I really enjoy Scary Movie. I don't know if it would go on my top ten list, but it definitely makes top five of my comedy/buffoonery list. Anna Farris's performance make me smile, the barrage of references to 90's horror films makes me smile, and the over-the-top campy tone keeps me coming back for repeat viewings.
These repeat viewings usually function in the same way. I pull up the film on Netflix, I sit back and enjoy the opening few minutes, and then Doofy comes on screen.
For those who haven't seen Scary Movie, Doofy is a character played by Dave Sheridan who is coded as having a mental disability, described by other characters as "retarded," and played off for laughs.
(SPOILER ALERT: At the end of the film, it is revealed to the audience that Doofy does not actually have a disability, but is instead acting as a character to hide the fact that he is the killer. While one could argue that Doofy's actions are result of a killer putting on an act, prior to the reveal, the film clearly uses Doofy's disability for comedic effect).
And Doofy isn't alone. The trope of the comedic character with a mental disability is quite common in film and television, but the trope definitely started trickling away in the mid to late 2000s as American culture started realizing "hey, maybe mental disability isn't the pinnacle of comedy?"
Comedy - and art in any form for that matter - reflect the values of the cultural sphere of its time. Because comedy often has specific people or groups of at the butt end of the joke, societal shifts in values makes comedy spoil very quickly. There are more overt areas of comedy like minstrel shows that have completely ended in popular media, and we're seeing fewer and fewer campy black characters whose sole purpose is to be sassy, get angry, or eat watermelon.
In the media I consume, I feel like American comedy is definitely moving away from 'lol look at this group that does this thing' stereotype comedy so hallmark of Post Modern cynicism (please watch the following video)...
...and moving more towards personal anecdote (self-bewildering or self-deprecating) and language play comedy (puns and certain subsets of meme culture).
The popularity of the Big Bang Theory - a show reliant solely on 'anti social geek', 'dumb blonde', and 'quirky brown people' stereotypes - kind of throws a wrench in this idea, so that speaks to the breadth of opinion across the US.
But "trickling away" probably isn't the best way to describe the trope of the comedic character with a mental disability. It's evolved to something more subtle.
American values have shifted to a place where we won't readily make fun of individuals that clearly have a disability. Individuals on the more severe end of the autism spectrum, individuals with downs syndrome, and individuals who self-harm or die by suicide appear to have been move off the plate of mockable.
But then there's the middle ground, and that's where we get Kristin Wiig.
I found myself watching a highlight reel of Kristin Wiig characters on SNL. Growing up pre-internet, SNL was on past my bedtime as a kid, and I didn't have any other means to watch it. Honestly I didn't have any motivation to watch it either because my parents didn't watch it, and I didn't understand the jokes of what I had seen. Long-story short, I watch SNL now, but I did not see Kristin Wig in her SNL days.
Knowing that Wiig is adored by many, I found myself very confused and concerned when watching this highlight reel.
Kristin Wiig is quite the over the top character actor, and she's well-known for some recurring characters, just two of which I'll get into for brevity's sake: Sue, otherwise known as the "Surprise Lady," and Doonese.
I watched this sketch, and I was relatively amused. I think it relies heavily on audience members already loving Wiig's performance as the character, so there isn't really much else going for it. The live audience seems to be having a grand time, so I believe my response is influenced by my ignorance to Wiig's work.
Aside from that, I couldn't help wondering, "is she just playing somebody with a severe anxiety disorder?" Normally I'm against the idea of diagnosing fictional characters because it never really helps an audience understand the work better, so for this instance I told myself "just let it be funny. It's probably just not for you."
For me, Wiig's performance as Sue falls in the grey area between 'severe mental disability' and what some people describe as 'neuro-typical' or to others 'normal'. Viable subjects for comedy mockery however, seem to function on a binary. There are only those with severe mental disabilities, and those without them. If the character is not actively diagnosed on screen or coded closely enough to a diagnosis, they can fall into this murky grey area of 'crazy' and or 'stupid'.
If you've ever seen the word 'crazy' censored as cr*zy before, it's because many individuals recognize that mental health works on a spectrum, and in many cases what the medical community choses to pathologize or label as a disability or not a disability is subjective. Diagnosis of a broken leg is pretty easy, but deciding something like where 'normal' anxiety levels end and where 'debilitating and diagnosable' levels of anxiety begin is a lot harder, and can be different from individual to individual.
So how do people use the word 'crazy' ? Well, it's less problematic if you're describing a piece of artwork or a night of drinking, but when people choose to use the word 'crazy' to describe a person, it begs the question, what are they describing? Is it because they're overly passionate about something? Is it because they don't follow social protocol of public behavior or volume levels? Do they speak differently or at a different rate?
In my experience, people use the word 'crazy' to describe individuals in this diagnosable grey area: someone who is 'normal' enough to have agency for their actions, but not so atypical that you're making fun of someone with a disability.
Except for people experiencing homelessness. The otherness people experiencing homelessness are treated with linguistically is so extreme that an individual that clearly exhibits traits that would be commonly diagnosable can be described 'crazy homeless person' with no social repercussion. But that's another blog post.
So why the hell is this character still okay?
Like, I get something being a product of its time, but I am shocked that people still call this their favorite Kristin Wiig character. "Oh my god, I love the one she plays with the little hands!" is a refrain I have heard from many people, and many well-meaning left-leaning people at best!
Not only does this character have a mental disability, but it's even accompanied with physical deformity too. I dare anybody to look at this character and say, "there is nothing diagnosable about that." (or rather, "there is nothing a reasonable doctor wouldn't find reasonably diagnosable about that.")
This isn't a condemnation for Wiig or a boycott of her art. Like Scary Movie, these skits are products of their time, and the SNL style has definitely changed since. Wiig has many great performances that aren't in this light, so I'd like to think that her intentions are well-meaning.
For those opposed to the idea of "political correctness" who are already drafting the comment "don't tell me who I can and can't make fun of you hippie snowflake libtard" (there's a lot to unpack with the word 'libtard' tbh), I'm not calling for a strike of all comedy. I always like to add that everyone has free will and can do as they please, and for me to tell someone that they cannot consume a certain form of media, or that they are forced to consume a different kind of media, is wholly absurd. I'm just inviting people to take a critical look at something pervasive and to act as they see fit.
Go forth and consume media responsibly.
(Both Dooneese and Sue are discussed in this Prezi that I found by Googling 'Dooneese Disability' and it cites some interesting sources. Since I graduated my undergrad, I lost access to databases of scholarly sources, so here's a little taste).