EN 429 Studies in Performance Rotating Header Image

February, 2015:

Graphic Novel & Mental Illness

Marbles tells the story of Ellen Forney, who is just finding out that her strong personality is connected to a mental illness. The graphic novel is told through sets of frames of her life and those she encounters. She deals with friends and family as she reveals to them she is bipolar. The novel also shows her ups and downs with the disorder and her experiment with different drugs to stabilize her emotions. With her attempting to stabilize her different emotions, she looses her creativity along the way.   With the help of different images, the reader can get an insight into her disorder and how she copes with different situations.

Upon finding out Forney has a mental illness, we are introduced to her personality which can be described as over the top. In the beginning of the novel, she is coming up with an elaborate tattoo that she wants to get. She has so many thoughts that she cannot contain it and finds herself writing them down in a notepad every time she gets an idea. When Forney is being told the symptoms to her disorder she finally comes to the conclusion that her personality may be flawed. Forney says, “My personality reflected a disorder shared by a group of people” (Forney 19).  With her saying this, she does not see her illness as an illness but who she is as a person.

The main frame that shows her disability to her advantage is the party she has for everyone who was seven in ‘75. She is over the top and doing a lot of things at once. She also has no concern for how much she is spending. These are signs of her mental illness but also she uses it to her advantage. She is the life of the party and keeping everyone entertained.

In a similar frame to the one above, the reader sees Forney struggle with her mental illness. She attempts to throw another seven in ‘75 party like the one she previously does but her disorder is holding her back and creating anxiety and doubts. She is nervous and wants to go home instead of performing. This event shows the lower part of Forney’s life and how she encounters her downs versus her highs.

As a reader, one can observe a mental disorder through Forney’s story. With it being a graphic novel, the reader can see pictures of how the author went through different phases of her bipolar disorder which helped. The story was strongly impacted due to the visual cues of the artist. What also helped was knowing that Forney is an artist and having those visual pictures she drew during her down days. Seeing how she sees herself was important and made an impact on how her mental illness affected her passions directly.


Angels in America and Stigma

In the film, Angels in America, stigma affects some of the main characters such as Roy Cohn and Prior Walter. These two characters are living with AIDS/HIV throughout the film and are shown at pivotal moments in their life. Stigma follows these characters throughout the movies and encounters their everyday life. Susan Sontag article, AIDS and Its Metaphor, brings up how certain groups are stigmatized and the roots of where stigma originated from.

When first introduced to the character Prior, on the outside he looks to be a normal white male with no major illness. The viewer meets him at the Louis grandmother’s funeral. Prior tells Louis that he is HIV positive and that his lesion is not skin cancer related. Louis goes into a meltdown and takes the news worse than Prior does. Louis is not known to stick around when it comes to those who fall terminally ill. When Prior turns terminally ill, Louis exists out of his life for good. The stigma being a main reason for driving their relationship apart. Louis does not want to be apart of something.

Roy is briefly showed throughout the film but has a prominent place in the story line. He is a closeted New York lawyer who is infected with AIDS. He is in denial about his diagnosis and claims that he has lung cancer. With him being in the closet, he does not want to claim AIDS because he does not want to claim that he is a homosexual. One reason behind him not claiming AIDS or being homosexual is the stigma that travels with both the disease and his sexual orientation.

Sontag focuses in on the basis of stigma and marginalization with different diseases and illnesses. She says the fear that comes with certain disease are from how serious the disease is and the mortality rate. With AIDS, the stigma that followed the deadly disease was that mostly homosexual males are infected by this. This stigma made it more difficult for homosexual men and for others. According to Sontag, “From the beginning the construction of the illness had depended on notions that separated one group of people away from another- the sick from the well, people with ARC from people with AIDS, them and us-while implying the imminent dissolution of these distinctions. Those who they think may be in the safe category believed that they had better chances of not catching AIDS/HIV because they were not homosexual. This ignorance and stigma led to many infections because people did not feel apart of that category.

When it comes to Angels in America, stigma affected a lot of choices of the characters who had  HIV/AIDS and those who were involved with the characters. If stigma of the deadly disease did not exist then people would not be afraid to continue their lives after being diagnosed. They would also be able to educate themselves on if they have the disease and get help. Fear and stigma are closely related because everyone is afraid of death.

Work Cited:

Angels in America. Dir. Mike Nichols. 2003. DVD.

Sontag, Susan. “AIDS and Its Metaphors.” 153-57. Web.

Death Before Dying

In the article Death Before Dying, the focus is on the AIDS epidemic in South Africa. It also centers in on the misconceptions the natives have on how AIDS/HIV is caught and should be dealt with. Niehaus also talks about the stigma that leads to more infections and the feeling of death before being dead. The article sets off with the story of George Bila and his experience with the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa. Bila became very ill and went to the hospital in which he was mistreated by the staff and sent home. When he went home, his family that was suppose to be taking care of him also mistreated him and left him to die. They would not clean up his feces and they only provided him with one glass of water a day. Finally his sister was angered by his mistreatment and she started to help him as much as she could since he had helped her with college payments. As the article continues, many stories are shared similar to George Bila.

Those who have contracted AIDS/HIV are usually shunned away from their families/friends and are treated as they are already dead which coined the title of this article. Niehaus says, “I observe that persons with AIDS are symbolically located in an anomalous domain between life and death, and are literally seen as ‘corpses that live’ (setopo sa gopela) or as persons who are ‘dead before dying’” (Niehaus 848). The people in South Africa are unaware on the ways of how to effectively catch AIDS/HIV to the point that they do not like to get close to those who have it. They fail to realize the only way to contract the disease is through blood transfusions and unprotected sex. So when teaching the masses, they do not preach safe sex and abstinence. It is not part of the culture because they frown upon men who are not sexually active. Men who are sexually active are not  aware of contraception which then leads to AIDS/HIV.

In Angels in America Prior and the people of South of Africa have something in common which is  after the ones they love find out they have the disease, they slowly abandon them. One thing that would be different about Angels in America and Death Before Dying is that they are in two different countries and have two separate cultures. How AIDS/HIV are handled in America and Africa are far from being the same. Treatment is available and those who have been affected can get the medicine they need with privacy. They also do not have to worry about being stoned to death when they declare that they have AIDS/HIV such as a women in South Africa. In America, the stigma is not as heavy with HIV/AIDS as it  is in Africa. People can get the help they need without the backlash.

When looking at the stigma that came with having an incurable disease, Dead before Dying shed a lot of light on how people handle those who are dying. Those with the disease become an inconvenience to those who do not have it. Those who are not threatened with the disease almost wait for those who do to die.  The reaction of those who are cleared of the disease can treat the people with it as a burden and decide to walk away. The person with the disease cannot walk away and have to deal with their fate that their death may come sooner than expected. The stigma also follows which can lead those to not getting treated, tested and caring for their love ones when they are affected.

Work Cited:

Kushner, Tony. Angels in America. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1996. Print.

Niehaus, Isak. “Death before Dying: Understanding AIDS Stigma in the South African Lowveld.” Journal of Southern African Studies. 2007.Web

Cancer Unit Ending

Optimism is the central devise used in The Fault in Our Stars and can be seen throughout W;t. The viewer sees optimism as way of coping for some of the main characters in The Fault in Our Stars such as Gus and Hazel’s parents. When reading W;t, optimism can be seen through Dr. Kelekian and Jason because they have high hopes for this new experiment they are testing on Vivian. The main thing W;t and The Fault in Our Stars share is the fact that their protagonist lacks optimism. Vivian and Hazel both encounter people who are optimistic of their current state but they are not optimistic. These two works both deal with cancer and optimism but approach it in different ways due to different circumstances and different people they encounter.

In The Fault in Our Stars, Hazel starts off as a pessimistic teenager who lets her cancer define who she is. She is aware that death is highly likely in her case. She lets the cancer consume her life. Her parents are optimistic that she will make it out alive because she has made it this far even when she could have died at thirteen. Their optimism does not bring her to an optimistic stand point. She then meets Gus, who shows her that there is more to life than just her cancer. He shows her the exciting parts of life she had been missing due to putting herself in isolation. In the end, when Gus has passed away, she has evolved into a new person. She is optimistic for her parents because she knows they can survive once she is gone. She also wants to carry on the legacy of Gus so that he can be remembered.

W;t starts off with Vivian recalling when she found out she has cancer. Dr. Kelekian encourages her to take the route of doing a full dose of chemotherapy to tackle her aggressive cancer. Dr. Kelekian shows optimism as he says, “This treatment is the strongest thing we have to offer you. And, as research, it will make a significant contribution to our knowledge” (Edson11). He is optimistic that this treatment will not only work for Vivian but go on to help further research for the cure to this specific cancer. As the play progresses, Susie is one character who tells Vivian the truth that her survival is not likely and what she is going through is more complicated than what it seems. Vivian decides against being full code because she does not want to “complicate the matter” (Edson 68). By the end of the play when Vivian dies and Jason tries to perform CPR and calls a team to revive her, Susie tells him no. He yells at Susie, that Vivian is research which is his only real reason for attempting to save her.

When reading The Cancer Journals by Audre Lorde, she handles cancer in a different light then how Hazel and Vivian. She shows cancer as a battle she is going to conquer and overcome. She shows a realistic view because she is not a fictional character who is dealing with breast cancer. Lorde shows an optimistic view from the beginning to the end of her treatment. When comparing Vivian, Hazel and Lorde, she feels the sense of isolation. Lorde goes through isolation in her own community because there are not many black lesbian women who are dealing with cancer. In that moment of isolation, Lord does not lose her sense of optimism. As the journal continues she regains her sense of hopefulness. She says, “I am not supposed to exist. I carry death around in my body like a condemnation. But I do live” (Lorde 11). Vivian goes through an actual isolation where if someone was to come into contact with her then she would be at risk. Then Hazel puts herself in her own isolation because she does not want to be around people.

When looking at those who have cancer or being affected by someone going through cancer; there is no right or wrong way to react. Everyone is different and going to react to cancer in their own specific way. Optimism is usually thrown at those who have cancer as a coping device. But through reading different works like W;t and viewing The Fault in Our Stars, it is not an option that someone must take. In W;t, Vivian was not exactly optimistic or pessimistic. She just avoided her cancer through her poetry. Every time she would enter chemotherapy, she would think back to Donne and his holy sonnets. The Fault in Our Stars showed that people can change your views on the world. Hazel evolved as a character to someone who is more optimistic and overall happy. There is not one right way to handle cancer.


Work Cited:

Edson, Margaret. W;t. London: Nick Hern. 1999. Print.

Lorde, Audre. “Introduction.” The Cancer Journals. Argyle, NY: Spinsters, Ink 1980. 7-15. Print.

The Fault in Our Stars. Dir. Josh Boone. Amazon Instant Video, 2014. DVD.

And The Band Played On

And The Band Played On starts off with this image of a deserted African village. Where two white men appear who seem to be puzzled by the abandoned village just as the viewers are. The next person we are introduced to is this young boy who shows them to the doctor they were looking for. We then not only find the doctor but other deceased villagers who lay in a circle. A voice is heard and the doctors go to investigate. He finds a dying women laying on the floor. He grabs her bloody hand in which he struggles to let go when she is in her last moments of death. When she is finally dead, he looks at his hand and he is soon hunted by this image throughout the movie. The viewer is then informed that the plague that has taken the people of the village out is ebola. Luckily, it is contained before reaching outside of Africa. Throughout the film, ebola is used to foreshadow what is soon to come.

When AIDS break out in the gay community, the CDC is confused to what it is and how it is caught. They think of it as a gay cancer in which only gay men can catch. When comparing it to ebola, the disease is not biased against any gender. As the disease begins to spread throughout the gay community, it starts to affect the larger population. The CDC starts to figure out that this disease is sexually transmitted and can also be transmitted through blood. Even though the CDC is aware that this is a possible way of contracting AIDS, finding the proof to back up their claims is a challenge.

With the breakout of AIDS/HIV, a stigma comes along with contracting the deadly disease that is exhibited throughout the film. According to Stigma, HIV and AIDS: an exploration and elaboration of a stigma trajectory, Individuals are devalued less because they display attributes that violate accepted standards than because some communities have chosen to call certain attributes deviant (Alonzo, Reynolds 304). In the film, one of the main concerns of the gay community was the stigma that could come along with the disease. The gay community then expressed that they were already disliked and did not want to be further blamed for something they had no control over.

As the film progresses, it is soon show that this is not only a gay disease. Those who go in for a normal procedure that deal with blood transfusions come out with HIV/AIDS. This alarms the people of the CDC and they try to attempt to get the red cross and other blood donation organizations to test the blood but due to the cost they decline. The number of fatalities begins to increase before they begin to take the CDC serious. Without the help of the organizations, HIVAIDS was not able to be contained and taken care of solely such as ebola was.

With how HIV/AIDS is dealt with now and how it was dealt with in the eighties when it first occurred is a great difference. In the film, they portray the epidemic as something that was not taken serious among doctors and big corporations. As the disease grew, more people were being affected and the people who needed to take it serious were avoiding the issue. Finally as the disease arose and people became aware of what was happening, the people in charge made it to where no one would catch the disease by transfusion. They also made the media aware that this was a disease that not only gay men were able to catch but anyone engaging in sexual activities or swapping dirty needles. With making people aware to this disease and stopping blood transfusions with infected blood, no one person can be blame for not being aware. As being portrayed on film, the epidemic ends with no cure but a sense of awareness. People know have an awareness that a deadly disease is occurring and no one is safe.

Work Cited:

And the Band Played on. Dir. Roger Spottiswoode. 1993. DVD.

Alonzo, Angelo A., and Nancy R. Reynolds. “Stigma, HIV and AIDS: An Exploration and Elaboration of a Stigma Trajectory.” Social Science & Medicine 41.3 (1995): 303-15. Web.

The Fault in Our Stars Facilitation

After viewing The Fault in Our Stars and going on an emotional adventure with the main characters Hazel and Gus, the topics to discuss during class were apparent. I met up with my facilitation partners to discuss what aspects of the movie they found evident and would want to go over in class. A google doc was then made of the most important things we found in the movie. The topics we wanted to cover were the reaction towards the movie, optimism, oblivion, perspectives from loved ones and cancer blogs. We started class of with a group discussion asking the class do they think young adults with an illness can relate to this movie and why. The reactions seem to be more yes than no. Our goal was for at least some of the yes people to change their view by the end of class with the information presented.

We found an article that went with the common theme of Optimism. Gus always encouraged Hazel to live a more optimistic life because when first introduced to her character, she was pessimistic.  She was more set on dying and making her parents happy versus living which as a group, we wanted to converse with the class on how Gus changed her views. We also pointed out the point that Gus separated Hazel from her cancer. With him doing this, he wanted to show her that there is more to the world then just her cancer. He was showing her to be optimistic indirectly. According to Deardorff, researchers in the positive-psychology field aren’t advocating “mandated cheerfulness,” or even encouraging positive thinking among people managing life-threatening illnesses. Instead, “people should not be discouraged from holding positive beliefs and expectations”(Deardorff). When reading the article on optimism, something that was surprisingly found was that being positive cannot lead to recovery. Like the movie, the most optimistic person, Gus, does die in the end. Optimism cannot send your body into recovery but it can make your last days on earth better.

Along with optimism, oblivion was another important aspect that was discussed in class. Gus and Hazel’s view on oblivion were divergent but collided by the end. Hazel does not mind oblivion because she believes that the world is going to end up regardless and no one will be remembered because the earth will no longer exist. Gus does not want to fall into oblivion because he wants to be remembered. Eventually, they came to an agreement that what matters is who you are remembered by if it be just family and friends or the world. This led to an activity done in class where we discussed different cancer blogs that could compare to Gus or Hazel’s view on the world. We discussed blogs from different ages and different viewpoints. One blog that was shown was from a girl who is a young adult that made the blog for others who are living with cancer. Most of the class felt that she related to Hazel because she did not need to do this for fame but to help others and gain friendships that would matter to her. We then discussed another video blog by a kid makeup artist who is now deceased. The class felt that she reflected more of Gus because she did leave a legacy behind and was very well known.

We then moved on to discussing family member’s reaction to cancer and how certain family members in the movie dealt with their children having cancer. There was Hazel’s mother, Frannie and then Van Houten. With Frannie, she dealt with Hazel’s condition by dedicating all of her time to her. But by the end the viewer finds out that she was going to school and wanted to help other parents that are put into similar situations as her. Then Van Houten deals with it by turning into an alcoholic. A class discussion was then talked about the different ways to deal with cancer. Some classmates discussed how they deal with cancer when it interfered with the lives of people they knew rather it be family or classmates.

We then ended class with the discussion by asking the same question again if they felt young adults with an illness could relate to this movie and the replies were a bit stagnate. The number of no’s did increase slightly which made the presentation a success.



Work Cited:

 Deardorff, Julie. “Optimism Can Help, Hinder Patients.” Chicago Tribune. Tribune Newspapers, 23 Sept. 2010. Web. 06 Feb. 2015.

The Fault in Our Stars. Dir. Josh Boone. Amazon Instant Video, 2014. DVD.

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