Friday, April 10, 2015

"Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"…Comedy and Public Health?

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Over the past year, I've enjoyed binge watching various TV shows after my son’s bedtime. I've been hooked on anything from old school Gilmore Girls to The Good Wife. My husband and I recently started watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix. We currently find ourselves 5 episodes into the series.

The show has a funny female lead and a great cast of supporting characters (reminiscent of Parks and Recreation) I think it can be easy to forget that we are watching a character who has just survived a serious trauma. In eighth grade, Kimmy Schmidt was kidnapped by the Reverend of a doomsday cult. She and several other women spent years hidden away in an underground bunker. In the pilot episode, the women are rescued from their bunker and Kimmy decides to start her life over in New York City.

In a recent essay for The New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum did an incredible job reviewing this show, discussing Kimmy’s resilience, and highlighting an increasing trend to portray sexual violence survivors on popular TV shows.

While the show is clearly a comedy, it still highlights several public health issues related to experiencing and surviving trauma. And these are important discussion points:

  • The “Right” Language: When I worked in rape crisis services, there was much discussion about the terms “victim” and “survivor”. We were encouraged to use the term “survivor” because it conveyed strength and hope. However, some people seeking services do not connect with that term initially (or ever). Therefore, it is important to ask people what terms they are comfortable with. There is no "one size fits all" in terms of how people label themselves afterwards and how much they do (or don't) want to discuss the experience or have it be a part of their lives going forward. We see this distinction in the very different approaches the bunker survivors take to moving on with their lives.
  • Posttraumatic Growth: The term posttraumatic growth, coined by Drs. Tedeschi and Calhoun, refers to the kinds of positive changes individuals experience in their struggles with trauma. These changes can include improved interpersonal relationships, exploring new possibilities for one's life, etc. This show is all about Kimmy's posttraumatic growth! If you look at the episode guide for the show, each episode explores a new experience for Kimmy (e.g., "Kimmy Gets A Job!" "Kimmy Goes To School!")

What Do You Think?

  • Does the show do an effective job of balancing comedy with real-life challenges for a trauma survivor? (i.e., re-entering the workforce, experiencing PTSD/flashbacks)
  • Is it possible that some trauma survivor organizations (or individuals) will be offended by the show for its comedic approach to such a serious subject? Why or why not?
  • How could the show integrate more effective public health messaging  for the aftermath of trauma? (e.g., "Kimmy Visits A Therapist!)

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