I've been a fan of the show (and a reader of the wiki) since the beginning, but I've never made a post before until now. In light of all the criticisms that are being levied against the newest season and the show as a whole, I thought I would take the time to highlight a very serious issue that no one has brought up yet. It's one that we have a responsibility to think about and discuss very seriously, because it goes beyond the show itself and is something that affects our lives and the lives of others.
Below is the email I sent to Julie Lind and the Total Drama team after I saw the call for feedback. This is an issue that I've been concerned by for a while, and since people seemed to be willing to listen, I thought I'd take a moment to express my thoughts. I work with an organization that focuses on teaching tolerance to young students, and have a younger sibling with mental illness, so this particular issue hits close to home for me.
I do hope everyone takes the time to read this and think very seriously about how this show--and other shows like it--can subtly and unintentionally influence the way we think about other people or groups of people in negative ways, and what we can do to make things better.
Feel free to comment here, or contact me at email@example.com with any thoughts or comments you have.
"Hi Julie et. al,
I saw your call for feedback on the total drama wiki and thought I'd reach out. I've never been a vocal member of the fandom, but I did discover TDI a few years ago and have been a loyal watcher ever since. Since folks seem to be willing to listen to feedback, I wanted to take the opportunity to express a serious concern I had watching this and last season.
Personally, I'm more a fan of this season than I am of the last one. I find it well done in many respects. But I am absolutely appalled by the idea of a mental illness being played for laughs, as it has been with Mike in this season and last. Of course, I recognize that this is a cartoon, meant to entertain and not to educate, but I'm sure I don't have to tell you that the portrayal of such a mental illness in a negative and often flat-out wrong way that plays to outdated stereotypes and humor at the character's expense is both deeply hurtful to folks who suffer from mental illness, and problematic for young children who are watching the show and begin to think of mental illnesses as some sort of joke, or who base their perception of individuals with mental illnesses on Mike.
I'm not opposed to there being a character with mental illnesses in a cartoon, even a comedy. But they should be treated with respect, not as a punchline.
I've worked with young students who have mental illnesses, and a universal constant among them is that they wish the community around them had a better understanding of what they went through, that they weren't "crazy" or "nuts," that they were real people whose brains worked differently. Portrayals of mental illness in the media--such as Mike's--only help further that misunderstanding.
Again, I realize entirely that this is a cartoon and is not meant to be taken seriously, and I'm sure that the producers and writers have the utmost respect for people with mental illnesses. But I get the sense that the discussion of "how are we going to portray this mental illness, and how is our portrayal going to affect both how the children in our audience see individuals with mental illness, and how many young children suffering from mental illness (appx. 1 in 5 in the US) who watch this show see themselves?" is a discussion that has not yet happened in the TD writers' room. It needs to happen, and now.
It would be my hope that TD and Fresh TV take steps to acknowledge to the viewing audience that their portrayal of mental illness was neither accurate nor particularly respectful, and remind the young children and teens who watch the show that such illnesses are not jokes, and the individuals suffering from them should be treated with compassion and respect. If this is not possible, certainly Mike should not be included in future episodes of the show, and such a topic should never again be played for laughs.
Once again, I've always been a fan of Total Drama ever since the original season, and will continue to be a loyal viewer (even as I've grown to an age where I can no longer tell my friends that I am a fan of TV shows on cartoon network!) In fact, it is my hope that one day the series can use the influence it wields over young children to subtly promote tolerant behaviors--for instance, by positively portraying a gay character.
I'd like to thank the TD team for creating a show that delights, entertains, and engages me and many others. I can only hope that this sparks a discussion that further improves the show. "