More Than a Bump on the Head: Representations of Concussions in Fictional Television

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Sturm, Michael Taylor
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Middle Tennessee State University
In contemporary times, concussions have increasingly become part of the public dialogue. And yet, head trauma is still grossly underreported. While news discourse has been analyzed in existing literature, entertainment has not been extensively studied. This thesis used a narrative analysis to examine representations of concussions in 20 episodes of fictional American television from 1963-2018. As opposed to news media’s focus on head injuries in sports, most representations did not involve athletics. Instead, characters suffered concussions due to falls, fights, and forceful impact. Overall, four concussion frames were identified: the typical TV concussion, concussions as minor, concussions as humorous devices, and concussions as dangerous. Concussions are often presented as temporary, requiring brief medical treatment, without long-term effects discussed. It was concluded that fictional television portrays concussions in ways that do not always accurately reflect the realities of the injury and that this health messaging may impact the perception of concussions.