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Are We Exploiting Daniel Johnston?

Out of those of you who weren’t familiar with Daniel Johnston when I told you about his performance at the Austin City Limits Music Festival last month, I’m willing to bet more than a few of you found him interesting (even if you read only my brief introduction to him).

So, I thought I’d pass along Fiona Shepherd’s interview with Johnston over at

Apparently, a new Daniel Johnston biopic is currently in the works – which Shepherd addresses along with lyrics to various Johnston songs – but what I found most interesting was Johnston’s comments on the first film about him, Jeff Feuerzeig’s 2006 documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston:

Johnston’s response to the film is ambivalent. “I didn’t know what to think about it because it was such exploitation,” he says, “but I finally surrendered and just decided that it’s kind of humorous.” So did he feel exploited? “Not at the time when they were filming,” he says. “It didn’t seem like it until the movie was finished. Even the title was a surprise – man, that’s pretty radical.”

Johnston felt exploited? Well, that’s completely understandable.

At the same time, however, I wonder if he felt like the documentary did any good (you know – aside from the “humor” part). I am in no way an expert on Daniel Johnston, but over the years I’ve ran into reader and viewer comments on various sites where fans have clearly stated Johnston’s successes despite his struggles with mental illness have inspired them – given them hope, and an example of living proof of the fact that people can succeed and live their dreams, regardless of what “obstacles” might stand in their way.

It’s probably a pretty safe bet that The Devil and Daniel Johnston WASN’T the first (or only) thing that gave EVERY fan insight into Johnston’s personal life, but it’s also probably a pretty safe bet that the film WAS the first thing that introduced SOME people to his story.

Does that make it an even trade? A few moments (days, weeks, years) of feeling exploited for a lifetime of inspiring and offering hope to people dealing with the same kinds of issues?

Are We Exploiting Daniel Johnston?

Alicia Sparks

Alicia Sparks is a freelance writer and editor and the creator of, where she blogs to help new freelance writers get their quills in the pot, so to speak. Among animal rights, music, and physical wellness, her passions include mental health and advocacy. Here at Psych Central she works as Syndication Editor as well as authors Your Body, Your Mind, Unleash Your Creativity, and World of Psychology's weekly "Psychology Around the Net."

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APA Reference
Sparks, A. (2019). Are We Exploiting Daniel Johnston?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 19, 2019, from


Last updated: 23 Mar 2019
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