The Simpsons & Schizophrenia

Sometimes at Abue’s, if nothing on Telemundo is holding her attention, I’ll switch over to some cartoon or sitcom reruns while I’m cleaning up. The Simpsons is a common resting spot, despite the fact that most people have their own opinions on what year it stopped being funny and yeah it’s true many of the newer stories don’t grab my attention the way they used to. But the episode they aired last night, entitled “Diggs”, did.

In the episode, Bart Simpson becomes ostracized by the other schoolkids after eating a frog for money to pay back Homer. (he borrowed it, uncharacteristically, to make a charity donation.) He is being ganged up on by the bullies, when suddenly a falcon appears to lay down some “God of War and Vengeance”, attacking and driving off his tormentors. The falcon then returns to a slightly older boy who introduces himself as Diggs (voiced by Daniel Radcliffe), and the falcon as Freedom. The two boys form a friendship, and Diggs teaches Bart about falconry.

Ok, I’m not a fan of those sight-depriving hoods they stick on falcons in that sport. But bear with me, this is going somewhere.

Diggs is portrayed as intelligent, imaginative and poetic. Even as Bart tells his family he likes hanging out with him, he notes that “other kids at school don’t seem to get him.” Then one afternoon as the boys sit in a tall tree with the falcon, Diggs asks Bart if he’d “like to see something really cool.” Bart agrees and Diggs makes his way to the edge of a branch, from which he proceeds to leap and crash, flapping his arms.

Later Bart visits him in the hospital, where he is resting with a cast on his arm where he has forged the signatures of numerous fictional characters (Cthulu is one of them! Alright!). He tells Bart he thought that perhaps humans could fly but had forgotten how, and that he was trying to remember. At that point Dr. Hibbert enters with a specialist from another hospital, and the shoo Bart from the room, though he proceeds to eavesdrop.

The scene cuts to the Simpsons’ home. Bart tells them Diggs has been transferred to a new hospital, which he has printed out the information on, and asks if he can visit him there. Marge winces when she reads the hospital name and tells him no, that this is an “Arkham Asylum-type hospital” and not a good place for little boys. Not understanding and upset, Bart asks why they took Diggs there then, and Homer more bluntly tells him his friend is “crazy”. We can see the fear and preconceived notions in the reactions of the parents, particularly Marge. Though they did not object to Bart’s new friend before, now he’s become “a crazy person”, someone to be feared and whom their son must be sheltered from. Likewise at school the rumors seem to have made the rounds and the bullies tease Bart about his friend’s condition. Only Lisa tells Bart that Diggs’ problems do not make him a bad person, and that she has 8 friends with mental health issues. (Huh? Who? I must’ve missed a lot of episodes…) She also brings home the hard truth that there’s no simple fix.

The next day at school Bart enters the falconry club to find Diggs  sitting in the window, explaining that he has medication, and a day pass to go to the falconry competition. Bart is happy to see him but has also absorbed the fears of those around him, asking “Just how crazy are you?” Diggs says with disdain that though he’s been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, the DSM-V is highly controversial. And fuck yeah, is it ever! Ok, maybe not about schizophrenia, but about schizo-typal, NPD, and a host of other things. I love that they don’t fall back on “incoherent lunatic” cliches. Diggs, already established as highly intelligent, is aware of his diagnosis, but it’s their word for his understanding of reality, not his own. That’s what these diagnosis names are. Shorthand. Symbols. I communicate to the world “schizo-affective” because that is a term that can be looked up and understood.

They go to the falconry competition with Freedom, but it soon becomes apparent that Diggs doesn’t plan to compete. With Bart’s help he connects a rope attached to Freedom’s leg-leash to the doors of all the falcons’ carriers. When Freedom takes off he pulls them open, setting every falcon free, and they fly away. As Diggs gets on his bike to return to the hospital, noting that he’s not likely to get another day pass after the stunt, Bart remarks that “some delicate birds are better off in cages”, causing Diggs to hyperfocus on the word “cage” and me to go “WHAT”? As someone who’s employed the metaphor more brutally in Doll Hospital performances, the implication was not lost on me. But why?
I mean it seemed the whole story had been about de-stigmatization. I liked that Diggs was portrayed very humanly and positively, and was not a one note gag character like Eleanor Abernathy (the glossolalic, cat-hurling bag lady who recurs on the show.) And what Thelemite wouldn’t love the idea of a falcon named “Freedom” and a mass- escape of free soaring falcons no longer slaves to trainers? Ok, yes, I’m likely now reading things into this show that the writers didn’t intend. But Bart’s remark seemed an upholding of the status quo that the charactarization of Diggs and the flight of falcons seemed to rebel against. I saw the release of falcons as Diggs, with some treatment under him, acknowledging that he doesn’t inhabit a body that can fly in hard-world reality, but instead striking a balance by freeing the birds. Perhaps his hospitalization made him re-think the practices of blinding falcons with hoods and leashing their legs…do we really know if he rode his bike back to the hospital after Bart agitated him with the word “cage”?🙂

12 thoughts on “The Simpsons & Schizophrenia

  1. Psychiatry has become one huge meaningless A.A meeting. (A.A.) is great for people who
    are addicted to substances and want to stop but it is useless for neurological diseases because you can’t simply stop the internal mechanisms that cause mental illness.) You’d think that any reasonably intelligent group of people would understand this but Cognitive”
    Therapists cling to the economically profitable and supremely lazy idea that mental illness is a problem to be solved with pills and platitudes.

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  2. Pingback: ‘Simpsons’ Kills Off Major Character: See The Video Sneak Peek Of Season Premiere

  3. Ive always liked the show, initially because I liked the “Life In Hell” comic and was happy Matt Groening had cartoons on tv. I was surprised to see them do something like this, though. You can see the episode by clicking the link on the picture.

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