"Walk Among Us": Moral Panics and the Deinstitutionalization of the Mentally Ill in Popular Culture Open Access

Cooke, Anthony Carlton (2015)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/js956g63z?locale=en


The ubiquitous presence of the "madperson" within postwar American fiction and film at the same cultural moment that conflicts emerge over mental health care presents a strong case for the necessity of reading the social text within popular culture. My project argues that popular fascination with the "madperson" stems from a more material social referent: the contemporaneous increase of chronically mentally ill persons in public life due to the deinstitutionalization movement. Deinstitutionalization--the mental health reform movement that leads to the closure of many asylums in favor of outpatient care--begins with the introduction of psychotropic drugs into the asylum during the 1950s and subsequently leads to the release of thousands of patients by the mid 1970s. This project explores connections between deinstutionalization, representations of the "murderous, mentally ill individual" in the horror, crime, and thriller genres, and public perceptions of mental illness from the postwar era to the present. Employing methodologies drawn from psychoanalysis, cultural studies, and media studies, this study investigates the myriad ways in which popular culture actively negotiates the tensions among federal legislation, judicial authority, and the general public's misconceptions of mental illness.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

"Sexual Healing": Deinstitutionalization and the Making of the American Psychopath 13

I am Legion": Anonymity, Drifters, Homicides, and the Homeless Mentally Ill 66

"The Most Dangerous Game": Mindhunters and Psychopaths in Thriller Film and Fiction 112

"Alternative Realities": Rhetorics of Repetition, True Crime Television, and Disability Rights 166

Conclusion 244

Notes 248

Filmography 260

Bibliography 262

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