Sunday, July 02, 2006

Battle of the Wits

When Stacy brought Mark into House's picture, the odds of snarky, bantering confrontations appearing on the show hit the roof. Stick any ex-boyfriend and husband in a room and light up those Fourth of July fireworks. Given that Mark was irritable after surgery and House was not yet in a forgiving mood, their confrontations promised to be interesting.

In "Spin," House and Wilson are mulling over Mark's recouperations when he enters the cafeteria, Stacy pushing him along in a wheelchair. The annoyed displeasure practically seeps from House's face. Wilson's attempts to downplay the chance meeting do nothing to level out House, who is bent on stirring up sarcasm-laden trouble.

He and Mark exchange some double entendres and snide remarks before Stacy finally cuts in.

Stacy: "My goodness, it's like watching Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward in the third grade!"

That's saying something. Stacy obviously knows her literature. But how well does the comparison hold up?

Oscar Wilde (1854--1900)

He was one of the rare writers who actually gained ridiculous fame while living. In today's world, he'd be like a Stephen King, only a lot less macabre, and an avid entertainer. Maybe Howard Stern is a better comparison. (Though while Wilde was similarly candid and controversial, he was less coarse.) Comparisons are tough in this case. There was only one Oscar Wilde.

At any rate, instead of opening up the pages of "People" and checking out what Ashton Kucher or ahem-ahem Hugh Laurie was doing this past weekend, it would be Oscar Wilde you'd find photos of out on the town, velvet purple coat and all.

Wilde was born in Dublin but moved permanently to England when he left to attend Oxford. Not only did he excel in class, but he carved out a dramatic, flamboyant personality for himself as well. He was known as a life of the party, incredibly witty with a sharp and humorous tongue.

His dabbles in poetry failed to win much of an audience. It was through his well-noted plays (for instance, The Importance of Being Earnest in 1895) and novels (particularly The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1891) that he earned his notoriety.

He was very much involved with the aesthetic movement, which emphasized beauty and attractiveness in one's physical surroundings. Though "Wilde was a moralist, , in a school where Blake, Nietzsche, and even Freud were his fellows," (Oscar Wilde, by Richard Ellmann), he was not concerned with worldly interpretations or condemnations of his actions. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, one of his characters famously quip, "The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame. That is all."

Besides that, his lifestyle also gained much attention--infamously. Homosexual in an era that was anything but accepting, he was found guilty of indecent behavior and sentenced to two years in prison, where he stayed until 1897. Unfortunately, his health turned for the worse while incarcerated and he died not long after, some historians suspect of syphilis.

Stay tuned for a review on the life and works of Noel Coward, and a closer look at how House and Mark compare to these two literary geniuses.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Curtain Calls

It's not just House who has his share of knowledgeable references. Wilson, if one pays attention, has a tendency to drop a few literary ones now and then. Some of these are also noteworthy, given that actor Robert Sean Leonard is perhaps best recognized for his work on the theatrical stage, not in front of the camera.

Sonnets and Poetry

In the second season, it's Wilson who quips--during a cafeteria consult with House--"So, it's TB but not TB?", giving the title for the episode as well as a Shakespearean reference. (Leonard also has played the role of Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing.)

The actual line, "To be, or not to be, that is the question," is the introduction to one of the most famous lines in Hamlet. In the monologue, young Prince Hamlet contemplates suicide, but ultimately decides that the "dread of something after death" is unknown and not worth the risk; he'd rather "suffer the slings and arrows" of the living life.

A scene in "Poison" also brings back recollections of Leonard's role as a young, prep school student striving to be an actor in the classic film Dead Poets Society. House is greeted with Wilson reciting poetry, albeit poetry written by an 82-year-old clinic patient with a strain of syphilis that's upped her libido:

Wilson: [reading] “The healer with his magic powers… I could rub his gentle brow for hours… His manly chest, his stubble jaw, everything about him leaves me raw.... with joy. Oh House, you're very name, will never leave this girl the same."

Seems David Shore feels like giving Leonard some time under the stage lights occasionally. :)

Theatrical References

Maybe viewers can start assuming Wilson, like Leonard, has a love for the stage...or, at least, somet tickets to Broadway shows. In "Poison," House, the interns, and Wilson are reviewing what treatment needs to be distributed to two sick teenage boys. While one set of parents are willing to go with the diagnosis, the other mother is too skeptical of House's judgment to give permission to treat her son.

Chase: "...Matt’s mom won’t do anything until she gets that opinion from the CDC."
Wilson: "Godot would be faster…"

It's a half-murmured statement most viewers probably negligently tossed to the side. I didn't catch it either until I watched the episode for practically the fifth time.

So who's "Godot" and why is he so slow?

Wilson was referring to a three-act, French play entitled "Waiting for Godot," by Samuel Beckett. In it, two tramps wait aimlessly by a dying tree for someone named M. Godot. They are visited by a master and slave, who appear like vaudeville characters (Beckett was very influenced by Charlie Chapman), and yet while these new performers add some grotesque comedy to the skit, there still is a sense of pervading uselessness about the waiting.

Eventually, a young boy stops by and tells them that Godot will not be coming, but he should arrive tomorrow. As if to emphasize the pointlessness, the tramps say to one another, "Shall we go?" "Yes, let's go." Yet neither one moves as the curtains close and the play ends.

It has been debated who this mysterious M. Godot could be. Many literary critics claim that the character symbolizes God. Others believe that Beckett combined the names God and Charlot, which the French often use for Charlie Chapman. Of course, when author Beckett was asked this question directly, he replied, "If I knew, I would have said so in the play."

There you have it. Vagueness from the author himself. Good thing the writing in "House" is a bit clearer, though it is layered in references if one pays close attention.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Seven Deadly Sins

For someone skeptical of religious belief, House sure seems well-versed in its details. One final look at "Damned if You Do" brings up the infamous Seven Deadly Sins. House accuses Sister Eucharist of committing the slew of them, but with a closer look, the characters in House are just as guilty of the sins as well.

The Seven Deadly Sins were first recorded in Moralia of Job, by Pope Gregory the Great, who died in 604 AD. In its original Latin, they are:

Superbia – Pride
Invidia – Envy
Ira – Anger
Avaritia – Avarice (jealousy)
Tristia – Sadness
Gula – Gluttony
Luxuria – Lust

(In later years, Accidia--or Sloth--replaced Sadness.)

How does this relate to specific characters of the show? Let us ponder the intricacies...

Obviously, House is most guilty of this one. His steadfast determination to diagnosis patients is often a double-edged sword: He's convinced in the correctness of his reasoning so much that he'll shun histories, lab results, and people's opinions in order to justify his own position. He does this in "Damned if You Do" when he's accused of giving Sister Augustine a wrong dosage; in “All In,” he insists the young patient has Erdheim-Chester’s disease, hanging his suspicions merely on the death of a woman 12 years ago. The list is endless. He gets away with it though—most often times, he’s miraculously right. This is either medical genius or brilliant screenplay writing. I say, chalk up the points for both House and David Shore.

House again. Three words: Mark and Stacy. I think that says it all.

Everyone has their outbursts from time to time. Being perpetually angry, or miserable, though, is more likely to constitute as a sin. When House goes off Vicodin in "Detox," the confrontational scene with Wilson at the end of the episode was both defensive and boiling over with pent-up frustration.

Avarice (jealousy).
Jealousy is slightly more hostile than envy is, and usually involves action rather than just a mere observance of wanting something someone else has. House in Baltimore with Stacy could be viewed as a reaction to his jealousy.

This may be the one that doesn't fit. House is too busy thinking all the time to slack off, and he makes sure the ducklings keep working, too.

There's really no emphasis on this that pertains to one character or another. The only parallel I can draw is slightly funny: Wilson labels his food and House still eats it. I could, of course, pick on Ed ("the name is Edward") Vogler, but I've learned to hate him less now that he's not tormented anyone in the second season. So we'll let him and his $100 million dollars go...for now.

Again, this is applicable to House--but maybe more so towards Wilson. In "Fideltity, there's this classic exchange:

House to Wilson: You loved all your wives. Probably still do. In fact, you probably love all the women you loved who weren’t your wife .

But of course, the oncologist means it, which--as House points out, is "part of your charm."

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Sharp Tongue

There's nothing like some good old fashioned philosophy to get the ball rolling in an episode. In the first season of House, the writers must have jumped on some of the most common: "Damned if You Do," "The Socratic Method," and "Occam's Razor," for instance. All three have been floating around in society for thousands of years, which in itself indicates that their principles are still applicable.

Since I mentioned "Damned if You Do" in previous posts, I'm going to focus on the last two.

The Socratic Method is a technique House uses regularly throughout the show. Lawyers have come to perfect this skill in cross-examination, too. Basically, it consists of asking a series of questions to an opponent, until said opponent contradicts himself. It's a way to prompt the opponent into admitting his own fault, even while he is trying to defend himself.

House wringing confessions out of patients is typically littered with the Socratic Method. Even Wilson does a bit of it, particuarly in "House vs. God," when trying to talk the reluctant patient into surgery:

Wilson: Do you think God wants you to die?

Walter (boy's father): This is the way the Lord often is with his chosen ones. He, he, gives the most trials to those that he loves the most...

Wilson: So you believe is, um, a saint. The way I understand it, one of the
hallmarks of a saint is humility. Someone with true humility would consider
the possibility that God hadn't chosen him for that kind of honor. He'd
consider the possibility that he just had an illness.

Consequently, both father and son see the faultiness of their argument and commit to the surgery.

Now, Occam's Razor (also known as Ockham's Razor) is a bit different. The writers of House can thank a 14th century English philosopher/friar for this handy little saying, in Latin:

entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem,

and for all of us living the 21st century:

entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.

Whittled down to the point, Occam's Razor states that the simplest answer is more that often the correct one:

Chase: ...Two conditions, contracted simultaneously?

Foreman: Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation is always the best.

House: And you think one is simpler than two.

Cameron: Pretty sure it is, yeah.

Of course, that would be too easy for House, wouldn't it?:

House: Why is one simpler than two? It’s lower, lonelier… is it simpler? Each one of these conditions is about a thousand to one shot. That means that any two of them happening at the same time is a million to one shot. Chase says that cardiac infection is a 10 million to one shot, which makes my idea 10 times better than yours. Get a calculator, run the numbers.

What House needs to do is forget about submitting articles for medical journals. Just publish a book on his House-isms and the world would be a better place. More often than not, it seems that his wit is sharper than Occam's Razor, anyway.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Coming Full Circle

One of the most famous pieces of literature in history is The Divine Comedy, a lengthy work written by Italian poet/author Dante Alighieri. The actual story was used to cryptically promote Christianity at a time (late 1200s, early 1300s) when persecution still threatened to dissolve the controversial faith.

Dante originally titled his work Commedia, an Italian word indicating "happy ending," unlike the tragedies that were popular in those days as well. A friend added the word Divinia to it so as to elaborate more on the premise of the story.

So what is the story's premise? In a nutshell, it combines Biblical texts as well as works from Virgil, Cicero, and Aristole to derive his view of the afterlife. Dante, the main character in the story, takes a tumultuous journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, or Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, respectively. He's led by two different "tour guides": one is the clear-thinking Virgil, and the other is Beatrice, who--in real life--was Dante's secret lover. She takes him through Heaven, thus becoming a symbol of love and God's grace.

All right, enough background. What exactly were House and Wilson getting at then when they mentioned "circles of Hell"?

The first section of The Divine Comedy consists of Dante's journey south, way down south, as he encounters the land of eternal condemnation and witnesses the troubled conditions of unsaved souls. There are Seven Circles, each for different levels of sins:

1st Circle: Limbo. Here, good people who were not baptized must spend the rest of their lives. Although they never accepted Christ, they are not persecuted here like some other levels will be. Dante mentions a castle and sprawling fields, so it's not a place of pain--only a place distant from God and true happiness.

2nd Circle: Lust. It's interesting that Dante put this group here, still relatively far from the gruesome conditions that Hell eventually gets to. Apparently, he wanted to continue to love Beatrice without condemning himself in written-form to a particularly low level of punishment.

3rd Circle: Gluttons. Forced to live as pigs, these sinners must forever lie in the mud and bear the horrific weather conditions.

4th Circle: Materialism. All those who valued materialistic items more than the treasure of God's salvation must stay here. This is what House refers to when he says "useless labor." Two groups--the Hoarders and the Wasters--would surge towards one another while being tied to enormous weights, over and over again, without ceasing. Yes. Just like clinic filing.

5th Circle: Anger. Again, this group is broken up into two sections: The Wrathful continue to fight in the swamp while the Sullen are trapped under the water of the River Styx, the stream that leads to the depth of Hell.

6th Circle: Hereticts. For a lifetime of blasphemy, they're now restricted to occupying fiery tombs.

7th Circle: Violence. This also is eparated to three groups: First, the people who were destructive to other people and property occupy the Outer Ring, which is bubbling with blood. Second, suicidal people are forced to take the form of thorn trees in the Middle Ring. Finally, those who acted negatively toward God, art, or nature must live with fiery sand and flames from the sky.

Whew, that's a lot of circles. Seems like House went easy on himself when he picked out the 4th one--useless labor is like a vacation compared to the later circles!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Nietzche and Nuns

House isn't the only one name-dropping famous thinkers. In "Fidelity," Chase and Foreman mention Nietzche while tending to a patient, which brings the philologist into light. Some interesting parallels also arise with Nietzche's thoughts and comments made in "Damned If You Do," a slightly earlier episode from the first season.

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844--1900) was a bit broader on his theories compared to Freud, who typically focused on the negative. German-born Nietzche explored cultural, theological, and social avenues along his road of philosophical fame. Foreman noted one of his most quotable observations: "That which doesn't kill me makes me stronger."

"There are no facts," warns Nietzche in Nachlass, "only interpretations."

Segway into "Damned If You Do." The episode with the afflicted nun brought up the argument of experience-vs.-faith, which is almost just as prevalent as the age-old nature-vs.-nurture battle. Does the environment shape us, or is there some unseen, innate element that ultimately defines who we are the decisions we make?

House, the archetypal control freak, obviously shuns the religious notion. In "House vs. God," he rambles off a fervent monologue to Wilson saying how faith gives people an excuse to lament about their holes that they've dug for themselves. "Climb out of your holes!" he calls out.

Wilson, later, makes an astute point regarding House and his lack of belief:

"...That's why religious belief annoys you. Because if the universe operates by abstract rules you can learn them, you can protect yourself. If a supreme being exists He can squash you anytime He wants."

Regardless, House keeps his stance against a higher order. Ultimately, if faith can't be trusted, confidence is turned inward at oneself in the realm of control.

In fact, House would probably coincide with Nietzche's point that he makes in his work Daybreak: "Just beyond experience!-- Even great spirits have only their five fingers breadth of experience - just beyond it their thinking ceases and their endless empty space and stupidity begins."

Ah, yes, and we're back to "everybody lies," patients are stupid, and you can only trust your experiences.

Of course, why drop in subtle relationships between great thinkers when you can blatantly mention great writers? "Damned If You Do" does a decent job at the latter, particularly in the opening scene.

So, up next time: An in-depth look at what exactly House and Wilson were griping about when they compared clinic charting to being "condemned to useless labor."

House: "Writing down what we already know to be read by nobody. Pretty sure Dante would agree that qualifies as useless."

Monday, May 15, 2006

According to Freud...

Perhaps the most widely known psychologist in history--and the most-mentioned one in "House"--Sigmund Freud seems like a good place to start.

Like House, Freud (1856--1939) was an off-beat character whose opinions greatly ruffled the general public around him. His meticulous psychological study of disturbed individuals led him to develop countless thereoms concerning human behavior, such as the unconscious and his famous id, ego, and superego. Nothing was off limits--including sex, an incredibly controversial topic that was simply not discussed during his time.

While Freud's theories are incredibly too vast to cover, let's take a look at how some of his points come into play on "House":

In "Love Hurts," House and Cameron endure an awkward dinner date. Cutting straight to the point, Cameron brings up Freud, who hypothesized that a person who can't control something will act negatively toward that object, "like an eighth grade boy punching a girl." This, formally known as the "Reaction Formation," is one of Freud's eight Defense Mechanisms. The other seven are also apparent in House's behavior to various people throughout episodes:

1.) Rationalization: Making up acceptable excuses

Two words: Clinic. Duty. Cuddy could make a list of House's evasive techniques with this one.

2.) Repression: Pushing disturbing thoughts/memories out of one's mind without realizing it

3.) Denial: Refusal to accept a reality that makes one feel anxious

This was also the focus of one episode, the five stages of acceptance.

4.) Projection: Throwing inner feelings outside of oneself and assigning them to others.

House does this a lot with Wilson, finding it easier to poke and prod at his friend's weaknesses (particularly in the love department) rather than fess up to his own.

5.) Reaction Formation

6.) Regression: Returning to earier and less mature behavior.

Just a thought... But yo-yos? GameBoys? Tossing around that ball in the office? There's something comforting in the simple joys, especially when they can district you.

7.) Displacement: When one can't take anger out on the source of frustrations, one takes it out on a less powerful person.

House had a opportunity to do this with Vogler, though instead of avoiding confrontation he just messed up the speech. (Bravo, for facing the antagonist, House! Freud would be proud.) He does, however, act more than particularly angsty to everyone as the Stacey issue begins to escalate early in Season Two:

House: Listen, none of this has anything to do with Stacy.
Wilson: Right, giant coincidence that you've gone completely off the rails since she left; inducing migraines, increased leg pain-
House: [whacks Wilson's shin with his cane]
Wilson: Ow!
House: Aw, you miss Stacy too?

Great scene, and great example of Defense Mechanism No. 7.

8.) Sublimation: Redirecting a forbidden desire into a socially acceptable desire.

Take "Honeymoon" for example. House confesses to Wilson over a drink the hard time he's having with treating Stacey's husband. He could conveniently make a medical mistake and poof, Mark's out of the picture. But instead he suppresses the urge to rid the picture of his rival and instead uses it as motivation to one-up him in Stacey's eyes by finding a cure for his mysterious ailment.

(One more interesting tidbit: Freud was infamously known to smoke 25-30 cigars every day, a habit that eventually led to a painful cancer of the mouth. Just thought it was a nice parallel with House smoking the stogie during "All In.")

More to come; in the parade of great thinkers, philologist Nietzche will be next on the list. So, with a thought to ponder:
From "Fidelity":
“What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” –Foreman
“Nietzsche wouldn’t be so glib…” –Chase

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Welcome, Nakanna - from the editors of House MD Guide

We are looking forward to your listing of the odd knowledge that House is constantly pulling out of his head: like how long it takes a rattlesnake to get back a certain amount of venom, the Inuit, names of cacti, etc. One wonders where he picks up this odd knowlege. He must have a perfect memory to remember what he has run into.