Trigger Warning: ‘The League’ Episode 9, Season 6

The League
Season 6 Episode 9: ‘Taco Standard Time”
Description: “The group’s acquaintance, Lane, becomes suicidal. Andre finds himself in an abusive relationship with his cat.”

Disclaimer: This article is intended to discuss an episode of a television show, in particular, how it is pertinent to the issues of suicide and mental illness. If your position is “watch or don’t watch” then don’t waste your time – just move on over somewhere else. That sort of mentality is meaningless in regard to the direction and overall nature of this discussion and contributes nothing to the conversation.

A little bit of a backstory: It was just a little while after I lost my Mom that a moment so fleeting I am thankful I caught happened. It was so painfully poignant I’ll never forget it. I was sitting in my parent’s kitchen at the kitchen table where my Dad usually sat. From that angle I could see directly into the living room, where my Dad was sitting cross-legged on the floor, watching an episode of Family Guy. There were some funny parts that no matter how miserable you are you just can’t help but find funny and I was grateful to see my Dad chuckle a bit. And then… the show made a joke about killing yourself, and I froze, looking at my Dad. He sighed and his shoulders slumped down… and then he stopped eating and gave the rest to the dog (the memory is so sharp my chest hurts and I’m tearing up writing this). Even though I, myself, was hurting, I had a rare opportunity to see such a raw and pure reaction to something insensitive, I had to grab onto it, seal it up, and never let myself forget it. I took it personal in the beginning because that stinging, sorry excuse for humor hurt MY Daddy and then slowly it grew to mean so much more. Other people are suffering just like me and my Dad continue to suffer – that pain will be everlasting. There are so many daughters and fathers, sisters and brothers, mothers and sons, who have lived through the suicide of a loved one and have gone through the destruction it left in its wake. We’re reminded of it all the time by innocent ways: a co-worker’s perfume, holiday decorations, a favorite song. That can’t be helped. But when you turn on the television, what you’re hoping for is a some much needed escapism. You want to turn your mind off, not trigger the very emotions you’re desperately trying to get away from.
So from that day onward whenever I see something on television bullying someone’s emotions through a thinly veiled attempt at humor I remember it. I write it down. I find out who wrote it. I research as much about them as I can. And when I find that they weren’t touched by suicide or mental illness, I write them a letter, send out a quick e-mail, tweet, post, and blog about it. Maybe someone will see it and be warned of the trigger. Maybe a comedian or a writer will stop and think “Wait, maybe I think this is funny but other people who’ve been through it won’t.” Maybe not. Its my responsibility as a survivor to acknowledge and care for my pain… and its my responsibility as a human being to ebb the unnecessary and unwarranted pain for others where I can.

When ‘The League’ first started out, it was centered around (American) football fantasy leagues – and when it was, it was not only funny but a great show to watch with the football lover in your life. I was really excited for the season 6 premiere and I was pretty disappointed. I’m one of those people with ‘completion sickness,’ however – once I start something, I have to finish it. That’s really the only reason why I watched the ‘Taco Standard Time’ episode… actually, I could only get through to the first commercial before I was off watching DVRed episodes of the Simpsons.
So far, this season, we’ve had all cringe and no football:
Episode 1: They attend a funeral for a friend
Episode 4: Rafi and Randy meet in a mental institution
Episode 6: Jenny lets her daughter believe that she has breast cancer so she doesn’t look bad for not baking pastries for a bake sale
Episode 9: The suicide episode.

I actually had to mute the sound minutes into Episode 9 before the inappropriate dialogue made me cringe so bad I just turned the show off. To make a point: I would ‘just [not] watch’ if it came with a trigger warning. Why should I have to feel guarded and uncomfortable while watching television in my own home? I pick and watch a show titled ‘The League’ hoping for comic escapism, not cruel and insensitive jokes about breast cancer, mental illness, and suicide. Unfortunately, the ‘Language,’ ‘Sexual Situations,’ and ‘Violence’ ratings are vague and ambiguous. I would be more than happy to steer clear of a show that just isn’t my cup of tea (especially if I wasn’t already happy with its first few seasons). There is so much the show could focus on for laughs when it centers around fantasy football and football in general. Why do 4 of the 9 episodes so far have to be centered around insensitive cringe (thinly veiled) humor? The beauty about ‘The League’ is that much of the show is improvisation and not bound by a script like most sitcoms. You can take a light-hearted situation that recently happened (like Zach Mettenberger’s selfie-pic) and run with it (and it’s obvious that can change the direction of the episode whenever they wish: they jumped on the Ray Rice domestic violence issue pretty quick).

Back when season 4 was wrapping up, the show’s writers did an interview with Hollywoodreporter.com titled, interestingly enough, ‘The League’ Creators on “Terrible Things” that Inspire Them. Here’s a quote if you haven’t seen it:

“… the husband and wife team of co-creators Jeff Schaffer and Jackie Marcus Schaffer say to shock is not their intention. They just go with what they find funny.
“We’re trying to tell stories, some of which you don’t usually get to tell on TV,” says Jeff Schaffer. “Whether it’s using a breast pump as a penis pump or that kind of stuff. We’re just very thankful we’re on basic cable.”
THR: Does real life seep its way into the show?
Jackie: I just had a baby four months ago, and a lot of that was the inspiration for the season premiere and Jenny having her baby. We were on our way to a Dallas Cowboys/Giants game in Dallas. I was traveling with my breast pump, which was the inspiration for the “Breastalyzer” episode [in which Jenny’s breast pump is commandeered and used as a penis pump.]
I said to the TSA agent — who asked what’s in the bag — “it’s a jerk-off machine.” That is an inflated ego to believe Mr. TSA agent is a fan of the show. But that’s just our sense of humor.”

Silly human idiosyncracies and other “it’s funny because it’s true” situations have made people millionaires… but don’t take something you know nothing about, pain you know nothing of, and try to get a few cheap laughs. The violation to moral integrity is real whether or not it is acknowledged: for every person who nonchalantly laughs there is another who suffered. That kind of attitude makes it that much harder for people to reach out to others when they are in dire emotional straits.

For a survivor of suicide, cancer, and mental illness the pain is long lasting. Shows that poke fun at it, like ‘The League’, aren’t. If you, too, don’t see the funny side in mental illness, cancer, and suicide, don’t tolerate it by watching ‘The League’ past season 4. Especially when its writers, Jeff and Jackie Schaffer, have probably never been touched by any of these tragedies.

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