[237130, A3] Wk 13: Publishable Blog Post (Final)

As Nicholas Mirzoeff proposes in his book How to See the World, it is the responsibility of our generation as citizens in the global era to challenge injustice (Mirzoeff 298). The global era – the time in which technology allows the sharing of media on a global scale – allows the everyman to act as a change agent by sharing perspectives which educate the masses (Mirzoeff 296-298).

It is with this in mind, I chose to act as a change agent to give my perspective as a sufferer of depression and anxiety through the medium of ‘outsider art’, as a form of visual activism. Outsider art has the potential to facilitate integration of marginalised communities into society, through education about the reality of their situations (Fullerton). The issue is one I feel strongly about, as one of the 582,000 New Zealanders currently suffering from mental disorders, and one of the estimated 61.5% of suffering adults who avoided seeking treatment due to fear of social stigma (Mental Health Foundation). Considering the influence of the entertainment industry in the global era, I wanted to challenge the perpetuation of social stigma against the mentally ill due to misrepresentation in the entertainment industry.

My enquiry into this led me to analyse the works of other artists within the outsider art movement tackling stigmatisation of mental health. By connecting their works to academic research done in the field of stigmatisation through misrepresentation in film and television, I could shape my approach to the project. I was primarily influenced by the works of Celeste Mountjoy, and her satirical approach to combat stigmatisation of mental illness through visual media (Mountjoy). I adopted a more satirical than informative approach, as research indicates that education to inform the perspectives of the viewer may not relieve stigmatisation (Pescosolido 6-8). I was also greatly influenced by Jennifer Eisenhauer’s explanation of the origins of stigma: “Stigma, a literal and metaphorical branding of the body for the purposes of disgrace and condemnation, is about marking the ‘Other’, and delineating boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’” (Eisenhauer 16). I felt that my brand of visual activism should aim to decrease stigma through the erasing of concepts of ‘us’ and ‘them’, by uniting both against misinformation through humour.

Thus, I chose the format of a movie poster to show the sensationalising of mental illness within the film industry. It plays on the trope of the ‘manic pixie dream-girl’; a stock character often portrayed as a mentally unstable free spirit, whose role is to provide a love interest to the leading male. The format was emulated by studying patterns within film posters of the romantic/drama genres; stark contrast between white backgrounds and black font, condensed fonts to fit a maximum of information on the support, use of italics and serif font, and close-up photography of leading characters with high contrast and warm tones. The intention was to capture this with a sarcastic tone by juxtaposing clichés in the film industry in the visual imagery with satirical text. By underscoring the absurdity of the how the entertainment industry makes light of mental illness through misuse of language, I hoped to make an impression on the viewer.

Manic Pixie DreamGirl Poster- 14 Jul 2016

Sophia Kingsbury
“Manic Pixie Dreamgirl”
Digital Collage

The impact of misrepresentation in the entertainment industry is immense in perpetuating stigma due to media sharing potential of the global era. This is why visual activism has the greatest potential to stop it using these same avenues.

Works Cited:

  • Eisenhauer, Jennifer. “A Visual Culture of Stigma: Critically Examining Representations of Mental Illness.” Art Education 61.5 (2008): 13-18. Web. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/20694752&gt;.
  • Mirzoeff, Nicholas. How to See the World: A Pelican Introduction. London: Pelican Books, 2015.
  • Pescosolido, Bernice A. “The Public Stigma of Mental Illness: What Do We Think; What Do We Know; What Can We Prove?” Journal of Health and Social Behaviour 54.1 (2013): 1-21. Web. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/43186830&gt;.