Mediating madness : mental illness and public discourse in current affairs television
This thesis examines the public character of television and the various ways it works as communication. Drawing on a case study of recent British current affairs programmes dealing with mental health issues it explores the interplay between television form and content. The first part acknowledges television as the pivotal medium of the contemporary public sphere and situates its various organisations of language and imagery at the heart of programme makers' attempts to produce meaningful and entertaining programmes. Against the grain of those who see television as an arational technology, a case is made for its relevance as a vocal space for all citizens. However, in the historical context of British broadcasting, the differential distribution of communicative entitlements entreats us to view access to discursive space as a principle which soon runs up against its limits. The second half of this thesis explores the shortcomings of this system in relation to `expert' and lay people's access to a public voice on mental health issues. The recent transition from the asylum to Community Care invites an intermingling of voices in which the authority of this or that brand of professional knowledge cannot be taken for granted. The re-entry of ex-mental patients into the community also provides programme makers with opportunities to promote new forms of social solidarity based on `thick descriptions' of the person rather than the patient. The case-study presented here suggests however, that participation in televised forms of debate and argumentation does not match the promises of post-modem rhetoric. Despite the airing of new voices and the presentation of new controversies, British television's treatment of mental illness continues to revolve around established hierarchies of knowledge and a depiction of the (ex-)mental patient as less than a fully cognizant citizen. Visual techniques play a crucial role in this process. By recycling familiar images of madness as dangerous and unpredictable, people with a history of schizophrenic illness remain enmeshed in a web of psychiatric 'otherness' which undermines their credibility as speakers.