By Stephen Harper (auth.)
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Extra resources for Madness, Power and the Media: Class, Gender and Race in Popular Representations of Mental Distress
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.