Friday, February 27, 2015

Social media aggravates mental illness, claims expert

Stories circulate about the damaged child star, who has never fully recuperated from the scourges of an intensely scrutinizing spotlight at such a young age - Lindsay Lohan, anyone? But Amanda Bynes's very public and intensely unsettling meltdown - captured in unflinching detail by her Twitter feed - smacked of something a tad bit more sinister: mental illness.

Now forcibly hospitalized for purported bipolar disorder, the starlet chronicled her inner thoughts on Twitter, including "the microchip in her head,” her father sexually abusing her (which she later recanted) and her desperate 'need' for plastic surgery." Now, a mental health professional is suggesting that engaging in social media can worsen major mental illnesses. 

"It would be wise to determine whether such sites are especially hazardous to those with conditions like bipolar disorder who vent while impaired, receive unfiltered feedback (whether critical or encouraging more such venting) and then become either more grandiose or irritable (while manic), more despondent (while depressed) or more paranoid (while suffering with a condition like schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder," writes Dr. Keith Ablow.

Social media's alleged aggravation of mental illness - or at least its propensity for converting scattered thoughts into violent action - has been evident beyond the case study of Amanda Bynes. Instances such as Elliot Rodger's murderous rampage and Derek Medina's slaughter of his wife all display evidence of eruption due to social media.

"The question of whether social media can worsen major mental illnesses in those afflicted might also be relevant to those cases of suicide and homicide in which social media played a role.  These cases include that of Elliott Rodger, the Santa Barbara killer who posted his narcissistic and paranoid thoughts on YouTube, teenager Adrian Alvaresz who recently took his life after posting his intentions on Facebook, as well as Derek Medina who allegedly shot his wife to death and posted a photo of her corpse on Facebook earlier this year," Dr. Ablow said. 

The author contends that social media is the most dangerously addictive drug produced by our generation, and that it is specifically harmful toward the mentally ill. But I find that social media is only a vehicle that displays symptoms which would have exploded sooner or later - social media just provides a platform that makes mental illness harder to conceal.

However, the interactions people had with Amanda Bynes were detrimental to her mental health. I had friends who retweeted her profanity-ridden, vulgar diatribes as if it was all just an infinite jest. This is definitely an irresponsible use of social media; in a way, this gives Bynes and other victims the audience and applause to continue trumpeting their mental illness at their own expense rather than seeking help. Though social media shouldn't be barred to the mentally ill, people should take responsibility for their interactions with them.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Not a game: Examining video games' damaging depictions of the mentally ill

The tropes are familiar: a protagonist fleeing from a deranged asylum escapee, stumbling over rocks, into the forest. A gamer clutches the controllers, frenetically trying to escape a machete or a chainsaw or any other instrument that spells certain death. Of course, the villain in question is bloodthirsty, depraved, and certifiably insane.

We've discussed television's and film's reliance on the mentally ill as plot devices, especially as the prototypical villains, but the stigma has lent itself extensively to video games. Through this medium, depictions are just as damaging, exploitative, and dangerously misinformed.

"The goal of widely-accessible media including movies, television, and video games isn’t necessarily (or even commonly) to correct unfounded views or social injustice. However, there is a social obligation to protect vulnerable members of society from misrepresentation, and to correct misrepresentations, especially within an industry partly responsible for disseminating them," stipulates an editorial in Kotaku.

The most common depictions involve amnesia, schizophrenia, and sometimes simply uncategorizable erratic, bizarre behavior that has no scientific basis whatsoever, as evidenced by Sims.

In one video game,  Billy Suicide "flippantly deals with depression and suicide in an arguably detrimental manner, and in which your character alternately jerks off, drinks, strips on camera, and watches TV in order to stave off killing himself (and to get laid) for another day." Denounced by mental health groups as overtly "lighthearted" and "irresponsible," the topic makes light of a serious topic in a way that makes depression into a punch line. Other games, such as Arkham Asylum and Manhunt 2, depicts the protagonist locked as an inmate an ayslum, having to stave off violent attacks from other patients in order to survive.

The damage of these games are prejudices that are quantifiable; according to Kotaku, 42% of self-proclaimed regular video game users expressed a reluctance  to interact with someone with a mental illness of any sort (regardless of severity), compared with the general public's 25-27%.

However, some mental illness games actually work to better depict the mentally ill. One such game, Depression Quest, which the player helps their character navigate his depression and its consequences, "aims to combat stigma by 'show[ing] other sufferers of depression that they are not alone in their feelings, and to illustrate to people who may not understand the illness the depths of what it can do to people,' according to the game’s website."

Though not very much of a video game enthusiast myself, largely owing to inherently poor motor skills and hand-eye coordination, I encountered a game which deftly dealt with the topic of addiction, which in itself is a form of mental illness. "Papo & Yo" is a Brazilian game which details a boy's struggle to cope with his father's alcoholism by personifying his addiction as a monster who he eventually tames and comes to term with. I felt that it very much humanized the plight of his alcoholic father and how it impacted his family dynamic.

I find that video games depicting mental illness, much like any other medium, can be harnessed as an instrument for good. Video games like "Papo & Yo" and "Depression Quest' can offset the harmful implication of other video games and foster a sense of understanding for the mentally ill.

Nobody Wins When Horror Games Stigmatize Mental Illness. (n.d.). Retrieved February 20, 2015, from

Friday, February 13, 2015

Disney, other kids' programming to blame for negative perceptions of mentally ill.

When Belle's father in Beauty and the Beast was falsely accuses of lunacy, the village people of the quaint provincial town where they dwelled proceeded to lock him up in his dingy basement. When Dumbo's mother had aggressive outburst brought upon by stress, she was immediately bound by chains and exiled to a metallic prison. What message does this send to children about the mentally ill?

Primarily, they are taught early on to adopt a derisive attitude toward the mentally ill. Rather than highlighting the fact that most mentally ill patients are merely seeking treatment and are in no ways violent, children's shows all to often depict an unrealistic portrayal of these members of society, more often than not casting them as villains in their narratives.

'The predominant presentation of characters with mental illness is as violent, aggressive, and fear inducing,' says Professor Otto Wahl, in his study, 'Mental Illness in Children's Media'. 'They tend to be unattractive in personal appearance, typically fail in life, can look forward to being ridiculed by others, and seldom benefit from treatment.'

The problem lies with the fact that exposure from a young age inculcates this demented view of the mentally ill in children, planting the seeds that will germinate within them for the rest of their lives. With such problematic prototypes of the mentally ill planted in their minds, children don't develop the empathy they need to help them as adults.

The trouble is that prejudice begins at infancy, says Wahl, of George Mason University, Virginia. 'Children are soaked in unsympathetic images of mentally ill individuals - "crazies, schizos, nutters or loonies" - who are described as mad, bad and dangerous', he says. 'Then in adult life, when they encounter a close friend or relative with depression or schizophrenia, they cannot cope or help.

Disney - and all forms of media targeting young kids - should take responsibility for their representation and try to instill more positive messages that focus on treatment and recovery in their mentally ill characters, rather than casting them as objects to ridicule and defeat.

Children have the most impressionable minds of any group in society, and thus it is essential to send positive messages to them about all members of society. Just as TV shows try to forge a climate of acceptance toward different races, children should be taught to appreciate people regardless of their cognitive state.

Kids' films stigmatize the metally ill. (n.d.). Retrieved February 13, 2015, from

Friday, February 6, 2015

They're violent, unpredictable, unsalvageable. According to the popular media, living with a mental illness is an inescapably bleak existence with absolutely little hope for redemption. And the more extreme the behavior of the patient, the better (the ratings, at least).

“People aren’t interested in watching someone with a minor illness go to a self-help group. Just look at ER–they only show the most extreme cases as well,” Robert Berger, Ph.D, told Psychology Today.

These programs, including TV shows like Wonderland and Monk and movies such as Heathers and Good Will Hunting, proliferate a woefully inadequate, simplified portrayal of the mentally ill, leading to stigmas that are ingrained into society from as early as childhood.

Among this programming, most often the mentally ill are shown to be unpredictably violent, with a proclivity to "going berserk" and erupting in a slurry of unsavory, even criminal behavior. In reality, the vast majority of the mentally ill have no violent tendencies, and rather are more often the victims of abuse than its perpetrators.

Another problematic portrayal depicts them as ensnared in a vortex of hopelessness - no amount of treatment is able to mitigate their psychological problems. This is a dangerous sentiment to spread, as it creates the absolutely untrue belief that the mentally ill can never hope to get better, and that they are lost causes unworthy of human dignity. The opposite is true; in fact, "even people with more severe disorders, such as schizophrenia can be treated effectively and lead integrated lives in the community if we allow them to," said Bill Lichtensetin, who suffered from bipolar disorder and  created a documentary that showcased profiles of others who had the mental illness, such as a Yale graduate and a Fortune 500 CEO.

Yet these stereotypes extend past the mentally ill - they also encompass their caretakers. According to the article, there are few distinctions among different medical health professionals in popular media - therapists, psychologists,  and psychotherapists all are allotted a vague, unspecified, and inaccurate role. In fact, they are characterized into three different types of medical professionals: Dr. Evil (think Nurse Ratchet in One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest), Dr. Dippy, who is more psychotic than his patients, and Dr. Wonderful, an unrealistically wonderful doctor a la Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting.

“ [Many programs] reveal a lazy, uninquisitive mind that doesn’t go below the surface to find where the real story is,” said Lichtenstein, who expressed disdain for the "limited palette" afforded to the mentally ill.

I'm very concerned about programs' lazy, dangerously misguided reliance on mentally ill characters. Too many shows make a mockery of their plight. They're downright exploitative, and deserve nothing but reproach.

What's worse, they proliferate all these false myths that instill hysteria in the public. Rather than promote an understand and seek solutions for the mentally ill, they are relegated to a comedic role. This is an inherently problematic depiction of the mentally ill that too many people are exposed to.

Media’s Damaging Depictions of Mental Illness. (n.d.). Retrieved February 5, 2015, from

Friday, January 30, 2015

Sony flirts with music streaming biz, gets spurned

Though Sony can count itself among the top 10 media conglomerates in the world, the industrial titan found its flirtation with music streaming to be a short-lived dalliance as it was out-muscled by existing streaming services such as Spotify.

From the onset of its $10 a month music streaming service four years ago, Sony was already confronted my ominous omens. Vice president Michael Aragorn himself declared "that it is a brutal business and there's probably going to be some consolidation."

As early as March, Aragorn's prediction will come true as Music Unlimited succumbs to pressures from its competitors, including Deezer, Rhapsody, and Spotify. Though Sony boasted upwards of 100,000 subscribers and can claim to be the most popular streaming service in Japan, the company apparently encountered financial problems of undisclosed magnitude, which prompted executives to relinquish their hold on the music streaming market. Sony's record label, Sony Entertainment Music, is separate form their music streaming service and will remain intact.

Nearly all of the subscribers to Music Unlimited used the service through their PlayStation, which is another Sony-owned product.

In a partnership forged formed from the ashes of their fallen service, competitor-turned-cooperator Spotify will now provide all the music for PlayStation. The partnership will provide Spotify with access to PlayStation's 64 million users, which Sony executives claim have overlapping interests that encompass both companies.

"Spotify hasn't launched in Japan, however, despite negotiating for years with Japanese record labels which still rely heavily on CD sales for profit. The new music service that will provide the tunes for Japanese PlayStation users has yet to be determined," said Sony in a released statement.

I found the news intriguing for two principal reasons. First off, its a testament to how popular Music Streaming is, and that its no longer uncharted territory for companies. The fact that Sony, a colossal influence on the music industry, was unable to launch its service demonstrates just how entrenched and competitive the market is for streaming services is. It also casts into doubt the future of other major media conglomerates which are planning to launch streaming services of their own, such as Google's YouTube and SFX Entertainment.

Additionally, it demonstrates how important it is for media companies to understand their target audience and to try to tap into their collective identity. PlayStation player comprised the largest chunk of Music Unlimited's audience, so now Spotify and Sony must work together to distribute music that matches the gamers associated with PlayStation. A failure to do so may deal a massive blow to Spotify and even further losses for Sony.

Sony Bails Out of Music Streaming. (n.d.). Retrieved January 29, 2015, from

Friday, January 23, 2015

Spotify helps hip hop royalty lose its crown

According to industry insiders, the streaming services are toppling Hip Hop royalty and stealing its crown. The embattled one percent,  which used to boast prime seats at the "golden roundtable," are overwhelmingly being trumped by smaller, independent artists, or the genre's 99 percent.

"The few at the golden roundtable occupy a space where the wine is top-notch, food is plentiful and everyone either wants to be them or bait them for replacement. Everyone else must essentially make due with less resources while those upper echelon emcees enjoy big budget videos, production from wildly established hit-makers, widespread media coverage and other luxurious perks. Those desperately crawling their way to relevance may have found one technological ally that has caused a rift within the music industry," writes HipHop DX.

That ally is, of course, Spotify. But how is the Swedish-based streaming service usurping the genre's giants?

One reason is the accessibility of Spotify to rising hip hop artists. Though these outlets don't directly deal with musicians, they employ aggregators, or middle men, such as CDBaby and Record Union which give Spotify its access to music. The cost of submitting an album to one of these middle-men is a mere $59, which is easily afforded by most up-and-coming artists.

Another is Spotify's "Top Tracks in Your Network Feature," which HipHop DX describes as "a fascinating social media experience to music consumption... [wherein] discovery [is taken] to new lengths through people within one’s own network outside of finding out whose taste is necessarily better." More often than not, hip hop artists outside the elite can captivate new audiences based on this feature, as upper-end rappers become too comfortable in their lofty positions and stop generating quality music.

And, finally, many top hip hop artists are alienating their listeners by denouncing consumers who turn to streaming services. Rather than questioning the music labels that also snatch large sums of an album's sales for themselves, artists are confronting Spotify as their enemy, which is off-putting to many of their more frugal fans. It's the new wave of indie artists who are embracing Spotify as a promotional tool that are reaping the streaming service's benefits for themselves.

"Blaming consumers for overwhelming choosing something that works for them economically isn’t always the best idea. Playing that card always makes the one losing look weak. Unless a better alternative is presented, the excuse of monetary losses aren’t going to be enough. People are going to download music any way they like; legally or illegally. Spotify is becoming the natural product of this argument," said HipHop DX.

It's inherent to my character to generally root for the underdog. So, naturally, I welcome the fact that emerging artists have a chance to succeed thanks to streaming services. Throughout my blog, I've made it abundantly clear that I have many qualms about how streaming is shaping the music industry. Displacement of the elite is definitely not one of them.

The fact that this music elite exists is troubling in itself. Artists who rise to the top all too often become overly secure in their hold of the music industry, reaching unimpeachable heights in their popularity that is often not deserved or indicative of the quality of their craft. I believe artists at any point in their career should feel pressure to produce quality content, and by leveling the playing field, Spotify is promoting just that. If hip hop royalty becomes too comfortable sitting on its golden throne, then it's high time they lose it.

The One Percent: Is Spotify The 99 Percent's Great Hope? (n.d.). Retrieved January 23, 2015, from

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Sound and the Fury: Audiophiles fight streamed music's lower sound quality

If you open a book and it is laden with every grammatical mistake conceivable, chances are you'd put it back on the shelf. Even the average coach potato shirks from anything less than a fully immersive, high-definition viewing experience. But when it comes to music, consumers - and thus digital streaming services - seem all too content to let quality slide down the wayside.

Pandora, Spotify, YouTube - all these programs have abandoned the high fidelity supersound of the past and opted for tinny, super-compressed audio files that skimp on quality. While the average streaming service has a bit rate ranging anywhere from 256 to 320 kilobits, most CD's average of over 1411 kilobits per second. The difference is seismic; and, contrary to trends in most entertainments industries, quality has declined over time.

"High-fidelity sound quality is truly a natural evolution of the market," said Andy Chen, chief executive of Norwegian-based streaming service, Tidal.. "Music is probably the only entertainment-content format in which people have accepted lower quality than 10 years ago — we're saying that maybe that's not OK. Shouldn't it be the same level it used to be? Why should we accept less?"

The public's response has mostly been one of apathy, but a few audiophiles are attempting to reform this troubling trend. New streaming services such as Pono, Deezer, and Tidal are turning to Kickstarter and other startups to produce enhanced sound quality in their programs.

"You're talking about a large amount of people spending a large amount of money not having the music," said Tyler Goldman, CEO of Deezer "And now, having all those songs at high quality is a total game-changer."

Though I can't claim to be a sound quality connoisseur, or even a music connoisseur, or really any type of connoisseur, I have to question the integrity of any company that tries to compromise quality. I think that consumers need to educate themselves about the quality of the files they are receiving, and demand higher quality.

Though it's totally fine to choose lower quality files over higher ones - everyone's free to make their own decisions, this blog is a no-snob zone - I commend certain companies for taking matters into their own hands and preserving the quality. The consumer should at least have the option to choose a high quality listening experience.

Knopper, S. (2014, September 19). Is High-Fidelity Sound the Future of Streaming Music? Retrieved January 16, 2015, from