The Aggregate: Reading for Happiness, and “Fridging”
“Aggregate is a unique word. As a noun, it indicates different elements brought together in the same place. As a verb, it seeks to collect and assemble disparate pieces to create a more cohesive whole. This column seeks to do both of those things; breaking down some of the biggest stories in print journalism each week and presenting them in more bite-sized pieces.”
Read Your Way to Well-being: Introducing Bibliotherapy
The New Yorker – Ceridwen Dovey, “Can Reading Make You Happier?”
Reading and mental health have more in common than you might think. This older piece, which ran in a 2015 edition of The New Yorker, appeared on my Facebook feed earlier this week. While this is not a recent publication, I believe that summer is an (especially) ideal time to make adjustments to your lifestyle for the sake of your well-being, and I wanted to leave readers with a new opportunity to do just that. Any bookworm will attest to the fact that reading on a regular basis can manifest positivity throughout our lives, and Dovey’s article provides some of the science to back up these claims. This piece explores the various ways that reading can benefit our interactions and relationships with other people, as well as with ourselves. Bibliotherapists are the experts in book-related emotional health; instead of walking out of a session with a prescription, you can walk out with a list of suggested reads, tailored specifically to your situation. Call me a nerd, but I think that’s pretty cool.
“Bibliotherapy is a very broad term for the ancient practice of encouraging reading for therapeutic effect. […] Today, bibliotherapy takes many different forms, from literature courses run for prison inmates to reading circles for elderly people suffering from dementia. Sometimes it can simply mean one-on-one or group sessions for “lapsed” readers who want to find their way back to an enjoyment of books. […]”
“For all avid readers who have been self-medicating with great books their entire lives, it comes as no surprise that reading books can be good for your mental health and your relationships with others, but exactly why and how is now becoming clearer, thanks to new research on reading’s effects on the brain.”
Much of this aforementioned research has to do with parts of the brain that center on human interaction. Dovey points out that many of the areas in the brain that light up when we read about something in a story, will also light up when we have a similar interaction or experience in real life. (Science is so cool.) This being said, literature– especially fictional stories– can be powerful tools for emotional release and a sort of “practice” for some interactions in real life. While not everyone agrees that literature can have measurable effects on altruism or how we treat others, there does seem to be a consensus that reading is undoubtedly beneficial on an individual level.
“So even if you don’t agree that reading fiction makes us treat others better, it is a way of treating ourselves better. Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers.”
Okay, great. We’ve established that reading is very beneficial to us, however, there are so many books these days that picking the “right” one can often feel like a challenge. Bookstores and libraries (the ones that are left) can feel overwhelming, not to mention the seemingly infinite supply of books on sites like Amazon. If you’ve ever felt like you’re drowning under all of these options, you can take comfort in knowing you are not alone, and that there are people working to remedy this issue.
[Susan] Elderkin [a bibliotherapist] says this is one of the most common woes of modern readers, and that it remains a major motivation for her and [Ella] Berthoud’s work as bibliotherapists. “We feel that though more books are being published than ever before, people are in fact selecting from a smaller and smaller pool. Look at the reading lists of most book clubs, and you’ll see all the same books, the ones that have been shouted about in the press. If you actually calculate how many books you read in a year— and how many that means you’re likely to read before you die— you’ll start to realize that you need to be highly selective in order to make the most of your reading time.”
Reading books that are right for you, at a pace that is right for you can positively affect your life in ways that seem completely unrelated to the act of physically reading. Today, websites like LitTherapy seek to create an online incarnation of the key ideas and methods used in bibliotherapy. Many of the sites are free, easy to navigate, and worth a try. Whether you are anxious about starting a new job, mourning the loss of a loved one, or just seeking to increase your creativity: there is most certainly a book to help you through it.
“Fridging:” What It Is and Why It Matters
Vox News – Aja Romano and Alex Abad-Santos, “‘Fridging,” one of storytelling’s most noxious tropes, explained”
Note: Spoiler Alert!! There are some spoilers for Deadpool 2 below. This being said, I would encourage you to read the article anyway because #staywoke, and the movie will still be just as entertaining. It might even be more entertaining once you possess this #woke knowledge about representation and character development in popular storytelling.
This piece ran on May 24, 2018, and can be found on Vox‘s digital news site. For those of you who know as little about comic books and superhero movies as I do, allow me to begin by clarifying that “fridging,” is not, in fact, an interior design trend. The term “fridging,” and the storytelling trope that it embodies, has been around since comic writer, Gail Simone, coined the term in the 1990s, but the debate over the term has resurfaced in recent weeks, since the release of Deadpool 2.
To jump right in: at the very beginning of the movie (like literally the first five minutes), Deadpool’s wife, Vanessa, is hit by a stray bullet and killed.
“There’s now a debate on whether Vanessa was “fridged,” a term for a comic book trope in which the girlfriend or wife of a hero dies to further said hero’s motivations and story. The trope reduces the girlfriend or wife to a plot device. They have no business existing aside from being a source of pain for the hero.”
This unfortunate plot device has made its way into storytelling, screenwriting, and comic books for decades. According to Romano and Abad-Santos’ article, the writers of Deadpool 2 (who are two men, I might add) claimed to be entirely unaware of the trope’s existence. Their lack of awareness shines a light on how the trope has made it this far in popular storytelling, and how it continues to occur even after being discovered and clearly labeled as a problem.
“[Gail] Simone named the trope after the fate of Alexandra de Witt, a murdered superhero girlfriend whose body is stuffed into a refrigerator and left for her boyfriend to find; in an infamous 1994 issue of Green Lantern. The idea of the “fridged” woman wasn’t literally about refrigerators, but encompassed a litany of female comics characters who’d been subjected to extreme violence or death.”
So yeah, “fridging” is basically the superhero movie equivalent of Disney killing off the parent(s) in nearly all of their stories. The coining of this term, and a convenient list that was created citing dozens of examples, were significant markers in an ongoing fight for fair(er) representation in popular culture.
“The term was created in 1999 to point out how lazy writers and creators can be when creating female characters. The term was one part of a bigger push for creators, writers, editors, and artists to tell richer, more rounded, and more realistic stories for women and female characters. Recognizing “fridging” changed the way audiences thought about and consumed stories and highlighted the blind spots that creators have when making their stories.”
For as meta as the Deadpool movies are intended to be, this instance of near “fridging” is a slightly embarrassing blunder on the writers’ part. I say near “fridging” because at the end of the movie Deadpool is able to turn back time and ultimately save his wife from her refrigerated fate. This near miss aside, “fridging,” like many tropes that concern representation and character development in popular culture, is a topic of debate that should not be allowed to simply fade out.
“The controversy surrounding Deadpool 2 is a reminder, especially to fans disgusted with “fridging,” that even the most progressive of superhero movies can still rely on the genre’s most frustrating tendencies — that even though representation of women should be better, it isn’t.”
Thanks for reading this week, and I’ll see you again next week.