Thursday, July 21, 2011

It's Elementary: Spotting Characters with Asperger's Syndrome in Popular Culture

I just started reading The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by Michael Dibdin, a pastiche of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous works, and a short phrase near the beginning caught my interest - Watson refers to Holmes’s cold-hearted rationale. This made me think of the character Temperance Brennan on the TV show Bones, who could sometimes be described in the same way. From there my brain immediately jumped to, does Sherlock Holmes have Asperger’s syndrome?

Some other things about Holmes’s behavior suddenly clicked and I could not stop thinking of Holmes as having Asperger’s. I googled “Sherlock Holmes + Asperger’s” and came up with more than half a million results, so I’m guessing I’m not the only one who’s had this theory! One person even came to this conclusion from the recent Sherlock Holmes movie, although I have to admit it didn’t occur to me when viewing the movie (even after a second viewing, which was necessary after an unfortunate technical error meant the movie theater I saw it in the first time was unable to play the last 10-15 minutes of the movie).

One of these Google results linked to an article from The New York Times, in which it is tossed around that Sherlock Holmes might be bipolar (while I can see where this theory comes from, I find this diagnosis less likely) or have Asperger’s syndrome. An interesting point to me was the final sentence of the article: “…clearly Holmes’s peculiarities have a persistent appeal. Just look at Temperance Brennan of “Bones,” Adrian Monk of “Monk,” and, of course, Gregory House of “House,” who exhibit at least a few Asperger-like symptoms and owe much to Sherlock Holmes.”

As I mentioned above, Brennan from Bones came to mind immediately in comparison with Sherlock Holmes. And while Monk’s creators had Sherlock Holmes’s methods of observation in mind for their beloved character, I think Adrian’s battles with OCD and a myriad of phobias are enough and he doesn’t need another diagnosis. (I’ve never thought of him as having Asperger’s anyway and still don’t think of it now even with prompting.) I never watched House so I don’t know about its eponymous character’s display or lack of Asperger-like symptoms.

The article, however, missed two other characters in pop culture today who clearly display Asperger-like tendencies even if they are not explicitly labeled as having Asperger’s – Sheldon from Big Bang Theory (again, I haven’t viewed this show myself but I’ve heard this explanation of Sheldon enough to feel comfortable repeating it) and Dr. Spencer Reid on Criminal Minds, who is one of my favorite TV characters on the air today. Reid, who arguably can read a lot more body language, nuance, etc. than he should be able to if he actually had Asperger’s, has a way of adding charming humor to an otherwise dark show. (Don’t get me wrong, I like Criminal Minds, but it can be incredibly intense at times and needs a ray of sunshine, no matter how weak). Just take some of Reid’s contributions to conversations otherwise all about crime:

Reid: How about pharmaceuticals? No one gets therapy these days without a healthy dose of medication.

Garcia: What are you implying Reid?

Reid: That everyone is medicated.

Garcia: Did you just make a joke?

Reid: No, I mean, statistics, they show that…

Garcia: Reid, next time, just say yes.

Reid: Statistically, 94% of all serial arsonists are male, 75% are white and few, if any, are ever caught.
Prentiss: Few? You don’t have a percentage?
Reid: 16%. Those 16% set 30 plus fires before they’re ever apprehended. I’m trying to be more conversational.
Prentiss: Oh. It’s not working.

Hotchner: Well, define love.

Reid: Chemically, it involves surging brain elements called monoamines, dopamines, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Love chemicals controlled by phenethylamine, also found in-

Prentiss: Chocolate. I love chocolate.

Reid [excited]: Peas, too! It’s also found in peas!

In line with The New York Times writer’s assertion about the “persistent appeal” of the “peculiarities” of Asperger-like symptoms, I had been interested to see when had a “favorite smarty-pants” contest late last year, in the top three were Brennan from Bones and Reid from Criminal Minds. Sheldon from Big Bang Theory and House from House were also on the list. Though Abby Sciuto from NCIS ultimately won, the contest certainly said something about the ability of Asperger’s characters to hold the interest of audiences. So much for their lack of social skills!

TV also introduced an acknowledged Asperger’s character with young Max Braverman in last year’s new show Parenthood. The show has been hailed as an honest look at a family’s struggles of dealing with an Asperger’s diagnosis. Try as I might, this show held no interest for me (for a variety of reasons, not particularly the presence or absence of a storyline involving Asperger’s), although I do think that assessment rings true from the few episodes I watched early on in the first season.

And the big screen also had an acknowledged Asperger’s character with the 2009 film Adam. While I had some problems with this movie, Hugh Dancy’s portrayal of a character with Asperger’s was not one of them, and the film gave audiences a fair amount of factual information about Asperger’s syndrome without being overly didactic. Of course, it seems like the kind of movie that would appeal to people who already had some knowledge on the topic, so that’s a bit of a drawback.

It’s late and I’m not sure that my rambling makes sense to anyone besides me, so I think it’s time for me to sign off on this post.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Zimmerli Art Museum: A Tardis Treasure Trove

Yesterday my niece and I took a trip to the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum. It was a first time visit for my niece and easily the 20th time I’ve been there. After having been there so many times, I usually just drop by for special events or new exhibits. Because of this, I’ve forgotten just how many great works of art are on display there. My niece and I did the quick fly by for most things (we were in and out of the museum in about 40 minutes so most things got a really quick passing by) and spent a bit more time on two newer exhibits – Popcorn & Starbaby: Children’s Book Illustrations by Frank Asch and Cast Me Not Away: Soviet Photograph in the 1980s. I enjoyed the range of everyday life photos on display in the Cast Me Not Away exhibit; the children’s book illustrations were not as exciting as some others I’ve seen there (most notably, the amazing cut paper illustrations by Takayo Noda that need to be seen in 3D to truly appreciate them and the special event where author Mary Shaw and illustrator Sue Agin explained how they came to develop the concept for and publish their children’s book Pierre & Sophia). The two Frank Asch books presented were cute little stories, but I didn’t really see any added benefit of seeing the illustrations framed and hung on a wall rather than just being viewed in the pages of the book. Maybe it’s just me.

Here are my niece’s thoughts on the trip:

Well, since she’s a baby, she can’t really say. So here’s what I inferred from her reactions:

- The children’s book illustrations exhibit did not excite her too much either, which is a bit funny considering this exhibit was the reason I took her to the museum. She spent a good deal of the time watching me reading the story to her instead of looking at the illustrations at all. Toward the end she got a bit fussy as if done with this room. Then I sat her down a stool where the museum staff had a few coloring/drawing pages set out related to the books. She was very excited to scrunch up a piece a paper in one hand and hold a colored pencil in the other one. (She has a very good grip on crayons/colored pencils/etc. but isn’t really interested when I try to show how to color.)

- She wasn’t very interested the Cast Me Not Away exhibit either. She didn’t really look at the photos much but instead looked down on the floor in that room as though she wanted to crawl around on it. (Not that I let her!)

- However, she did like: the stained glass pieces found in a small corridor; sculpture in the European art section (the Figaro sculpture was particularly interesting); Pre-Colombian ceramics (having seen these many times, I was going to walk right past them but she turned her head this way and that to look at them all so I slowed down so she could take them in); a video on spindle fires in the Estonian art exhibit (I had only stayed for a moment on this one and started to walk away but she gave her I’m-not-a-happy-baby-with-that-decision grunt, so we went back and watched the whole thing); and any room with high ceilings and lots of lights that she could look up at in wonder. Well, with that last one, I examined some of the architecture of the building that I never noticed before in all the times I had been there. Understandably, as a baby, she was much more interested in anything that was more three-dimensional than flat. But, overall, she seemed quite interested in the museum and gave me a look that seemed to say, where on earth did you bring me?

As I noted earlier, this was by no means the first trip I’ve taken to Zimmerli. Just last month, a friend and I stopped by briefly for the current exhibit Jolan Gross-Bettelheim: An American Printmaker in an Age of Progress. Prior to our visit, Deb had found this review from The New York Times, which gives a pretty good overview of the exhibit as well as some questions to consider. We both liked that the exhibit was set up chronologically so that the viewer could easily see the artist’s progress over the years, especially as she re-visited themes or similar visuals. However, we both thought it would have been helpful if the exhibit had explained a bit more on the technical details, such as the difference between lithograph and drypoint prints. (For the record, here’s the Wikipedia articles on both: Lithography and Drypoint.) Personally, I liked that the prints very much had the feel of Works Progress Era art.

While we were there, we also stopped in another current exhibit, A View of Caring: Johnson & Johnson/International Center of Photography Fellowship Exhibition. While this marries two things near my heart (social justice and fine arts), we both felt it functioned as a giant advertising scheme for Johnson & Johnson. That’s not to say there weren’t some fantastic photographs included in the exhibit (such as the one of Irish school children playing seen in the link above), but it just seemed a bit odd and out of place.

We also made a short trip into the museum store where I noticed that one of my favorite professor’s in graduate school has a book out (Visible Writings: Cultures, Forms, Readings), which sounds interesting. I also stumbled upon a notecard print of a painting by James Tissot that I found appealing. I had never heard of Tissot before so I looked him when I came home and found that he has a wealth of beautiful paintings. (Check out the gallery of his works found here.) Here is the painting that called out to me at the store:

Source: Wikimedia Commons

For some reason I can’t quite recall, I mentioned to Deb another special exhibit I had seen at the Zimmerli museum some time ago – Lalla Essaydi: Les Femmes du Maroc. This was such a great exhibit that I felt the need to mention it here as well. If you ever get a chance to see Ms. Essaydi’s works, I recommend it without hesitation. Granted, they are probably more interesting to those with a bit of an art history background, but they are so good that I would recommend them for anyone. (Plus, to be honest, I don’t have that much of an art history background, and I could enjoy them wholeheartedly!)

I could go on and on about exciting and interesting exhibits I’ve seen at the Zimmerli Art Museum, but I’ll end with one last event that I went to a few months ago. The first Wednesday of every month (excepting August when the museum is closed), Zimmerli hosts “Art After Hours,” an event in which the museum stays open late and offers a myriad of art-related activities. In the past, I have been to Art After Hours events featuring children’s illustrators speaking on their craft; the viewing of avant garde films; open-mic poetry; and so on. The Art After Hours that I most recently attended was a night dedicated to Estonian art. It began with a curator-led tour of the current exhibit Mystics and Moderns: Painting in Estonia before Glasnost, moved on to a violin/cello/piano concert of Estonian music, and ended with a viewing of the documentary film, The Singing Revolution. If you can find it, definitely check out this film. (It is supposed to be airing on PBS some time this year.) It was excellently done with a can’t-be-beat true story at the heart of it. Chances are good that you’ll walk away having learned something from it. If not, at the very least, you’ll walk away being inspired by it.

It probably goes without saying at this point, but here goes. If you ever find yourself in the New Brunswick area looking for something to do, I’m highly recommending that you stop by the Zimmerli Art Museum for a visit.

Monday, July 4, 2011

An Odd Coincidence

Just the other day I stumbled upon this video from Feminist Frequency: Women’s Stories, Movies and the Oscars.

I always find the Feminist Frequency videos interesting, not because they tell me something I don’t already know, but because of the way they present the information. Sure, I know that Hollywood is male-dominated; but when you see 50 years of “best picture” winners in a row and only a handful of female-centered ones, it really hits home.

(While this next bit seems unrelated, it’ll all come together in the end…wait and see.)

Today I picked up on a scrapbooking project I had previously started (in 2008!) If I’m scrapbooking alone, I always like to have TV or a movie on in the background, although it either has to be something I’m not terribly interested in or something I’ve seen numerous times so that I keep my concentration on the project at hand. Today, I went with tried-and-true movies as my background. On the table were Waitress, The Jane Austen Book Club, and Persuasion. Two others that I considered but ultimately nixed (and did not need in the end for I was done with my project) were Persepolis and Sense and Sensibility. These movies cover widely different locales and time periods but there is one thing they all have in common – they are all women’s stories. (See, I told you it would all come around!) I did not plan this – indeed, I did not even realize it until mid-way through Persuasion. So, if you ever find yourself frustrated with male-centered movies, you might want to try one of these on for size.


Pregnant and living with an abusive husband, pie diner waitress Jenna dreams of winning a pie-baking contest and earning enough money to leave her husband.

- Related to my earlier post on food-related movies, this one makes you hunger for some of Jenna’s unique and interestingly-named pies. Ned’s pies at The Pie Hole, while appetizing, don’t hold a candle.
- One thing that always gets me wondering about this movie – does anyone know where it is supposed to be located? The town seems rural and the residents’ accents sound Southern, but I don’t think the locale is ever named. The only state I know they aren’t in is Connecticut, as that’s where Dr. Pomatter has relocated from at the beginning of the film.

The Jane Austen Book Club

Five women and one man deal with the ups and downs of life and love as they meet each month to discuss the six major novels of Jane Austen.


At age 19, Anne Eliot was talked out marrying Captain Wentworth because he had neither title nor fortune equivalent to her family’s. Eight years later, Captain Wentworth has returned from war prosperous with Anne still in love with him. But Captain Wentworth’s affections now seem to lie elsewhere.


This autobiographical tale, told here as an animated film, covers Marjane Satrapi’s life growing up in Tehran during the Iranian Revolution and its aftermath.

Sense and Sensibility

After their father’s death, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood are left in a precarious financial state and are forced to remove to the countryside. There, both deal with loss and love in their own way – Elinor with a practical outlook and Marianne all emotion and impulsivity.

The Feminist Frequency video notes that male-centered stories overshadow women’s stories because men dominate the movie-making process. It’s worth noting then that Waitress was directed by a woman and the other four movies are all based on books with female authors.