Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Music



Major Professor

Jacqueline Avila

Committee Members

Nathan Fleshner, Rachel Golden


In the post 9/11 world, American media has harnessed social anxieties concerning violence through the negative and antagonistic depiction of social groups seen as the “Other.” During this process, these social groups have become both marginalized and stigmatized. In the contemporary wake of mass violence and a growing public health crisis, mental illness has emerged at the forefront of political debate. Television and film media continually stigmatize representations of mental illness through graphic images enhanced by the strategic uses of music to invoke horror and disgust. Since 2006, Criminal Minds has successfully navigated the post-9/11 media by providing narratives that paint mental illness as a main cause of violence in the form of the serial killer. To accomplish this, the creators of Criminal Minds combine disturbing or grotesque images with pre-existing music that functions in counterpoint to the image. This purposeful combination creates a semantic disturbance between visuals and sound, enhancing a viewer’s negative reaction to the scene or the characters. By appropriating music to promote disgust for a character, the series associates acts of violence with mental illness, and thus furthers a negative stereotype.To demonstrate this, I examine the history and current iterations of the crime drama, and how the genre has developed both thematically and musically. I analyze select scenes and sequences from episodes of Criminal Minds using a Bakhtinian lens to determine how the show promotes a monologic or dialogic agenda. In doing this, I take a close look at the use of pre-existing music during scenes of violence, and analyze how it functions in relation to the portrayals of characters with mental illness. The effects of these portrayals can be seen in popular responses to series, which I also analyze. Combining my own scene analysis with multi-disciplinary sources regarding mental illness characterization, film music analyses, media studies, and medical descriptions of the mental illnesses portrayed in Criminal Minds, I determine that the show’s combination of pre-existing music with violence furthers the tradition of “Othering” present within American media.

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