It is clear that media images of mental illness tend to be both inaccurate and harmful. So why do such images persist? Why has the portrayal of mental illness become and remained so far removed from the available facts? Why are people with mental illnesses depicted in such consistently unfavorable ways--as different, dangerous, and laughable? The answers to such questions are predictably complex, and I cannot claim to have the definitive response to them. However, I would suggest that, among the many factors, are the following.
1. Profit. There is no question that one of the driving forces in media selection of what to present to the public is the financial bottom line. The mass media operate for profit, and they must present what the public will buy in order to ensure reasonable profits for themselves and their shareholders. And in terms of profits, mental illness produces.
Phenomena that are dramatic and puzzling have always been attractive to audiences. Mental illness is such a phenomenon. Fleming and Manvell comment: "Madness appears as a condition that stands in opposition to reason and sanity. It provokes fundamental questions about our place in, and understanding of, the world. It makes us look more closely at our definitions of the nature of things and at our expectations of what should follow. Madness therefore has profound implications for our interpretation of ourselves and of our environment and eventually leads us to question who we are and what we are."1