Asserting value judgments on what kind of entertainment is “good” or “bad” can become problematic. It’s unclear who is serving who sometimes — the faceless industry that sedates the public with asinine bullshit or the faceless public that tunes in hungry for more? A&E’s Obsessed and VH1′s The OCD Project are pseudo-documentary reality programs that follow individuals battling addiction and anxiety disorders, much like Intervention. Although the intentions of professionals, family members, and friends within the series’ appear genuine, their undoubtedly voyeuristic quality summon the question, “should the process of recovery be on national television?”
When watching Obsessed and The OCD Project, the stories of the individuals involved are HEARTBREAKING. Both shows put the individuals in stressful situations to help them overcome their worst, and sometimes intensely irrational, fears. For example, The OCD Project‘s Kristen has one of the most severe cases of OCD on the show. She compulsively washes her hands (often scrubbing for 6 hours in one day) and has a deep fear of men’s restrooms. Early on in the show, we learn that Kristen was repeatedly sexually abused as a child. Dr. David Tolin, who leads the intensive recovery program, had the six cast members distribute meal coupons to homeless individuals and insisted that they shake hands.
Kristen had a very difficult time, but she was eventually able to do it. Personally, I thought the whole interaction was fascinating. (Episode 3 if you wanna check it out.)
And yes, on a train-wrecky side of the house, watching these people struggling with such serious psychological afflictions is fascinating. However, my inclination is that there is something lost. Addiction is VERY complicated, and the path to recovery depicted in mainstream programming simply does not reflect the long, hard, unpaved road for many people. Aside from the reductive spins on what OCD is, these shows don’t address the numerous economic and social factors that can stand in the way of someone’s recovery. These shows don’t address the broader social patterns that can encourage addiction and inhibit recovery. The OCD Project narrows in on the individuals themselves, literally trying to remove them from the context of their disorder. And here you have, Exhibit A. I am not saying that such measures may or may not be necessary for recovery, but I am saying that the way the story is told on television is not “real.”
What do you think? Do you think that television and cinema often downplay the seriousness of a psychological matter in order for ratings? Do you think that such public exposure of said matters often desensitizes people to the real effects of the problem? Moreover, do you think publicizing such things creates a paranoid society where everyone diagnoses themselves with sometimes-dangerous mental problems?