Jezebel’s Mental Illness Problem

Two recent Jezebel articles raise serious questions about the website’s perspective on mental illness.

Jezebel’s always been a hybrid of feminism and tabloid-esque gossip. Sometimes this is effective, and sometimes it’s not. But with two recent Jezebel blog posts focused on real life people living with mental illness, the latter is clearly presented at the expense of the former. Jezebel often presents itself as the go-to website for women interested in pop culture, but uncomfortable with its many demeaning and sexist realms. But as these articles demonstrate, Jezebel really is simply part of the frustrating cacophony.

In the middle of March Jason Russell, the cofounder of Invisible Children, was placed on psychiatric hold after being found naked, disorderly, and incoherent on the streets of a residential neighborhood in San Diego. It’s pretty obvious that Russell was not in his right mind. Absolute certainty about what went down is impossible, but doctors have described his behavior as part of a brief psychotic breakdown, and he has been involuntarily committed, so mental illness is a real possibility.

Nevertheless, Jezebel blogger Katie J.M. Baker chronicled Russell’s breakdown with undisguised glee in a blog post titled “Invisible Children Cofounder Arrested for Drunkenly Masturbating in Public.” She writes, “We’re not sure how to adequately express our shock and disbelief at the news that Jason Russell, one of Invisible Children’s co-founders and the star of the Kony 2012 campaign, was taken into custody last night for drunkenly masturbating in public.” Some readers reported that an earlier version of the blog post, which was later edited, called the Russell incident “delightful.” An update to the article
included video footage. “6:30 EST: TMZ somehow got their hands on video footage. It is horrifying. No wonder the guy’s on a 5150 psychiatric hold.” Baker ended her post by seeking out more embarrassing first person accounts, “Any San Diego Jezebel readers see Jason Russell dancing around in (or out of) his underwear last night? Email us.”

Baker seems to be gawking open mouthed at someone who was very likely in the midst of a psychotic episode, saying holy shit, this happens? People go nuts? Who would have thought? Whoa. She seems to be aiming for some level of ironic humor, but instead of using humor to dismantle harmful stereotypes she merely reinforces them. Crazy people are shocking and subhuman, ya’ll.

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