Cycles: Thesis in Honors Media & Art

Senior Thesis in Media Studies and Studio Art, Fall 2016

Polarized, 2016

Representations of mental illness in mainstream media have historically been infantilizing and dangerous. In the last century, dominant media channels have spread inaccurate and damaging tropes about bipolar disorder in particular, perpetuating misunderstanding and stigma. Despite this fact, art can provide an outlet through which healthy images that promote understanding and sympathy can be dispersed. My project, Polarized, presents a more accurate representation of the disorder and its effects on individuals who struggle with it, as well as their loved ones. In popular media, bipolar is represented in a number of different problematic ways ranging from childishness to irrational violence, which provide damaging stereotypes of the bipolar community and ultimately serve to further ostracize the bipolar community. Polarized’s critique of representations of disability in hegemonic discourse is informed by true stories and histories of mental illness. 

The visual style of the film emphasizes and problematizes the often condescending and infantilizing tone many films and series use regarding individuals with mental illness who in reality are incredibly dynamic, independent people. Claymation, a medium often reserved for media targeting children, is used to tackle these complex, adult themes, and works beautifully. The protagonist's nudity functions as an affirmation of the mature sexual independence and validity of disabled persons. The disorder is personified in the form of two demons, one each for mania and depression. It is important to note that the disorder is an external influence on the protagonist; it is not a part of her intrinsically. As each demon interacts with her, the colors, music, and scene changes to reflect the effects of the violent mood shifts.

You can read the thesis in its entirety here.

selection from multimedia installation Cycles, 2017

critique of infantilizing, underdeveloped representations of mania and depression in media using childlike style

© Mary Jane Coppock