I confess. I am a cardinal member of the television generation. As a child, I hurried home from school to beat my siblings to the livingroom chair closest to the television in order to watch black-and-white cartoon animals move awkwardly across the small screen. The most eagerly anticipated event of each week was a trip to my grandmother's house, because she was the first person we knew to have a large-screen television set (and, eventually, a large color TV). We would go on Sundays so my siblings and I could watch Walt Disney Presents while the adults played pinochle in the kitchen. I grew up with The Lone Ranger, Sky King, and Captain Midnight. Even in college, group viewing of Star Trek and Mission Impossible was an important part of my social and recreational life.
When I began to study clinical psychology in graduate school and to learn about psychiatric disorders, however, my television viewing took on added dimensions. I began to notice how frequently mentally ill characters appeared in the shows I was watching, and how commonly those depictions deviated from what I was learning about mental illnesses. I could not help but notice, in addition, how generally unfavorable television depictions of mentally ill persons seemed to be, with most of these characters appearing as killers and villains.
As a student of psychology, I also learned how people's ideas and images of persons and events could influence attitudes and behavior. I learned that beliefs about mental illness did indeed seem to influence people's attitudes toward psychiatric patients and that others often