Media Madness: Public Images of Mental Illness

by Otto F. Wahl; Rutgers University Press, 1995

Mentally ill villains are no less frequent on the small screen, and readers will probably have little difficulty recalling examples. Mentally ill villains, for example, show up repeatedly in detective and police programs. Thirty-eight percent of the detective shows in our Media Watch study had mentally ill characters, and those characters were usually criminals from whom the heroes had to protect the public. There is probably no detective hero on prime-time television who has not been faced with a mentally ill villain to apprehend. As television guide descriptions tells us, Kojak has been called when "a Bellevue Hospital outpatient's demented friend believes he is protecting her by killing an aggressive suitor." Cagney and Lacey have posed "as prostitutes to trap a psychotic." Hunter has battled "a psychotic masked killer," while the detectives of Miami Vice have rolled into action when "a stripper with a dual personality goes on a killing spree." Even detectives in the tropical paradise of Hawaii have had the tranquility of their idyllic setting disrupted by mentally ill criminals, with Steve McGarett of Hawaii, 5-0 engaging in a "desperate quest for a maniac known as the Skyline Killer" and Magnum, P.I., trying to stop "a Vietnam veteran suffering from psychological problems [who] murders a beautiful surfer."

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