Misrepresentation of Mental Illness in Hollywood: a Thesis Proposal

Mental illnesses have been depicted through the characters of Hollywood films from the beginning of cinema. Although these illnesses may have not been depicted to the audience through direct on-screen diagnosis, the attributes that are held as symptoms of these illnesses have been used to drive plot points and character motivations. The result of these depictions on the public’s image of mental illness has been observed and it raises the question of what effect an inaccurate representation of how a mental illness will affect an individual will have on the public’s interpretation. Major motion Hollywood films such as Fatal Attraction offer misrepresentative cases of common mental illnesses such as borderline personality disorder which negatively influence the societal stigmatization of mental illnesses by posing mentally ill individuals as violent and dangerous to society, instilling fear of them among much of the public. 

  • My plan for my essay will consist of first identifying and evaluating the presence of misrepresentation of mental illnesses in Hollywood. 
    • Movies such as fatal attraction depict individuals with mental illnesses whose symptoms are not congruent with a real individual with the illness.
    • The majority of these inaccurate depictions culminate in violent, disturbing and dangerous individuals
  • This misrepresentation of individuals with mental illnesses is in fact negative
    • mass media is the primary way that the general public gains an interpretation of mental illnesses
    • Stigmatizing puts mentally ill people at even more of a risk in society
  • Societal stigmatization leads to fear of the mentally ill. The fearful perspective that people maintain towards those with mental illnesses can be linked to the misrepresentation of mentally illness within Hollywood films. 

This will be done using the representative example of Fatal Attraction in conjunction with Wedding’s journal on myths purported throughout Hollywood films on mental illness. After establishing a case for the presence of misrepresentation, I will go on to establish that this misrepresentation is in fact negative. I will do this by using Pirkis’s reading discussing the importance of mental illness in society, and Kondo’s discussion of the portrayed link between mental illnesses and violent, dangerous activity in Hollywood films. After reflecting on the negative nature of the present misrepresentation of mental illness in Hollywood films, I will use Page’s study on the impact of film on mental illness stigma to establish the fact that this negative misrepresentation does in fact influence the societal stigmatization of mental illnesses. I will then conclude the essay by reformulating my points and showing how they intersect and culminate in the conclusive statement of my thesis. In my conclusion I will additionally account for the flaws and reworkings made to my stance as a cause of the formulation of evidence throughout my essay. 

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