WOOTEN COLUMN: Senate’s elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top floor
The U.S. Senate recently voted by unanimous consent to remove the word “lunatic” from federal law.
Reducing the stigma of mental illness.
That worthy cause was cited by North Dakota Democrat Kent Conrad and Idaho Republican Mike Crapo, Senate sponsors of the “21st Century Language Act.” Conrad’s case that “lunatic” must go: “Federal law should reflect the 21st century understanding of mental illness and disease. The continued use of this pejorative term has no place in the U.S. Code.’’
The Mental Health Liaison Group wrote in support of the bill: “Deleting these terms from usage in the U.S. Code is a simple means of demonstrating respect for individuals living with mental health conditions and will have no effect on the underlying federal laws.”
Well sure, “demonstrating respect for individuals living with mental health conditions” seems like a sweet idea.
After all, we all at least occasionally feel like we’re about to jump the mentally balanced track.
Err ... don’t we?
And just as what is and isn’t acceptable attire changes, so does what is and isn’t acceptable wording. For instance, while some vile 21st Century lyrics wouldn’t have been tolerated in 1966, a record that reached No. 3 on the Billboard charts that year poked fun at the mentally ill under the title “They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!”
Trivia test: Who recorded that hit single? (answer at column’s end)
Forty-six years later, the U.S. Senate is coming to take the word “lunatic” away from the U.S. Code — though none of those wacky House members have introduced their own bill to do the same thing yet. But not even federal lawmakers can eliminate the existence of people who can accurately — albeit harshly by today’s sensibility standards — be described as lunatics.
Some folks can even be correctly branded homicidal maniacs. Charles Manson comes to mind.
So does a confessed wholesale killer who inflicted his human slaughter more than four decades after Manson’s:
Anders Breivik shot 69 people to death last July at a summer camp in Norway in what he later called a blow against the menace of multiculturalism. Breivik also called himself “Europe’s most perfect knight since World War II.”
Yet he was judged fit to stand trial due to mental health experts’ revised assessment that he was not psychotic during those attacks. Instead, they ultimately deemed him an “extreme narcissist.”
Does that mean it’s still OK to call somebody a narcissist?
Does the modern zeal for “demonstrating respect for individuals living with mental health conditions” require us to avoid hurting that mass-murdering Norwegian nut case’s feelings?
Regardless of how you answer that, what you saw in your last ink-blot test at your shrink’s office or which prescription drugs are now moderating your moods, just make sure that you don’t call Heather Webber “crazy.”
OK, so that’s kind of a crazy warning considering that Heather’s a soap-opera character, not a real person.
But she is a really scary resident of Port Charles, the setting of ABC’s “General Hospital.” Released a while back from a lunatic asylum — oops, mental health facility — due to the naivete of her son Dr. Steve Webber, Heather has somehow remained on the loose despite being clearly tetched in the head.
And that sicko psycho Heather becomes downright unhinged when anybody calls her — or anybody she likes — “crazy.”
Ponder the sad fate of Dr. Maggie Wurth, Steve’s ex-girlfriend and accomplice in pulling the plug on a brain-dead arch-criminal to save an innocent patient who needed his heart.
Heather, freshly sprung from the nervous hospital, was acting blatantly “mental” when Maggie first met her. Unaware that Heather was deranged, or that she was Steve’s mom, Maggie told her she sounded crazy.
Bad move. That made Heather, already quite mad in the insane sense, extremely mad in the angry sense.
So Heather poisoned Maggie’s cup of tea — and made it look like suicide.
Sure, that sounds crazy, too.
But so does the U.S. Senate, which hasn’t passed a federal budget in three years, taking the time to pass a bill erasing “lunatic” from U.S. law.
As for readers who detect lunacy in checking into “General Hospital” to make a point (but which one?), please:
Demonstrate respect for individuals living vicariously in Port Charles.
Trivia answer: Napoleon XIV.
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.