I've recently had a slight accretion of people viewing my blog after typing into Google 'what happened to hoarder Richard Wallace?', as I wrote a blog post on the Channel 4 documentary shortly after it was aired a few months ago.
After recently devouring The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson, the seemingly ongoing interest in Richard Wallace has become particularly poignant. The book is Ronson’s exploration of the term ‘psychopath’ – what defines it, our perceptions of it, and the diagnostic system of mental health in the UK and US. His perpetual and enviable level of self-awareness throughout the book almost makes up for his self-confessed obsession for hunting down psychopaths to make a good news story.
In one particular chapter, Ronson says that television is 'just troubled people being booed these days', and anyone who has seen The Jeremy Kyle Show, the X Factor or The Apprentice must agree. Unfortunately, the reason that this chapter resonated with me is because I'm completely guilty of laughing along, too. It is worrying, though, that in our civilised society, a lot of the people we thoughtlessly laugh at on television could be mentally ill. Ronson says of people on such shows: "we are entertained by them, and comforted that we're not as mad as they are".
I recently watched a BBC documentary about an elderly lady with Alzheimers who moved in with her daughter and son-in-law. Unfortunately, the way that the documentary panned out was a lot more focused on the Alzheimers and a lot less on the issue that has lured me into watching it in the first place – the effects of an ageing population. I found myself laughing at her behaviour, before realising what I was actually doing. That’s what the aim of the program was, this was obvious throughout with the way it was edited. On one hand, I feel passionate about mental illness and helping change how we perceive it. On the other hand, I’m tricked into gawping at perceivable weirdly behaved people on television who are probably there due to a mental illness.
As it happens, my blog post about the documentary on Richard Wallace was complaining about this very issue. I felt that the documentary made fun of him, and showed him in a bad light. Have people been Googling him because of a prolonged zoo-like fascination, or genuine concern for his well-being? Maybe it's a vicious cycle – in order to raise awareness for mental illness, a documentary needs to be entertaining, and to be entertaining it needs to make fun of the mentally ill. In that case, Jeremy Kyle, you must be very proud.