Realism Bites! The Impact of a Fictional Teen Suicide on West German Public Debates in the 1980s

Kinga S. Bloch


In 2002 the American remake of the Japanese horror movie called The Ring (1998) made the hair of millions of viewers stand on end when an evil little girl crawled out of the television set and went on to murder innocent people. Even though a physical manifestation of this situation is impossible, the fear that something might come out of television and tear the fragile boundary between reality and fiction is a real phenomenon accompanying the ascent of this medium. However, to date this fear has not been systematically explored in research. This paper addresses this research gap by conducting a retrospective analysis of the fears and concerns aroused by a mini-series that was screened in West Germany in the early 1980s. The story of Tod eines Schülers (Death of a Schoolboy) depicts a pupil’s growing problems during his final year at secondary school which eventually lead to his suicide. Based on press articles, psychological research and archive materials this case study will explore how the fictional interpretation of a pupil’s tragic death caused and contributed to medial, political and scientific agenda setting.


television audience; realism; fear; television series; public discourse

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