Selective mutism  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Selective mutism is a social anxiety disorder in which a person who is normally capable of speech is unable to speak in given situations, or to specific people.

In popular culture

Possibly the most well-known instance of selective (as opposed to total) mutism in popular culture is the character of Rajesh Koothrappali in the television sitcom The Big Bang Theory. Due to social anxiety he is unable to speak to women who are not family members. Drinking alcohol suppresses his anxiety, allowing him to speak, however it negatively effects his personality, making him an arrogant, obnoxious pervert. Furthermore, in the episode "The Terminator Decoupling", he mistakenly drinks alcohol free beer and is able to hold a conversation with actress Summer Glau due to the placebo effect.

Children's books with a selectively mute protagonist include The Secret Voice of Gina Zhang by Dori Jones Yang and Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look. Both of these books are set in elementary school and specifically mention selective mutism. In addition, several children's picture books have been written with the specific purpose of educating readers about selective mutism, such as Understanding Katie by selective mutism expert Elisa Shipon-Blum.

In young adult literature and films, there are several instances of protagonists who do not speak despite having the ability to do so. They usually are mute in all situations, and trauma is a common cause for the mutism, though some make the choice to stop speaking. One well-known book, Cut by Patricia McCormick, features a main character who is entirely silent after facing problems at home and being sent to a mental hospital.

There are various lesser-known books in both young adult and adult fiction, as well as films that follow the same idea. For example, the 2004 made-for-TV movie Samantha: An American Girl Holiday, where one of the three orphans that the protagonist befriended, never said a word for the majority of the story, likely out of emotional trauma due to the death of their parents. In the children's film Jumanji, after the death of their parents the character Peter speaks only to his sister, and only when they are alone.

The film Little Voice centers upon a selectively mute singer.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Selective mutism" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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