Saturday, October 4, 2014

Career Move

Monrovia, California

October 4, 2014

Wow, it has taken me a long time to finish this post.  Started it back in August.  Obviously I'm not keeping to my resolution to put up more posts this year.  Oh well, here's what I have been meaning to say, although its currency as news has been undercut with the passage of time and the relatively short attention span of the public.

I pretty much liked Robin Williams.  He was funny and versatile, could act in both comic and serious roles.  A bit too hairy, but hey, that happens.  I didn't care for Mork and Mindy, which was just a silly joke repeated endlessly, though in that respect hardly different from many other situation comedies.  Like a lot of other zany comic actors who are still alive (Jim Carrey, Will Farrell, and Melissa McCarthy come immediately to mind), Robin Williams was at his best not when he was given free reign to do whatever he wanted to do, but when he was well-directed and reined in somewhat by a decent script.  Give such folks too much liberty, performance-wise, and they are likely to go over the top in an uncomfortably manic way.  Let them write their own material and the movie would become just an extended and much more expensive variation of a standup bit or a Saturday Night Live performance.

After Robin Williams killed himself the media, in typical fashion, fell all over themselves with repeated "Why?"s, as if there were something mysterious and unknowable about the phenomenon of serious depression followed by suicide.  Then they discovered that he'd been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and suddenly it was as if they'd found the KEY to the whole event.  Oh, they said, parroting expert physicians, Parkinson's can cause depression, or exacerbate it if it already exists; or alternatively Parkinson's medications can do the same.  It's all brain chemistry, and his went unexpectedly haywire.

Well I'm sorry, but BULLSHIT.  There was nothing unexpected about it.  Robin Williams had been subject to depression all along, probably from birth.  The fact that he was funny and not all mopey all the time and often almost the opposite of depressed signified nothing other than that he was subject to drastic mood swings, by whatever diagnostic term you wish to use.  Richard Pryor was so afflicted; so were Lenny Bruce, John Belushi, Chris Farley, and a host of others, and they all killed themselves or tried very hard to do so.  Thinking that being funny and making jokes predisposes someone to being cheerful and living a happy life is like thinking that a Formula One racing car isn't likely to crash and burn or blow an engine just because it's really fast and well-tuned and cared for.  In fact, it's counter-intuitive, when you think about it.  Laughing and creating humor and goofing around are some of the drugs certain people use to stave off the depression that lies in wait for them every day of their lives.

Yeah, Robin Williams could be cheerful at times, and productive, and downright funny.  But he was depressed, and eventually that part of him overcame all else.  When he "fell off the wagon" a few years ago that was just the prelude to a long slide that ended inevitably.  The gum-chewing public, not to mention substance abusers themselves, don't always understand that substance abuse isn't about a lack of willpower, and that returning to substance use isn't a sign that someone is all better and can handle whatever underlying malady afflicts them.  It's all about self-medicating.

Then there are those in the media who point only to other brilliant famous people who have committed suicide, as if it's a phenomenon reserved for the super-successful or the super-funny.  The fact is that skid rows and dry-out clinics and institutions of all kinds and homes in suburbia are filled with depressed people.  It's a disease that kills, only it kills in a variety of ways--sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly.  If Williams had been diagnosed with terminal cancer everyone would have nodded and said, yeah, that shit happens, to the young and old alike--wow, tough break--a good guy lost the battle with his disease.

In truth I'm sure many people got the picture.  Lots of the people I know did.  But out there, on the covers of magazines and tabloids, still lurks the lurid suspicion that something else, more explainable, more convenient and less mundane, was the true culprit in his death.  Progressive neurological disease of course, or maybe alien intrusion, the insidious workings of the NSA, whatever.

This phenomenon is related of course to the tendency of people to accept alternative theories about a myriad of situations, from the assassination of Kennedy to the bombing of the World Trade Towers, all the way to the dazzlingly absurd story I saw on Facebook recently that the reason Mr. Rogers always wore long-sleeved shirts and sweaters on his program (as if anyone wondered about that) is that his arms were covered in wartime tattoos or scars or something, and that he and Captain Kangaroo (Bob Keeshan) and another well-known person whose identity I can't remember now were all combat buddies who saved one another's lives.  Holy cow.

What lies beneath this tendency is the same thing that lies beneath the search for alternative, or at least supplementary, explanations for the suicide of Robin Williams.  We abhor the vacuum created by the mundane reality of the obvious, and we crave a sort of Hollywood plot twist that will tie everything with a neat and amazing bow and leave us, as we depart from the theater of everyday life, wondering why we ever took the rather straightforward word of the authorities, or the initial news coverage, or the reports of friends and eyewitnesses and medical examiners, when really there was lurking behind it all some unseen and surprising plot or culprit.  Come to think of it, I'd be willing to bet that soon people will be speculating that Robin Williams was really murdered.  And why not?  Doesn't that make for more compelling reading that the fact that the guy was chronically depressed and trying to medicate himself and finally gave in to the urge to end it all?

In any event, he's dead, which is a sad thing, even if it may have been, as Gore Vidal said when he heard of the demise of Truman Capote, a good career move.

                                   and what i want to know is
how do you like your blueeyed boy
Mister Death

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