by Patrick Ehlers
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
One of my coworkers was really upset about Kanye West a couple weeks ago. No shit, right? Her problem wasn’t that West was tweeting racist things about slavery probably being a choice, or even his support of Trump (who she also loathes), but that the entire would was holding a mentally ill man on a psychotic break accountable for his actions. Her argument goes that someone in West’s condition isn’t being themselves — they are literally being their illness. I began to stammer back with some feeble counterargument, something about the illness being made manifest by that person, so while we can practice compassion, we do still have to hold them accountable. “So you think he… put his own spin on mental illness?” she exhaled back at me. Shit. No. What the hell point was I trying to make? All I can really say is that I want anyone who does something wrong to face consequences, but is a mentally ill person really the one “doing” it? We are bad at talking about, dealing with, and even understanding mental illness. Aaron Gillespie and Ronan Cliquet’s Green Lanterns 48 takes our capacity for compassion and places it squarely against law and order.
Gillespie starts the issue by framing Jessica’s momentary break with reality in terms of alcohol abuse. Jess is a teetotaler, but has heard more than enough stories from her fellow support group members to know what it feels like to wake up in a place you don’t know, head pounding from the inside out, and not remember what you did the night before. It’s a blackout. Of course, Gillespie and Cliquet give Jess one of the more horrific morning-afters you could ever imagine.
Bodies strewn over building wreckage — Jess wakes up in a warzone, presumably of her own making. Cliquet is refreshingly straightforward in his presentation of Jess’ experience, leaning into the clarity that she feels in her lucid state. The reality he expresses is so solid, the reader is never meant to question Jess’ mental state while she is on the run from the GLs.
And actually, Gillespie’s choice for her pursuer speaks volumes about how we view mental illness and second chances. Who’s hot on her tail? Hal fucking Jordan. Jordan’s the poster boy for being corrupted by some external force and ultimately being forgiven. Under the influence of Parallax, Hal almost wiped out the Corps, before killing himself by flying into a star. That’s a mass-murder-suicide. But here he is heroically flying in through windows as an agent of the most powerful peacekeeping force in the universe.
Cliquet always draws Hal either from low angles or in truly heroic poses. The powerful white man is able to be fully redeemed for his monstrous transgressions, but Jessica Cruz is hunted down like a dog.
That’s where we have to start asking our own questions. What does Jessica need here? She seems most in control in the peace and warmth of her friends. So what are we to make of that final-page-appearance of Simon Baz? Is he there as part of the authority that doesn’t understand her or the friend who does?
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IS Kanye West mentally ill though? I don’t mean this to question his mental health, necessarily — I just don’t know that much about Kanye, and I’ve never been sure whether his mental health problems are an actual issue he faces or a problem the general public has projected onto him to try to excuse his behavior.
Regardless, Kayne’s actions are supporting a dictator and his monstrous policies and strengthening bigots’ arguments against persecution Kanye’s family themselves have faced. Whether Kanye is mentally ill or not, or whether he should face some kind of consequences for his actions or not, is almost a moot point. Taking away Kanye’s platform is necessary at this point, but not as a punishment — as a way to protect the people his support of Trump and his cronies are hurting. If Kanye is genuinely mentally ill I hope he gets help, but I’m far far more concerned about the hundreds of thousands being hurt by the policies Kayne is helping support than him.
Yup! This is heart of why it’s so difficult to talk about it. West’s twitter shit is simultaneously legitimizing a fascist and stoking racism everywhere, but he dude is mentally ill. I can’t imagine how that mind works off his meds. Like, he’s always being rewarded for being provocative, add in whatever he’s going through psychologically and I think it’s safe to say we truly don’t understand what he’s experiencing.
But I totally get the unsympathetic argument too: I started to rep it to my coworker. If someone is mentally ill and shoots up a school is is DAMN HARD to feel for their experience. I don’t know what the solution is there, but I feel like we lack both the tools of compassion and justice to discuss it properly. Gillespie is exploring it here, and it’s interesting to see where the readers’ sympathies lie (I.e., with Jess).
Many people are mentally ill and don’t push racism. Which is an important thing to remember. Mental illness is never a justification for a school shooting or gross racism or legitimizing fascism, because most mentally ill people don’t do those things. There’s been many great pieces about this. While a majority of people who actually do those things aren’t mentally ill. In fact, using mental illness to absolve responsibility is dehumanizing. Mentally ill people are just as much people as anyone else, and while of course you have to account for their specific differences, to suggest they have no control over their actions is suggesting they lack free will and basic personhood. A mentally ill asshole is an asshole, just like every other asshole. The existence of so many mentally ill people who aren’t assholes is proof of that. So any argument defending Kanye on mental illness grounds is a bad one, because mental illness doesn’t make you racist. And mentally ill people would rather be treated as people than patronized and treated like they have no control over their life.
With Kanye, I don’t know if he is mentally ill or not. He certainly has issues and could use good therapy. His statement of relating closely to Vanellope from Wreck it Ralph because of her glitch nature is revealing. So whether or not he is mentally ill, help with his mental health is something he should consider. But assuming mental illness is a problem, because we aren’t the experts, and even experts avoid diagnosing anyone other than patients for many good reasons. But whether Kanye West is mentally ill or just needs to take better care of his mental health, it also doesn’t change the fact that people can go through the difficulties he has without racism. Again, someone can go through all those same issues without saying anything nearly as horrible as “slavery is a choice”
So I hope he gets the help he needs, whether he is ill or not. But even with that help, it doesn’t change the fact that he is that sort of person who does what he did. And that’s bad.
And instead of using mental health as a shield, we have to accept that sometimes a great artist whose work we love is a bad person.
With the fallout of Weinstein and the rise of MeToo, one of the most important things we can learn is how easy it can be for someone to be both. And as disappointing as it is (I always enjoyed Kevin Spacey’s performances. Rucka used to be a favourite writer of mine until Wonder Woman), it is better to confront it that try and excuse it. Even if that means having to make difficult decisions about whether you want to keep consuming their media, questions that have no easy answer.
But better to ask those questions than use mental health as a shield