Saturday, August 2, 2008

Monk, the classic detective story, and OCD

In many ways, USA's TV series Monk is a version of the classic detective story: an unwilling detective solves crimes through his arcane knowledge. In this case (sorry about the pun), Monk is not quite unwilling (he is a former police officer) but is somewhat incapable due to his OCD. Of course, the OCD serves as his "arcane knowledge" as in many instances he is able to pick up on details that others overlooked. In other instances, it is his attention to detail (a benefit of the OCD, it seems) combined with arcane knowledge that allows him to see clue where others do not.

One example is the opening scene of the pilot. Monk notices the odor of cigarettes in the curtains (other detectives apparently did not; it should be noted that a smoker probably wouldn't be able to pick up on the odor, but not all of the officers are smokers, though none are identified one way or another). Captain Stottlemeyer suggests that the murder victim was the smoker (why couldn't it have been any other visitor to the apartment?), but Monk noticed that the woman was a Calvinist and would not have smoked (unless she wasn't very devout, but perhaps the evidence of her religion also suggested that she was devout enough for that to be the case). The ability of Monk to connect the cigarette smoke (unnoticed by the other officers) and the clue that showed her to be a Calvinist (arcane knowledge), together make for a clue (one that bore out, in the end).

As a classic detective story and a show geared toward a mainstream audience (despite being on cable TV), and not to mention the limited budget, the plotlines tend toward the conventional and feature happy endings. Serious topics are rarely discussed and the crimes, while being "bad" activities, are not the rapes, child moletations, or dark conspiracies like one finds on Law and Order SVU or even Law and Order Criminal Intent (or even the original Law and Order). Monk varies from these shows in that the guilty party is always punished (except for the ongoing case of Monk's wife). It is a self-enclosed melodrama with the sugary melodramatic moments of Mariska Hargitay on SVU or the soap opera, or even the action melodrama of Stallone and Schwarzenegger films. It provides for happy endings (except for the resolution of Trudy's death and Monk never gets better) and light viewing.

Perhaps the only serious issue (it doesn't address single parenthood, despite both of Monk's assistants being single mothers) the show presents is Monk's struggle with OCD. Of course, the show does not provide a real-life solution for the problem: medication. There was one episode when Monk did take medication but he didn't respond well to it. In real life, there are several meds available and one of them is sure to help, though not all patients will have all their issues solved by meds or therapy. I recall reading a note about this, I thought on wikipedia (it's not there anymore, if it ever was; maybe it was an earlier version that has been modified since then or it was somewhere else), where the show was questioned for not solving some of the predicaments Monk finds himself in as a result of his quirks. Nearly every episode has him asking for a wipe after shaking hands with someone; in an early episode after asking for one after (or, if he was out of wipes, refusing to) shaking hands with a black man, he is accused of racism. The commenter was suggesting that he could avoid the racism charge by pointing out that he has OCD and responds the same way with everyone, making it clear that he is not racist. However, it should be noted that not saying that someone is mentally ill is the correct way of dealing with people with psychological disorders. Much of Monk's behavior, while explained by his illness, is not acceptable, and it should be pointed out every time possible that it is not tolerable. It was better for Monk's adapation and improvement of his condition that people think he's a racist so that he might someday shake people's hands without needing a wipe. In this aspect, I appreciate the show and what it does with his condition. At times I tune out during instances of that (like the phone call to 911 when he complains about his foster son's dirty diaper), though I have the choice to tune it out. Someone with OCD has to live with it. Those who live with people with OCD have to live with it too.

No comments: