360° Coverage : Amazon, Gary Busey, And The Mocking Of Mental Illness

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Amazon, Gary Busey, And The Mocking Of Mental Illness
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Amazon, Gary Busey, And The Mocking Of Mental Illness

Apr 13 2014, 2:28pm CDT | by

You may have noticed that Amazon’s launch of its new streaming media box, Fire TV, features actor Gary Busey. The ad campaign’s shtick is that Busey likes talking to inanimate objects, like a...

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15 weeks ago

Amazon, Gary Busey, And The Mocking Of Mental Illness

Apr 13 2014, 2:28pm CDT | by

You may have noticed that Amazon’s launch of its new streaming media box, Fire TV, features actor Gary Busey. The ad campaign’s shtick is that Busey likes talking to inanimate objects, like a lamp and his pants, but nothing happens when he talks to his Roku streaming media box. Fire TV, a voice-activated device, does respond to Busey’s shouts, making him very happy.

Since his mainstream film career slowed in the 90s, Busey has banked on his reputation for saying and doing strange things. From his defunct Comedy Central show, I’m with Busey, to his bizarre appearance in a Turkish nationalist film, Busey has become synonymous with zaniness.

And I must admit some of what he does is really funny. If it wasn’t, he wouldn’t get parts like his starring role in Amazon’s advertising campaign. People love laughing at Busey. But even while I’m laughing, I have to remind myself that Busey’s behavior isn’t an act, at least not completely, but the result of severe brain damage from a motorcycle accident he suffered in 1988.

When Busey appeared on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew in 2008, he was referred to a psychiatrist who evaluated Busey and concluded that his brain injury took a massive toll on his executive control capability – the filtering process a normal brain engages to regulate what we say and do. Busey’s brain trauma damaged this capability, resulting in a loss of control over impulsive thought and behavior.

The truth is that Busey’s behavior is a form of mental illness spawned by brain trauma, and yet we find it hilarious.

That being said, I’m forced to wonder if Amazon’s choice to showcase him in its commercials is in poor taste. Or is the popular caricature of Busey’s behavior a sort of ‘get out of jail free card’ when it comes to laughing about mental illness?

One argument in Amazon’s favor is that Busey is being paid well, and it’s not unreasonable to assume that it’s in his best financial interest to act as off-the-wall as possible.  I’m sure that’s at least partly true, but it doesn’t erase the fact that his brain damage is very real.

A friend of mine with a performance background reminded me recently that effective comedy is all about dissociation. We laugh at things to distance ourselves from the pain and discomfort they might otherwise cause us.  Mental illness, in any form, is an uncomfortable topic. When we see an interview with Muhammad Ali or others suffering from brain trauma-induced illness, it’s not funny. Perhaps Busey is our popular go-to source of dissociation about mental illness that allows us to laugh at a comfortable distance.

Let’s open the floor to opinions. Is Amazon out of line for featuring Busey’s bizarre behavior in its commercials, or is it okay because Busey’s behavior—no matter its cause—is funny, and as long as something is funny, it’s fair game? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

You can find David DiSalvo on Twitter @neuronarrative and at his website, The Daily Brain. His latest book is Brain Changer: How Harnessing Your Brain’s Power To Adapt Can Change Your Life.

 
Update
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7 weeks ago

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Jun 9 2014 7:54am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: About RM47 million of contributions in the Teachers Provident Fund (KWSG) still remain unclaimed, the Dewan Rakyat was tol ...
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KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia spent some RM27.6 million in its first phase of the search operations for missing Malaysia Airline flight MH370, said Acting Transport Minister, Datuk Se ...
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7 weeks ago

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Jun 8 2014 1:11am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

PUTRAJAYA: The Domestic Trade, Cooperatives, and Consumerism ministry has seized some 9.1 million litres of diesel and property worth RM58 million since mounting ‘Operasi Diesel Selatan’ i ...
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8 weeks ago

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8 weeks ago

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Jun 5 2014 11:52pm CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's total trade in April 2014 rose by 12 per cent from a year ago to RM123.86 billion due to growing trading activities, International Trade and Industry Minister ...
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8 weeks ago

Works Ministry to spend RM20m for upgrading works at 50 accident black spots

Jun 4 2014 11:35pm CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

JOHOR BARU: The Works Ministry will implement upgrading works at 50 accident prone locations in the country that have been identified this year involving an allocation ...
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Update
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8 weeks ago

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Jun 4 2014 10:24pm CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

PUTRAJAYA: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak today launches RM45 million Ramadan Bazaar Sche ...
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Update
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8 weeks ago

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Jun 4 2014 4:49am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

PETALING JAYA: A group of 20 Petaling Jaya residents held a meeting with the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) over their objection against the proposed RM2.2 billion Kin ...
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