G5 Doctoral dissertation (article)
Gendered and contagious suicide : taboo and biopower in contemporary Anglophone cinematic representations of self-willed death (2020)

Kosonen, Heidi (2020). Gendered and contagious suicide : taboo and biopower in contemporary Anglophone cinematic representations of self-willed death. JYU dissertations, 292. Jyväskylä: Jyväskylän yliopisto. http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-951-39-8313-0

JYU authors or editors

Publication details

All authors or editors: Kosonen, Heidi

eISBN: 978-951-39-8313-0

Journal or series: JYU dissertations

eISSN: 2489-9003

Publication year: 2020

Number in series: 292

Number of pages in the book: 1 verkkoaineisto (163 sivua, 71 sivua useina numerointijaksoina, 4 numeroimatonta sivua)

Publisher: Jyväskylän yliopisto

Place of Publication: Jyväskylä

Publication country: Finland

Publication language: English

Persistent website address: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-951-39-8313-0

Open Access: Publication published in an open access channel


In this doctoral dissertation, I analyze contemporary Anglophone suicide cinema from the perspectives of taboo and biopower. The aim is to investigate, first, how films with suicide participate in the practices of self-willed death’s biopowered regulation. Biopower refers to Michel Foucault’s theories of the regulation of individuals’ lives and deaths through normative techniques directed at their bodies, sexuality and death. Second, I inspect how cinema both reflects and renews suicide’s tabooed position. In the theories of Mary Douglas, Franz Steiner and Valerio Valeri, taboo is approached as a normative structure with the function of protecting society from particular kinds of dangers; this structure is empowered by ideas of dirt and contagion in such instances where these classificatory borders and collectively agreed values are threatened or breached. By employing discourse analysis, semiology and several methods of visual analysis, I combine visual cultural analysis of contemporary cinematic representations of suicide with theoretically oriented considerations of taboo and biopower. I investigate what kinds of cultural meanings of suicide are created through its cinematic representations and connect these meanings to the normative and classificatory functions of biopower and taboo. The research materials are a corpus of 50 Anglophone feature films produced between 1985 and 2014. The research also includes three case studies of the films Unfriended (2014), Vanilla Sky (2001) and The Moth Diaries (2011) and of the first season of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why (2017). The central argument in the dissertation is that, in the corpus examined, suicide cinema reflects suicide’s tabooed ontology and status in its othering, marginalizing, stigmatizing, domesticating and pornifying tendencies. I also argue that taboo and biopower are present in the fears of contagion that occasionally justify the censorship of suicide’s representations. Further, I maintain that suicide cinema participates in suicide’s subjugation to biopower, especially in its gendered and medicalized aspects. Hundreds of titles featuring suicide are released every year in the popular medium of Anglophone cinema. Understanding the role of taboo and biopower in these wide-ranging representations can help reveal the curious dynamic by which suicide is heavily represented in the media while it is silently struggled with and mourned in real life as a shameful death.

Keywords: suicide; taboos; films; cinema (art forms); contemporary art; death; gender differences; biopolitics; film research

Free keywords: suicide; death; contemporary cinema; Anglophone cinema; representation; taboo; biopower; medicalization; gender

Contributing organizations

Ministry reporting: Yes

Last updated on 2020-12-11 at 17:47