Here’s some encouraging news for anyone who’s feeling unsettled and anxious right about now – and, in 2020, that covers nearly everybody.
Those shared streaming experiences you’ve been discussing endlessly on social media, like ESPN’s Michael Jordan documentary, the Disney Plus premiere of the “Hamilton” movie, and, yes, Netflix’s notorious “Tiger King”?
They’re pretty good as stress relievers.
“It’s been a very stressful time, and so I think people have enjoyed having these little moments where they can escape reality, frankly,” said forensic psychiatrist Vasilis Pozios of Ann Arbor. “And I think that’s what entertainment at its best is really about, escaping into a fantasy world where you can safely take a break from the stresses of the world and then take something away from it that is positive.”
Pozios is participating in “‘Crazy Talk:’ Mental Health, Pop Culture and the Pandemic,” a a panel at this year’s San Diego Comic Con that premieres at 11 a.m. Friday on YouTube.
The annual event is now underway, but not in its usual manner. With California experiencing a surge in the coronavirus, Comic Con is being held online and for free through Sunday via a YouTube channel. Fans can join the virtual gathering through more than 350 panels featuring stars, creators and experts in the arenas of TV, movies, gaming and comic books.
The panel featuring Pozios, who was born and grew upin Detroit and did his residency in general psychiatry at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor, asks a question that seems more pertinent every day. As the Comic Con description puts it, “Can pop culture help promote mental wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic, or is that just “crazy” talk?”
Joining the southeast Michigan psychiatrist will be Heather Antos (senior editor for Valian and Image comics), Bryan Edward Hill (a writer for DC Comics’ “Batman” and “The Outsiders”), Joseph Illidge (comic book veteran and executive editor of Heavy Metal sci-fi/comics magazine), Patrick Tatopoulous (production designer for “Batman v Superman” and “Justice League”) and Los Angeles psychiatrist Praveen Kambam.
Pozios, Kambam and San Francisco psychiatrist H. Eric Bender are the co-founders of Broadcast Thought, which provides media and entertainment consulting on topics and themes relating to mental health. They have become a resource for encouraging more accurate portrayals and public perceptions of mental illness and mental health issues.
As an expert who is also a fan of pop culture, Pozios has been appearing at Comic Con for about a decade. This year, he says, the virtual gathering exemplifies how people can still “engage and share our love of pop culture” even with social distancing and limitations on public gatherings.
Although he acknowledges social media’s not-so-good, divisive aspects, he sees a positive side to its ability to connect fan communities and give them a forum for expressing their ideas.
As an example, he cites the online #ReleaseTheSnyderCut campaign that spurred Warner Bros. to announce in May that it will release director Zack Snyder’s revamped version of the 2018 movie “Justice League.” Zack Snyder originally led the project, but had to leave during post-production after his daughter’s suicide. He was replaced by Joss Whedon.
“Overwhelmingly, I think it’s been a positive experience in terms of supporting an artist’s work and also trying to raise awareness for suicide prevention, which I think is a very important thing to do, especially in the context of Zack Snyder’s own personal story,” Pozios said.
“I think that is an example of something where social media enabled a community to grow and achieve something people didn’t think was possible.”
Pozios also points to online activities like the home edition challenge of SyFy’s “Face Off” reality competition that Tatopoulos’ wife, makeup artist McKenzie Westmore, led on Instagram “as a way to give people something to look forward to, frankly, during the pandemic and while they’re isolating at home and to share it with people across the world.”
As for portraying mental health issues in meaningful ways, Pozios praises Mindy Kaling’s ne…