Sunday, March 25, 2012

Famous Cases of Suicide: Art is for the Free and the Free are for Art: An Abnormal Psychology

(What precautions or actions should the media and the arts take in their presentations of famous cases of suicide?)

I don't think the media and artists need to take precautions, necessarily. What those in the industry should do, first and foremost, is to make sure that they gear their work toward the correct audience. In other words, they should make distinctions and classifications that make it easier for viewers to navigate the terrain of the material and, even more importantly, its implications. The goal, or basic concept, of the portrayal should be conveyed in accompaniment with the depiction. It would be great for the media and arts communities to create a dialogue surrounding the issues and implications raised in their presentations of famous cases of suicide. I always appreciate when a film is followed by some sort of discussion - it puts the art/footage into context and it allows observers to share any feelings that the work evoked or any questions they might have regarding the material.

Having an open place to ask questions (and maybe receive some answers, or at least acknowledgement) is ideal. If the media and arts communities create such depictions for a higher purpose - for the purpose of higher learning and not just to "sell" or to cause a stir for the sake of causing a stir, then I think the problems associated with presentations of famous cases of suicide would be negated. Whether or not there is an underlying goal in or purpose of the depiction, the depiction itself will have profound effects. It's best if there is an underlying goal or message attached, but having one overtly or indirectly present does not ensure a specific interpretation of the depiction itself. I can't argue for or against a realistic portrayal of the suicide - some artists might claim that they have chosen to depict suicide in a certain way for artistic or political or majestic or "you name it" purposes. With suicide, I imagine a creative director might decide to romanticize the suicide of a famous artist or writer. The art of suicide is still an art.

Might someone see it and decide to commit suicide because of it? Probably not. If someone is so profoundly moved by a suicide art-piece that she kills herself because of it, then that person is probably already predisposed to dramatizing and romanticizing death and would have looked for another source of inspiration somewhere else. Art is art. Art is a place where all of the things that are too scary for us to face directly are free to be expressed. And I would argue, actually, that artistic depictions of suicide might inspire those who are suicidal in real life to rely on some kind of art form to cope with their own suicidal ideation. It can go either way. Art might push someone over the edge or it might save her from stepping over the edge. It depends on a combination of factors - especially the disposition of the observer and the specific portrayal of the suicide.

I cannot help but think of Stephen Daldry's "The Hours," in which the character of Virginia Woolf commits suicide by drowning herself. I can say that the film achieved its goal in rendering beautiful and romantic the death of Woolf. In fact, I love watching the suicide scene. It's like porn for me. I love watching the whole movie, but the suicide is inextricably tied into the mental chaos -and the hours- of every other story within a story that is present in the film. The suicide scene is short and simple, actually. It's a provincial suicide. Woolf dresses to leave the house, her movements are determined and impulsive and hurried. The director set the linear and brisk energy of the action against the labored and complex, distraught bewildered and dark last-letter Woolf wrote to her husband. It's a stream of consciousness film and I'm a stream of consciousness woman. We go together like a stream of consciousness, and we long to attach ourselves to rocks in order to dive into "the stream" of consciousness within ourselves (or into the psyche of world, the core of consciousness). The film is full of movement and inner chaos. Time moves, like psychological matter or matter in the universe of unknowns. It never stops moving.

Some characters are trapped by what they have built around themselves. Others cannot stop moving in any direction. Both the ones who are stuck in immobility and the ones who are moving in chaos are part of the internal movement, the internal rapid momentum in Virginia Woolf''s consciousness. The rocks in Woolf's pocket are reminiscent of the weight of her emotional and psychological existence. Philip Glass' soundtrack is perfectly suited for the film, with its endless momentum that cycles and repeats and only breaks into silence for the briefest of moments. The whole of the ART piece is as beautiful and tragic as are the lines in Michael Cunningham's novel and as are the brilliant and astounding lines of Virginia Woolf herself (of her characters, of her places, of her depth, of her perspective, of her mind - and in the momentum and serendipitous chaos of all of those things).

The desperation, intensity and darkness enshrouding Virginia Woolf comes across powerfully in the film. I feel that the art of the film, as a whole, evokes the mental and emotional inner life of Virginia Woolf oh-so-well. Or, oh-so-unwell. Oh so streamingly. Does it make me want to commit suicide? Nah. Does it make me want to walk into a river and feel myself as part of the river? Yah, yah, yah. Does it make me want to feel more of what Virginia Woolf felt? No, because I already feel enough, on my own, of what Virginia Woolf felt to know which parts I am willing to include in my life and which parts are incompatible I very much relate to Virginia Woolf and I feel a sense of my own otherness profoundly, although I have no aching desire to leave this world in order to become one with it. I want to LIVE as she (the "she" in the film) died, not to DIE as she died. I want to enter "the stream" and to survive it.

To censor or try to shape the depiction of her suicide in that film, in ANY way, in order to protect suicidal individuals from committing suicide would be, to me, an abomination. So I suppose, while my earlier points might be valid in some instances, I will contradict a few of my early statements to say that I think art is art and should be as FREE as possible. Free to be true, free to be untrue, free to be preposterous, free to be terribly disturbing. Art is for the free - for the ideal of freedom. It is for the realists and the idealists and the surrealists alike. As for the NEWS media, they should be held to different standards - and accuracy and fairness (as well as a dash of sensitivity) should be the name of the journalistic game. If the news media addresses famous cases of suicide on the ethics of accuracy and fairness (or at least with the intention of those ethics), then they don't have to worry about taking special precautions or actions.


Anonymous said...

a well articulated version of what I believe (but could never express in such a beautifully personalized or artistic way)

Jess Mason McFadden said...

go into the stream of your consciousness, and see what you find in that death-and-life. you never know what you might be capable of expressing...

anonymous is a woman, i hope.

to art!

Jess Mason McFadden said...

I wonder where I learned to articulate so well. The personalization and the artistry were mine, but there was someone who helped me refine the technical craft who deserves credit here.

And it was you, Anonymous.

It was you...

Kristin Davis said...

I agree with you, Art is free. Personally, knowing what it feels like to be suicidal, I do have to say that movies or art portraying it don't make me want to commit it. But that's just me.