I’ve wanted to write a post about how OCD is portrayed in pop culture for quite some time now—but to be honest, there really aren’t that many obsessive-compulsive characters out there. Off the top of my head, I can name the Riddler from DC Comic’s Batman and Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh. Rin tells me that Pearl from Steven Universe also suffers from OCD, but I don’t watch that show and therefore cannot comment on it. So that leaves me with the Riddler and Rabbit, which are not that many characters at all.
Unfortunately, despite being one of the more well-known mental disorders out there, OCD is sadly not that well understood by people at large. I think this helps contribute to the lack of representation—and what representation us OCD sufferers do get is normally not that great either.
It’s been my understanding that just about everyone has heard of OCD before, but most people don’t actually know what it is. OCD is a fairly complicated disorder, and there really isn’t enough time to explain it thoroughly in one blog post. To make things very simple, the condition is characterized by obsessions—or unwanted, repeating, intrusive thoughts that cause anxiety. In order to deal with these obsessions and relieve the anxiety, a sufferer may act out compulsions—repetitive movements, such as hand-washing, checking a locked door over and over again, etc. Because of this, someone who has OCD might come across as paranoid or fearful for no reason, even if that same person is logically aware that there’s nothing to be worried about. OCD can be incredibly intrusive and
be co-diagnosed with numerous other disorders, such as depression, eating disorders, and many many others.
Unfortunately, OCD has also become a bit of an ableist joke. How often have you heard people talk about how they’re neat freaks and “so OCD about it”? OCD is one of those conditions that just about every person who’s a perfectionist about something—so, everyone—claims they have, even if they don’t actually have it. But OCD isn’t about perfectionism. This can be alienating to people who actually do suffer from OCD and it fosters an environment where no one takes our condition seriously. Making matters even worse, not all OCD sufferers will display outward compulsions—they might have mental rituals instead—and we’re also more likely to hoard than be “neat freaks”. Essentially, OCD sufferers often don’t display traits that people commonly associate with OCD, so we’re less likely to be believed when we talk about our experiences.
I can’t tell you how many times people have gotten annoyed by my compulsions and acted as though I could simply turn my mental disorder off. Or even acted as though I didn’t have it at all. About one in fifty people suffer from OCD—so it’s a fairly common disorder, and as misconceptions about it can cause a lot of pain and anxiety, it’s important for us to have representation. But as I said, there really aren’t that many obsessive-compulsive characters.
The first character that I always see as obsessive-compulsive is the Riddler. The biggest problem with the Batman universe is that it is not good representation for mental disorders and I highly doubt that much research or effort went into portraying them properly. And even though I love the Riddler and enjoy watching him obsess over being the smartest person ever and act out on that obsession through compulsive riddling, he is still a villain and the narrative often normalizes violence against him through Batman’s actions. He’s also never directly mentioned as having OCD in the comics. Nevertheless, his mental state allows me to relate to him in a way that I cannot relate to the other characters.
The Riddler is also one of the reasons I was excited for Gotham when it first premiered. Gotham begins before Edward Nygma becomes the Riddler, and despite all the show’s problems, it actually seems dedicated to portraying his mental disabilities in a way that does them justice. Unfortunately, much like in the comics, Gotham never explicitly tells us he has OCD. We often see that he has obsessions and compulsions—so it’s easy to infer that he has it, but I don’t remember any point where OCD is specifically mentioned as something he suffers from. It’s also very easy to infer that he has autism as well. Autism and OCD go hand in hand for many people, and it’s great that his character has the potential to give representation to both disorders. But it’s a stupid idea for his disabilities to not be specified—not specifying them gives the writers a defense for not doing more research. After all, he might not really have OCD or autism, right? So why make it accurate? And as this is Gotham, if something can go wrong with the storytelling process, it will.
While I enjoy my obsessive-compulsive, autistic Riddler, his character sadly falls prey to some pretty shitty and damaging characterization. Edward constantly pines after his fellow coworker, and even though she is put off by his advances because she thinks he’s odd, he persists on to no avail. As a result, Edward’s storyline has pretty much become about him being friendzoned due to his awkward behavior, and it’s supposed to be sad because he’s such a nice guy whom no one appreciates. Even worse, Gotham doesn’t feel the need to explore his disabilities or expand on them other than being a quirky part of his personality that puts people off.
So that leaves me with Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh. While I’ve never been a big fan of Winnie the Pooh—I hated those levels in Kingdom Hearts—it is a story I have a lot of respect for. Though it’s never explicit stated in the show, it’s possible that all the characters suffer from mental disorders, which means that children with mental disabilities can connect to the characters. Watching the show might also help them articulate what’s going on in their own heads and get help, should they need it. As such, Winnie the Pooh is one of the few places I can look in order to see OCD. Out of all the characters, Rabbit is the one that displays the most obsessive-compulsive characteristics: he can never relax, chronically organizes, and is very finicky about his garden. If something happens that upsets the balance he creates in his home, he’ll have an extreme negative reaction, as if he thinks something bad will occur should things not be fixed. However, it’s hard to think of Rabbit as good representation, since as I said, the story never tells us he has OCD. As such, his potential disability is little more than a headcanon.
I know that there are other characters out there besides the two I mentioned who have OCD. Sheldon Cooper from the The Big Bang Theory comes to mind, but he can hardly count as accurate representation. Sheldon often comes across as quirky and annoying, and the show doesn’t really seem to want to delve into any anxiety he might have or present his disability as the life-ruining monstrosity that it could easily be. At the end of the day, Sheldon’s not struggling with anxiety to the point that he cannot go to work or leave his own apartment. In all the episodes I’ve watched, I’ve never seen him miss a meeting because he had to check whether or not he left the stove on for hours on end, or have a panic attack, or potentially injure himself by washing his hands repeatedly.
In Winnie the Pooh we can see the mental anguish that Rabbit goes through, and in Batman we watch the Riddler struggle with intrusive thoughts that he cannot get rid of. OCD isn’t happy and quirky, which is how most people and shows like the The Big Bang Theory portray it. It is awful and sometimes dangerous for those who suffer from it. This is why I wish we had more stories that are dedicated to accurately portraying OCD and that are willing to say that that is what the character suffers from. As it is, none of the characters I’ve mentioned thus far have been outed in their respective source materials as being obsessive-compulsive. It really sucks that I have to get all my OCD representation from headcanons, and that any character that might have this disability rarely portrays it correctly or in detail.