Bang bang, you’re (socially) dead

The film Bang Bang You’re Dead indirectly discusses critically important social processes around youth suicidality. Directed by Guy Ferland and released in the early 2000s, when school shootings definitively rose to prominence in American society, this film offers us a chance to reflect on several facets of relationality: suicidal behavior as well as social death, bullying, depression, and social conformity. In turn, fascinating yet insidious social mechanisms such as the self-fulfilling prophecy, the role of both by-standers and helping witnesses, and the healing power of art come to the fore. They all show us how as individuals we are inevitably shaped by social groups (both those we might abhor and those we might strive to belong to), no matter how independent or isolated we think we are. All in all, Bang Bang You’re Dead offers an unvarnished look into critical social issues that have become all the more pressing since the film’s release.


Youth and suicide in American cinema

The following scholars will serve as critics on the panel about the book Youth and suicide in American cinema: context, causes and consequences:

Mary Chayko, Distinguished Professor Communication, Rutgers University

Susan Mackey-Kallis, Professor Communication, Villanova University 

Diana Papademas, Associate Professor, SUNY Old Westbury 

Julia Sonnevend, Associate Professor, Sociology & Communication, The New School for Social Research

Read more about the Author Meets Critics panels here!


The connection between youth and suicide

Spontaneous conversations with people in the cafe in order to raise awareness about the connection between youth and suicide.

Author’s table at The Story Cafe in Ardmore, PA

Youth, mental health and suicide

Discussion of the book Youth and suicide in American cinema in the context of youth mental health, as well as new project called It’s a Zoo: Society Illustrated.

Tune in to the conversation with special guest Ale Seggi at 31′ 50″ of the show!

Open conversation

Letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer editor about the importance of addressing young suicide deaths as such:

By not addressing suicide deaths, we end up robbing our students of the chance to grieve together, to make sense of what, for most of us, is unthinkable, yet suddenly very real. With that silence, we are also perpetuating the stigma that makes suicidality so much more difficult to deal with. We are making it harder for students to reach out for help. By not addressing the suffering of the suicidal student, we end up ignoring them and the immensity of their pain. We owe it to our young, whose well-being and education we’re all committed to, to gently give them a straight answer. Life is hard. Suicide is not the solution.

Read the entire letter to the editor here!


All the silence we don’t talk about

Watch Rick Eckstein, Chair of the Sociology and Criminology department, introduce Ale Seggi!
Watch the rest of the talk here above!

A large project examined the portrayal of youth and suicide in American films (N=187) from 1900 to 2019, with particular attention to the context, causes and consequences of suicide. It also teased out insidious yet fascinating social dynamics around suicidality involving both the suicidal individual and their friends and family. The analysis concluded that the portrayal of youth and suicide in film is controversial, or at least unbalanced, inconsistent, limited, and at times simplistic. Other times it can be stifling in its brutal honesty, yet rich and thought-provoking. Hence, rather than obliterate or block certain content from reaching audiences, or suggest certain reactions to audiences, young audiences need to think for themselves and question the media. 

A proactive approach for audiences to interpret film messages can help youth—a media literacy strategy to embrace as active social players, while watching these films. This is a tool for empowering audiences, and helping them watch and analyze films as engaged citizens, and ultimately “for strengthening young people’s participation in civic and political life” (Hobbs, 2011, p. 421–422). Indeed, only when audiences are able to tease apart the varied, nuanced, transient, complex media messages, are they able to negotiate meaning for themselves, act as engaged social players, and perhaps begin to comprehend suicidality, and “heal the hearts or settle the minds of those left behind in its dreadful wake” (Jamison, 1999, p. 18). 

Importantly, silence, by intruding into several interactions, dramatically alters them. Yet, it rarely gets talked about. So, for example, the physical and emotional consequences of suicidality on the suicidal individual are almost never tackled in film. The consequences of suicidality on the bereaved are even more infrequent object of conversation. There are yet other ways for silence to complicate relationships and affect someone’s suicidality. Silence hides complicity, when not voicing our concerns when we have some, or not speaking up in front of injustice, or not seeking help when in a crisis. It also demonstrates how we become complicit in perpetuating injustice, how we might aggravate our condition, or how we might perpetuate a life in suicidal mode, as well as perpetuating the path of least resistance. Only a few films, notably Captain Fantastic, Permanent Record, and Surviving Family, offer a vivid depiction of the desolation that friends and family experience after a suicide. Beyond the Lights shows how being embedded in a web of social relationships can offer the suicidal individual mixed messages—on the one hand, suicidality is not to be talked about; on the other, asking for and receiving help are essential steps in one’s recovery. A few other exceptional films from different eras and with varying styles, such as A Girl Like Her, Something Wild and Full Metal Jacket, showcase how silence exacerbates the consequences of trauma.

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Hobbs, R. (2011). The state of media literacy: A response to Potter. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 55(3), 419–430. https://doi.org/10.108 0/08838151.2011.597594

Jamison, K. R. (1999). Night falls fast: Understanding suicide. Vintage Books.

Poster for Ale Seggi’s Falvey Library Talk, April 13, 2023

Recurrent life themes

Ale Seggi introducing her talk at the 2023 Popular Culture Association conference, in San Antonio, TX

Sample films about youth and suicide (from the 1900s to the 2010s) highlight recurrent life themes that, while stemming from the suicidal behavior itself, stretch well beyond it. Relationality emerges as constitutive of social life. Silence hides complicity, when not voicing our concerns when we have some, or not speaking up in front of injustice, or not seeking help when in a crisis. It also demonstrates how we become complicit in perpetuating injustice, how we might aggravate our condition, or how we might perpetuate a life in suicidal mode, as well as perpetuating the path of least resistance. Death, loss, bereavement, and grief distinctively embody the human condition. Violence imbues virtually every aspect of social relations. Suicide emerges as only one form of violence amidst many.

Suicidality emerges as a symptom of wider issues related to adolescent experiences: the anxious sense of in-between-ness; the compounded anxiety of youth who are marginalized because of one or multiple aspects of their identity, whether sex, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity or origin; the range of violence youth experience in their lives directly, and via media and technology; the overall success- and happiness-oriented discourses and cultural practices that dictate silent self- reliance and toughness as signs of normalized masculinity. This masculinity is both hegemonic and toxic; it uses violence while in search of identity (Rebel without a Cause, A Clockwork Orange, and Pups) or while abusing power (as in Something Wild, Full Metal Jacket, and Trust).

Ale Seggi presenting at the 2023 Popular Culture Association conference, in San Antonio, TX

Browse the 2023 PCA conference program here!


Strains in social relationships

Like in life, understanding the repercussions of a suicide in a film is a way of understanding suicide itself. Yet, films infrequently discuss the physical and emotional consequences of suicidal behavior on the suicidal individual. My research findings (from a sample of 187 films with youth and suicide, selected from the 1900s to the 2010s) show how cursorily the suicidal character’s suffering is usually treated—the more action packed the film is, the less the character’s suffering is addressed. The suffering of the bereaved and the suicidal individual is one of the consequences of suicide that most films neglect to address. When films tackle the ripple effects of suicide, they tend to highlight the emotional consequences on the bereaved, but not the suicidal individual.

In connection to their overall messages about youth and suicide, the sample films also bring up several instances of strain in social relationships that expand our understanding of what they say about suicide in society. The first tension expresses divergent views about the consequences of suicidality for the suicidal individual; all other forms of strain focus on the reactions—feelings, thoughts, and actions or inaction—of the bereaved. By poring over them, we can learn a great deal about suicidal behavior.