Narrating the Housing Crisis: Encountering Madness, Homelessness, and Neoliberal Logic in Recent Film-based Narratives
Keywords:Homelessness; Madness; Narrative Analysis; Neoliberalism
This article seeks to articulate how neoliberal thinking perceives—and conflates—the homeless and mad subject in opposition to the middle class “productive” citizen. I engage in a narrative analysis of two cultural artifacts: James Burns’s documentary film, Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Mental Healthcare in Rural America and CTV’s coverage of the Housing First approach as a viable response to homelessness. Using an analysis of neoliberal rationality coupled with a Critical Mad Studies approach, I examine the ways documentary filmmaking engenders particular ways of witnessing the housing crisis. The housing crisis is a direct result of the rise of neoliberal restructuring, yet homelessness is often presented as an individualized failure. Documentary filmmaking can exacerbate these (mis)understandings, even while particular voices offer powerful cultural critique in the form of counternarratives. Counterhegemonic representations of dehousing and madness must emerge from within the consumer/survivor/ex- patient community if they are to offer a reflexive, nuanced, and decisive departure from middle class orientations of health and recovery. I provide recommendations for producers and consumers of media representations of the housing crisis. Film based representation must be grounded in authentic personal encounters, attention to structural violence, and the desire to precipitate critical dialogue. By doing so filmmakers can elicit a response to homelessness that enhances political solidarity, relies on peer-led research, and confronts neoliberal thinking in the contemporary media landscape.
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