(Or why I feel Jeff is an offensive portrayal of the mentally ill)
Please note, the purpose of this piece is not to tear people down for liking Jeff the Killer. The purpose is to educate people on the dangers of stereotyping real groups of people. Also note that I do not claim to speak for all mentally ill people, only myself.
For anyone who may not know, Jeff the Killer is a very popular Creepypasta featuring an ordinary teenage boy named Jeff (of course) who, after getting horrifically beaten and burned by some bullies, starts going insane. Which soon leads to him killing his whole family before going on a murderous rampage. Mainly targeting children. It has many spin offs, fanfictions and a huge cult following online. The character Jeff is considered to be one of the many, if not THE face of Creepypasta next to Slenderman.
Though I personally don't understand its appeal, I have no problem with its popularity. People like what they like and that's fine. What I do have a problem with however (as you may have guessed from the subtitle) is its depiction of mental illness. As well as its inaccurate portrayal of burn victims. Though since I myself am not a burn victim, I can't really say much on the issue.
Mental illness (along with physical disfigurement and deformity) has been a staple in the horror genre for years. Many, many horror stories have featured an antagonist with some kind of mental illness or disorder. Psychiatric hospitals (both used & abandoned), straitjackets, padded cells, white sterile rooms and hallways and drooling, wild eyed or cackling patients have all become synonymous with horror, to the point of cliche. I haven't been able to find a source to give me an accurate measure on how far back it goes. But I estimate that it probably goes back to even before the founding of Bedlam Hospital in 1247. Though I urge you to take that with a grain of salt.
Unbeknownst to most of these authors, directors and horror fans in general however, all of these tropes add even more stigma towards an already heavily stigmatized group of people. I am of course talking about the mentally ill. I myself suffer with anxiety and depression, which aren't considered "scary" illnesses (though I personally beg to differ). I do however have two sisters (who I won't name to protect their privacy) that suffer with schizophrenia. My older sister has been ill for as long as I can remember. So I never really thought much about it, let alone ask her what illness she had. It was when I first learned that my younger sister had been diagnosed with it. When I first heard the word schizophrenia, my first thoughts were of someone holding a bloody knife with blood spattered all over their clothes and wondering if my younger sister would turn out like that. Looking back, I feel ashamed that that was the first thought that came into my head, and worse still to associate that with my own sisters. But that goes to show you how much we're influenced by the media. Whether we like to admit that or not.
Unless you actually have a mental illness, you can't really begin to understand what it's like.
But the consequences that mentally ill people like myself and my sisters face go beyond that. Mentally ill people are more likely to:
• Be unemployed
• Live in poverty
• Become homeless
• Develop substance addictions (I.e. nicotine, alcohol, cocaine, etc)
• Be at greater risk of abuse
• Become victims of hate crime
• Have our children taken from us by Social Services or by our partners
• Struggle to access the health care we need
(Please see references below for source)
With that in mind, it isn't hard to see why being portrayed as monsters and killers in horror stories are so damaging to us. And being portrayed so negatively in media, helps to reinforce and even justify to people the discrimination we face in real life.
So what is my problem with Jeff the Killer?
It's never actually specified what type of mental illness Jeff has. Just that he's "insane". This already tells me that the author didn't do any research on what mental illness is or how it affects people in the real world. The author, instead of doing research into different types, symptoms and accounts on how people live with mental illness, instead falls back on tired old tropes and cliches. We see this when the character Jeff starts cackling at the hospital after seeing his disfigured face for the first time. When he mutilates himself in the bathroom. And finally, when he starts attacking and killing people.
My other problem was how fast Jeff "snapped". There was very little indication before that he was having a breakdown. Two "feelings" out of the blue that weren't there before aren't enough to indicate someone is at risk of mental illness. Nervous breakdowns don't simply happen. They take weeks, months, or even years to manifest. When I had my nervous breakdown, I wasn't aware of it at first. When I started losing interest in the things I love, like painting and reading, I simply put it down to exam stress. It was only when I fell way behind and realized I lacked motivation to do anything about it, did I realize something was wrong. While it could be argued that dealing with the guilt of his brother being sent to juvenile prison for his actions, and being beaten almost to death may have played a part, it still would've taken at least a few weeks for any symptoms to show. They wouldn't have manifested as fast as they did.
I already talked about the lack of research, but I'd like to go a bit more in depth here. One trope that defines Jeff is the Ax-Crazy trope. According to TV Tropes
"An "ax-crazy" character is someone who is psychologically unstablenote and presents a clear and present danger to others. They are capable of extreme violence, whether carried out with a Slasher Smile, insane laughter, speaking in a Creepy Monotone, or out and out murderous rage, and with no way of knowing just what will set them off, which makes them extremely frightening to deal with."
It's pretty safe to say that this accurately describes the character through and through. Which is the problem.
It's this trope that is often used in horror to demonize and dehumanize people like myself.
"As I said earlier, all horror stories have their roots in reality no matter how fantastical the monsters that inhabit them may be. Let’s go back to the movie JAWS for a moment so I can articulate this point fully. The shark in the movie represents our fear of the water, and the movie scared so many people because it tapped into a primal fear we have of how vulnerable we are when we enter the open ocean. Most people know that the shark itself is as much as much an exaggeration of real sharks as any other movie monster, but regardless the monster in that movie was not made at the expense of a large group of people." - Kyle Camphell
This quote ultimately sums up my problem with Jeff the Killer. Because he was made at my, and others expense.
In conclusion. I'm pretty sure the author had no ill intentions when they wrote Jeff the Killer. I'm sure all they wanted to do was write an origin story on how he came to be. These stereotypes were perpetuated purely out of ignorance on their part. But ignorance is just as good, if not better at spreading prejudice than blatant hatred.
"Only ignorance! only ignorance! how can you talk about only ignorance? Don't you know that it is the worst thing in the world, next to wickedness? -- and which does the most mischief heaven only knows. If people can say, `Oh! I did not know, I did not mean any harm,' they think it is all right." - Anna Sewell - Black Beauty
Jeff the Killer original storywww.creepypasta.com/jeff-the-k…
Mental illness in the horror genrewww.relyonhorror.com/articles/…
Societal struggles of the mentally illamerica.aljazeera.com/articles…www.nationalhomeless.org/facts…www.who.int/mental_health/poli…www.dualdiagnosis.org/mental-h…news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/223…www.samh.org.uk/media/188398/s…m.netdoctor.co.uk/ate/mentalhe…www.americanbar.org/publicatio…www.independent.co.uk/life-sty…