July 27, 2009

Otty Sanchez Sounds Like Andrea Yates All Over Again

There's a tragic story this week about a San Antonio woman who has allegedly killed and mutilated her own baby. If you have a weak stomach, you might want to skip the next paragraph.

Even though Otty Sanchez had been in and out of a mental hospital, she was caring for her three-and-a-half-week-old son and her sister's two children Sunday morning when she "'used a knife...to dismember the child, and ate parts of his body, including his brain, before stabbing herself in the torso and slicing her own throat,' police said Monday." She survived her suicide attempt, and is now in the hospital recovering, charged with capital murder and held on $1 million bond. Police also claimed Sanchez said that the "devil told her to kill her son and that she was hearing voices."

Thankfully, such horrendous incidents are rare, but it sounds a lot like the case of Andrea Yates, the Houston woman who drowned her five children in her bathtub in 2001. I read quite a bit about that case, and it was pretty clear from her history of postpartum psychosis that she should not have had more children after her first psychotic episode, much less have been left alone with her children for any period of time. I would say that Yates' behavior was the very definition of insanity--voices were telling her that Satan was inside of her, and she felt her children would go to hell if she didn't kill them--twisted logic, to be sure, but not anything that a stay in prison would change.

Sanchez' mental condition wasn't specified in the intial reports, although it sounds a lot like schizophrenia and/or postpartum psychosis. Unfortunately, most people are still extremely ignorant about mental illness and somehow imagine that people with sick minds can control their harmful impulses or turn off the voices in their heads. It's kind of like expecting a man with broken legs to stand upright. I don't know what it will take to convince people that this isn't possible without medication and treatment. Although in real life, the hallucinations are auditory, not visual, at least "A Beautiful Mind" tried to portray what it's like to be schizophrenic.

The comments posted below the Stateman's story were of the usual "no trial, just fry her" variety, which prompted me also to comment.

The key portions of this story are "Police said Sanchez told them the devil told her to kill her son and that she was hearing voices" and "Sanchez's aunt, Gloria Sanchez, said her niece had been 'in and out' of a psychiatric ward."

Why is a woman who is seriously mentally ill allowed to care for children? Like in the Yates case, the fault lies with the other adults who let this happen. It's like letting a blind man drive a car. She is obviously "sick," as Hook'em98 says, and needs help, not punishment. Her extreme psychosis and its tragic results are punishment enough. Do you think it's any picnic being schizophrenic and hearing voices telling you to do horrible things and then feeling compelled to do them? I can't imagine a hell worse than that. When will people realize that no one signs up for mental illness?

July 14, 2009

Whatever Happened to Civility?

I'm a longtime fan of Roger Ebert's writing, and not only do I enjoy reading his movie reviews, both before and after seeing a film, I also find his blog to be both enjoyable and thought provoking. A recent post, entitled "I Am a Brainiac," deplored the anti-intellectual climate in this country, and the harsh reaction to his panning the new "Transformers" movie. I was moved to comment on his post, and was pleased that he in turn commented on my comment.

I think there are a huge number of people who never bother to consider anything on an individual basis, but merely apply the same sort of knee-jerk approval or dismissal that their parents did--whether it's movies or art, politics or religion. Everything and everyone--respected critics and quote whores alike--gets painted with the same broad brush, and nothing is worthy of a moment's analysis or consideration. Marketing campaigns are swallowed whole. There is no debate, just ad hominem attacks or the loud yelling of some trite comment or slogan--Critic! Liberal! Tree-hugger! Elitist! Socialist!--and trying to drown out the other person. This is a bullies' all-or-nothing, kill-or-be-killed mentality.

To address Chris' comment above, I think most boys are hard wired to like conflict and explosions and fighting more than most girls--but some people, both male and female, appreciate subtlety and nuance, and see the journey as more important than the destination. I don't think that movies that pander merely to our basest instincts can ever be worthwhile art, whether those instincts are bellicose or sexual. Most pornographic movies are laughable as narratives, because they dispense with all attempts at realism or suspense in their headlong (ahem) rush to "get to the good stuff." Movies that don't have any believable characters or plot, but just hurtle headlong into explosions and car chases are equivalent--they're action porn. Unfortunately, I have met men who prefer porno highlight reels to "A Room With a View," and for them, perhaps a movie like Transformers, that makes no sense but is the equivalent of an explosion highlight reel, is just the ticket. Give me "Michael Clayton" any day--it earns its explosion.

Ebert: Porno makes the fatal error of rushing toward and dwelling upon the least visually interesting elements of sex: The rumpy-pumpy and the "money shot." These are the exterior manifestations of events that have their importance in what takes place in the mind. If there were were seduction and foreplay...but the actors don't even kiss. I find it inutterably depressing that people who are flailing at each other's genitals don't even like each other enough to kiss.

I agree with Mr. Ebert. Kissing is the best part. Gotham Chopra said in a recent interview that Michael Jackson called him before marrying Lisa-Marie Presley, and asked for advice on how to please her. The answer? "Foreplay."