Some suicide prevention groups aren’t laughing over a scene in “The Office” where Steve Carell’s character tries to scare young children by struggling in a hangman’s noose.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and other mental health organizations say NBC and other entertainers should stop using suicide as a punchline. They worry that depiction of a method of suicide might encourage mentally ill people to take their own lives.
“We try not to be zealots about this,” said Robert Gebbia, the foundation’s executive director. “But this one … kind of crossed the line.”
A spokeswoman for NBC’s entertainment division did not have an immediate comment.
There’s been a run of television shows that have inflamed sensibilities lately. The Parents Television Council has urged affiliates of the CW network not to air a Nov. 9 episode of “Gossip Girl” following on-air promos for a sexual threesome. Some religious groups were angered by an episode of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” where a drop of Larry David’s urine is splattered on a portrait of Jesus Christ.
“The Office” Halloween episode last Thursday opened with the paper company hosting a haunted house for young children. Carell’s socially clueless office manager Michael Scott promises a scare, and pops out with his depiction of a hanging.
Afterward, Scott speaks like an exaggerated public service announcement: “Kids, just remember, suicide is not the answer. It is the easy way out.”
Gebbia said it’s impossible to imagine a death due to breast cancer, for example, being used as a joke. He said he wants entertainers to be aware of the impact of their work.
Mental Health America, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Suicide Awareness Voices in Education are other organizations that joined Gebbia’s group in calling for sensitivity. They said research has shown that explicit depictions of suicide may prompt vulnerable people to copy the act.
Two years ago, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention protested a General Motors commercial that showed a robot leaping off a bridge, and a Volkswagen ad with a man standing on a ledge threatening to jump.
“We’re not trying to be censors or fall into the trap of wanting everything to be PC, politically correct,” Gebbia said. “But on the other hand, it’s offensive to some people who have lost relatives to suicide by hanging.”