It’s easy to believe that what you see on TV or in the movies is true. The media has a strong influence on the choices we make and the knowledge we acquire. It is a source for information that we rely on. Unfortunately you can’t always believe what you see on TV, at the movies or read on the internet.
Case in point: protagonists with asthma symptoms are often exaggerated, trivialized and improperly treated in films and TV. Children and adults with asthma are seen as funny, pathetic, emotional, helpless victims, and social outcasts. Asthma is brought on by stress or fear, and can be overcome by will power. Take Carl Wheezer (bottom left) in Jimmy Neutron, Mickey in the Goonies, Malcolm in the Middle, the mother in “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle,” Wheezy Joe (left) in “Intolerable Cruelty, Albert in “Hitch” and Morgan in “Signs”, they may make for good entertainment; however it leaves children and adults with asthma embarrassed and ashamed of their condition. They are afraid to use inhalers in public and are often bullied. Most asthmatics remain calm during an attack and have the courage to endure poor breathing until they obtain relief. What about asthmatics like Teddy Roosevelt, Emmitt Smith, David Beckman, Bill Clinton, Che Guevara or Bono? Are they exceptions? Stereotypes depicted, influence healthy people to belief that asthma is stress induced and can be controlled without medications. Children with asthma resent the way their illness is depicted and worry that what they see is the beginning of being stigmatized and unfairly treated.
Asthma is a common and life-threatening condition. The opportunity to write a good script that educates, rather than stigmatizes asthma appears to beyond the grasp of today’s writers. How easy it is to fall back on damaging stereotypes.
As if asthma wasn’t enough, Hollywood has made a bigger mess with portraying anaphylaxis. This disorder, by definition, is life-threatening. It seems that near-death experiences can be quite amusing. Take Hitch for example. He is has an anaphylactic reaction to raw fish. This is quite possible and requires immediate treatment with epinephrine and a call to 911. What happens instead? He saunters in to a pharmacy and drinks all the liquid antihistamine in the store. This while his face swells beyond recognition. Funny isn’t it? Tragic, if he stopped breathing. In Box Trolls, an innocent enough movie, the villain is allergic to cheese, continues to eat it until he explodes. Smart move! Food anaphylaxis makes for a great murder weapon. In “Monster in Law” the mother-in law tries off her future daughter-in law with peanuts and in “Firewall” epinephrine treatment is withheld from Jack’s son by home invaders until they are given computer passwords to bank accounts. An epinephrine pen contains a life-saving dose of adrenalin to be used during an anaphylaxis reaction. It also makes for a great weapon to use against your boss as in “Horrible Bosses”. In “Pulp Fiction” you can inject it straight to the heart in a case of drug overdose. Multiple ‘epi’ shots can keep you alive from poison as we have seen in “Crank.” While in “My Girl” there is no injection at hand to save Thomas Jay from bee stings. Don’t eat strawberries without an Epi-Pen, even if you are ‘Fearless”. There are many more examples in media of inappropriate depictions of food allergy and anaphylaxis. However what is most bizarre is that there is no movie or show (save Sesame Street) that depicts anaphylaxis or asthma honestly.
Remember to always be circumspect when it comes to the entertainment media.