“Eroticism is assenting to life even in death.”
– Georges Bataille
“Have you ever had mindblowing sex, the kind of sex that makes you just want to DIE?”
– Izzie Stevens to Cristina Yang, Grey’s Anatomy 5×10
Ahh it feels good to be back. For our religious followers, you already know that after the Grey’s Anatomy Dogville finale of last season, I have jumped back on board the medical drama’s bandwagon. I have renewed my addiction to the show, unfortunately (or fortunately?) for reasons based on comedic moments and fruitful interpretations of the unbelievably ridiculous story lines, instead of the original merits of the show. As the season continues after its winter break, I thought it would be appropriate to do a mid-season recap on the thematic depths Crossroads-writer/Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes has delved into these past 12 episodes. Might I say that Ms. Rhimes did not reach her peak in this season when borrowing a little melodrama from the Danes.
When the show began in 2005, the initial premise was to create a medical drama that emphasized the relationships amongst the characters as opposed to the actual medicine and surgeries. As described in an initial review of the show by the New York Times, Grey’s Anatomy was to be an ER meets Sex and the City show, without veering to close to the romance-based General Hospital or the purposely extreme Nip/Tuck. The introductory scene of the show set the tone as it illustrated the typical “Morning After” scene with boy and girl awkwardly saying goodbye, with Rilo Kiley’s Portions for Foxes playing in the background. Introducing itself as the un-medical medical drama, Grey’s Anatomy opened its doors to a little more cushion to stretch the believability of stories the show decided to tackle. Attendings sleeping with interns? No problem. Booty calls in the on-call room as quintuplets stand on the brink of life and death nearby? Bring it on. By setting a show in a medical environment, the testing waters between life and death will always be present. Given its specific premise, these matters of life and death that occur weekly with the given patients of the week are paralleled with the love lives of the show’s doctors.
For the most part due to the definition of love and passion provided by the popular rom coms out there, the search for love and its final attainment revolves around life. Fresh flowers, birds chirping, clouds parting to allow sun to shine. However, Grey’s Anatomy takes a different approach. Seminary dropout-turned archivist/philosopher Georges Bataille discussed that it is not beaming life that is present with sex, but rather death. To Bataille, true eroticism exists only though the ultimate attainment of some kind of death. Now in its fifth season, Grey’s Anatomy has decided to test the boundaries it set with its previous four seasons by truly focusing on this single thematic relationship of passion and death.
First, there is the storyline causing the most ranting, so much so that ABC Entertainment President Stephen McPherson had to publicly defend it: the Izzie and Denny storyline. It is not enough that Denny appears to toy with Izzie’s heart. The show takes the ultimate leap by giving Izzie the opportunity to consummate her relationship with her dead fiance. Death is no longer an obstacle for this relationship. If anything, judging Izzie’s conversation with Christina about a “kind of sex that makes you just want to die” and the noises from Izzie’s bedroom that caused McDreamy to ask “Who’s making a porno in Izzie’s room?,” death does a body good.
Second, there are the nicknames of characters and couplings, both born in the show and within the fan forums, that are death related. There’s Meredith as “Death” and Sadie as “Die.” There’s also the phonetic similarity between the death-related term “murder” and the fan-created shipper term for the coupling of Meredith and Derek, “MerDer,” that cannot be ignored.
“Pick Me. Choose Me. Love Me.”
Lastly, there is the show’s use of repetition for dramatic effect in any scene pivotal in a given relationship. Each “I care about you”, “Teach me”, or “I love you. I freakin’ love you, ” is repeated with fervor, stabbing the recipient of the words until they succumb to the loving, pleasure-filled pain. A new, positive meaning is brought to the phrase “beating a dead horse.”
“I care about you. I care about you. I care about you.”
“Teach Me. Teach Me. Teach Me.”
In an act of approval for his choice of Meredith as partner, Mama Shepherd in the most recent episode tells her son, McDreamy, in the most recent episode, “You see things in black and white. Meredith doesn’t. You need a spoonful of that.” With ghost sex story lines and dramatic repetitions of love proclamations, Grey’s Anatomy has illustrated that the existence of love within life and death is not black and white, but Grey.
Yesterday, on Good Morning America, during Britney’s performance of her new single, “Circus,” also the title of the latest effort to reboot her career, I notice the familiar tune of Nino Rota’s score for Fellini’s 8 1/2 (1963) as the opening and closing bookends for the song. Transporting us to some carnivalesque wonderland because you know…Fellini/Rota equals garish circus freaks and a barely sweating ringmaster attempting to sell the greatest show (I mean, preview) on earth, Britney is less of a performer than she was before, now a vampish marionette in the grand tradition of female has-beens, like Lola Montes and Mariah Carey, wearing her setbacks as pity points for fans’ financial support. By even comparing herself to the incredibly cluttered yet fluidly warm style of the late Italian master is more insulting if it was an intentional homage than simply browsing through Itunes for mood music.
To her credit, Britney revived my interest for Rob Marshall’s film adaptation (filming in the UK, due out 2009) of the Tony Award-winning musical, Nine (also thanks to Meg!), simply due to its stellar casting stunt alone: Daniel Day-Lewis, as the womanizing (ha, Britney) artist Guido with writer’s block, Nicole Kidman as his on-and-off again muse, Claudia, Judi Dench as the witty French reporter, Lilianne, Marion Cotillard as his faithful wife, Penelope Cruz as the voluptuous dim-witted mistress Carla, Sophia Loren as his Mamma only in memory, Kate Hudson as a composite character of American/European socialites parading around the set, and of course, the Duchess herself, Fergie as Guido’s first sexual conquest, a misunderstood monster of a whore Saraghina. Even though the film is adapted from a theater show and not directly a remake of the original Italian film, creating a compare/contrast profile chart of the character/actors gives us however, tiny of a clue, that Marshall is referring to both sources for his project rather than the musical itself (look at the exact hair styles!) and hopefully unlike its dour box office cousin, The Producers, another film-to-musical-to-film inbred, Nine should absorb or borrow the exuberant energy that made 8 1/2 a sensational box-office draw of its time, a classic in the kooky genre of films about films, transforming the behind-the-scenes of the production process into an exquisite confrontation between fantasy and memory, the tempting desire to let go and the stubborn will to create meaning.
As the reigning discourse around the word, “adaptation” brings to mind, the embarrassing accusations that the “film” didn’t do this or that justice to the “book,” or what I think is inevitably an impossible endeavor, one could distill the situations or more crucially, the sensual essence of the source, while taking liberties with how an actor will improvise spontaneously with words and gestures, or how a whole scene could be shot from a perspective that goes beyond what the book can imagine. Upon digging through the photo archives of 8 1/2, who could have known that Sophia Loren, visiting the set of the original film, would star in its redo’s remake. If originality is inherent in the original, could originality be transferable to a copy, cutting its ties to the original, plain and simple? I find it better to move away from the iron curtain of fidelity and towards a more conducive discussion around intertextuality. Excuse my academic jargon, but the term means what it says, suggesting the play of allusions and references that one cultural object refers to another. Rather than speaking in ad finitum about a singular piece, the plenitude of experiences between texts bring us closer to dissecting changing attitudes about times present and past, and how subjective interpretations are being filtered as objective criticism. If professional and amateur critics like to spin personal anecdotes only for the sake of attention, followed by defending their preferences through external standards of good taste, than for better or worse, in the probing spirit of 8 1/2, to think about the trivial and profound relations from one book to another, from one film to another, would surrender the human ego to the witness stand as its own judge and prosecutor…the artist have already sold his soul to the devil, it’s a matter of how long he can keep it.
Britney’s “I’ll just wiggle around the playpen” routine, listen for the beginning: