Epilepsy has been in the media several times this week but unfortunately, it’s been for all of the wrong reasons.
“I based the zombies on natural biology; I studied insects and how they move, how they swarm. From the moment the humans are bitten, it’s a seizure transformation into becoming a zombie. I did some research on epileptic seizures prior to making the film, and I incorporated this into when humans get bitten, so when someone turns into a zombie their movements are natural, but violent and seizure-like.”
Actually, his portrayal of someone suffering a seizure and then being converted to a zombie is more than simply insensitive, it’s literally dehumanizing.
Human beings cease to be human once they experience a seizure in Mr. Forster’s film. Instead, they become monsters.
But it’s just a movie, right? What’s the big deal? No one really thinks that people with epilepsy are monsters.
The big deal is that “World War Z” will be seen by thousands of pre-teen/teenage children.
What do you think will happen when one of these children has a classmate who has the misfortune of having a seizure at school?
Do you think they’ll be more likely or less likely to feel that their classmate with epilepsy is different from them in a profound way?
Will it make them more or less afraid of their classmate with a seizure disorder?
Will they be more or less likely to try to help their classmate during and after a seizure episode?
Worse yet, can you hear the cruel taunts of “zombie” coming from the bullies in the classroom?
For thousands of years, epilepsy sufferers have battled the idea that epilepsy is contagious.
In ancient times, epilepsy was thought to be caused by demon possession. Epilepsy sufferers were made to live alone, even kept away from other inmates housed in insane asylums for fear of spreading their disease. They were kept from attending church and up until as recently as the 1970’s, were not allowed to marry or bear children.
Today, at our local library, I came across a strange and rather disturbing autobiographical graphic novel called “Epileptic” by David B. “Epileptic” chronicles one man’s life growing up with a brother who suffered with epilepsy. In one passage, he writes of how his family decided to move from their home because his brother’s seizures were frightening the neighbors.
That was the 1970’s!
Not ancient Greece. Not the middle ages. Not the Renaissance.
Do you think that in the 40 years that have passed since then we’ve successfully eradicated the social stigma regarding epilepsy?
One third have been told that epilepsy is contagious.
18% have been asked if they could speak to spirits.
In fact, the biggest risk to young people with epilepsy is lack of understanding.
So, in an attempt to increase understanding and hopefully counter some of the negative effects of Mr. Forster’s film, I’ve decided to get a group of concerned individuals and epilepsy advocates together to pass out informational flyers to movie goers on the opening night of “World War Z”. Since the film is primarily aimed at 18-35 year olds, my goal will be to help these young people understand the following:
1) Epilepsy is NOT contagious!
2) What seizures really look like (There are many kinds and often the symptoms are quite subtle.)
3) How to help someone in your school or place of work who is having a seizure
3) Where to go for help if you, or someone you know is diagnosed with epilepsy
Human beings, by nature, fear what they don’t understand. As a result, we ostracize and mock those who are different from us.
Did Mr. Thicke mean to be cruel? Probably not. In fact, I believe that it never occurred to him that his words could potentially cause harm to anyone because it’s still perfectly acceptable in this day and age to make fun of people with epilepsy.
Can you imagine someone mocking a child with cancer? Or diabetes?
And yet, when I referenced Mr. Thicke’s comment on my Facebook page recently and called the remark “insensitive”, several people accused me of overreacting.
“What’s the big deal?”, they asked.
“It was just a joke.”
“It was meant to be fun.”
If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you already know that there’s nothing “fun” about epilepsy.
Having epilepsy isn’t fun. Having a child with epilepsy isn’t fun. Having your brain hijacked by seizures that can occur at any moment with very little or no warning, losing control of your body, losing consciousness, being discriminated against, being the brunt of jokes, having people tell you that your condition is contagious when it isn’t, being accused of demon possession, being called a “retard”, “mad”, “not right” (We can add “zombie” to that list now, thanks to Mr. Forster), being rejected by your peers-
None of that is what I would call “fun”.
I guess I lost my sense of humor about epilepsy right around the time I handed my baby over to a surgeon so he could remove half of her brain in one of several desperate attempts to stop intractable seizures.
Joscelyn has been through so much in her young life. Within the four walls of our home, she is safe, she is loved and she is accepted. I know that I can’t force the rest of the world to accept her and I can’t protect her from every insensitive comment or comparison, but I can (and rest assured I will) continue to speak up on her behalf and on the behalf of the 300,000 other children under the age of 15 in the U.S. who suffer with epilepsy.
“Any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members ; the last, the least, the littlest.”-Cardinal Roger Mahony
Surely we can find humor and entertainment elsewhere than at the expense of our weakest members.
We can do better.
We must do better.