Last night I (finally) watched Patch Adams the movie. It is filled with wonderful beliefs about the world that I share with the protagonist: somewhere in our lives we decide conforming is better than whatever’s inside us and this disconnects us from others and the disconnection from others is actually what causes the greatest suffering in the world. The real Patch Adams is quoted from the Art Bell show saying:
“there would be integration of all people. See, right now, in the current system of profit, care has been relegated to the burden category: the burden of our elderly, the burden of our poor, the burden of our mentally ill, the burden of the criminal element—and these are all burdens—where it’s really the multinational corporations that are getting the gigantic cuts in subsidies and benefits but we never hear about them being our burden. And so though we …in the world that I’m working for we wouldn’t need mental hospitals; we would have …one, people would not be working all the time just to make money to consume more; they would …the work would be connected to the integration of their community.” (quote found here in an interview with Adams.)
All of which I agree with and have considered in that past. The true calamity on our lives is the disconnection we feel with others, and how the separates us into discrete, but conforming units.
For these reasons, the movie is inspirational, but with the common Hollywood caveats I have grown to expect. The depiction of the whole fight lands flat and shallow. Nevermind that it doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, but although it speaks of mental illness and connection throughout the entire film, it depicts the main character, as completely able-minded. Patch Adams, played by Robin Williams, has obviously fought major depression but is shown here fighting a large authoritarian regime, without doubts and instead is filled with self confidence in face of adversarial opinions from every direction.He speaks against conformity to the authoritative state of the medical establishment and despite all characters shutting him down, telling him off, going against him, his self-esteem and idealism barely waivers. Only in light of pure grief from the murder of his friend he contemplates suicide again and doubts his path.
Of course, it’s a work of fiction in the decades which we tolerate this type of ableist framework, but someone with these depressive episodes would surely doubt himself. In the interview I linked above, Patch states that the people who know him barely recognize the character in the film. I can imagine how conflicted a person would be swimming with the sharks while trying to change the direction of the waters flow. The courage that an act like this would require is phenomenal, and the movie hardly speaks to this bravery.
The triumphs at the end bring resounding applause from the populace, and the end credits begin to say that he has 1000 members of the medical community lined up to join his dream holistic hospital when it’s built. Honestly, my heart sank for a moment. The self doubt that I, a clown with very little authority, could never join such an place because I do not have these kinds of credentials. After doing the research of his true life, I realize that again, it’s a film trick. Adams has never received enough funding to build his dream. He is too busy actually spreading the gospel of play-theories and holistic healing through lectures and hospital visitations to complete the fundraising. The Hollywood machine pretended that the whole idea had more resonance than it does it real life. In reality, Adams builds small clown armies to visit underprivileged people around the world. He devotes himself to connecting to individuals as much as he can. This is real heroic work, and the reality of his life is much more inspiring than the Hollywood trope.
Tonight I am going to start the work of finding the local clown-hospice here in France. I will again begin the work of a healing clown as I once did when I was working for SPARK CIRCUS. There are underprivileged people in every city. There are people who need joy and connection all around the world. And although I hope one day I can join the conventions Adams holds in Russia or Guatemala, I can do this work here and now. Adams and I share this dream, and although I am not smart enough to get through medical school, I do have the ability to connect to people. I owe this world that much, and it’s also my life’s mission to do this work.
Again – from the interview I linked above, here are some every day actions to heal society.
Patch’s 10 Everyday Actions to Help Heal Society
Below is the real Patch Adams’ prescription for society; everyday actions you can take to make your community a better and happier place to live. The list came from the Gesundheit! Institute website at PatchAdams.org. *Note: ChasingtheFrog is in no way affiliated with the Gesundheit! Institute nor do we endorse any of the ideas below.
Be friendly to everyone at all times; experiment outrageously.
Offer a shoulder or foot rub in any environment.
Always speak up for justice, no matter how much it costs.
Go once a week on a “house call” to a nursing home to cheer people up as a friend.
Turn off your TV and become interesting. Perform yourself.
Consider being silly in public. Sing out loud. Wear funny stuff.
Find ways to need a whole lot less money; share beyond belief.
Have potlucks frequently, with neighbors, co-workers, strangers. Work toward living in extended families.
Take your vacations in your own hometown and spend the money working on projects there that help build community.