Television and the media are all about dramatization. It is the Medias job to do everything possible to take any situation and make it intense or entertaining in some way to draw the audience into each scene. The stand-point of most 12 Step Groups is typically attraction rather than promotion, and they do everything possible to maintain anonymity in press, radio and films. However there are many films and television shows that elude to ‘support groups’ for various addictions or behavioral issues.
These portrayals may often be entertaining, but can also be extremely misleading to those unfamiliar with 12 Step groups. Listed are the 6 most ridiculous portrayals of 12 Step Groups on TV, including films, and the reasons why they are so far from the real deal.
Family Guy- “Friends of Peter G”
The episode follows Peter and Brian as they are forced to join a 12 Step Group, due to their excessive drinking. Peter and Brian hear testimony from group members that are sad stories of tragedies caused by alcohol, and that the people in the group have nowhere to drink without being judged. The problem with this is that 12 Step meetings are NOT just a place for alcoholics and addicts to hide from judgment, and the purpose is to share experience, strength and, hope- not tragedy.
This comedy starring Dave Chappelle, Harland Williams and Tommy Chong is all about a few guys who smoke way too much weed. In one scene Dave Chappelle attends a 12 Step Meeting, and is booed off stage by the crowd when he admits he is addicted to marijuana. I cannot say I’ve ever seen a 12 Step meeting where anyone has been yelled at and rejected for their drug of choice, or where people openly compare addictions and tell someone theirs is less of an illness.
In seasons 3 and 4 of Breaking Bad (one of the most celebrated drug related dramas) one main character Jesse Pinkman attends rehab and 12 Step meetings. These meetings are always depicted in dark rooms, the characters all sit in a circle and tell dark and depressing stories, and there is a facilitator. Not very much solution is ever offered, and Jesse spreads as much disease as possible- not very spiritual, but you cannot expect much from a Meth cook. Real meetings have no facilitator, and don’t consist of back and forth arguments between two people.
House of Cards
A political drama starring Kevin Spacey takes an opportunity to touch on recovery and the character of Doug, who 14 years in recovery, exploits a newcomer for political advantages as his less than accountable sponsor. In reality, a 12Step sponsor probably won’t use your amends and character defects against you.
In this thrilling TV series about a vigilante serial killer, the main man Dexter happens upon 12 Step meetings to try and curve his addiction to killing. He takes a female sponsor, who consistently lies and manipulates him and others around them, while the two of them frequently indulge in sexual activity. This is an absolute misrepresentation of the sponsorship relationship and the 12 Step program. Dexter does however, give a great speech about the “Dark Passenger” that is relatable and powerful.
South Park- “Bloody Mary”
This is a show that takes pride in poking fun at… well, everything! So it is no surprise that they dedicated time to dramatizing 12 Step Groups to the extreme. The character Randy Marsh attends a meeting where he is called to stand in front of the group, and the entire meeting is dedicated to convincing him he is an alcoholic. Also, the meeting has characters who constantly emphasize how they are powerless, over everything including themselves, and that the only thing they have is the fellowship. No 12 Step meeting would dedicate so much time to diagnosing one man. Then Randy is obsessed with religion and avoids his friends and all situations regarding alcohol. This episode clearly promotes the stigma of 12 Step fellowships as cults of cowards, not men or spiritual and domestic growth.
Now please do not get me wrong, I love Randy Marsh and the South Park crew, Breaking Bad is a great drama, and Family Guy is a good show! But these are probably some of the most ridiculous versions of 12 Step Programs that television paints, creating a false picture of what recovery in a 12 Step meeting is like. You want to know more about the real deal? You probably shouldn’t trust the information your getting from your TV and find some real recovery.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135