Feature: Theorizing Madness in Maddening Times

by Kellie Herson.

“Media research ages quickly,” my advisor regularly reminded me as I planned out my gender studies dissertation project in the early months of 2016. I understood the concept, but didn’t fully grasp what it might mean in practice. My work articulates mental illness as an intersectional social formation, using media and its interactions with medicine and policy as a site for unpacking how we understand mental health in relationship to discourses of gender, race, and sexuality. I assumed my analysis would remain timely; it didn’t seem to me that mental health stigma and health inequality and all the factors that amplify them were problems we would solve any time soon.

I did not consider the possibility that things might get worse.

The week Donald Trump was elected, my advisor’s advice sat at the front of my mind. I had just started drafting a chapter on how reality television makes a spectacle of mental illness that simultaneously depends upon and stigmatizes unstable behavior, particularly from women. My notebooks were full of detailed notes about myriad Real Housewives and Bachelor contestants who were deemed “crazy.” My analysis of the simultaneous fascination and repulsion with which we treat these women — and the occasional man — was rigorously outlined. Continue reading “Feature: Theorizing Madness in Maddening Times”