If there's one thing that Hollywood is crazy good at, besides explosions and anorexia, it's making sure the audience has an easy time of separating the good guys from the bad guys. No villain, no drama. No drama, no cocaine for the producers.
Unfortunately, Hollywood does such a good job that we forget that in real life, some organizations are, well, kind of the good guys. Consider ...
As Seen In: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Girl Interrupted, House on Haunted Hill, Shutter Island, Nightmare on Elm Street, Batman Begins, 12 Monkeys
What Hollywood Thinks They Do:
Good luck if you're a mentally unstable character in a Hollywood movie, because you're in for a rough patch. You're either going to be held against your will and tortured by malevolent nurses with electroshock, or your asylum is straight haunted. Either way, your mental wellness is no one's priority.
Also, finding cigarettes can be a bitch.
In One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, an un-crazy Jack Nicholson is committed to an insane asylum to serve out the rest of a prison sentence. He thinks he's going to get a cushy rehab before flitting back out into the real world, but he finds the place is even more oppressive and humiliating than an actual prison. Thanks to the brain-numbing drugs and daily humiliations distributed by Nurse Ratched, the patients end up crazier (or deader) than they were when they first arrived. Jack winds up with a chunk of brain cut out against his will.
But even that isn't as bad as the asylums in horror movies. Or the one in Batman Begins, where a crazy administrator gives patients hallucinogens that induce nothing but bad trips. Or the one in House on Haunted Hill, which was once the home of a diabolical doctor who performed Mengelesque experiments on his patients. Or Shutter Island, where we won't actually tell you what happens, but just know an insane asylum is involved and it is terrible.
Do not watch this movie on drugs unless you've got a mean hankering for PTSD.
The rest? All haunted.
What They Actually Did:
There's no question that back in the old days, there was some brutal treatment of the mentally ill in these facilities. But you also have to stop and ask: If there were no such thing as asylums, what's the alternative? What happens to the people too mentally ill to care for themselves?
They make tens of millions of dollars?
We know the answer, because about 80 percent of all the asylums in the country were closed down between 1955 and 1985, which left about 400,000 patients without care. The answer is sleeping on the park bench of every city you go to: We now call these people "the homeless." This is why about 40 percent of the homeless are people with mental illnesses.
The backlash against asylums started in the 1960s, when the government A) realized it was expensive to run group homes, and B) the world found out about a hellhole called Willowbrook. Staten Island's Willowbrook was an institution for mentally retarded children, and we're not going to lie to you, it was bad. Way bad. Robert Kennedy called the place a "snake pit," and it would have actually been better had it been filled with snakes.
"Dr. Jonesss, when would you say you started to fear commitment?"
Geraldo Rivera did an expose that showed patients rocking themselves on the floor, naked and surrounded by their own poop and pee. Naturally, the whole country freaked out that our most vulnerable children were being treated this way, especially after we found out that doctors intentionally gave the kids hepatitis to study its effects. So, yeah, Willowbrook was really bad.
Not quite Geraldo Rivera bad, but still pretty awful.
So, the good news was that a really evil place was shut down. The bad news was that people kind of got the impression that all asylums were as bad as Willowbrook, and they had no problem shutting down other group homes as well. The other bad news was that it turned out most families weren't all that interested in a lifetime of caring for their mentally ill, and those former patients usually ended up on the streets, which led to the huge spike in homelessness that Comic Relief has been talking about for decades.
But hey, at least the streets aren't haunted.