John Libbey Eurotext

Implacable images: why epileptiform events continue to be featured in film and television Volume 8, numéro 2, June 2006

Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research, Bryn Mawr College, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, USA

Epileptiform events have been portrayed in film since 1900 and on television since the 1950’s. Over time, portrayals have not reflected medicine’s understanding of epilepsy. At present, it is unlikely that individuals who do not have a close relationship with someone with a seizure-disorder will witness a seizure. Because fictive and often incorrect images appear increasingly, many think of them as accurate depictions. The research addresses three questions in relation to these images: How do directors use the images? Why do uses of seizures in visual media not reflect contemporary scientific knowledge? Why have they persisted and increased in use? Data consist of material from 192 films and television episodes. The general category of seizures includes seizures in characters said to have epilepsy or some other condition, seizures related to drug or alcohol use, pseudoseizures and feigned seizures, and, a category in which, for example, someone is described as “having a fit.” The research demonstrates how epileptiform events drive the narrative, support the genre, evoke specific emotional reactions, accentuate traits of characters with seizures, highlight qualities of other characters through their responses to the seizures, act as catalysts for actions, and enhance the voyeuristic experience of the audience. Twenty video sequences are included in the manuscript. The authors conclude that the visual experience of seizures remains so enthralling that its use is most likely to increase particularly on television, and that as the public has less experience with real seizures, depictions in film will continue to be more concerned with what the image can do for the show and less interested in accurate portrayals. Ways to influence depictions are suggested. [Published with video sequences]