This morning, I met a Monk. No, not the kind of monk who is a member of a religious community. But I met someone who reminded me of the character Monk from the TV show of the same name. But more on that in a moment.
Sometimes, television shows and movies can do more than merely entertain. They can educate too. I first learned about Milton Friedman, a renowned economist responsible for the economic system we use today from a television show. His name was often touted about by Alex P. Keaton on the television show, Family Ties. If you were a fan of the show, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Schoolhouse Rock is another one; it was an animated cartoon series that also taught kids about grammar, government and the constitution, and how a bill becomes a law, among other lessons. The movie Philadelphia exposed me to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which has far-reaching implications for discrimination prohibitions for qualified disabled persons in the workplace. It was a great movie, but it was an education for me as well. The Golden Girls first aired when I was 20 years old, in 1985. It was the first candid dialogue I ever heard on the topic of cross-dressing. Even though Dorothy’s cross-dressing brother never appeared in any episode, he was often a topic of many discussions through the series. It was an education for me, and the show inspired me to seek more knowledge on the subject. I knew nothing about cross-dressing prior to that. My thoughts on the topic were wrought in bias, opinions that surely would be offensive to cross-dressers and the LGBTQ community. I used it as an opportunity to learn more about it. I even used the information I gathered to write a research paper on the topic for my developmental psychology class in college. The Golden Girls’ exposure to the term, cross-dressing, created my thirst to research it further. There have been a number of shows that provided lessons along with the comedy or drama they were created to provide.
In more recent years, the television show, Monk, also had an educational component, which is the primary purpose for this post. It brought awareness in a light-hearted way to the affliction, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD. According to WebMD, OCD is a type of mental illness and it affects people (1) via obsessive thoughts and urges or (2) compulsive, repetitive behaviors. A lot of people have both obsessions and compulsions. The affliction can affect a person’s job, relationships, and overall quality of life and often will develop after a painful or traumatic experience. Another common risk factor is a family history.
Adrian Monk, the lead character in the Monk television show suffered from OCD, and it manifested itself in Monk after his wife died in an explosion. It wasn’t stated explicitly, but I think he blamed himself because he believed because of his work as a San Francisco Police Department detective, the explosion was meant to kill him and not her. It affected him in a variety of ways. The writers did a great job of outlining how OCD can impair a person’s day-to-day living without demeaning or disparaging the disorder. There are ranges to the affliction. Some people may only be marginally affected while others are affected chronically. The latter would be Monk.
This morning, I met someone I believe may have been a real life Monk. I didn’t realize it initially. My first thought was she was being a busy body. But after a time, I thought I had faced Monk., for sure. As I walked south up 11th Street Northwest toward E. Street in Washington, DC on my way to work, a woman who was traveling in the same direction said to me, “Excuse me, but your shoe is untied.” I glanced down to see my loose shoelace and thanked her. I decided I would tie my shoe when I reached my destination or when I came upon a bench or chair – whichever happened first. About 15 seconds later, the woman asked, “Aren’t you going to tie it?”
It was at that moment when I remembered situations such as that from Monk’s experiences that made him uncomfortable (Monk obsessed over someone’s Venetian blinds that were crooked; Monk focused on a man who had food on his cheek; Monk became fixated on someone with a button missing from a shirt). If you were a fan of the show, you’ll recognize the photo of him up above. One of those umbrellas was facing the opposite direction from the others. Monk turned it so they all faced the same direction. Just like Monk, that woman looking at my loose shoelace was likely very uncomfortable. That moment when she asked me whether I was going to tie it, I was approaching a Starbucks. So, I ducked inside, sat down to tie my shoe, ordered a coffee, and trotted off to my office. Monk helped me to appreciate how little things to us may be huge to someone else, so I am learning to stop taking things for granted. A little empathy for someone else’s life can mean more to them than most people might realize.
We can certainly learn from television and film. Life imitates fiction imitates life imitates fiction. Not sure which one trumps the other, like the chicken versus the egg debate. But both definitely feed into the other. As I am sitting here writing this, the Monk theme song, It’s A Jungle Out There, makes a lot of sense, now….something I hadn’t thought of until now. Check out the minute-long intro if you aren’t familiar with it.