Name: Morgan Correia
From: Scottsdale, AZ
The Role of Addiction in Film and Television
The Role of Addiction in Film and Television
Entertainment is something everyone seeks. Stories of characters prevailing over battles with enemies is something anyone can get behind. Everyone likes a hero, especially one that prevails over all obstacles. Now more than ever, writers are choosing to have a character fight a mental battle to go along with or instead of a physical one; trauma, self-doubt, and addictions are commonly chosen. As the entertainment industry broadens, these problems —addiction specifically— becomes a more widespread issue that is only further perpetuated by the media, films, and television. Mental health issues and addiction problems have increased because the widespread viewing of desensitizing scenes from the entertainment industry, the lack of understanding that comes from it, and those with the power to portray these issues irresponsibly or incorrectly show them.
Networks in Hollywood are always looking for something new to add to their story and create conflict. Addiction is a common choice and an easy vice to fault characters with because anyone can fall victim to it, just like real teenagers and adults. From a creative standpoint, it can be nice for viewers and fans to see a character struggle with something they might be struggling with as well, whether it be drug addiction, mental illness and trauma, or questioning their sexuality. Sometimes it’s something they can relate to which, in turn, encourages their viewing of that book, tv series, or movie. Except, this can be a slippery slope. Instead of discouraging this addiction, some shows may instead inspire it. For example, a very popular Netflix show called “13 Reasons Why” contains these themes of mental illness and addiction. The book and television show are centered around the main character Hannah Baker’s inevitable suicide. When the series first aired, it sent shockwaves as her suicide scene was not mentioned in the warnings as possibly triggering. In the original book, her suicide was an overdose of pills; in the show, however, it was a graphic scene showing Hannah in a bathtub after having slit her wrists. One of the writers for the show revealed in a CNN article that the reason the writers took artistic license is because the process, which is also used in Alcoholic Anonymous meetings, is called “playing the tape” or, as he described it, “encouraging alcoholics to really think through in detail the sequence of events” that would take place after (CNN). However, many mental health experts in the same CNN article discourage these scenes as it romanticizes and desensitizes audiences from these problems.
Admittedly, many of my favorite shows and many of my favorite characters deal with these problems and use true crime themes. For example, the character on the 15 season show Criminal Minds, Spencer Reid, deals with addiction to Dilaudid—a type of morphine—after being taken hostage in season 2. One of my favorite parts of his character is his determination when the viewers see him going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings and speaking about his addiction to his teammates. The show portrays his addiction as something we should pity: the genius BAU agent with an already sketchy genetic history of mental illness in his family, on top of the extremely harrowing job — once introduced to the drug, he was incredibly susceptible to addiction. Many other people don’t need this cocktail of character traits in order to be susceptible to drugs or mental illness either. As a storyteller, I am always worried about what I show and write about in my screenplays. At the college I am going to, one of the prerequisites for a BFA at Arizona State University is Sex and Violence in Film and TV, as well as other ethical courses. It is an enormous responsibility to tell not only any story, but the story portrayed the correct way.
Through their portrayal of mental illness and addiction, an increase of drug usage, and therefore addiction can be directly tied to the entertainment industry and how they portray mental illness and addiction. These problems need to be addressed in the future to not only responsibly accommodate viewers but also continue entertaining them. As I enter the film industry in the next few years, I will ensure I do so.
“13 Reasons Why.” IMDb, IMDb.com, www.imdb.com/title/tt1837492/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv. “3 TV Shows That Touch on Drugs, Addiction, & Mental Illness.” Turnbridge, www.turnbridge.com/news-events/latest-articles/tv-shows-about-drugs-and-mental-illness. Elizabeth Hartney, BSc. “Television Addiction Can Be When You Really Can’t Miss Your Favorite Show.” Verywell Mind, 14 June 2020, www.verywellmind.com/television-addiction-22264. Henick, Mark. “Why ’13 Reasons Why’ Is Dangerous.” CNN, Cable News Network, 4 May 2017, www.cnn.com/2017/05/03/opinions/13-reasons-why-gets-it-wrong-henick-opinion/index.h tml.