Over the past several years, a series of reports have said that fewer medical students than ever are choosing to go into psychiatry. There are factors the authors generally cite: the wider availability of prescription drugs, the decline of analysis, the range of alternative therapies. There are fewer stigmas about seeing a psychotherapist nowadays—and people who might once have visited a psychiatrist can now avail themselves of yoga, meditation, and other means of self-help.
Having watched the Oscars red-carpet coverage last night, I have yet another theory: E! From what I could gather, every member of the network’s team—Ross Mathews, Kelly Osbourne, special correspondent Khloé Kardashian, the inevitable Giuliana Rancic—is well versed in the jargon of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (Doubly impressive as they are also all trained in fashion law enforcement.) They threw out self-diagnoses with the confidence of a 1960s Jungian analyst: Osbourne was “obsessed” with Marion Cotillard’s dotted Dior; Zoe Saldana’s post-baby body was “literally insane.” Countless things were, of course, crazy. I started to keep a tally on a paper napkin, but I couldn’t bear to watch the whole thing, so my results were compromised. (I already had a little hieroglyphic army, though.)
Now, people have been co-opting the language of mental illness for as long as there’s been language and jerks. Think about the many pejorative terms for insanity that fill any edition of the American Dictionary of Slang. Language inflation is always declawing scary terms; maybe it’s a human impulse. What’s different about the tone of the current usage is that it’s so earnest, so reverent. There’s no sense of reclaiming or owning something; like the previously neurotic Bette Davis in Now, Voyager, the new version has emerged glamorous and confident, with no hint of her past life to mar the impression.
I’m imagining a sketch in which Freud and Jung act as E! correspondents, or maybe in which they put Rancic on the couch and seriously discuss her manifold obsessive tendencies. It wouldn’t be funny at all.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review and the Daily’s correspondent.