Pathology, Power, and Medicalization in K-PAX



A man (Kevin Spacey) is arrested in New York’s Grand Central Station. He seems out of place. He is not carrying luggage and has no ticket; he has not arrived nor is he departing by train. He is simply there. He claims to be Prot (Prōt), an observer from another planet. The police, there in response to a mugging, question Prot and hastily determine that he is delusional and that he requires evaluation by medical experts. He is sent to the Manhattan Psychiatric Institute for observation and evaluation, where Dr. Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges) attempts to diagnose and correct what is depicted as an obvious abnormality. What has happened here? Agents of law enforcement and criminal justice have deferred to an alternative system of knowledge. One system of knowledge has been deemed inadequate for assessing or dealing with the problem, which ironically has been constructed as a medical-psychiatric problem by agents of law and criminal justice. In determining the problem to be one of medicine and not criminality, Prot is “medicalized.” The process of medicalizing Prot results in his institutionalization, where he is confined and subjected to psychiatric techniques and procedures aimed at extracting the truth about his condition.


Social Control Reception Structure Social Power Medical Discourse Disciplinary Power 
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© Jon Frauley 2010

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