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New Game Show 'The Misery Index' Makes Light of Trauma

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Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Juliette Virzi, The Mighty’s mental health editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.

“Welcome to ‘The Misery Index,’ where you can make a fortune from other people’s misfortunes!”

These are the words of “The Good Place” actress Jameela Jamil as she introduces the new TBS game show, “The Misery Index,” which premiered on Tuesday night.

For those who haven’t heard, “The Misery Index” (hosted by Jamil and featuring the stars of “Impractical Jokers”) shows contestants videos and news headlines of “hilarious” real-life traumatic events and asks contestants to rank the misery level on a scale from 1-100 for a chance to win $30,000.

The show has a team of psychologists who give an “official” trauma ranking of each event based on “three pillars of misery” — physical pain, emotional trauma and long-term psychological impact. Contestants win money if they are able to rank each event close enough to the psychologist’s rankings.

The traumatic events contestants rank show up on a jumbotron, which they call — I kid you not — “The TraumaTron.” To give you a small picture of the kinds of events contestants rank, here are two news headlines that were pitted against each other — “South Carolina Parents Sent Teen to Live in Woods for Eating a Pop-Tart Without Permission” and “Mum Finally Stops Breastfeeding Daughter at the Age of Nine.”

misery index show "traumatron"
“The Misery Index” show’s jumbotron, a.k.a. “traumatron”

As you might have gleaned by now, this show is a hot mess.

Aside from the fact that the jokes made on the show aren’t even funny, the premise is deeply problematic. Regardless of how “funny” you think these circumstances are since when is it a good idea to rank trauma?

So many trauma survivors already feel forced to justify “how bad” their trauma was so people believe them — sometimes even engaging in what’s known colloquially as “The Trauma Olympics.” Mighty community member Dany T. explained the Trauma Olympics are when trauma survivors try to “one-up” each other to prove their trauma was worse.

#Trauma Olympics: the game no one wins.

By having contestants rank trauma, “The Misery Index” perpetuates harmful Trauma Olympics thinking. No one’s traumatic experiences should be ranked (or laughed at for that matter!) because all trauma experiences are real and valid.

But perhaps the puzzling part of the whole situation is the fact that Jamil signed on to be part of this show at all. Jamil is well-known on social media for being a passionate health advocate. From calling out the Kardashians for promoting diet culture to refusing to take a deaf role because she believed the part should go to a deaf actress, it’s no secret Jamil cares a lot about health and disability advocacy. So what is she doing on a show that so clearly makes light of trauma? Jameela, are you OK?

If you’re looking for a great new show to watch, “The Misery Index” isn’t it. But if I’ve piqued your curiosity and you’d like to subject yourself to 23 minutes of horrible TV, you can watch it for free on TBS here.

What’s your take?

Image via Creative Commons/Cosmopolitan UK

Originally published: October 24, 2019
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