Changes in United States popular culture portrayal of youth suicide: 1950–2000

Patrick Edwin Jamieson, University of Pennsylvania


My dissertation hypothesizes that the increase in suicide among the young from the 1950s to the 1990s can be explained in part by changing patterns of portrayal of suicide in popular film. To anchor this argument, the dissertation shows both that adolescents and young adults are more likely to view movies than are other age groups and that those who report past hopelessness, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts were more likely to report viewing recent content that included a prominent suicide than were those who were not similarly vulnerable. The media effects literature and the research on contagion suggest that portrayals in popular films and television that model the method of suicide could produce an increase in suicide rates. An analysis of four filmed versions of Romeo and Juliet and the top thirty box office films for each of the years from 1950 through 2000 was used to test the hypothesis that content likely to produce contagion increased from 1950 to 2000. The percent of U.S. released films with reported depictions of suicide increased from 1950–2000. Content analysis of top thirty grossing films determined that over this time period: (1) the number of films with suicidal content increased significantly; (2) the number of top thirty films with suicide increased but not significantly; (3) the total number of suicide portrayals in top thirty films increased significantly; (4) cable television increased total access to movies that include portrayal of suicide; (5) the depiction of suicide has become significantly more extended; (6) suicide has become significantly more modeled; (7) the portrayal of suicide of those under 25 is higher in the top ten box office films than in lower grossing films; (8) the portrayal of firearms-related suicide increased significantly after 1975; (9) glorifying and romanticizing of suicide increased significantly in the nineties; (10) the young increasingly accept suicide as an option if one is tired of living or faced with an incurable disease.

Subject Area

Social studies education|Social psychology|Mass media|Motion Pictures

Recommended Citation

Jamieson, Patrick Edwin, "Changes in United States popular culture portrayal of youth suicide: 1950–2000" (2003). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3087415.