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The Mental Illness Unit »

This unit was very interesting to me because I do have a connection to mental illness, especially depression. I honestly was not looking forward to this unit, not because I don’t enjoy the topic, but because I generally hate graphic novels. I went into this thinking that I was going to struggle through Marbles and American Splendor. However I was honestly surprised that I really liked Marbles. In Marbles Ellen Forney uses graphics to tell her story and show her struggle with depression. American Splendor uses graphics to show the different aspects of Harvey Pekars life and the different aspects of it. While both use graphics, they use it in different ways to convey their attitudes towards mental illness and their struggles with it.

I sat down with Marbles and was immediately captured by the story. I really enjoyed the graphics and I think it was a great way to tell the story. I think that the drawings were a perfect way to capture the ups and downs of her Bipolar mood swings. Forney uses the pictures as an autobiography, which is a fantastic outlet for her. She uses art to help her deal with whats going on in her life. So to use these images to show her struggle through mental illness was a great choice. My favourite part of her novel is how easily you can tell the different in her depression vs manic stages. Her attention to detail in separating the two mindsets really allows the reader to get involved and connect to her and her story. I also like how she connected her story to other artists. She really played on the cliche that all great a (Forney 22).

I also loved that we had an interview of Forney: Ellen Forney: Losing One’s Marbles, by Amy Gall. It really allowed us to see where she was coming from in her novel. She struggled with a lot of ideas on what it means to be crazy and how it affects ones life. The fact that she also accepted that she didn’t have the answers to these questions, but still felt that they were important to ask. She really put herself in the novel and in this interview wasn’t afraid to talk about her issues. Forney really shows the readers that it is possible to live with illness, and it is possible for artists to create good art despite their illness. In Forneys case her illness allowed her to create new art, and allowed her to create a story that has been shared around the world.

I did not like American Splendor as much as Marbles. I think it is because it was done as a film and not a novel. These are two very different forms of art, and the ideas are conveyed in very different ways. The film was a bit haphazard and did not really talk about mental illness in an obvious way. In one way I really enjoyed this because you saw all the subtle ways mental illness is a part of someones life. From not having the energy to get out of bed, or clean you house or go out with friends. Those are all very real signs of mental illness and are signs that can be identified by audience members. However unlike Forney, Pekars never admits to having an illness. He never comes out and says he is depressed, it is just inferred by his actions in the film.

The graphics in the film are also used in a different way in the American Splendor. In the movie Pekar uses the graphics to document the average and funny things that happen in his life. The graphics are autobiographical but they are not centered around his disease. The comics detail things like conversations and other mundane aspects of his life. While the graphics do not focus on his disease they do put a different layer on the film. They establish his life, and literally frame what happens to him. I think depression can be like that. Its presence frames what you do and how you live you life, much like the graphics put Pekar into various boxes.

Mental illness is a tricky topic to write about it, but I think that both Marbles and American Splendor do a great job showing the autobiographical aspects of mental illness. They are able to take the audience into their world. From Marbles where the audience really gets into the head of someone dealing with a mental illness to American Splendor where you get to see the underlying aspects of the disease both art forms show you that you can succeed even when dealing with illness.

 

Works Cited

American Splendor. Dir. Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. Perf. Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner. New Line Cinema, 2003. DVD.

Forney, Ellen. Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir. New York: Gotham, 2012. Print.

Gall, Amy. “Ellen Forney: Losing One’s Marbles.” Lambda Literary. Lambda Literary, 6 Dec. 2012. Web. Feb. 2015. <http://www.lambdaliterary.org/features/12/16/ellen-forney-losing-ones-marbles/>.

 

Possible Proposal »

We have been looking at a lot of different aspects of illness, and I am really interested in the dehumanizing aspect of it. We saw this in W;t “she is DNR, no she’s research” and in Angels when Louis couldn’t separate Prior and Priors illness. I think this is a tendency that happens a lot in our society and is one that can stretch over many art forms. Off the top of my head I can see it in: Fault in Our Stars, W;t, Angels in America, The Normal Heart, The Notebook, Next to Normal, and many others. I would like to explore this more and maybe go into the psychology behind it. Look at why we see disease as a dehumanizing agent and why it is so common to do.

Zombies in Todays World »

Thanks to television shows, video games and novels, zombies have become a staple in todays pop culture. Almost everyone has either read a book or seen a movie/show related to zombies and have probably thought about a zombie apocalypse at some point. In many cases the outbreak of zombies has something to do with a spreadable disease, which leads to the end of humanity. This idea can be strongly correlated with other spreadable diseases like Ebola or AIDS. “Infected by zombie is just an arbitrary, inescapable, and devastating as infection by plaque”(Boluk and Lenz, 135). The fear of a zombie apocalypse is very similar to the panic that these real life diseases cause.

Much like in real life we rarely put ourselves into the shoes of the zombies. We tend to try and distance ourselves from disease and think that it can never happen to us. I think this is the reason that shows like Wit and Angels are so impactful, because it makes you live the story with them. Isaac Marion does this in Warm Bodies, the story of the zombie apocalypse, told through the eyes of R, a zombie. R is a new zombie, who lives in the airport for security (Marion, 4). In the novel R ends up receiving the memories of a teenaged boy when he eats his brains. These memories make R strive to protect Julie, the dead boys girlfriend.

One of the main ways that this novel correlates zombies with disease is the fact that they become completely dehumanized. Not only in the fact that they are living dead, but the fact that they do not have memories or names. In the novels the zombies do not have memories of their past selves, including what their name was. So instead they give each other names based on letters that could have been in their names like R (Marion, 3). This creates a big distinction between zombie and human. It makes the disease completely consume someone, their entire identity including their name.

I was surprised how much this story fit with the others we have read. One of my favorite lines is the opening line: “I am dead, but it’s not so bad. I’ve learned to live with it” (Marion, 3). This really reminded me of the article Death Before Dying in which the living became the living dead. I think that this is a very different alternative to that. In this case a person who is dead is trying to live despite the disease. In this novel they know nothing about themselves, but R wants to. You can see his desire to be more in Julie. She looks at R and doesn’t see a zombie, “Sometimes I barely believe you’re a zombie. Sometimes I think you’re just wearing stage makeup, because when you smile… it’s pretty hard to believe,” (Marion p.72). She, unlike Louis in Angels, can separate the man and disease and see past the zombie to the person within. He doesn’t want to die just because of a disease. In a sense he reminds me of Prior. He is a fighter who doesn’t want to just roll over because of the cards he was dealt. He wants to survive the best way he can.

 

Boluk, Stephanie and Wylie Lenz. “Infection, Media, and Capitalism” 10.2 The Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies (Fall/Winter 2010): 126-64.

Marion, Isaac. Warm Bodies: A Novel. Atria, 2011.

Marbles »

I really don’t normally like graphic novels. I find that I tend to get bored and my mind will drift because I am switching from pictures to written words. However, I really enjoyed Ellen Forney’s Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, & me. In her story Forney describes what it is like being an artist living and working with a bipolar disorder.

Her graphics are simple, and are done in black and white which I really enjoy. She goes from very simple no faced characters, like on page 77, to detailed full portraits (66). As a psychology major I liked that she took the time to really explain what the disorder is and what it means to live through manic episodes. She gives detailed descriptions about the side effects of the disorder, the pro and cons about taking meds and the toll it had on her relationships.

While we have been talking a lot about magic realism in class, I enjoyed reading a true realistic novel. This autobiographical graphic novel allows the reader to really connect with Forney. Her story and struggles are real. There are no angles or disappearing through a fridge to distract the reader from the real story and problems at hand. I know that I really connected to Forney. She does not hold back from her story and I think that the graphic novel approach was correct for the story she was trying to tell.

I think this approach worked because it could be as “crazy” as she felt. In a graphic novel you can truly see the differences between a manic Forney, a depressed Forney and a stable Forney. Her picture quality changes based on her moods and the use of word vs thought bubbles allows us to see what is really going on in her head. I think this is also the best outlet for her since she is a comic writer. She was able to connect to this art form and that shows to the reader.

Her story is not one that many would consider telling. In an interview she talks about the fact that she was arafid her life wasn’t interesting enough. She never tried to kill herself or do anything over the top or dramatic, and that is why I think this story works. Her story is one that so many can relate to. People can see her struggles and look back and connect to her as a person. In today’s society most people have struggled with depression or know someone with a mental illness. This story shows that as normal, which I think is very important. In the interview she describes her experience dealing with the depression as
“a spoon trying to watch itself stir”, and I really like that image. Dealing with a disorder is really like being outside yourself. There are times where you feel like you are looking in and trying to stop something you have no control over. I think she gets that across in her story. This is not something she can control, but it is something she has learned to live with.

 

Forney, Ellen. Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir. New York: Gotham, 2012. Print.

 

http://www.lambdaliterary.org/features/12/16/ellen-forney-losing-ones-marbles/

Angles in America »

The HBO series Angels in America tries to hard to encompass all the play has to offer. At times the mini-series comes off as confusing, with the scene jumps and camera choices. However there are certain moments, like the spilt scene, where the HBO series worked really well to show Kushners world. The one advantage the series has over reading the play is how they can truly create an apocalyptic, end of the world feeling. The first scene to come to mind when thinking of apocalyptic is the first time the angel visits Prior. In the play it seems as if the angel simply appears, but the series has the angel appear in an earthquake like manner, with the ceiling cracking and the entire room shaking. This is much more off putting than how the play has it. There are many biblical mentions in this story. My favourite one is how Prior walks through water at the end and becomes “cured”. He does not want to be the prophet that the angel wants him to be, but towards the end I think he is a bit more accepting of it.

One of the articles we had to read this week was Sontag’s article about AIDS and how the disease is often stigmatized with being evil or guilty (Sontag,154). I think this is very applicable to Angels, especially Roy. In the HBO series you can see how he will not admit to having AIDS,  he will only call it liver cancer. He is embarrassed and feels guilty about being a straight man who has sex with men. Another point that Sontag makes really relates to Prior and Louis: “From the beginning the construction of the illness had depended on notions that separated one group of people from another-the sick from the well” (Sontag 155). Louis begins to separate himself from Prior when he finds out about the diagnosis. He doesn’t feel that he can handle the stress that comes with being the boyfriend of the guy with AIDS.

While in the end Prior is able to be healthy and live his life again, he will never be the same. People get cured form illness all the time, but their lives become attached to the sickness they once had. There is always that fear that it will come back and that it can no longer be managed. There is also the reconstruction of his social life, he needs to reinsert himself into the social world that he was denied while he was sick. The last scene in Angles is very important in the HBO series. It is the only time that the characters directly address the audience. The also talk a lot about change.

Prior has been living with AIDS for five years, and he decides to tell the audience about his favourite place. The park with the fountain of the angel. He is very descriptive about his park and all the different times of the year he has seen it change. Prior however does not dominate the last scene, like he could. He instead hands the camera over to his friends. He allows Louis to tell the story of Bethesda, Belize tells the story of the healing fountain, and Hannah talks about the return of the fountain. He has allowed them into his story and his life with the angel. Prior says the “world only spins forward”. He will not let this disease get the better of him. He will continue to live despite this disease. With an ending like this it is not a surprise that this play has had such a big impact on the LGBT community.

Works cited
Angels in America (2001) HBO, Amazon Prime.
Sontag, Susan. “AIDS and its Metaphors.” The Disability Studies Reader. Ed. Lennard Davis. New York: Routledge, 2006.

The Fault in Our Stars »

Young adult literature is often looked down upon as being trivial and consisting of vampire love stories and nothing of weight or merit. However this has changed drastically over the past few years. Novels directed at young adults has become more serious and is dealing with themes like death, disease, suicide and other hard to handle topics. These books are devoured by readers and the dark themes are being discussed and explored. These books are able to give young adults an outlet. They are stories that they can relate too or are curious about and want to explore. One of these books has recently been turned into a movie after spending countless weeks as a New York Times Bestseller John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.

This novel is about two teenagers who are diagnosed with cancer at a young age. By the age of 16 they have had to come to terms with the fact they are not invincible and that their death is a very real possibility. These kids meet in a support group and end up falling in love. The story told through the eyes of Hazel goes through her thought and feelings about having cancer and what it means to have a relationship that could very possibly end because of her death. This story does not hide the cancer behind the romance. John Green shows how hard the cancer is and the toll it takes not just on Hazel but on her family and her relationship with Gus. The film shows intense hospital scenes and medical treatment that show the pain she is in. The film also goes into her depression, showing her lying in bed, not wanting to see her friends, crying and spending time alone.

There is a specific scene in the film where Gus gets sick and cannot buy himself cigarettes, something that is a simple to so many of us. The film shows his break down and the decline of his mental health as well as his physical health. He is lost and in pain, a drastic change to the first version of Gus that the viewers meet.

A question arises that is difficult to answer: why are stories like this, about pain, disease and death, so popular to such a young audience? One answer is that novels like these can be seen as a way to make “private experiences of illness accessible to a public community” (Khalid, 3). These novels and movies allow audiences to immerse themselves into a story. Some of these people have gone through similar struggles or know someone who has. These stories allow readers to have a cathartic or empathetic experience and connection to these characters. These stories also allow teens to be able to confront the idea that they are not immortal, that bad things happen with no explanation or reason.

The Fault in Our Stars does not sugar cote the experiences these kids go through. The blog that I found documents Rachel and her experience getting diagnosed and treated for Hodgkins Lymphoma. In her blog Rachel goes into great detail about the tests and surgeries she has experienced, but she also talks about other things. She talks about how hard it was to loose her hair, to meet with friends, to talk to her family and sometimes to wake up in the morning. These are all very real and personal experiences that she is willing to share with the world.

Without stories like The Fault in Our Stars many young adults would not be willing to explore issues like cancer and want to learn more. I know that personally I never looked into cancer and research before I picked up John Greens book. By writing books and films that show the younger generation real life and the struggles that are faced it allows us to explore and connect to a cause, community and culture that we never would have before.

 

Khalid, Robina Josephine. “Demilitarizing Disease: Ambivalent Warfare and Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals” African American Review (Fall 2008): 697-717. MLA International Bibliography. Web.

The Fault In Our Stars. Dir. Josh Boone. Perf. Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort. 20th Century Fox, 2014. DVD.

Rachaels Blog: http://livingwithlymphoma.tumblr.com/

 

W;t »

Today it seems that everyone knows someone who has battled with cancer. It is a disease that is in the mainstream media, art, and culture because so many can identify with the struggle. Disease is a taboo subject and many people who are battling try to hide their struggle behind masks and tough facades. In Margaret Edson’s play Wit the character Vivian has been diagnosed with stage four cancer, a prognosis she will not survive. While this play deals with the issue of cancer it is not a play designed to help others with their struggle.

Jacqueline Vanhoutte discusses in her article Caner and the Common Woman how Wit was not a text that helped her in her battle with cancer. She was hoping that it would help her “make sense” of what had happened (391). Anyone who has read Edson’s play would know that it is not a feel good story about a woman’s journey through her cancer diagnosis and treatment. Instead it is a play filled with dark humor, self-reflection and death. This play shows the isolation and pain of cancer quite realistically, but it does not offer support or ways to get through it. It shows Vivian’s solitude in her treatment and her withering in pain, always responding that she is “fine”, but in reality she is hiding the truth from the doctors and herself. She makes her death out to be a heroic, quoting Dunne until the end. When in reality the cancer made her a shell of the woman she was, listening to a bedtime story and even after she dies being surrounded by doctors who view her as “research” instead of a person.

While I enjoyed parts of the play I tend to agree with Vanhoutte, especially in the characterization of those in the play. None of the characters are surprising or very deep. They all play to the stereotype of the sweet loving nurse, the uncaring cold doctor etc. The struggle that Vivian has of being an intellectual and a person with feelings doesn’t seem to ever really take her anywhere. Her character has no development. The cancer destroys her, but in a sense there wasn’t much to her in the beginning. The end of the play highlights these stereotypes. You have Susan, the caring nurse, passionately defending the DNR and throwing herself at Jason, the cold doctor, who just wants to continue his research patient be damned.

The one thing that the play did well was looking at the idea of “why me”. No one wants to get cancer, and no one who has it deserves it. The play never answers “why me” which I think is important. Vivian blames her self; thinking that she should have been kinder to her students and to her fellow collogues. She laments that she was too harsh. But these thoughts are only there because she is sick. It is a realistic portrayal, people want answers and it is easier to blame yourself for the wrongs you did in the past than to admit that there is no answer.

This play uses humor and Vivian’s bluntness to get through such a hard topic. Vivian is very open about her diagnosis and her thought process, even if she seems guarded until the end. The play works as a way to show the dark side to cancer. It shows how treatments affect a person, and how the thing that is supposed to heal them puts them through pain, torment and still results in death. While the play may be good for audiences I agree with Vanhoutte that it is not a play for those with cancer looking for answers. This play is a personal and unique experience. It is not a self-help book or a “how to deal with cancer” book. It is instead the journey of a very alone woman who is in a lot of pain.