Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Anxiety attacks in films and sitcoms

Can superheroes get anxiety attacks? Apparently, they do. Tony Stark or Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) gets a few of them in Iron Man 3. The billionaire-playboy experiences the nervy episodes both inside and outside his impregnable armoured suit. Inside the suit, Stark panics and feels claustrophobic and his AI buddy, Jarvis, coolly tells him that he is having an anxiety attack, like an indifferent butler announcing dinner is served. Outside of it, he goes weak in the knees and drops to the ground. The founding member of The Avengers doesn’t have a clue what hit him. In one scene, it takes a precocious kid to bring him out of it. 

Each time Stark has an episode, he is very afraid but still manages to joke about it. Those who have experienced anxiety or panic attacks will tell you that it is no laughing matter—it all seems horribly real at the time—even as those who haven’t will insist that it’s all in your head and ask you to snap out of it or, better still, out of yourself. Never easy. In Stark’s case, the attacks are probably understandable: the Mandarin has aerial bombed his hilltop Malibu mansion, nearly killing him, and he holds himself responsible for putting Pepper in harm’s way.

Anxiety or panic attacks are 21st century’s new urban malaise fuelled and driven by 24x7 stresses and rat races. So widespread and debilitating are these so-called mental disorders that they are beginning to find their way into films and sitcoms, perhaps to add a touch of perverse realism to the shows.


© www.raymond.wikia.com
In one particular episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, Ray Barone (Ray Romano) has his first anxiety attack when he is playing golf with his brother Robert (Brad Garrett) and his friend Kevin Daniels (Kevin James). As in the case of Stark, the reason for Ray’s episode is guilt. Ray has lied to his wife, Debra (Patricia Heaton), so that he can avoid household chores and run off and play golf. The scary episode has him scurrying back to Debra for comfort.

Similarly, in an episode of Becker, Reggie (Terry Farrell), the owner of a diner and friend of Dr. John Becker (Ted Danson), has a panic attack on top of the Empire State Building and the only person she thinks of calling to her ‘rescue’ is the misanthropic doctor who practices in the Bronx. Reggie breaks down because of low self-esteem, of having achieved nothing in her life, by way of money, men, and marriage.

In one scene in Three and a Half Men, Alan Harper (Jon Cryer) has an emotional breakdown, first in a library and then in a movie theatre, and his brother Charlie (Charlie Sheen) is off to see a therapist on how he can deal with the situation or more likely how he can get rid of his brother. If I'm not mistaken, Charlie also has an attack or two elsewhere in the series.

I was thinking, given their emotional insecurities, most superheroes ought to be prone to anxiety attacks. Batman instantly comes to mind. But, however funny it might seem even on screen, it’s never fun to watch someone go through a nerve-wracking episode. Not that you'd know in real life as most adult sufferers disguise it well owing to a sense of self-preservation.

16 comments:

  1. I've had a couple. Not overly intense but troublesome. Definitely unpleasant.

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    1. Charles, the media frequently writes about stress-induced anxiety and depression which indicates that it's all in our hands.

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  2. Our neighbor had one, which he thought was a heart attack, when he was invited to sail around tip of Africa. Horrible.

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    1. Patti, I have read that some of the symptoms mimic those of a heart attack, sending the victim into an even higher state of panic.

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  3. Glad to say it's never happened to me. The likeligood of an incidence of anxiety attack (sic) is the way, once upon a time, I would have definited the difference bnetween Marvel and DC because it would have been impossible to imagine Batman or Wonder Woman having an anxiety attach but not Spidey - now, not so true of course!

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    1. Sergio, I don't know why I didn't think of Spidey. Both Spider-Man and Batman carry plenty of baggage. Neither can seem to forget their past. Batman is worse of the two, I think.

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  4. For entertainment value, I have enjoyed Tony Soprano's anxiety attacks.

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    1. Ron, I have only seen a few minutes of a single episode of THE SOPRANOS and nothing more. I didn't know about Tony Soprano's anxiety.

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    2. Tony's anxiety attacks are what send him to a therapist--a quirky twist to put into a story about organized crime.

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    3. Ron, come to think of it quite a few characters in television dramas go to therapists and those include the sitcoms I mentioned in my post. THE SOPRANOS played for a long time on Indian cable but I didn't feel inclined to watch it in spite of a fine performance by the late James Gandolfini.

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  5. I panicked once at home when I got some crusty bread lodged and stuck at the back of my throat. I was heading for the front door about to run down the street in a panic. My wife, who is about half the size of me, kind of rugby tackled me while trying to calm me down and administered some hefty back slaps which dislodged it. My kids - a lot younger were all crying and upset. I was kind of shaky afterwards.
    When it was happening, my mind abandoned all sense of reason and had me fleeing the one place where there was help. I remember inviting unconsciousness, just so I could kill the panicky feeling at the time.
    We joke about it now.....

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    1. Col, that experience must have been absolutely scary. Anxiety victims are often known to get a gag or choking sensation in their throat and rush to the doctor but it's not the same as what you actually felt, which was very real. Your wife knew what to do in such a situation. It reminded of that last scene in MRS. DOUBTFIRE.

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  6. Most superheros have enough ego and self-confidence to be fairly immune, I would think. Otherwise they wouldn't be in the business. There are a few, Spiderman, definitely, is an exception.

    I haven't experienced anything like this. I've been frightened, certainly, but not in an anxiety attack way.

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    1. Richard, I was thinking of superheroes who are more human than super, like Spider-Man, as you mentioned, and even Batman and probably Daredevil. Medics say most people experience one or two episodes in their lifetime. The problems start when it becomes chronic.

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  7. I like it when superheroes are made to look more human, but I do find it stressful watching other people have anxiety attacks, even in fiction. Robert Downey Jr is one of my favourite actors, though not quite so interested in seeing him in that kind of movie.

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    1. Moira, you have a point, I think, superheroes are increasingly made to look like humans, as evident from the DC Comics issue where Superman dies. I was wondering how a man of steel from a highly advanced galaxy could die on earth and yet he did. Of course, DC revived Superman later. Spider-Man and Batman certainly appear to be more human in their recent movies.

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