The (Selective) Medicalization of Deviance

This is interesting (H/T DC Blogger over at Corrente):

“A 21-year-old Occupy Wall Street demonstrator caused quite the ruckus early this morning, when he scaled a 70-foot sculpture in New York’s Zuccotti Park, refusing to come down until Mayor Michael Bloomberg resigned.

Dylan Spoelstra of Canada climbed the park’s signature red sculpture around 6 a.m. He sat on a metal platform for three hours, with his feet dangling, as police cleared the surrounding area and tried to talk him down.

Around 9 a.m., Spoelstra was seen descending the sculpture in a police crane, looking jovial, with his arm around the officer who helped him down.

Once on the ground, Spaelstra was placed in handcuffs and transported to Bellevue Hospital, where he was to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, according to a police spokesman.”

Apparently, no one understands performance art or performance stunts as part of the repertoire of contention.

Obviously, a VERY deranged person:

However, the threshold for craziness that needs psychiatric evaluation is rather flexible. The person below was NOT taken to Bellevue. I wonder why:

The answer is, of course, only people who challenge the larger social structure (with its distribution of power, its ideological underpinnings and supportive institutions) get to be classified as deviant, or the more “humane” and medicalized label of “emotionally disturbed” and treated accordingly (remember Gulag Archipelago?).

On the other hand, supporting the existing system and the current distribution of social privileges is rationalized and normalized, and not treated as a pathological category.

The occupation movement is a systemic challenge and therefore, it gets to be depicted in all sorts of demeaning ways in the media (whose role is to provide already-mentioned ideological underpinnings): no clear message, confused people, hippies, dirty and smelly, weird, and now, mentally ill.

On the other hand, the Tea Party movement is of the “suck-up / kick-down” category and therefore gets to have its grievances treated with serious concern and granted legitimacy. This movement presents no challenge whatsoever to established structures.

One thought on “The (Selective) Medicalization of Deviance

  1. This interests me because “Deviance” is hard to define right? I mean people seem to use the term loosely or out of it’s real context. From your blog, it’s clear that deviance is relative. Technically, “Deviance” is any behavior that violates a norm. That is, it violates a Societal norm, which varies greatly from group to group, place to place, and time to time. In the case of Dylan Spoelstra, he could be referred to as deviant, however it is a matter of if shared norms have been violated. If there was a social reaction to the presumed “violation”, I could see why they would take him in, but not that he needs any psychiatric evaluation! In a way, basically, deviance is what people say it is. “Deviance is not a property inherent in certain forms of behavior” (Erikson, 1962). Thanks for the post, just some thoughts.

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