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

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Put simply, one of the major contentions of anti-stigma discourse is that media images of madness imply a link, or at least a correlation between mental distress and violence that does not in fact exist. Violence is undoubtedly a prominent feature of news reports that mention mental distress. Tabloid newspapers frequently label violent offenders ‘psychos’, whether or not mental distress is a factor in the story. Even when the reporting is not sensationalist, insanity is often headlined in news stories about violent acts.

Many of the studies cited compare the incidence of stories about violent madness in the media with the incidence of violence in reality; unsurprisingly, they find that there is over-representation. Yet for this over-representation to have significance, one would have to show this over-representation to be greater than one would find in relation to individuals who do not have a diagnosed mental illness. It seems quite likely, after all, that individuals without a diagnosis of mental illness are also over-represented as violent in news reports, in accordance with the time-honoured news media principle: ‘if it bleeds, it leads’.

The novel relies on first-person narration that is relatively hard to reproduce in film. Cinematic representation, however, demands that psychological experiences be ‘visibilised’ in particular ways (see Gilman, 1985; Cross, 2004), which explains (if not excuses) the dramatic and arguably sensationalist hammer scene at the end of Cronenberg’s film. Understanding the book’s or the film’s portrayal of madness requires attention to the specificities of media forms, and the history of representation within each of them.

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