them? Is it satirically supportive (similar to the way the actor got a GLAAD award for his portrayal of a gay character, even though said gay character is violently homophobic), or does it just reinforce stigma? If someone would tackle this who had the expertise to give it the in-depth examination I think it deserves, I would eat that up with a spoon.

Instead, the most I get from the activist blogosphere feels like someone who was paying attention long enough to overhear the word “sanity”, whipped out Formulaic Post #253, plugged “Jon Stewart” into the appropriate blanks, and called it a day.

This makes me cross.

I think I’m going to watch backlogged episodes of The Daily Show until I feel better.



1. Zack Condon - September 30, 2010

I took me a second to process that someone would think that The rally to restore sanity could be taken to refer to metal illness at all.

As someone who has to live with being part of that 26.2%, and having to deal with my twin brothers severe metal illness, I can relate to what your saying.

it also makes me upset because its people like that that makes me cheer for Stewart’s rally. Because the only thing that bothers me more then a radical righty is a radical lefty. And I’m a liberal. I may not be technically all that sane, but I am proud to be rational.

2. X - October 5, 2010

My thought was, “Rally to restore sanity? We already did that. It was Ron Paul’s Rally to Restore the Republic back in 2008!” (Of course, since Beck was ripping off that rally, it makes sense that Stewart, in parodying Beck, would also be parodying the original.)

I just hope the source of insanity Stewart is trying to address is the one coming from the politicians (Pelosi, McConnell, Reid, etc.) and prima donnas (Sharpton, Palin, Schultz, etc.) dancing around rather than the people who attend the Tea Parties themselves. It’s the difference between blowhards trying to use the people for their own ends and concerned citizens with legitimate objections to the last 10 years.

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