Suicide and Popular Culture
According to the World Health Organization, more than 700,000 people die by suicide every year; one in 100 global deaths is by suicide. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 45,000 deaths by suicide (14.2 per 100,000) for the year 2020, representing a 30 percent increase over a 20-year period. Suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death in the U.S., and among persons between the ages of 10 to 34, it is the second leading cause. Women are more likely than men to attempt suicide, but men are three to four times more likely than women to die by suicide. In short, suicide is an intractable public and global health issue that has shown few signs of abating. The growing salience of suicide in popular culture is unsurprising in light of these worrisome trends.
Representations of suicide and suicidality abound in popular culture. More recent examples include young adult literature like Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why and Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places, on which the Netflix original series and movie, respectively, were based; narrative videogames like Life is Strange, The Suicide of Rachel Foster, and Indigo Prophecy;Charles Forsman’s graphic novel, I Am Not Okay with This (also the basis of a Netflix series); the ABC TV series, A Million Little Things; Eric Steel’s documentary film, The Bridge; and media coverage of and tributes to celebrity suicides like Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, Mindy McCready, and Chester Bennington. As many of these representations illustrate, suicide is not reducible to a singular cause, but lies at the juncture of myriad intersecting forces.
Pop culture is a generative site for probing, and interrogating, societal assumptions about suicide, and its intersections with pressing social issues like (dis)ability, marginality, stigma, and self-determination. In service of visibilizing suicide and its attendant concerns, we are seeking abstract submissions for an edited volume titled, Suicide and Popular Culture. The anthology seeks to explore the history, ethics, aesthetics, and cultural meanings of representing suicide in various media forms, including but not limited to film, television, music, memoir, young adult literature, genre fiction, theatrical productions, dance, visual and sequential art, video games, news media, and social media.
We welcome submissions from scholars of communication, popular culture, film studies, media and cultural studies, media sociology, medical humanities, and other adjacent disciplines. We welcome a wide variety of theoretical and methodological approaches, but we are particularly interested in perspectives that critique or provide alternatives to the medical (i.e. biopsychiatric) model of suicide. We are especially open to alternative and grass-roots perspectives that respect the experiential knowledge and embodied wisdom of survivors of suicide attempts and people who are suicidal.
In addition to analyses of media content, we also look forward to research on media industries and audiences as they relate to the production and reception of texts about suicide. Ultimately, it is our hope that the collection will not only humanize suicide and challenge the stigma attached to it, but also, push against the reduction of suicide to psychopathology – by situating suicide within its various social, cultural, relational, historical, and political contexts.
Possible topics include:
- Suicide’s representational history in moving image media
- The right-to-die movement in popular culture
- The cinematic language of suicide
- Nationalism and narratives of self-sacrifice
- Queer sexualities and suicidality
- The Werther effect/Papageno effect in the digital age
- The narrativization of surviving attempted suicide
- The pedagogical potential of suicide texts
- Music, musicians, and suicide contagion
- News coverage of celebrity suicides
- Suicide as spectacle/spectatorship of suicide
- Suicide in dystopian and post-apocalyptic imaginings
- Artistic responses to COVID-19 suicides
- And much more....
Please submit an extended abstract (750-1000 words) and brief bio (125-150 words) in one PDF or Word file to the lead editor, Dr. Mike Alvarez <firstname.lastname@example.org>, by Friday, October 15. In your abstract, please indicate the status of your proposed chapter. Preference will be given to research that is already underway. Note that acceptance of the abstract does not guarantee acceptance or inclusion of the completed chapter, which is expected to be 6000-8000 words.
At this stage, we have interest from a publisher and will submit the full proposal once abstracts have been collated. We will contact authors by November 15 to confirm whether their chapter has been selected, and we will keep authors informed throughout the process. For planning purposes, below is our projected timetable.
Friday, Oct. 15: Submission of abstracts
Monday, Nov. 15: Notification of acceptance
Monday, Feb. 28: Contributors submit complete draft
Tuesday, May 31: Editors provide feedback on chapters
Friday, July 29: Contributors submit revised chapter
Friday, Sept. 30: Editors submit anthology to publisher
About the Editors:
Dr. Mike Alvarez is Postdoctoral Diversity and Innovation Scholar at the University of New Hampshire. He is author of The Paradox of Suicide and Creativity: Authentications of Human Existence (Lexington, 2020), and lead author of the upcoming book, A Plague for Our Time: Dying and Death in the Age of COVID-19 (McFarland). He has also completed a memoir, The Color of Dusk, which explores intergenerational trauma, mental health, and suicidality in Filipino diasporic communities. Dr. Alvarez serves on the National Communication Association’s Mental Health Task Force.
Dr. Wren Bareiss is Associate Professor of Communication at the University of South Carolina Upstate, where he developed the Health Communication minor. He is editor of Communicating With, About, and Through Self-Harm: Scarred Discourse (Lexington, 2020), and Founder and CEO of Four Paths Communication, which offers assistance with writing and presentation skills to professionals in the health and science fields. Dr. Bareiss also serves on NCA’s Mental Health Task Force and is editor-in-chief of Qualitative Research in Medicine & Healthcare.
Dr. Jolane Flanigan is Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Rocky Mountain College. She studies language and the play between dominant, marginal, and resistance discourses. She is also a licensed mental health counselor who focuses on both neurological differences, such as autism and sensory processing abilities, and lived experiences, such as trauma and depression. Her current work combines her training as a communication scholar and experience as a counselor.