Podcast: BoJack Horseman and Celebrity Mental Health Advocacy
Rich celebrity on TV: “Have you ever been sad? You might have depression.” If scenarios like this make you want to throw a rock at a window, you aren’t alone. In today’s episode, Gabe expresses his distaste for celebrities posing as the “face” of mental illness. He feels further validated after watching a satirical episode of BoJack Horseman, in which Mr. Peanutbutter, a cheerful canine celebrity, becomes the new face of depression — first as a “sad dog” meme and then as a depression spokesperson.
What do you think? Tune in to hear Jackie and Gabe get into a thoughtful discussion on whether celebrities acting as the “face” of mental illness is a good or bad thing.
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About The Not Crazy Podcast Hosts
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from Gabe Howard. To learn more, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Jackie Zimmerman has been in the patient advocacy game for over a decade and has established herself as an authority on chronic illness, patient-centric healthcare, and patient community building. She lives with multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, and depression.
Computer Generated Transcript for “B0Jack- Mental Health” Episode
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer-generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Not Crazy, a Psych Central podcast. And here are your hosts, Jackie Zimmerman and Gabe Howard.
Gabe: Hey, everyone, and welcome to Not Crazy. I’m here with my co-host, Jackie, who lives with major depression.
Jackie: And you know my co-host, Gabe, who lives with bipolar disorder.
Gabe: And today we are going to talk about BoJack Horseman. The show is ending. The show’s on Netflix. Most people have heard of it, but it did something exciting. Longtime fans of the show know that there’s this thing that I dislike and they sort of did it on BoJack, which validated me in ways that I cannot explain. It just made me so happy, Jackie.
Jackie: So much so that you sent me a text that said, have you seen this? And I was like, no. And then you said, I feel so heard and validated. We must talk about this. And I said, OK, fine.
Gabe: And you agreed to watch three episodes of a show that you’d never watched before. What did you think of it? Did you like the show?
Jackie: I hated it.
Gabe: Hate is a strong word.
Jackie: I literally hated it.
Gabe: Ok. But Adam liked it.
Jackie: Adam and I watched it together and Adam cursed Gabe a few times, like, why the fuck did Gabe tell us to watch this show? The general consensus over here, it’s pretty awful.
Gabe: It is a very popular show and people are sad that it is being canceled after hearing Jackie’s scathingly mean review. I kind of wish BoJack was real because he’d be like, Not Crazy podcast. I hated it. It was awful. And then he’d drink and pass out drunk, which if you’re a fan of the show, is hilarious, but just a meaningless aside that makes Gabe very, very happy.
Jackie: Well, you asked me to watch three episodes. I fell asleep through two of them. But I will say that the moment that I saw what you were talking about, I recognized it and I was like, OK, I see you. So do you want to tell everybody what happened?
Gabe: To back up just a little bit, BoJack Horseman, it’s a cartoon and all of the characters are very one dimensional. BoJack, he used to be famous. He’s narcissistic. He’s an alcoholic. And he has depression. And that’s just who he is. The character that we’re gonna be talking about for the remainder of the show is a character called Mr. Peanutbutter. Mr. Peanutbutter is also famous. He’s also an actor. He’s a yellow golden retriever. And he’s very happy. He’s basically my wife as a cartoon character. He’s just eternal sunshine. He’s Pollyanna. No matter what happens in the world, he can find the good in it. And that’s his one dimensional character.
Jackie: This character’s so happy and positive that in the show they’re trying to find ways to keep him in the public eye or something. I don’t know, I fell asleep. But his assistant maybe, I don’t know, somebody was like, we’ll make these memes with your face on them. And the memes were sad dog memes. And he was like, I’m not a sad dog. I don’t like these. I can’t relate to them because I’m not sad. Like his whole point on the show is to be like a peppy dog.
Gabe: Yeah, he is an extraordinarily happy dog and he’s famous. That’s all you need to know. They do find a picture. Just a single picture of him looking sad. And they make their memes. They’re called the sad dog memes and social media being what it is, it takes off like gangbusters. The sad dog meme is everywhere. People love it. And that gives him a small amount, just a tiny amount, of notoriety as a sad dog. And sadness is a quick jump over to depression. Mr. Peanutbutter has depression. So the powers that be decide that they want to make him in the face of depression and they pay him to go on tour and to make PSA’s and to do all of this stuff to advance the cause of mental health advocacy, of getting checked for depression. For this guy who doesn’t have it.
Jackie: And Gabe is so furious that they’ve given a cartoon dog, this stance where he is the face of depression, which is ridiculous. This is where I was like, OK, I see what Gabe is talking about. Where somebody who probably is not clinically depressed
Gabe: No, there’s no probably. He doesn’t. He does not have it.
Jackie: Well, I meant like in like real life. Like transferring to real life, not cartoon world now, the face of mental illness slash depression in huge mental illness advocacy spaces, celebrities who may or may not live with an actual mental illness, who are now speaking on behalf of us, for us, to the whole world for lots and lots of money. So I see your point. But – no, that’s it. I just I see your point.
Gabe: In the show, Mr. Peanutbutter actually has a conversation where he says, look, I don’t have depression, and the person who is trying to encourage him to take this cash grab says, well, that’s one of the hallmarks of depression, not thinking that you have depression. So I should point out that in the show, he’s sort of tricked into being the face of depression. But I want to be clear, he doesn’t have depression. He’s not depressed. He’s never been mentally ill. None of these things are true. But he becomes the face of depression and people start listening to him on what he thinks they should do and the world should do to be better. And suddenly he becomes the expert. This dog who has no mental illness, who’s never suffered from depression, who’s never researched depression, who is not a doctor, a therapist. He’s never even been a mental health advocate. All of the sudden becomes who people are listening to to get their information and to make their mental health decisions. I see this happening in the real world all the time and it drives me crazy. In fairness, for two reasons. One, because I want all that money not going to lie. I want the money. It should be me. But two, because this is dangerous. We’re following people who don’t understand our lives, who don’t understand what they’re doing or talking about. And we’re listening to them as if their opinions or information is accurate and valid. I believe that hurts people.
Jackie: Ok, questions. First question. Let’s say these spokespeople don’t live with mental illness. But what if they just really support the cause? They have a loved one with mental illness?
Gabe: Then say that. We see this in the case of Bring Change to Mind and Glenn Close. Glenn Close supports her sister and her nephew, who live with severe and persistent mental illness. Glenn Close says that. She founded an organization. She gives a stage to people like her sister, who lives with bipolar disorder, and her nephew, who lives with schizoaffective disorder, and helps them get their message out there. I think that that is a very positive use of celebrity and yeah, I’m a fan of Glenn Close.
Jackie: Well, mee, too. Who isn’t, right? But next question, even if they are not somebody who lives with, but they are somebody with a lot of clout. They’re well known. They are super famous and they’re bringing attention to the cause and or organization. Maybe fundraising for a lot of money, is it really so bad?
Gabe: So yes and no, right? In your example, you’re like they have a lot of clout. They’re bringing a lot of attention and they’re raising a lot of money. Is that bad? No. If you consider those four things then no, of course not. Where would that be bad? But that’s generally not what’s happening. Because if that was happening, you probably wouldn’t know they were behind it. The number of people that don’t realize that Glenn Close started Bring Change to Mind is staggering because she’s not front and center. The organization is I’m talking about the people that are charging $25,000 for speeches, who are travelling the circuit, who are doing PSA’s. But, I almost question who wrote these things. They don’t even look accurate. Are you feeling sad? You might have depression. Why are we equating sadness and depression? This is like saying, are you feeling wet? You might be drowning. There’s a world of difference between having water on your skin and drowning. But this is the kind of misinformation that gets perpetuated by, I’m gonna say, well-meaning people. But just because you’re a celebrity, that makes you a good celebrity. It doesn’t make you a good spokesperson for an illness. And I don’t think people have an understanding of this because celebrities aren’t used to being told no and they can afford to run their own campaigns.
Jackie: So in this scenario, what should they be doing? Right? Mental health organization needs a spokesperson. What should they be doing?
Gabe: In your example, if they want to lend their names, celebrity and money to a mental health organization, I think that is very appropriate because what they would say is, hi, my name is Joe Celebrity and I want you to support Mental Health United States of America Nonprofit with your time and energy. They have the correct information. They have vetted it, and I am using my celebrity to raise attention for it. And also, here’s a whole bunch of money so they can offer their programs, their information, etc. for free. I think that’s extraordinarily appropriate. But that’s not what a lot of these folks are doing. They’re showing up on late night TV saying I have depression and anxiety and it was so awful for me and the stigma was great. And you should hire me to tell you my story. How is paying you $25,000 to tell me what it’s like to be a multi-millionaire with an anxiety helping people with schizophrenia? And I’m being serious. If you can tell me how that is helping, I will back off immediately.
Jackie: I see your point here, and I could probably argue it either way. Right. I can say yes. Clearly, celebrities with all of their money and assistance and whatever their stories are not as relatable as, let’s say, you or I. However, does it make their stories any less true or meaningful?
Gabe: This is where life is hard, right? Because there’s a real human element here. I don’t want to tell Joe Celebrity that his story isn’t relevant because he is famous and rich. But I do want Joe Celebrity to understand that his story is not typical and we get into this, I’m going to call it a problem, with all forms of advocacy. It’s like white privilege or male privilege. You know, women are like, look, you’re getting extra because you’re a man. And then the man says, well, that’s not fair. I worked hard. Nobody’s saying that you didn’t work hard. We’re just saying that you didn’t have to overcome your gender. If you are wealthy and you have access to money and resources. Your situation is not the same as the average Joe non-celebrity who is being diagnosed with these things. And I would just like to see one of these people stand up and say, you know, I’m a multimillionaire. I’m a millionaire. I have been world famous for a decade. And I just now came out because that’s how terrified I was of admitting that I had a mental illness. So I don’t know what hope the rest of you have that aren’t multi-millionaires, that aren’t world famous, because I was terrified to do it with all of my resources. And you’re just a regular person who may or may not have health insurance, but that’s never the message, is it? The messages is that they’re so brave that they’re so brave and we must embrace them by hiring them to speak and tell us how they’re exactly like us, except they’re not exactly like us at all. I want some acknowledgement that they’re not exactly like us.
Jackie: They’re not. I don’t want to defend celebrities here, but I could argue, if I was going to argue this point, I don’t know if I am. But hypothetically, if I were to argue this point, they have a lot more to lose than your average person, let’s say their career. Yes, you or I could lose our career as well. But my career doesn’t mean losing millions of dollars. It is worse because then I would probably for sure be homeless. They probably wouldn’t be homeless. I don’t know. Maybe I’m not arguing this appropriately because I am talking myself out of the argument as we’re doing it right now. I don’t know. On the show, somebody who is not depressed acts as a depression advocate. That is not OK. Right? If you don’t have it, don’t pretend you have it. No good. We can both agree on that.
Gabe: And it’s important to recognize that the reason that a show that is watched by millions of people is lampooning this is because it’s relatable. It’s because it happens. It’s because it’s occurring. I always said that I want to be so famous that The Simpsons make fun of me on The Simpsons because The Simpsons only make fun of you on The Simpsons after you’ve made it. They’re not making fun of people you’ve never heard of. The reason that BoJack Horseman, the television show, was making fun of this is because it is so consistent in our culture that they made fun of it and they knew that it would get laughs and people would relate to it. They’re not making this up out of thin air. This happens constantly, constantly. Our top advocates in the space are suddenly people that what? What did they do?
Jackie: Well, first of all, excellent use of lampooning, just saying,
Gabe: I’ve been using big words.
Jackie: Well, that was a good one.
Gabe: We’ll be right back after these messages.
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Gabe: We’re back discussing the role celebrities play in mental health advocacy.
Jackie: Can we stop beating around the bush here? Who are you talking about?
Gabe: I mean, I don’t need a bunch of famous people pissed off at me. I don’t know that I want to name people because I cannot possibly have an exhaustive list. And one of the reasons that I can’t have an exhaustive list is because, you have like, who I consider probably the most dangerous mental health advocate, and that’s Kanye West. He’s extraordinarily dangerous. And what he’s saying, and his message, and he’s extremely popular right now. But then you have sort of the less offensive people. And I’m not going to name them because they’re not necessarily charging even for speeches. They just bring it up. They’re just minding their own business one day. And they’re like, hey, by the way, I have depression, too. And then there’s a whole article about how, I’m going to say his name, and I feel bad because I love this guy. And I just saw his movie, Dwayne Johnson. And all of a sudden there’s an article about how The Rock has depression. Now, that’s not necessarily his fault because he’s not offering himself up as a mental health advocate. He didn’t give a press release. He just said it in an interview. And now it’s everywhere. So he’s become a de-facto depression advocate, even though he never asked for it and isn’t trying to be. And that’s why I use him as an example. This is really rough. If you’re somebody suffering from depression, right? Because after all, The Rock did it, why can’t you? And is his information correct? But it’s not his information, it’s the media’s information that’s twisting it. Then we’d have to do a show on how the media fucks everything up.
Jackie: Which we totally could. But here’s the thing. There’s no winning, everybody loses because.
Jackie: Either The Rock in this example, which first of all you said Dwayne Johnson, I was like, who is that? Because.
Gabe: He’s always going to be The Rock.
Jackie: He’d, just say The Rock. Everybody just knows him.
Gabe: The Rock.
Jackie: Because he says, hey, I’m depressed, which is what we want everybody to do. We want it to be normalized, we want to talk about it and then the media runs with it, which they will. He’s a celebrity and you’re like, that’s annoying. I hate that. But if they wouldn’t have done that, you wouldn’t have known he was depressed. It wouldn’t have been more normalized. He’s just a normal dude living with depression. It feels like a celebrity cannot come out in your perspective here as living with mental illness unless they are saying now I’m going to be a top advocate because I actually live with this. If they’re just casually telling the world I have mental illness, it’s not OK with you.
Gabe: See, and that sounds really awful to me,
Jackie: It is.
Gabe: Like I want to beat Gabe up.
Gabe: This is what I struggle with, I am really, really, really upset when I think about all of the mental health advocates that have literally lost everything. A long time ago, people were like, Gabe, will you volunteer to do X, Y, and Z at my conference, my nonprofit, my event, my drop in center? And I would always point out that they’re not asking me to work for free. They’re asking me to work for negative money. I’m losing money because websites and gas and podcasts and microphones and studio time, all this shit costs money. So I’m taking my own money and dumping in thousands upon thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours. And I don’t have the clout as a casual mention by The Rock. Now, that’s not his fault. That’s just our celebrity-obsessed culture. But it does get to me. It does. I’m not going to lie. It bothers me that celebrities casually mention that they suffered from depression 10 years ago for 20 minutes and they immediately have a platform one hundred million times the size of people like me who have been paying my own way, doing my own research, and talking to thousands of people for a decade. And nobody wants to listen to me because, hey, I wasn’t in Jumanji.
Jackie: But Gabe, this is advocacy, right? Like I see what you’re saying. It’s valid, but one, there there’s a space for every advocate in advocacy. Even if The Rock doesn’t want to be an advocate, the people he’s reaching by admitting being depressed are probably not the same people we’re reaching. Let’s be real. Our audiences, I think, are maybe a little bit different. Also, I don’t know, maybe I have this grandiose opinion of the advocacy that we do, and it’s not nearly as impressive as I think it is. But I look at it like look at the work people did in the LGBTQ space 30 years ago. Right? They did so much work. They were protesting. They were rioting. They were doing all this bananas stuff. They put their lives at risk. They were arrested. All this bananas shit, so people today can just live their lives. And while the example is not lateral, I feel like you’re doing all this work. You’re spending your money, your time, your energy, all of these things for not a ton of clout. But the whole point is to make this easier for people in the future. Right? We want them to feel like there’s less stigma. We want them to feel supported. We want them to get help. That’s why I do this.
Gabe: Yeah, I’m doing it for the money and the fame.
Jackie: You’re in the wrong business.
Gabe: No. No, I’m not doing it for the money and the fame.
Jackie: But a little bit of money and fame would be nice.
Gabe: I do need to eat. I would just like to pay my bills. I want to break even a little bit. Nobody should feel sorry for Gabe Howard and I’m genuinely and honestly not advocating for that. I don’t want a bunch of emails saying, you know, Gabe, you know, we’re sorry that you can’t eat. I’m a fat guy. I can eat just fine. I’m good. But this is hard work. And sometimes it gets to me as a patient because it. Mental health advocates in general don’t have a lot of clout and patients have even less clout than that. And I know it’s a lot to be said, and I’m probably picking on celebrities. They’re an easy target, but it’s hard to watch a multimillionaire cry about living with anxiety. When I go down to the prisons and the jails and I watch them live with severe and persistent mental illness. When I’ve gone to funerals of people who have died by suicide. When I look at all the states that can’t pass Medicaid expansion. So even though we have people ready, willing, and able to get treated for their mental illness, they can’t see a doctor because they don’t have insurance. When I see homeless camps get raided by the police because they’re a blight on the community and I watch people die in winter because they can’t find shelter. And I’m supposed to shed a tear for a multi millionaire? And then I see all of these groups paying them tens of thousands of dollars to come speak at their events, knowing the horror show that people with severe and persistent mental illness are going through. I’m sorry. I just want to call bullshit and walk out of the room. I do. I can’t help it. I’m sure they’re fine people and their mothers love them. And I want to hug them. I do. I’m sorry they went through this, but my initial response is, please, you’ve gotta be kidding me.
Jackie: I think it’s fine if that’s your initial response. One of my favorite things I learned in therapy is that your first initial response is basically what you were conditioned to think throughout your whole life. Right? So if your first response is something that’s arguably negative or racist or sexist or something terrible, it’s kind of that deep rooted thing that you’ve learned from society, your family, whatever. The second thought that comes a split second later, that’s really what you think. And that has been really helpful for me in therapy. And I think, I’m assuming, I am putting words in your mouth, one hundred percent. The first thought is this is bullshit. That’s not fair. They have all the resources in the world. They are not recognizing their privilege. And the second thought is they’re still people. It’s all relative. And if they’re feeling anxious because of whatever’s happening in their life, that’s still valid.
Gabe: That’s my third response. My second response is, use your privilege, use your celebrity. Use your money to help the people that I just mentioned and the celebrities who are doing that, my hats are off to them. And Lady Gaga is one. She is using her position to raise money for the National Council to offer Mental Health Youth First Aid to teachers and coaches and help stem suicide. Hats off to her. Hats off to her and Carrie Fisher. She’s gone now, but she really did a lot of great work. But I’m not seeing a lot of that. I’m not.
Jackie: How do you know that that won’t be like what The Rock does? You have to sort of come out, right? This is him saying, hey, I have depression. If he was to be a mental illness advocate and just came on the scene and was like, hey, everybody, I’m depressed, let’s do this together, you’d be like, what the hell? Since when is The Rock depressed? This is bullshit. He’s not even really depressed. They all do. They have to establish a baseline of like, hey, I have this. A lot of celebrities do this where they sort of come out to the media of like whatever health ailment they have. A lot of them then take that as a stepping stone to doing advocacy. But I think that if he just came out and was working with whoever as their new spokesperson, you would have exactly the same issue that you had with BoJack Horseman. You’d be like, this is bullshit. That guy does not have that thing.
Gabe: So you’re right. When The Rock, and I don’t know why we’re picking on The Rock. That guy is so strong. Couldn’t I have picked on a weaker guy and one that I liked a lot less? I just love The Rock. Please, don’t body slam me if you’re listening. But right now, he’s got a lot of words. You’re right. I will respect him more when he has a lot of actions. But to the most pressing point, he doesn’t have to and he didn’t do anything wrong. I’m kind of a little bit sad that we’re using him as an example because all he said was I suffer from depression. He didn’t charge anybody $25,000 to talk about it. He just said it out loud. So actually, my hat’s off to people like him. I’m really focusing on the people that are making money, being famous and having mental illness.
Jackie: I think we’re saying the same thing in a different way. So maybe we should just agree to agree with a slight side of disagreement.
Gabe: Oohh, a side of disagreement, I like it. And of course, I’m a hypocrite. The biggest hypocrite in the room. I don’t want anybody to charge for a mental health speech except me. It’s kind of hard to get around that, right? I mean, if you want me to come speak at your venue right now, I’m going to send you a contract and you got to give me a stack of money. And I justify that by saying, well, hey, I’m not a multi-millionaire because I don’t have my own TV show. I think that there is some some justification in that. But where does it end? Like, how many speeches should I give for free versus how many are charged for? Because I do speak for free. I do volunteer. And the answer is, I don’t know. I don’t know. But it does rub me the wrong way. And when I saw BoJack Horseman talk about it on the show, it validated that because it shows that other people are seeing it that way, too. And this is cause for concern. And maybe we should make some changes. Maybe. Or maybe not. I don’t run the world.
Jackie: Gabe, if you’ve been listening to this, if you’ve listened to your speech, we know you’re not a bad guy. We just know you got bills to pay. Right?
Gabe: And these are hard conversations, right? I don’t get to decide. And that is one of the things that I do like about the world, that Gabe and Jackie don’t get to decide. But we do get to share our opinions, and I’d be interested in hearing what your opinions are. Jackie, what’s the e-mail? So people can tell me how wrong I am?
Jackie: Show@PsychCentral.com. Send hate mail with subject line to Gabe.
Gabe: Should we send like positive mail with subject line to Jackie?
Gabe: Thank you, everybody, for tuning in. Remember, wherever you download this podcast, rank it however you feel is appropriate and use your words, tell people why you like it. We would also love to come to your next event. Not Crazy travels well. Hit us up at show@PsychCentral.com and book us to do this live. Gabe and Jackie in person are a lot more fun than we are in your ears. We’ll see everybody next week.
Jackie: Have a good one.
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Podcast, N. (2020). Podcast: BoJack Horseman and Celebrity Mental Health Advocacy. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/podcast-bojack-horseman-and-celebrity-mental-health-advocacy/