Ever see Glee? I was excited to see it when it first came out since I had heard there would be a character with OCD on the show. Unfortunately I am mostly disspointed with how they have chosen to portray OCD.
For those who don’t watch or who haven’t seen it, that character is Emma, and her OCD mostly manifests in mysophobia (more commonly known as germaphobia). The pilot showed Emma getting quite anxious after stepping on a piece of gum. Many episodes show her cleaning fruit with moist towel-ettes and gloves.
Most recently aired season three: episode three, where Emma’s parents come over for dinner which stresses out Emma to the point of compulsively arranging and rearranging her silverware. Her parents are mean and make fun of her. A flashback scene then shows Emma as a child sitting at the table of a restaurant. Her parents hand her the familiar moist towel-ette and she begins cleaning her cup as her parents do; implying that Emma developed OCD because of the way she was raised by her parents. I did not appreciate this as it sends a strong message that OCD is someone’s fault, when it is not. Later in the episode, Emma is seen compulsively rubbing her hands together, before she kneels to the ground to pray. Will is with her, and says “I wish I could make things better for you”, not knowing what to do.
I thought that scene was sweet and probably the closest the show has come to portraying OCD in a realistic way, but overall Emma falls short. She is often seen cleaning or compulsing, but she always seems quite calm performing her rituals, and I think most of us don’t really recognize that feeling while compulsing. Thus, further supporting the false idea the OCD is about perfectionism, cleanliness and anal retentiveness rather than anxiety. At the heart of it, OCD is about trying to make the anxiety go away. When an obsession or intrusive thought pops into the mind, the person becomes anxious and tries to get rid of the feeling with compulsive behavior. Emma rarely seems anxious, as most of the time during her cleaning, she is chatting with great ease. After a while you don’t even notice her cleaning because it comes across like she is simply overdoing it.
Without too many shows highlighting OCD (besides some exploitative reality show garbage), I am less than impressed, and I really don’t relate to the character.
You ever watch Scrubs? That scene with Michael J Fox was what helped me realize I had OCD. It was a very realistic representation as he showed anxiety, stress, frustration, shame and strength. Emma is pretty flat as a character and while I think it’s nice they have an OCD character…yawn.
Here’s the clip from from Scrubs that really changed my life.