Allergies in Film and Television: Myths versus Realities

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Here’s Part 1 of a fun blog for all movie and TV lovers. As we know, allergies are everywhere and the same is true in the entertainment industry. However, not all portrayals of food allergies on-screen are accurate. This can sometimes lead viewers to misjudge individuals with allergies in real life. I have a few examples below of good and bad portrayals of food allergies on the big screen, and a little “blurb” about the scene. CAUTION: The following may contain spoilers.

A really well-known food allergy scene, and the first that came to mind for me, is the allergic reaction Hitch (played by Will Smith) has to seafood in the movie Hitch. If you haven’t seen the movie, a brief clip can be seen here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SdDPoFcBZEY . The warning signs of a reaction are clear for Hitch: itchiness of the throat, hives, denial, and a swollen tongue and facial features. However, the way it was managed is not recommended. Running, or rather, walking to a local pharmacy to buy an antihistamine medication (in this case, Benadryl) should not be used before administering an auto-injector and calling 9-1-1 in an anaphylaxis emergency. In this clip, it is unclear whether Hitch carries his auto-injector; but his signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction tell us that this reaction could be life-threatening and 9-1-1 should have been called ASAP.

This next clip (watch mainly the first 3 minutes) is from a TV show called Freaks and Geeks that ended after only one season. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VE65VbUBGbI. In this scene, a bully puts a peanut into Bill’s sandwich, thinking that he is lying about his peanut allergy. This is a very extreme example of the kind of bullying that may be seen in high schools today, although these occurrences have hopefully  improved over the years thanks to anti-bullying and awareness campaigns. We never really see any tell-tale signs of an allergic reaction from Bill other than his panic upon learning that he had, in fact, just ingested a peanut. A positive about this clip is that Bill was rushed to the hospital immediately to receive proper treatment! We didn’t see an auto-injector being used. But, still, this depiction is noteworthy.

Due to its explicit language, I will not share the next clip’s link; but in the recent movie Horrible Bosses, Dale Arbus (played by Charlie Day) throws his peanut butter sandwich bag out his parked car window where it is picked up by Dave Harken (played by Kevin Spacey) who was running around the block. Dave is severely allergic to peanuts and, soon after picking up the litter and lecturing Dale about polluting his neighbourhood, he begins to choke. As he is choking, he manages to say “peanuts” before collapsing to the pavement. He repeatedly points at his ankle where a panicked Dale finds Dave’s auto-injector (finally, an auto-injector on-screen!!!). Dale has no idea how to use it and begins to read the instructions before getting impatient and jabbing it into Dave’s chest and neck repeatedly. The positives about this scene is that Dave carried his auto-injector, even when he went for a run. Dale removing the safety cap is another positive. However, this scene quickly turns crazy, for lack of a better word! 1) Jabbing the auto-injector into Dave’s chest is definitely NOT recommended and, if Dale had read all instructions, it would have been clear to put it into Dave’s thigh. 2) Jabbing the already administered auto-injector is overkill since no new epinephrine will come out of it. So Dale is essentially just poking Dave with a needle (unnecessarily gross!) 3) No one called 9-1-1. This was clearly meant to be a funny scene and, although I’ll admit to laughing at some points, it was very misrepresentative of this situation.

In a hilarious, and often ridiculous, comedy TV show called That 70’s Show, Michael Kelso (played by Ashton Kutcher) has an allergy to eggs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Log_tyvaTeg . Kelso’s character is a good looking but very dumb young man who provides the show with plenty of humour. In this particular episode, Kelso decides he is going to drink a cup half full of eggs. His ex-girlfriend at the time, Jackie (played by Mila Kunis), tries to stop him and remind him that he is allergic to eggs (remember, he’s very dumb) but he insists that she should stop trying to prevent him from chugging eggs. And, finally, he just chugs them down. In this scenario, 9-1-1 should have been called immediately rather than the very laid-back decision for one of his friends to drive him to the hospital. By the end of the clip, Kelso’s face is severely swollen and the use of an auto-injector also would have been a very wise decision.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Remember, this is only part 1 so stay tuned for part 2 with even more allergies seen on the big-screen or small(er) screen!

 

Dylan

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Allergies in Film and Television: Myths versus Realities”

  1. Wow! When you compile examples… it really just seems like allergies are not really something which are taken seriously in television/film! The Freaks and Geeks clip was actually really upsetting to me. I hope that this work of fiction has never been someone else’s reality. I hope people can learn how serious allergies are if they look at this from a more critical perspective.

  2. In the movie ‘Hitch’, it was clear to me that this was The First Reaction for Will’s character and their actions were that of smart people but without the knowledge most of us only get after we’ve had to deal with a reaction or two. My wife’s first reactions weren’t handled the best they could have because we just didn’t know, and even after we had been exposed to the knowledge, it still took a bit to build the correct habits to kick in when a reaction occurs. Those of you who became anaphylactic as a child won’t have much or any memory of that process as your parents got to deal with it. If a person has never had any experience with an anaphylactic reaction, why would they go through the non-trivial cost of having an auto-injector with them?

    As for the ’70s Show, auto-injectors of epinephrine were not yet a consumer product in the time frame that show takes place. As I understand it, you had to carry a vial of epinephrine along with a syringe to handle the shot manually.

  3. More fodder for this series:

    I got frustrated with the scene in “Monster in Law”…

    There’s a scene with a bee sting allergy in “My Girl”.

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