Thursday, 6 December 2012

Representations of Madness

Simon Cross has recently published two articles that emerge out of his on-going research on madness.
In 'Bedlam in Mind', published in the European Journal of Cultural Studies, he explores the mythical Bedlam of popular imaginings. London’s Bethlem Hospital was for centuries a unique institution caring for the insane and its alter ego ‘Bedlam’ influenced popular stereotypes of insanity. For instance, while the type of vagrant beggar known as a ‘Tom of Bedlam’ was said to have disappeared from English society with the Restoration, the figure of Mad Tom retained a visual and vocal presence within popular musical culture from the seventeenth century up to the present era. Using the ballad ‘Mad Tom o’ Bedlam’ as a case study, he illustrates how an early modern stereotype of madness has maintained continuity within a popular song tradition whilst undergoing cultural change. 

In 'Laughing at Lunacy', published in Social Semiotics, Simon examines what is at stake in humour about the 'mad' and 'madness'.  Jokes and humour about mental distress are said by anti-stigma campaigners to be no laughing matter. However, his article takes issue with this viewpoint arguing that this is clearly not the case since popular culture past and present has laughed at the antics of those perceived as ‘mad’. Drawing on past and present examples of the othering of insanity in jokes and humour the article incorporates a historical perspective on continuity and change in humour about madness/mental distress, which enables us to recognise that psychiatry is a funny-peculiar enterprise and its therapeutic practices in past times are deserving of funny ha-ha mockery and mirth in the present. By doing so, the article also argues that humour and mental distress illuminate how psychiatric definitions and popular representations conflict and that some psychiatric service users employ comic ambiguity to reflexively puncture their public image as ‘nuts’.

Simon Cross, (2012) Bedlam in Mind: Seeing and Reading Historical Images of Madness. European Journal of Cultural Studies. Volume 15(1) February, pp. 19-34.

Simon Cross (2012) Laughing at Lunacy: Othering and comic ambiguity in popular humour about mental distress. Social Semiotics. Currently iFirst Article.


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