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The mentally ill are either saints or devils.

The mentally ill are either saints or devils. (photo)

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There’s a long, annoying sub-genre of movies in which we learn that people who are “insane” are actually “saner” than “normal” people. You can trace it back to 1967’s “King of Hearts,” in which soldier Alan Bates is forced to hide out in a mental asylum, where he grows as a human being, learns that War Is Bad and falls in love. It’s too bad that the new report from British mental health nonprofit Mind — in partnership with Rethink, another charity — passes up a chance to take on these twee, sub-“One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” stereotypes. Instead, it tries to take on negative images of mental illness.

In “Screening Madness,” the groups — led by Dr. Peter Byrne, who “has programmed five mental health film festivals” — drop some truth-bombs. In a survey better described in the Telegraph than the actual report, 1,989 people found 49% of people had seen some kind of mentally ill person on screen, and 44% therefore firmly believed the mentally ill are more prone to violence.

Fair enough. The rest of the report is a lot shakier. “One in four of us has or will develop a mental health problem in our lifetime,” it scolds; the number’s taken from a pan-European study with broad, arguable definitions including gambling and alcohol addictions — things most people think are bad but don’t generally think of as “mad.” Which seems disingenuous: If most people don’t confuse gambling with violence, why write a report pretending most people would slot gambling and psychosis under the same category, regardless of how they’re technically classified?

A chart categorizes which objectionable category various movies come under; while it seems to be an honest mistake that “Shine” is listed both under “Comedy” and “Pity,” it’s a bit much to include both “Hamlet” and “King Lear” under “Faking & Indulgent,” as if Shakespeare’s point was that it’s easy to outwit people once you pretend to go nuts.

David Cox at the Guardian is not having it. He point out how many filmmakers are still in thrall to the old “King of Hearts” idea, not to mention how “bipolar disorder tends to entail ethereal genius and/or a beautiful soul.” And he raises a point of omission: the report ignore insulting exercises in Learning From The Insane like “Forrest Gump” or a movie like “Away From Her” — where dementia becomes a springboard for “poetic” reflections on the Nature of Memory. When whining about negative stereotypes and how they make films more clichéd than they should be, you can’t ignore that the positive stereotypes are at least as irresponsible.

Cox also manages to dig up a much older and wackier item in Psychiatrists Scolding The Movies. Shrink Carole Lieberman’s 1990 LA Times op-ed was written when the MPAA was parading out NC-17, and it’s at least as overheated. “Only in our male-dominated society and entertainment industry would films be rated more harshly for sex, not violence,” she writes. “Men feel more uncomfortable about sex scenes than violent ones because sex scenes evoke men’s unconscious conflicts, including castration anxiety, homophobia, fears of inadequacy and impotence. Violent scenes, on the other hand, enhance men’s feelings of power. So whether one wants to attribute it to performance anxiety or testosterone, the male predilection for violence has been affecting the rating system for years.” Frankly, I enjoy this explanation far more than the usual spiel about the pathological American history of violence.

[Photo: “Forrest Gump” Paramount Pictures, 1994]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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