BCM310 blog series #1

How much do we relate to and identify with fictional representations within cinema and television?

The power that film and television have in depicting mental illness is huge as they can potentially create empathy between the character and the audience. It’s human nature to want to sympathise with people and can relate to someone especially when a friend or family member is going through something difficult.  This connection is also desired by directors and filmmakers to create a more emotive film; however, it comes with a huge responsibility as these sensitive subjects can promote stigmas surrounding the illness. For example, if someone is portrayed as violent and crazy, it may label everyone who may have that illness like that. Some films are creating intriguing and in-depth characters in a way that is entertaining and is censored to appeal to society, but what needs to be addressed is the shows that push the boundaries on these sensitive topics and whether they should be accessed on a very large scale.  Although some shows seem to miss the mark, we are seeing more and more television shows creatively sharing these new perspectives in various genres other than violence and crime.

In this series of blog posts, I will be researching how societies relate and identify with portrayals of mental illness specifically the depiction depression and suicide in a light that may glamorise such illnesses. I will be looking at how directors aim to create empathy between protagonists, characters and the audience, and the ethical issues these create through case studies. I will also look at how censorship and control have developed, surrounding this media over decades and the origins in which ethical practices are a necessity in society. Communities have struggled with differences of opinion how to successfully inform and entertain large groups of people on these issues.

Television and film hold a huge amount of power in creatively conveying how mental illness is consumed by a society. They have the potential to create a strong connection between characters within the film or show and the audience. Achieving this desired empathy between audience and characters is treated as a success in most films, however, adding mental health issues and themes into the film adds complications and ethical issues.  The first issue here is what is an accurate representation of mental illness, each individual case in the real world is extremely different. So, when directors and film-makers make decisions on how something is to be portrayed, it’s not always fact but Ione person or group of people’s opinions. Hopgood states in the Conversation “Cinema and television are powerful media that can take the audience on an imaginative journey and tap into our potential to empathise with another human being.” (Hopgood, 2014) Empathy is established through emotion and creating this connection through a likeable character one can relate to. But when this person may have a reaction to something the audience cannot relate to, it can become difficult to sustain this authentic relationship (Hopgood & Di Risio 2014). So, there is often another layer or element to the storyline. Mental illness paired with comedy/romance or crime and violence in pop culture films or TV shows to lighten the film’s mood or give reason that mental illness causes violence, for example, the Joker in Batman portrays a crazy murderous and psychopathic person with schizophrenia, who is extremely violent and is almost comedic, nothing that is seen in day to day life. This is where we can be influenced by the screen through fictional representations, that aren’t accurate.

This video explores the themes and ideas surrounding films that address the portrayal of mental health issues in Australia. Hopgood and Di Risio explore the key theme of empathy and the ‘Walk in my Shoes’ event. They explore the dominant trends of negative portrayals, they also push through these negative perceptions and examine films that suggest a more positive representation. (Fincina Hopgood & Patricia Di Risio 2014)


(Please see final blog post for full reference list)


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