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.