Manual Madness, Power and the Media: Class, Gender and Race in Popular Representations of Mental Distress

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Introduction
Contents:
  1. Books - WGS Senior Thesis - Research Guides at Willamette University
  2. Madness, Power and the Media: Class, Gender and Race in Popular Representations of Mental Distress
  3. Refracting Mental Illness Through Disability: Towards a New Politic of Cultural Locations

A recurring theme of irrational and deadly behaviours emerges in the majority of films featuring characters with mental illness, reinforcing the tenuous link between mental illness and violence.

Books - WGS Senior Thesis - Research Guides at Willamette University

It is no secret that representations of schizophrenia, a complex mental disorder, have been criticised for their inaccuracies onscreen. In the film, not only is the illness incorrectly identified as schizophrenia, but mental illness is once again linked to a violent state. This demonstrates a need for greater education of both the public and filmmakers so that this stigma and inaccurate representations can be eradicated.

In fact, many representations of the mind and psychological issues tend to have more fragmented and mind-bending stories. TRIANGLE still has something worthwhile to say about mental illness and perhaps the most important way it does this is through its female protagonist. The film explores the psychological state of Jess Melissa George as she and a group of friends board an abandoned ocean liner after their own vessel capsizes in a storm.

They soon discover they are all being hunted down by a mysterious figure, who may not be such a stranger after all. Jess embodies a range of female identities, which is unconventional for a female protagonist.

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Madness, Power and the Media: Class, Gender and Race in Popular Representations of Mental Distress

She demonstrates three distinct variations: the domestic and motherly figure to her autistic son; the common horror genre trope of the damsel in distress; and finally a subversion of traditional femininity - the psychotic killer. Or is she?


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  • Madness, Power and the Media;

The psychosis is alluded to through frequent shots of Jess looking into mirrors where she pauses to look at her reflection. When Jess looks into a broken mirror - a visual representation of her fragmented mental state - she begins losing control over reality and succumbs to the effects of schizophrenia.

Jess may be the killer yet we are invited to empathise with her character - a single mother struggling to bring up an autistic son on her own - who through tragedy has found herself in an inescapably hellish subconscious loop. TRIANGLE demonstrates the evolving gendered portrayals of mental illness in contemporary media, reflecting changing attitudes and a long overdue increased understanding towards mental illnesses.

It is clear that a definite inequality exists, not just in the inaccuracies in representations of mental illness but in the representation of gender too.


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  6. This is epitomised by the Academy Awards and their tendency to give recognition to films representing mental illness that feature a male protagonist. These films demonstrate that the success of films portraying mental illness at the Oscars is a trend that is very likely to continue. However, they also demonstrate the association between mental illness and critical acclaim, whereby portraying characters with abnormal mental health leads to seemingly guaranteed recognition and acceptance.

    Refracting Mental Illness Through Disability: Towards a New Politic of Cultural Locations

    The difference in percentages for men and women winners is definitely concerning but, unfortunately, not surprising. While most of us can cheer the incrementally increasing diversity on our film and television screens, Bamboozled forces us to question the quality and progressiveness of these roles.

    Because old stereotypes die hard within an industry that prefers stasis over change.


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    And how far have we come, really? Nance, however, is just one talented black film-maker among many Dee Rees, Tina Mabry, Haile Gerima, Julie Dash, Barry Jenkins et al who have struggled to attract funding to tell artistic and personal stories outside of the monolithic, corporate world of mainstream entertainment which Bamboozled so acidly depicts even if it is set in the world of TV rather than film.

    Media Representation - Media in Minutes - Episode 7

    Bamboozled, then, is a genuine one-off, but I can detect traces of its relentless, irritable, questioning approach in a variety of contemporary art. I see it in Branden Jacobs-Jenkins thrillingly audacious play An Octoroon , which reconfigures blackface tropes in daring ways. Pre-order the paperback edition from The Critical Press here , and the Kindle version from Amazon here. This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase. All our journalism is independent and is in no way influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative.

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