Saturday, April 30, 2011

Catherine Zeta-Jones and the Fantatic

Toward the end of the work day yesterday, I went to find a co-worker of mine who often talks about books. I finished reading Love in the Time of Cholera a few days ago. I didn't like it. I wanted to ask the co-worker what he thought of the book. The co-worker I asked hadn't read it, but another guy with whom I work, who overheard my question, had read it. He not only told me why he liked the book, he quoted an entire passage related to Dr. Juvenal Urbino's death. I was impressed. I thought only characters from Dead Poet's Society could quote books in such a way. In relation to the book, my co-worker, Adam, said something else. He said the author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, is known for weaving elements of the fantastic into his stories. Adam explained that in most movies, if something fantastic or surreal happens, the event is justified by a dream or a hallucination. But in Marquez's stories and within post-modern literature, fantastic events happens as a part of waking life and the authors don't have to put the events within the context of a dream sequence or a vision. The events just happen and they don't need an explanation.

Though I am still not as happy with reading Love in the Time of Cholera as I would like to be, Adam gave me a better appreciation of the book, in particular because I have been thinking a lot about Catherine Zeta-Jones lately. Within the past few months, news broke that Jones is diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. The disability community often speaks of the differences, in terms of public stigma, between physical disability, intellectual disability and mental illness. With physical disability and intellectual disability, there is much more public sympathy. Mental illness is more often hidden, or not talked about. One reason may be fear. Some people believe that people with mental illness are more likely to commit crimes, when in fact people with mental illness are no more likely to commit crimes than people without mental illness. I think people sometimes link in proper behavior to mental health also. A few weeks ago, a woman on the dwarfism list serve shared a story about a time she was harassed at the grocery store. A few people who responded to the post theorized that the perpetrator had mental illness. If people think you are more likely to commit a crime if you have a mental illness, then it's no wonder you'd want to keep it private.

One can't really compare cancer to mental illness, but just look at the difference, in terms of public portrayal, between Michael Douglas' illness and his wife's illness. Douglas quickly earned sympathy. Instead of sympathy, much media coverage around Zeta-Jones led with a message about stigma - "Catherine Zeta-Jones Hopes to Remove Stigma Around Bipolar Disorder."

The good thing is that Zeta-Jones' diagnosis is probably helping to remove some of the stigma around mental illness. She is sending a message that the disability is not debilitating her life. She is still able to lead a productive life and she is still working. Word is she is on the short list to portray Elizabeth Taylor in a film about her life. In living a life with mental illness, Zeta-Jones is bringing disability closer to what fantasy is in the literature of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and other post-modernists -- something that happens, that is part of the story, but not something that needs to be overly explained and not something that ends the story.

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