Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ain't It Romantic?

I have a nasty little secret to confess. Here it is:

I like opera.

Yes, it's true. I may listen to KMFDM, Pig, Nine Inch Nails and Rammstein while working out, but in my spare time I've been known to watch Tosca, Nabucco and Carmen. This weekend I saw Aida at the New York Metropolitan Opera.

This blog post was inspired by Act III, where the Egyptian general Radames meets his lover, the slave girl Aida, down by the Nile. He's betrothed to marry the Pharoah's daughter the next day, and Aida fears he's coming to tell her he'll never see her again. She stands by the riverside bemoaning the loss of her love, and declares that if she loses him she will throw herself into the river and drown her sorrows permanently.

This is standard opera fare---in the end the hero and heroine both end up dead---but the thing that intrigued me was a story that was told to me by the lawyer sitting next to me. Apparently he was at a performance of Macbeth in which an audience member jumped to his death from a balcony seat during intermission. After an extended intermission (the performance was also being broadcast) the show was ultimately cancelled while police investigated to determine if the death was a suicide or a murder. After a little bit of googling I quickly found the New York Times story about the incident here, as well as a bit about the man who died here.

Hearing about this man's death put the opera into a new light for me. It got me thinking about culture in general and about the romanticization (if that's a word) of suicide. From Anna Karenina and her train to Romeo and Juliet and their poison, we've got people "proving" their love by killing themselves. The wedding ring and the gun are inextricably juxtaposed in drama and in real life. When my patients talk about their girlfriends and I hear the phrase, "I love her to death," I cringe inwardly and want to blurt, "Please don't."


Anonymous said...

Wow...what a story. Told as only ClinkShrink could tell it!

Bardiac said...

I've never quite understood why US high schools teach *Romeo and Juliet* as standard fare. "Pissed at your parents? Kill yourself!" seems like the wrong message to give people who are fairly perpetually pissed at their parents for one reason or another.

BUT, western society has long valued tragic genres over comic, no? And if we taught comedies, then there'd be a subtle admission that yes, sex IS important and fun. And there's no HS administrator who'd let that slip by! (or school board that wouldn't fly to arms about it.)

Anonymous said...

I hate sitting in balconies because of the urge to throw myself over. Good to know I am not the only one.

Sarebear said...

I'm wondering if you read my recent post, where I mention "Somewhere in Time", and how I was going to do a post discussing media that put a positive spin on suicide, at least from certain angles, even if it's vague, at times. Mixed messages regarding various issues in the media are one thing, but one area that shouldn't even have vague positive associations is the issue of suicide.

I'm surprised there had to be much debate about that show going on, yes, "the show must go on", often, but a person DIED. Many people there witnessed a person's death. That's not something I could just shrug off.

The end of Somewhere in Time makes me cringe whenever I see it.

One of the Superbowl commercials earlier this year also made me cringe, but then I was like, am I being too sensitive? Can it be legitimately funny when applied to a robot? Am I being too picky, too PC, here? Or is it dangerous and not funny at all to show a robot (non-humanoid form) perched at the edge of a bridge, about to jump off?

Part of it is some of the same debate that went on here on SR a while back about shrinks letting off steam, venting about work, making jokes with each other, as everyone makes jokes about their own line of work.

I don't worry about that commercial, it was just a thought that came up when I saw it, even while I saw the humor in the rest of the portrayal of that auto assembly robot.

There's the Japanese notion of honorable suicide, which shows up in films alot, but my thoughts were mostly about less-specific to one particular society ones.

I'll still be discussing this on my blog soon, since I had planned on it, but it may seem like a rehash of here by then.

And then there's the way Smallville has always portrayed people who are "different" as being meteor "freaks", ie, from their behavior at school, those who'd seem to be mentally ill, are actually "freaks". I wish they had used "normal" behaving kids as some of the "meteor-freaks", instead of the shy, the quiet, the narcissistic, the depressed, the picked-on (well, yeah, school shooters often come from these groups, and I guess the "meteor-freaks" were a super-powered version of school shooters, in a way, but c'mon, can they go outside stereotype, PLEASE?

It didn't help that they locked up the meteor freaks in a mental institution . . . and that psychiatrists were shown on occassion as bad guys/criminals.

Then again, it's a comic book based series, I guess you have to have somebody experimenting on people's brains, but then go and show that there are GOOD psychiatrists, too.

There was one time Clark was trying to talk a suicidal teen from jumping off a dam, and I thought, here's an opportunity to show that these issues aren't simply solved with a super-power (akin to a superman comic-book storyline dealing with domestic abuse). I think he zoomed down and caught the kid, but do they ever show that the kid is getting good help? Nope. I just wished they'd showed a little more balance in their presentation of such things.

Yep, probably expecting too much for a show like this, but think about whether teens (the probably target audience) might not be a bit more reluctant to get help when all they see is stereotype and negative portrayal.

They even had an ECT storyline on Lex, and memory loss and such with that.

Um. Yeah I rambled off the suicide thing. I actually started a series on mental health issues as portrayed on that show (yes, I know, it's just a show, but provides opportunity for discussion and debate), but nobody replied, so I got discouraged, lol.

I think one of the ways society will change for the better in these areas is if we take a look at these shows and things and discuss this type of stuff.

DrivingMissMolly said...

I hate when my sister says she wants to "eat up" our 2 year old niece 'cause she's so cute!

Devil's advocate here: I think the problem with the portrayal of suicide is the mass delusion that everyone's life is so special and unique and full of possibilities and that if they had only "hung on" longer, things would turn around. I mean, come on, people, that is unrealistic.

I noticed that the man who Clink refers to was ill so maybe that's why he killed himself. Maybe he was in pain. I don't know.

I remember the hubub about Britney Spears' video for "Everytime" where it appears she kills herself at the end. They changed the ending.


Alison Cummins said...

Thanks, DMM. Impulsive suicide in the young is one thing, but by your late forties you probably know what you're doing. If sitting tight and waiting it out were going to bring you to a more hopeful place, you'd know it by then.

That doesn't mean that their life doesn't have value; on the contrary, it's utterly tragic if someone's life is truly that devoid of hope. How do psychiatrists deal with these issues? On the one hand, suicide might truly be a realistic option for someone; on the other, I don't think a psychiatrist could ethically support such an idea, true or not.

Alison Cummins said...

I might be ambivalent about suicide in the abstract, but I have very strong ideas about good and bad ways to go about it. Throwing yourself into the metro during rush hour is a bad way. Throwing yourself off the balcony during the opera is a bad way. Shooting yourself in the head so that your relatives have to clean blood and brains off the walls afterwards is a bad way.

Suicide is always horrible for those left behind, but if your life is really beyond redemption your family will have some idea of that already and have had time to come to grips by the time it actually happens. There's no excuse for involving the public.

Anonymous said...

Alison - as un-pc as it is, I think you're right. I have been expecting to hear that my brother has killed himself for years now. He has untreated mental health issues, no job, very poor relationships... he's a wreck and has been since he was a teenager. At least 2 or 3 people he knows kill themselves every year. In my mind it's only a matter of time.
The most recent phone call from a mutual acquaintance seems to indicate that he's acquired a serious drug problem... looks like he's taking a less direct route.

NeoNurseChic said...


In high school, one of my closest friends was this guy who went to a different high school about 40 minutes away. I met him because we both were in district band festivals - he played clarinet and I played bass clarinet. Later, we went to Governor's School for Health Care - a 5 week program at Univ of Pitt. This friend of mine had been suicidal for much of his life. I had passive suicidal thoughts through much of high school - I frequently said to friends, "I don't actually want to kill myself - I just want my house to explode - with me in it." Stuff like that. Then my friend (R) at the other school - well, he had a good friend (A) (who later became my senior prom date) - who was also suffering from bad depression. The two of them made a freaking suicide pact - if one goes down, the other goes down. This nearly drove me to the brink. And then one day, R sent me a "goodbye" email - which I showed to my crisis counselor at school - she called his school and his guidance counselor agreed to keep me anon, but then said to R, "An anon student from ___ high school said that she's worried you may be suicidal." Guess how many friends R had from my high school who knew he was suicidal? He wouldn't talk to me for a week!

But what I'm getting to is that R and I called ourselves Romeo and Juliet. We were..... Both of us very depressed, for similar and dissimilar reasons. Both of us were intelligent (he's actually a med student now), talented (he's got a minor in music, I have a major in it), would bend over backwards for anyone and everyone - and felt that our lives were controlled by other people. We probably fed off each other in terms of talk of depression and suicide. And would we have compared ourselves to Romeo and Juliet if that book hadn't been so revered in school? Prolly not. Our friend A later went on an SSRI and was no longer suicidal. Glad they never carried out their pact. It nearly drove me insane with worry.

What I mean to say is - high school has enough drama. And those who may be emotionally fragile really do not need even subtle references to suicide as a good thing!

Sara - I felt the same way about the commercial during the superbowl. My mom and I were sitting on the couch when we saw it, and we both thought it was horrible. We also both watched the James Blunt video to "You're Beautiful" online one day, and when we saw the end was about suicide - we were shocked. Didn't realize the song was about that. I refuse to listen to that song now. I don't think the pop media should do what they do - sensationalise suicide. It's awful!

Clink - Oddly enough, being a music major and all - I HATE opera!! Actually, I do like "some" opera, and probably would like Aida (Love the music from the Elton John version!! In fact, have recorded a couple songs from it - I know it's very different!!). But mainly in college, I only went to the operas because all my friends were performing in it either on stage or in the pit. I don't know what it is about opera that makes me detest it so, but I just do. I love almost all other forms of music - just not that! I do, however, really like many opera arias when performed as part of voice recitals and such. It's something about opera itself. Dunno!

Take care!
Carrie :)

NeoNurseChic said...


Maybe it has something to do with the fact that if I were to impale myself on a dagger, I would not be singing a song and hitting high A's and such. Maybe that's just me......but singing while dying a painful death just doesn't seem all that appealing!!


Anonymous said...

Okay...I am just grooving on the idea that clinkshrink listens to KMFDM and NIN. Really? Well the goth thing...prisons...yeah..all makes sense. Giggles

+++++not listening......
Not thinking of the "S" word..... thoughts of jumping today......nope......lalalalalalaladeeeedah....++++

Yeah...bad day....but I have a p-doc appointment tomorrow!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

when are you bringing me pizza?

Sarebear said...

We did R&J in Jr. high, and when we watched the movie, the teacher "let" us watch the brief nudity part(s) (no pun intended), with a "warning" about it first, with sort of a spiel he did that I think was more meant to alert him of any likely to sue or tattle types, than it was to say, ok, objecters can go in the other room, or if anyone objects, we'll skip that, etc.

Um, hello! Try being the teen that objects when everybody else, esp. the guys, wants to watch it.

I wonder if the teach got off on showing us that.

There's a song on Josh Groban's first CD, Starry Starry Night, about Vincent Van Goh. Plenty of other people have sung this song, I think, but this is the one I have.

"I think this world was not meant for one as beautiful as you" is one of the lines, after others that make it apparent Vincent killed himself. There is NO need for this kind of painting a wistful sort of picture of suicide, at all. (no pun intended on the painting thing.)

Steve & Barb said...

lady, I'll one up that. Lately I've been digging Mindless Self Indulgence (MSI), which I picked up from my neice. Yeah, the lyrics are pretty raw but the music just kicks ass.

I'm glad Bardiac brought up the Romeo & Juliet issue. Never thought about it, really; while it doesn't make sense to romanticize suicide, there is an Orwellian element to this type of censorspeak (about not mentioning certain classics containing objectionable themes) that makes me feel just a touch uncomfortable.

Anonymous said...

Have to agree with Roy, if I understand him correctly. The reality is that people do commit suicide with pacts, without them, angry at their parents, not angry at their parents, bullied, popular, across all income groups. Plenty have not read R and J, plenty have. What they have in common in despair of a type that is much deeper than simply being pissed about something. Go ban all the books and songs about suicide but it will still take place.Starry Starry Night is a beautiful song and guess what,the world really is too painful for some people. I know a few people who have committed suicide and I know a few people who have died early deaths from other causes.I don't think Romeo and Juliet or any song had any effect on their decisions.

The Shrink said...

We know folks with de Clerambault's syndrome often escalate risk to others.

Depending which study you believe, suicide rates are higher and conservatively about 5% result in completed homicides.

The evidence fits with our intuitive beliefs.

Passion is a strong motivating factor.

DrivingMissMolly said...

Perhaps it's time to talk about the supposed link between depresssion/severe mental illness and "the muse?"

As psychiatrists do you think it's true that great internal turmoil is the necessary flip side of "genius"?


PS Wasn't it here that we discussed another physician's blog post about a 13 year old girl who OD'ed on acetominophen and died, even though the doc thought she didn't mean to really kill herself so much as make a "statement?"

Anonymous said...

There are very few geniuses in the world but there are plenty of people suffering from great internal turmoil.

Anonymous said...

Oh! Oh! What Miss Molly said!! I was just thinking about the same topic a few days ago. What about this idea of "the muse"? What about "too smart for his/her own good"? What do you guys think about it?

Anonymous said...

I have never found depression terribly inspiring. It is a tremendous drain. When thinking about the works of art, music literature etc of geniuses who were also depressed or otherwise mentally ill, it might be a better idea to imagine how much more they might have achieved had they not been depressed or ill and to say that they achieved in spite of, rather than because of, their illness.

Ladyk73 said... are all a bunch of punks!!! vile vile music....

Mindless Self Indulgence (MSI)....ha! I noticed there were no links to that!

I think I need to dig out my Sisters of Mercy CD....
or Dead can Dance or GASP!....some old Metallica!


NeoNurseChic said...

Oh for the record - I'm not for censorship. Not of classics anyway! I actually own a copy of R&J and don't regret reading the book and acting out several scenes from the play over the years in school. I'm not a fan of the commercials and things I mentioned in the latter part of my comment, however. Those things, I could live without.

I'll bite on the depression/mental illness/muse thing. At least in terms of music. Just by putting here what a friend said to me. She came over and heard me play piano/sing for the first time about a year ago. When I finished, she said, "Wow! With a voice like that, you should never be depressed!" I said, "I have a voice like that because of what I've been through."

I stand by that, even now. I love to communicate via music. We're at some sort of hurdle right now in my therapy, and part of the reason is because of my own inability to communicate in words on difficult topics - but if I had the chance, I could play it out. I've always been that way - that way, I know what I am saying and I can convey it to others, without actually saying it. I truly believe that the things I went through and the emotions that I felt contributed to my music. I can still pick out any song I played on my recitals and tell you exactly what emotions and life events I relate these things to (good and bad...) One song became sort of the only way I could express something very bad that happened to me while in college - and that song had so much turmoil and fury and passion in it - it became an excellent outlet for me. I even brought in the DVD from that recital and my psychiatrist and I watched my performance of the song - and I told him exactly what each part of the song represented for me - something I've never done with anyone else before.

In music, I work hard to be technically excellent, but I know I could be so much better in those terms. What I feel that I do very well is the musicality side. I might hit wrong notes, but my music is never lacking feeling - and not everyone can say that. I also agree with what someone said above though - I think I would have accomplished a lot more had things like depression and anxiety not depleted my energy and focus a lot of the time. BUT, that being said, I think the wide array of emotions and things I experienced also helped contribute to my music.

I'm just thankful I have it. I'm not sure I could survive without it at this point. It is one of my true outlets - pretty much the only thing I have in my life that I don't have some issue with. :)

Take care,
Carrie :)