Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It's Time to Put the Fun Back in Dysfunctional

Several years ago the New York Times ran a Sunday Magazine profile of several young and successful TV sitcom writers. They spoke of their therapy sessions, their shoes and their families.

"You can't write for television" said one comedy writer, "if you didn't grow up in a dysfunctional family."

Okay, I admit it. I love oddball families.

There were the Dowds, the extended family of Harvey the six foot rabbit. In You Can't Take it With You the Sycamores took in every misfit in town, even the wealthy son of the bigshot banker who was trying to evict them.

And of course my personal favorites, those lovable Brewster sisters of Arsenic and Old Lace who buried their problems in the basement.

Did anyone who went to the theater ever believe that these were authentic slices of American life?

Of course not. The Dowds, the Sycamores, the Brewsters were all fictional. And that's the point.

So, for anyone here with a sensitive nature or a fragile ego, cover your eyes, ears, nose and throat. What you are about to read will shock and amaze you. It may revolt you. It may even enlighten you, although I doubt it. The reason is that my conclusion is so basic and so self evident that for those that understand the concept it's as clear as crystal. For those that don't it's as dense as treakle and ten times more unpatatable.

Here goes. You have been warned.

There is no such thing as a dysfunctional family.

You read it right. There is no such thing as a dysfunctional family. It's a fiction. What we have today is a pathetic legion of dysfunctional people, aided and abetted by an army of psychologists and social workers, who have slithered out from under their beds to blame those that love them most for all their problems and difficulties.

It's nearly impossible to miss the symptoms.

Bad habits become addictions.

Anti-social behavior is defined as a public health problem.

Unpleasantness is defined as honesty and "speaking my mind."

And all personal failures are ascribed to an all-consuming but nebulous family pathology, i.e. dysfunction.

So, not only do these dysfunctional people make life a hell on Earth for family and friends, they also turn the mirror toward the wall and blame everyone around them for their own shorcomings. Worse, these losers have now reached a critical mass as the designers of the popular culture. They are eroding our objective sense of right and wrong, human and inhuman, functional and dysfunctional.

When I turn the key to start my car and hear nothing but a faint clicking sound, I can be fairly certain that my battery is dysfunctional. I don't blame the entire automobile industry for inflicting dysfunctional cars on an innocent and unsuspecting public. Then, when I notice that I had left the lights on the night before, as a relatively sentient being I blame the occasional dysfunction in my own brain rather than any defect in the battery.

Not so for the dysfunctional person.

"That battery should know that I'm imperfect. It should recognize my weaknesses. It should adjust and accomodate. It's that damn battery that doesn't understand me!"

As Elwood P. Dowd told us so eloquently, "In this life you have to be oh so clever or oh so pleasant. I decided to be oh so pleasant."

It seems that the designers of today's popular culture have decided that they want to be oh so unpleasant. Tragedy is, there's not a thing that's the least bit clever about any of it.


Tedd Benson said...

There may not be such a thing as dysfunctional families (I'll have to think more about that), but there are often dysfunctional personal outcomes arising from harsh (and very unpleasant) conditions. My brother is a psychologist who does evaluations for Colorado penal institutions and my daughter is a social worker in the Boston area. From these two relatives, I hear numerous stories about families that spawn criminals and other social and self-destructive behavior with alarming predictability. Usually, it becomes a multi-generational cycle. So what should we call this if not dysfunctional? My family, though, is not dysfunctional. we're just a bunch of weirdos.

Tedd Benson said...

About the Knicks. It must have been fun to sit close to the court where you can hear the players cursing and trash talking. The rest of us have to lip read.
I heard you guys might be generous enough to let us have Stephan Marbury. Is it possible that one guy could bring down two franchises? I hope the Celts decide not to give him a shot at it.

Joseph Martini said...

Yes, I'm sure that dysfunctional families do exist but hyperbole is in my DNA. I'm using the definition that's been foisted upon us by the purveyors of pop culture.

I do so hope that Stephon finds a home in Boston. There's nothing too horrible that can happen to the Celtics and their fans. I interviewed Red Auerbach back in 1989. I can certify that he was as disagreeable in private as he was in public.

Here in NYC we've been burdened with Stephon since his high school days. My niece was a cheerleader at Lincoln and knew him well.

Years ago a departing member of the Timberwolves commented that no NBA team would ever compete for a championship with Marbury as point guard.

Stephon has proven that statement correct.

The Knicks players were as pleasant and courteous as they could be. No profanities. No rude outbursts. Unfortunately no ability either.

Tedd Benson said...

Are you gloating about the Knicks pummeling of the Celtics?

Joseph Martini said...

I never gloat, especially when the Knicks championship banners hanging from the Garden rafters are yellowed with age.

And it was hardly a pummeling. They led 91-86 with about 3 minutes remaining. That's when the Celtics decided to do a Vulcan Hoops Mind Meld with their opponents.

Scoreless in the closing minutes?

I thought the Knicks owned that franchise.