Life wasn’t easy for Jake Lloyd after his starring role in “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.” As anyone who went to the movies in 1999 will recall, his subpar performance was frequently singled out as a major weakness in a film that was hardly lacking in shortcomings. Lloyd has even discussed how the bullying he received from other kids ultimately turned him off acting for good.Now Lloyd has been hospitalized for schizophrenia following a ten-month stint in jail, which occurred after he led South Carolina police on a high-speech car chase last June. Predictably, a great deal of the reaction from the Internet has ranged from unsympathetic to downright cruel. “Dude looks like straight sith material. Do not let him out” posted one reader at TMZ. A commenter on Inquirer wrote “too much metaclorian [sic] in blood, bad for the brain.” On Global News, a Star Wars fan snarkily joked that “someone probably showed him Phantom Menace.”
While it’s tempting to chalk this up to the sociopathy that seems to contaminate nerd culture these days (see: Star Wars fans complaining that George Lucas “raped their childhood” or the toxic misogyny brewing in Gamergate), there is a deeper issue at play here. Even though our society is appropriately sympathetic to celebrities who develop serious physical illnesses, we continue to ridicule the ones whose sicknesses are psychological in nature. Despite living at a time when scientific progress has made it clear that mental illnesses are no less preventable than many physiological counterparts, the stigma surrounding these disorders remains – and it is particularly evident in how we respond to celebrities who have them.