garbonza

Archive for the ‘psychology/psychiatry’ Category

New Zealand General Election: A Victory for… What?

In civics, ideology, philosophy, politics, psychology/psychiatry, sociology on September 23, 2014 at 1:07 am

There are some measurable reversals in the state of this nation. So, instead it is simpler to talk about —

A LIST OF DEFEATS:

* Democracy defeated: The winning party received 48.1% of the votes cast and has 100% of the power in what purports to be a proportional representation system. Under NZ’s one-house parliamentary system there are no checks and balances on the ruling party’s ideology, freed to pass legislation at will.

* Open and fair government defeated: The ruling party has over the past three elections bedded in two sleeping partners — single candidates in electorate seats — giving them strategic “accommodations”, which works to cement its place in untrammelled power though together the allies receive less than 1% of the vote nationally. One ally is regularly rewarded with a seat in Cabinet, his “mandate” from a total of 4,500 party votes nationwide (approximately one out of every 600 votes cast by electors).

MAXIMISING THE CHARM OFFENSIVE: maybe a Sarah Palin lookalike candidate for NZ's next election (by Spauldron)

MAXIMISING THE CHARM OFFENSIVE: maybe a Sarah Palin lookalike candidate for NZ’s next election (by Spauldron)

* Parliamentary government defeated: The election every three years has more and more become NZ’s presidential race, with media coverage of actual policies shrunk to almost zero this time. The question of who is the more photogenic candidate is at a premium. This might be fine if NZ had a president, which it now has in all but name — exercising power by casual consensus of his cronies. The issue of the challenger’s “double chin” is right up there in public debate with Joan Rivers’ enlightened comments on Obama’s ears. Though slightly the worst off in tv debates to his challenger, the encumbent undoubtedly won in the charm/smarm stakes.

Homes and work? Two issues that might have been discussed but weren't.

Homes and work? Two issues that might have been discussed but weren’t.

* People Power defeated: The Silent Majority rules in New Zealand. It is a truism that many Kiwis only under duress will admit to voting for the National Party — as in “I have a confession to make”, obviously realising they have something to feel ashamed about. It is a question how many individuals do vote for National openly and for motives other than perceived (though usually mistaken) naked self-interest. The vote of the Left Wing — usually held to be the conscience of a country — collapsed, the Labour Party receiving 24.7% of the vote, half that of their Right Wing rivals. Its mistake was apparently to put forward a cogent, well argued, academically rigorous platform of policies to address a number of increasingly urgent problems and inequities that are overripening, just begging for a backlash by the aggrieved. The “Trickle Down” theory — itself a cynical lie — continues unabated after thirty years in place so far. The Internet-Mana Party coalition, supposedly the vanguard of a legitimate left wing, was left to languish on 1.3%, irredeemably tainted by teaming up with an opportunistic internet criminal who bought it off to the tune of $3.5 million in campaign funding (only equalled by the personally wealthy Conservative Party leader), effectively ejecting a strong voice for young, poverty-stricken Maoridom out of Parliament. Ultimately symptomatic of an old British colony, it is extremely bad form to set yourself up as a judge in any field at all no matter how well informed (“experts” are absolutely taboo). So, high-profile activists such as tv actresses Lucy Lawless and Robyn Malcolm protesting against dodgy environmental practices are likely to have contributed to a reaction against what was expected to be a record Green Party vote this election, resulting in an actual decline to 10%. (This is in marked contrast to the public fawning directed at fat-cat movie producer Peter Jackson, instrumental in capping pay and conditions for local performers and accruing massive tax concessions for himself — banking another couple hundred million for him and his screenwriter-wife after every new movie.)

* Idealism defeated: This is a debatable one, since the word idealism has been a dirty one in the ruling Kiwi mythology for generations now. The Kiwi worldview comes from a combination of white Anglo Saxon pioneering stock and hunter-warrior Maori ideology. Both founding cultures are pragmatic to the ultimate, with grand gestures to selflessness today seemingly reserved for sports heroes on the rugby field and netball court. The thought that if you don’t aim for an ideal in government then you’re not likely to come anywhere near it doesn’t even occur. Politicians are known to be untrustworthy, so it is best to pick the one that is most successful at pure politics; i.e. manoeuvring, manipulatiing, spinning, twisting, evading… the whole skill set for running a country. A few years ago a 50,000-strong Maori march on Wellington (equivalent to a million in New York City) was greeted with the rejoinder from the prime minister that the other four and a half million people in the country must be on his side: a cynical rationalisation trotted out regularly now, accepted by a bulk of the population — to the point of discouraging any initiative to protest at all.

* Resistance to unbridled capitalism defeated: Public opinion surveys have for many years rejected more sales of public assets, to the degree of a 90%-plus “No”. While the wider public knows very well it is being sold down the river to those cronies of a right-wing government who can afford to invest in shares, they will not vote accordingly — resulting in inevitable crowing from the government that opponents of wholesale private enterprise would have if they really cared, and encouraging them further in their hubris to sell more. The prime minister, probably the most popular man, woman or beast in the country, has become a role model across classes and age groups — especially for the effortless way he accumulated his fortune estimated at between $50 and $80 million (it’s just vulgar to count the zeroes once you get past a certain point): by using his position as a stock broker to trade internationally in currencies and share manipulations. He’s looking forward to hosting Obama and other world leaders in a nice round of golf here in NZ, and his supporters are thrilling to the status this will bring the country — confirming his people as slobbering, salivating lickspittle pawns in the globalism game waiting for crumbs from the table.

* Environmentalism and Public Transport defeated: While billions of dollars continue to be spent annually on expanding the motorway networks of Auckland and Wellington — two very minor cities by world standards — a relatively cheaper plan for public transport languishes at barely embryonic stage, underfunded and years behind schedule. (No sooner are these “improvements” completed than the roads are filled up and gridlocked again.) The majority of NZ rivers being polluted beyond public use by agricultural runoff, farmers have been left to regulate themselves in the time-honoured fashion of laissez faire private enterprise — an approach two or so centuries out of date.

* Objections to government corruption defeated: Undisguised and unrepentant favoritism for her own husband’s export business in China resulted in just a stand-down period for a senior Cabinet Minister until after the election. Transparent obfuscation on her behalf by her government colleagues was a cause celebre in the media for a while, but have been effectively silenced for the duration. Token scalps of government members of Parliament using public funds for personal purposes have been just that — underwhelming.

* Sane judgment defeated: Reelected with a record majority is a stand-alone government that has taken six years (two terms) to balance the budget, taking the books, just, into the black — and so temporarily as an election trick of the light; that in the face of this, a week before the election, proposed tax cuts after; rejected a capital gains tax on the wealthy, which virtually every other country has; has an ongoing 20% child poverty rate with permanently hungry children in a primary-produce exporting country (the government having pointedly refused to enter a coalition against child poverty); has produced no plan to diversify exports in an era of rapidly dropping produce prices overseas; that presides over an unemployment rate as high as the United States. The proposed budget of spending put forward for the Labour Party, independently costed and steadfast under queries from the incumbent government and media commentators, was a nonissue and seemingly disregarded by the public at large — who went with no costings and baseless assurances from the government. Indeed, the prime minister received a tangible sympathy vote, one supporter saying that he’d had a “tough run” with the Pike River coal mine disaster (four years later the government still has punished none of the negligent management, let alone investigated the miners’ remains) and the Christchurch earthquake(s) — four years later still with tens of thousands of insurance disputes over destroyed homes unresolved.

Intestinal Fortitude failed: It’s difficult to imagine a situation where Kiwis get worked up about anything at all these days, apart from international rugby, netball, the America’s Cup and other bread-and-circuses distractions with a quick payoff in adrenaline and pheromones. The younger generation — and I’m talking about teens here, who used to be full of youthful support for their peers — are far more likely to fantasise about and cheer on the legend of Kiwi “heroes” of Gallipoli a century ago than spare a thought for their fellow kids who go to school hungry every day. Once upon a time, Kiwis set out on great crusades supporting each other through the Great Depression, through World War II when world civilisation itself was threatened; in the Seventies when the anti-nuclear cause burned hot and NZ took the lead. I would relate the public outlook today as much closer to the era of the 1951 Waterfront Lockout, when poor people — at least demonstrating solidarity in unions — were vilified to the point of not finding the guts to stand up for themselves, and anyone who supported or even sympathised with them (through newspapers or providing food) was penalised. Or the late Eighties and Nineties, when politicians in this country across the board — Labour and National — strove to create a chasm between rich and poor, and have succeeded to this day.

HERO OF THE CAVE or BOTTOMLESS PIT? — Just Askin’

In morality, philosophy, psychology/psychiatry on June 20, 2014 at 3:16 am

Having caught some of a news item this morning, apparently set in a Germanic-speaking, alpine region of Europe, I learnt enough of the pertinent facts to be able to write about it from a philosophical angle.

It seems eighteen years ago a famous caver (they’re people who climb down a cave because it’s there) in Europe discovered this spectacularly “challenging” cave that goes down a thousand metres deep with numerous twists and turns vertically and horizontally that make recovery of a body, never mind actual rescue, virtually impossible. Now this caver knew this cave and its above-the-odds risks to himself and others better than anyone alive, and decided to go down there again to its full extent — I guess because it’s still there.

According to the report, some seven hundred men (and/or women) from six different countries were recruited and persisted at the rescue attempt for two weeks at a cost of… Well, no one knows because it’s such bad taste to bring money into it when it’s being thrown down a bottomless pit in such a heroic scenario — when the sanctity of ONE human life is involved, but drawing into this circus the risk of countless other lives. If we were talking about the actions of a man who had better things to do with his time than climb down holes, in fact a man who had no such heroic yearnings at all — a lot more common, everyday circumstance numbering in the hundreds of millions around the world such as a poor man working hard to support his family who now finds himself even poorer through no fault of his own — then economists would be lining up from here to the moon and back to measure every bit of monetary loss, plus pain and suffering, plus attaching a sizable profit due his ‘rescuers’ at market rates.

Because these poor men are the exact opposite of heroes — actually, “deadbeat” being the most common term applied — loitering, indigent vagrants to be polite in officialese — they haven’t the means or unmitigated gall to buy themselves a pristine image: unlike, say, the constantly-in-debt Donald Trump, affectionately known as “The Donald”, a lovable rogue who has garnered respect, admiration and television superstardom far and wide for grinding down people less fortunate.

Now that he is rescued, does anyone have the foresight to tie a bell on this compulsive caver so he doesn’t wander off again where he’s not supposed to be? Or put him in a rubber room for the meantime until he can demonstrate he’s not going to hurt himself and put hundreds of others in jeopardy again? No, in the time-honored tradition of a world where things are run and rules are determined to the ability of the dumbest guy around, they have to effectively destroy this wonder of nature for all time by cementing it up, spoiling everyone else‘s fun and any future investigation of value by scientists.

Has this exercise been a total waste? No, once again the most humane or well-paid of us have demonstrated self-sacrifice in the cause of a thoroughly self-absorbed person. Of course, the caver can either say “Thank you” for whatever good that does, or “All this waste is not my fault because I didn’t ask to be rescued” — or probably a bit of both, showing the total lack of moral integrity humans are capable of even when they’re supposedly at their best.

Of course, this phenomenon of “Let’s all rush off to channel all available resources into one barely viable human being” calls into question mass international searches for idle adventurers that have become routine in recent times. For years commentators have questioned whether it wouldn’t be right to send these heroes a bill after they’re with the consensus so far coming down on “That wouldn’t be right.” And this while people who pay stiff taxes and exorbitant upfront charges at hospitals (not counting those with insurance) for simple attention for everyday wear-and-tear not their fault are duped by small print or fobbed off with excuses — and the billions around the world with fewer resources are told to go fly a kite.

THE DUMBING DOWN OF US

In music, psychology/psychiatry on April 15, 2014 at 9:15 pm

This is one of those unpalatable, indigestible ideas that has stuck in my craw many times before, often when I’ve just surrendered to bedtime sometime after midnight. Too often, I just roll over and drift off to sleep too lazy to rouse myself. Finally, it grabbed me on the right side of my waking cycle — 5.30am this morning — by the throat, and wouldn’t let go. I dedicate this to one of those famous deejays of the Rock Era, who was proudest of his evident efforts to giving pop music a bad name. He gave himself a stupid name to fit: “Cousin Brucie”, turning himself into a New York celebrity in a New York minute. His credo went something like, Take a simple song, stuff in as many fatuous cliches as you can fit, and it takes on a kind of “magic.” Maybe he owed his career to an influential uncle, but he had millions of cousins among the disc-buying public making his eyes sparkle with dollar signs.

Homeless and 'displaced' refugees: more uncounted statistics

Homeless and ‘displaced’ refugees: more uncounted statistics

The next time any of us is tempted to persist ten minutes into a mindless, meathead action movie and waste another hour and a half we could be spending more profitably on, say, navel-gazing, just remember people are out there on the frontiers of human civilisation every day literally losing their lives so that we don’t have to aspire to the lowest common denominator of human thought. “Ordinary” citizens, investigative journalists, front-line activists, peacekeeping soldiers put their lives on the line every day so that we don’t have to — usually in some other “God-forsaken” part of the world — including that 14-year-old girl whom the Taliban attempted to silence by shooting her face off. Or whenever we are tempted to settle for second, third or 7,556,132,404th best (that’s the worst on the planet) in a choice of politicians, favorite celebrities, sports heroes or role models of any kind.

On the same exalted level, not that he could be accused of ever dumbing down, even Einstein was proudest of some of his lesser known discoveries — Was he the one behind Wella incorporating 68% more “bounce-back body”? Mid 20th Century pop culture being my bag, I’m here to apply the principle to pop songs. Not counting those iconic biggies never intended to be more than amusing nonentities (The Chipmunk Song, Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini…) the following list of massive, trite, totally expendable hits all sold more than four million copies in the USA alone:

It’s Now or Never (Elvis Presley) 1960

I Want to Hold Your Hand (The Beatles) 1963

Ballad of the Green Berets (Sgt Barry Sadler) 1966

Honey (Bobby Goldsboro) 1968

Dizzy (Tommy Roe) 1969

Sugar, Sugar (The Archies) 1969

In fact, these were the only songs to surpass the US four million mark during the Sixties — which should tell us something. It was a decade that supplied exquisite music aplenty, of which I submit a small sample below: all overlooked classics among the very best performances of the acts listed. Billboard ‘peaks’ are stated in those cases where the song rose high enough in our collective imagination to enter sales charts at all.

Reeling and Rocking (Fats Domino) nil, 1952

Tutti Frutti (Little Richard) #21, 1955

Too Much Monkey Business (Chuck Berry) nil, 1956

Young Blood (The Coasters) #18, 1957

The Girl Can’t Help It (Little Richard) #49, 1957

Teach Me How to Shimmy (Isley Bros) nil, 1961

Three Cool Cats (The Coasters) nil, 1962

When the Lovelight Shines (The Supremes) #23, 1963

The Warmth of the Sun (The Beach Boys) nil, 1964

Big Man in Town (The Four Seasons) #20, 1964

Goodbye My Love (The Searchers) #52, 1965

Early Morning Rain (Peter, Paul & Mary) nil, 1965

In My Life (The Beatles) nil, 1965

With These Hands (Tom Jones) #27, 1965

My Generation (The Who) #74, 1966

I’m a Boy (The Who) nil, 1966

Try a Little Tenderness (Otis Redding) #21, 1966

Bowling Green (The Everly Bros) #40, 1967

Mas Que Nada (Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66) nil, 1967

Why Do Fools Fall in Love? (The Happenings) #41, 1967

Guide For the Married Man (The Turtles) nil, 1967

Pata, Pata (Miriam Makeba) #12, 1967

To Love Somebody (The Bee Gees) #17, 1967

Twelve Thirty (The Mamas & the Papas) #20, 1967

Will You Love Me Tomorrow (The Four Seasons) #24, 1968

Workin’ On a Groovy Thing (The Fifth Dimension) #20, 1969

Fortunate Son (Creedence Clearwater Revival) nil, 1969

Oh Me, Oh My (Lulu) #22, 1970

Me About You (The Turtles) nil, 1970

Out in the Country (Three Dog Night) #15, 1970

Judge Judy & Dr Phil: Egos that know no bounds backed by unbridled power

In ideology, morality, psychology/psychiatry, television on March 7, 2014 at 5:05 am

One of the few benefits of age is, having picked up in middle age the gist of a few patterns in the way life works, your ability at judging character and people’s motives grows more acute. This is never better illustrated than when watching celebrities — such as tv stars Judge Judy and Dr Phil. No matter how well groomed, titivated, glossed over, edited they are to appeal to the masses, the real essence sometimes shows through.

When Oprah Winfrey quit her daily talkshow about everyday people’s problems to concentrate on the world she knows and loves best — celebrities — she anointed “Doctor” — no, he’s only a psychologist — Phil McGraw as her heir apparent. It was the kind of done deal — he working for her tv empire — that told you what she was all about all along: wielding populist power from a position of pseudo-journalism coverage of trendy themes, handled almost solely from the woman’s point of view, and basic ignorance of many things. But he had the letters after his name so, being a simple Mississippi girl after all dependent on her “inner child” to do her thinking for her, she must have assumed he would go down as an expert with the daytime tv-watching public. And, as with all tv dynasties, relatives (Phil’s wife and at least one son) have been taken on board automatically without credentials as ready-made “experts” whether they have anything worthwhile to offer the audience or not.

drphilEven with all the spin, poor Phil often unintentionally shows the cards he was dealt. Some of his pet sayings like “I didn’t come in on a load of turnips” and “Is stupid written here?” (pointing to his forehead) speak vividly of a kid picked on by older siblings and remembering their taunts word for word. He’s begging to be called on them, and I wait for the day when someone with presence of mind who isn’t intimidated by Phil’s defensive bluster when he’s cornered retorts: “I didn’t know it was supposed to be” or “No. Someone must have rubbed it off.” I hesitate to suggest Phil’s vast expanse of forehead was the cruelest cut of all, but this is maybe his one point of modesty. In fact he mentions it so often — even to the point of rudely comparing guests’ with his own hairline — that I can’t help thinking he believes it’s his only imperfection, though a glaring one that’s all the more embarrassing to him: as self-absorbed as any other showbiz diva.

The result is he’s an overblown, self-aggrandising street fighter (or the Oklahoma equivalent) who somehow stumbled into academia to start what became a great “meat-hunters” career in a “carnivores’ world” as he likes to call it. He and his great buddy Donald Trump once got together on the Dr Phil show to carve up a former contestant, a young black woman who had displeased Trump by going public with her complaints against his show The Apprentice, taking slices off her turn and turn about, incessantly grilling her third degree style and talking over each other in their bloodlust to get at her. Funny that in this context one of his favorite aphorisms didn’t occur to him: “This situation needs a hero”, when he’ll invariably turn to the man in any dispute versus a woman and tell him to “Man up!” — a blatant call to chauvinism. But Phil and the Donald were disgustingly lacking in manliness that day. After many years of watching him in action, I can much more easily imagine him as organiser of local dogfights with the goal of shredding people more than he pretends to help them. Watching Dr Phil this very afternoon, he was faced by the nemesis he just cannot stand: an ultimately confident man who is also more intelligent than him (not an unusual circumstance on his show).

This was an elderly widower who had lost his wife in a car crash not his fault, and whose daughters had been on his neck ever since for marrying a younger woman who was getting a share of his resources. A guy who looked seventy should have sought out a woman the same or an older age? The man was dead meat toward the end of the session when McGraw insisted he must apologize to his daughters (whom even their mother hadn’t liked when she was alive) for making them feel sad, and making them angry enough evidently for one of them to threaten him with a hitman. He, in all conscience couldn’t see himself doing this and honestly declined to.

“You’re a right fighter…” came in Dr Phil with one of his favorite put-downs that would be a compliment to anyone with integrity. “You’re going to end up a lonely old man,” he added with relish, almost licking his lips in anticipation at the thought of fruition at the hopeful curse he’d just put on his ‘guest’. The man took it in equable spirit, agreeing it was a possibility. As the show ended good-ol’-boy Phil couldn’t resist one last sly dig as he leaned in and insincerely shook the man’s hand goodbye/good riddance: “You’re gonna feel like a real asshole when you get home and watch this.” Someone on Phil’s staff must be getting heartily sick of him because the epithet (though delivered off-mike) was audible and not blocked in post-production.

judgejudyJudge Judith Sheindlin is praised for her strength by her admirers and even her detractors grant her a certain repellent straightforwardness. But this is only part of the picture, and maybe a misleading one. In the many years I have watched the show off and on (mainly off over recent years) I have seen her grant any degree of deference to just two of her thousands of ‘guests’. One was, maybe surprisingly, Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols; the other, Beatrice Arthur, famous for playing essentially the same domineering character in television’s All in the Family, Maude and The Golden Girls. On both occasions, such was the contrast to Judge Sheindlin’s normal, outright disdain, she came across as fawning in her approach to them: maybe a little taken aback in the presence of people with at least a modicum of talent to show for their millions.

She claims to be “a truth machine”, the kind of line that might go down well with any tiny tots unlucky enough to end up surfing her channel. Insisting that she has infallible judgment in people’s veracity, for it to work properly they have to look her direct in the eye without flinching — an act of courage that shouldn’t be underestimated. If they hesitate with an answer, thinking, or look away for a moment, this is a dead giveaway of attempted deceit. She, like Phil, has outlandish overconfidence in her intelligence. When she’s challenged a simple “I’m smarter than you are on your smartest day!” is enough to leave all comers at a loss for words. At first you can’t help laughing out loud at this. But pretty soon you realise it isn’t just a courtroom tactic, and how really dangerous this is that she takes these comic lines so very seriously. It’s too much to hope for Albert Einstein to show up in the dock, but I can’t wait for Stephen Hawkings or Noam Chomsky to be placed in the stocks as her whipping boy and modestly announce who he is to the Grand Know-It-All. Maybe the best place for Judith Scheindlin is a walk-on in that Muppet sketch, the one where Kermit hails, “Call the Royal Smart Person!” Enter Judy, taking bows and totally straight-faced.

Delivering her usual shtick, one of her common refrains is to berate a solo mother or unemployed man on welfare for sponging on her tax dollars. This by itself is deeply pathological coming from a woman who works a total of 52 days a year and receives $47 million for it. Do the arithmetic, and think what unbounded chutzpah and self-love this must take, amounting to an unrecognized diagnosis.

To draw together my few observations, I can’t help but stick my neck out and suggest that both Phil and Judy (is it her Americans mean when they coin the word “Judyism”?) are self-revealing Republican supporters and strong proponents of the ongoing Trickle Down con job in international economics. It shows every time Phil, at the end of his diatribe, graciously offers a downtrodden guest, “I want you to have help — and I’m offering this treatment to you, from me, free of charge”, as if he’s giving it out of his own obscenely bloated paycheck. Both of these tv superstars — and many others — know very well that most of the human tragedies they see every day on their shows, year after year, wouldn’t even arise if the United States followed the United Nations human rights resolutions on health, poverty, employment and education as part of its stance on economic, cultural and social rights. Instead they make themselves feel good by trotting out piecemeal, one-at-a-time charity to people they treat as charity cases, who should be receiving these services as of right.

THE MONK IS ON YOU

In Humor, psychology/psychiatry, television on August 3, 2013 at 10:23 am

The tv series Monk started in July 2002 and is still going (as far as I know — we only get reruns here in New Zealand). But it’s never been the same since actor Bitty Schram (playing the feisty Sharona) left before filming the second half of series three; she appeared in just 38 episodes. Yes, the actor left — so this was not a creative decision as claimed by the producers but a power play, and it SHOWS.

Who knows what the creator of the series, one Andy Breckman, thinks of this. He must have worked out the balance of the characters to the nth degree if he’s gone through what most good tv writers do. Then just have it subject to arbitrary change when the producers, presumably rolling in more millions of profit each year, tell an actor “Take it or leave it.”

Yes, Traylor Howard is blonde and cute. (I admit to a prejudice against the ugly modern trend of females named with two unfeminine surnames.) I’ve seen her in a few teen movies from the early ’90s and she did well enough. But there is no way her character Natalie has “replaced” Sharona — who lent just the right spice to the mix. Ted Levine seems to me a very accomplished comic actor (and otherwise) and Jason Gray-Stanford does well too as the often hapless detective lieutenant. Tony Shaloub is expert in what he does on screen — but part of what he does is executive producer, and he doesn’t seem to be quite as good at this. It obviously creates an unhealthy power imbalance among the cast.

But whether this one event triggered more unfortunate trends I can’t say for sure. The comedy had gotten less clever, more slapstick. The tone is more crassly sentimental, to the point of getting us to feel sorry for geeky Teen Monk in numerous flashbacks. As if anyone’s interested — Yet, he might get his own series one day in a lucrative spinoff, as these things tend to happen. Straining for plots, Monk is put in less and less likely situations until credulity is strained beyond breaking. Knowing just a little about mental health, I’ve known from the start that someone who suffers from anxiety as constantly and intensely as Monk does could never bring himself to focus on a case for more than a few seconds at a time. No way could he function coherently as a detective over a whole case, never mind a genius who solves every case. But for the sake of involvement (which every good drama needs) I was willing to suspend disbelief.

Yet, the producers throw away this one main premise of the character when it suits them. After the umpteenth rerun episode I just started to watch — and felt too insulted to continue — Monk, on the run from the police, had just come out of the ocean to be greeted by his friend Leland Stottelmeyer (Ted Levine). The captain says something like, “That must have been hard since you can’t swim.” And Monk replies, “I was highly motivated.” These injokes are fine if the series wants to descend to the pat, unchallenging level of Murder She Wrote or Love Boat, but don’t expect me to hang around.

WOMEN ARE MORE EQUAL — AND STILL COMPLAIN

In anthropology, psychology/psychiatry, sociology on May 16, 2013 at 7:13 am

Some of us are more equal than others, as various animal characters found out in George Orwell’s classic satire on Stalinism, Animal Farm. In coming musings I will discuss how this applies to different sectors of society. Tonight: women.

* Women are equal to men in numbers around the world — in fact outnumber them in virtually every country, PLUS retain the privilege of calling themselves a minority

* Women are equal to men — PLUS have the right to form statutory groups exclusive to their own gender

* Women are equal to men in intelligence — PLUS have educational privileges and attainment to the point where there are now more female than male graduates in law, medicine and education to cite a few; but retain the claim to be downtrodden careerwise and economically and don’t hold more than 50% of political careers.

* Women are equal to men in talent — and command financial returns from talk shows, starring in movies and on music recordings often superior to that of males; PLUS demand equal pay for those activities in which they can never be as good as the best males or cope with the same physical demands, like police enforcement, special military services and sports.

* Women are equal to men in drive and motivation — but are notoriously fickle, even when favored, recruited, cosseted to commit to an occupation that doesn’t suit. The national intake of women police in New Zealand, a country that goes out of its way to please women, is 33% of the total of rookie recruits. Within a very short time, two to three years on the force, the female component of the police force reduces to 10%.

HateThatcher* Women are equal to men in political ruthlessness — PLUS bathe in the haloed glow of self-anointment as forces for world peace: after Baroness Margaret Thatcher, Catherine the Great, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Mrs Mao Zedong, Boudicca, Jeanne d’Arc, all of them sainted in one way or another and all fit to dwell in Madame Tussaud’s chamber of horrors. This is not counting the Mata Haris, Eva Perons, Imelda Marcoses and Winnie Mandelas made to seem helpless victims of men by hagiographic movies and other rewritings of history.

* Women are equal to men in personal violence — but aren’t acknowledged for it because don’t generally have the temperament or physical force to apply it without lethal weapons, and haven’t built up such a record as serial killers, PLUS have been among the most destructive provocateurs in inciting genocides and individual homicides.

* Women are equal to men in physical force (sometimes) — PLUS have the cunning to paint themselves as victims to the authorities.

* Women are equal to men — PLUS have the prerogative of changing their minds for no given reason

* Women are equal to men — PLUS have the right to demand they be wooed and won (or not won), before they change their mind again

* Women are equal to men — PLUS have the right to ask a man to pick up the tab without opprobrium (i.e. being called a gigolo)

* Women are equal to men — PLUS have the right to demand their life partner take on the same activities, even the same beliefs, as them; women rightly call the reverse case in male-dominated cultures “oppression”.

* Women are equal to men — PLUS claim superior intuition, morality, caring…

* Women are equal to men — PLUS have far greater susceptibility when flattered for irrational beliefs, believing male clerics and other civic leaders are just as superstitious as they are when preaching orthodoxies such as the existence of a higher being and acquiescing in the delusion that many of these men don’t have ulterior motives.

NEWTOWN MASS MURDER INVESTIGATION: An Exercise in Futility

In civics, ideology, morality, philosophy, politics, psychology/psychiatry, sociology on December 17, 2012 at 6:04 am

second_amendment_by_roscoso-d5ofa7xThe chief of police stands there looking and speaking authoritatively — a cowboy hat in Connecticut? What is he trying to prove? He reassures us that the force will leave no stone unturned to get to the bottom of this, forensics, good solid police work, the perpetrator’s motive, and the rest… You expect him to call for a posse, head him off at the pass, and hang this varmint from the highest limb, or maybe deal out Colt .45 justice. Oh, that’s right, consarn it…

We already know who dunnit. It’s the varmint holding the gun, leading to him a trail of blood from 20 kids and six teachers. And we know as sure as shootin’, just as we know from all the other massacres (was Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence, Kansas the model?) THERE IS NO VALID MOTIVE… Aside from, the guns were there, my mommy/daddy taught me how to use them, they’re designed for killing humans, so I did, when I was in a bad mood, because I could.

Yes, there were warning signs — the guy was “strange” from a young age, and lately his mommy, a gun nut (but a nice lady — aren’t they always?) who taught him how to fire guns, found him increasingly difficult to handle. Left to her own devices with a strange, picked-on kid, did she unconsciously hope that he could ‘defend’ himself with her own personal arsenal? These are anti-PERSONNEL weapons, not hunting equipment (psycho as that is in itself).

The president says he’s going to do all he can to prevent this ever happening again. I don’t suppose he meant these as futile words, but we all know one man can’t stand against an entire nation bent on abusing firepower and defying their own Constitution when they do so outside of an official “militia” context. But the perp had studied American history and philosophy, so found his justification for such a ‘solution’ quite easily.

So I guess we’ll all go on wanking with fine words until the next one happens. Then the same Christian right will come forward mouthing sorrowful platitudes and with the next breath insisting on their right to have the power to kill people on a whim.

MEDICAL REVIEW — Being Psycho in New Zealand: Part Deux

In morality, philosophy, psychology/psychiatry, sociology on August 22, 2012 at 10:20 pm

Intro: One of the great things about New Zealand for a creative writer is that anyone who is alternately chronically depressed and anxious about the state of the world, and having to live in it — as any artist worth his salt is — can collect a social welfare benefit. One of the crap things about New Zealand is that the British class system still shows through, health insurance can only be afforded by the wealthy and real Accident Compensation is most readily accessed by the lawyers of the wealthy. The rest of us so-called disabled or health-disadvantaged who don’t fit into society try to exist on tiny ‘benefits’. My particular disadvantage that makes me virtually unemployable is also my vocation: telling the absolute truth, unvarnished. Below there follows an article that was rejected by the director of my own ‘caregiver’ organization, Crossroads, an associate member in Auckland of the international Clubhouse movement. It was said to be ‘caustic’ — and this is a disqualifier for censorship? — but more to the point contains some home truths about Crossroads’ funder, the Auckland District Health Board. Intended for its bi-monthly Chatters magazine, it has been lightly edited for purposes of comprehension outside New Zealand.

 

 

MIND MAZE

It’s  a great idea that people who have had breakdowns be encouraged to work — if they are able. At something stimulating, not work a machine can do. A longtime friend of mine who qualified as a fine artist in the ultra-demanding degree course at Elam Art School, disowned for many years by his family, has worked forever at the so-called welfare organisation Wrap’n’Pak, $3/hour drudgery. This is a criminal waste, even diabolical punishment given his high ability, high standards of excellence he places on himself and concomitant low threshold of frustration.<p>    

Global capitalism deems 15% of people expendable from the workforce. A job could be a lifesaver if: 1) the pay is reasonable; 2) hours aren’t split so pay goes on travel expenses; 3) you don’t get fired for no particular reason a day short of your three-months probation (an employer-friendly law passed by the National Government last year). Problem is there are precious few jobs in New Zealand today where even one of these criteria holds true.<p> And applicants deemed subject to mental defect will find few employers rushing to shoulder-tap them for their lack of experience over recent years. The job market for us has become a constant grind of proving yourself again and again, like touting for a mega appearance fee in showbiz: “Yeah, but what have you done lately?” And we have virtually no prospect of gaining experience that means anything in the demanding job market.

Government says  it wants us to work but, coming from the moral high ground of conservatives maybe it just wants someone to hound. Some people’s lives aren’t worth living unless they have others around whom they can grind down through biased policies, then tell to pull their socks up and buy some shares in assets the public already owns by paying taxes.<p>

The Mainstream Employment program numbers just 200 lucky souls throughout the country and I now see why. I was approved for the program May 2011, did an employment course and was given a job agent to help with my c.v. (resumee) and find work for me. My agent is very conscientious — thanks Cherie of Elevator! She is a stick-to-it American go-getter from Gainesville, Florida settled here for the past two years after a period living in Ireland. Me? — I’m okay, actually thinking of trying another agency called Workshy, where, knowing the situation, they just put their feet up and collect a steady salary. It’s part of my makeup that when people tell me to “Hurry up and wait” — and nothing appears after a year or so — I tend to hibernate to keep from breaking out in stress-induced blistering face shingles. Yet, I know if a job does come in I’ll have to rev up and hit the ground running: one more stress. My g.p. insists I am not capable of open employment, and should only work up to 15 hours a week at a suitable job in a suitable environment. Of course, I do much more than that weekly, writing and editing various projects on the go.<p>

Three employers had my c.v. for five months before giving me thumbs down. A Head of Department at my old university (Auckland) finally said she didn’t have time to support me on the job. Support? — I’m a self-starter. What was looking the likeliest prospect — a job with the ADHB (Auckland District Health Board) — has been put on indefinite hold. The particular workplace, Starship Children’s Hospital, started just two other people with disabilities in jobs until the DHB sees how they  do. My suitability is judged on the work of others. This is wrong under UN Human Rights resolutions, plain commonsense and the Cub Scouts Code for all I know. Is this to save on diagnosing, assuming we all have the same shortcomings? One scrapheap fits all? If one of the two lucky ones given jobs goes berserk and starts shooting, are we in the queue automatically arrested, or just given the boot from any job prospects? I can’t help reflecting that this isn’t the future my mother planned for me when she carried me for nine months, raised me 18 years solo and made untold sacrifices. Just to be shot down on the whim of a bureaucrat?<p>

This is all part of the stigma, isn’t it, from the government down — no matter what they say. It’s a widespread government policy ghettoing people deemed mentally suspect for being different, unable to be boxed in as a specific economic cog in the scheme of things as they visualize it. You can’t claim ACC (Accident Compensation Commission) — Your destiny is a bennie. This is a discriminatory practice that seems to be just accepted, just because. That is, unless you can tell the doctors the precise single incident that caused your breakdown, or the proximate cause, maybe the remote causes going back to childhood, beyond to genetics, likely the largest component. We human sacrifices are left struggling on inadequate pay, facing condemning social stigma, unfit and undeserving of work  — a lifelong sentence for some. In the past year I have lost five friends — not just fellow ‘clients’ but people I socialized with in my own time — including two who chose not to live out their full sentence; one aged 34, the other 46; both so intelligent and functionally capable, with so much individual initiative that was left unrecognized or simply neglected.<p>

No lowlife bennie for a certain Ms in the news recently. Lent the ears of ministers and prime ministers for 10 years, she just wants more — compo, that is, on top of her “very large” insurance payout to sweeten the pot. Her ACC windfall needs to be much more to maintain her in the lifestyle to which she’s become accustomed. After all, it’s not like the rest of us had lifestyles to lose.<p>

Is this the luck of the draw? Hardly. Are some people more deserving? — Nope. So in the words of Hal David, “What’s it all about, Alfie?” I suspect just old-fashioned greed. Thems that haves, gets.    — Gaz De Forest

MEDICAL REVIEW: KNOWING CALVIN

In morality, psychology/psychiatry, sociology on August 14, 2012 at 12:53 am

There follows an article I wrote last spring (October 2011) on the sudden death of my friend Calvin Enting, aged 82, who lived in a second-floor unit in Kingsway just up from the St Luke’s mall, Auckland. Not only the timing of Calvin’s death, but the manner of it, was shocking — simply keeling over at the dining table after a few mouthfuls of food at Crossroads Clubhouse, Grey Lynn, having been invited back for his favorite Thursday roast one lunchtime. The seeming laxness and slow-motion movement of the ambulance attendants absolutely baffled and concerned me — making me realize how helpless we are at the mercy of the qualities of the individual ‘professionals’ who tend to us.

KNOWING CALVIN

     I got to know Calvin well only after he was ejected from Crossroads Clubhouse (for falling outside the Auckland District Health Board target age group). You had to admire how he stood up for himself, rallying lawyers, MPs and Age Concern to his cause of clinging on to his rights. Who, as a still fit and aware man, wants to be discarded and consigned to the company of sedentary and mentally failing people?

He was normally garrulous but on down days was querelous. So I had a pretty good idea what I was getting into when he started inviting me round with Paul G, Chris R and Alan M to watch the rugby with him on Friday or Saturday nights. I’m not a great fan and I told him I would only come if Auckland was playing. So Auckland vs Bay of Plenty and some others turned out to be convivial occasions over pizza, potato chips, soft drink and his cups of tea. When he went off on me one day I wasn’t around to hear it. He’d phoned the Clubhouse five times on Monday morning complaining that I’d stolen his pizza on the Saturday night — which was literally true. I’d stolen it back, lifting it on the way out the door because he hadn’t used it in the two weeks since I’d brought it. Only he thought I’d snuck back into his place and raided his freezer — Nope, not that desperate for pizza. We were soon friends again.

One day I took a book off his shelf that featured every rugby name internationally up to 1976, which suited me down to the ground as that’s about the time I began to lose interest in our national sport: the year the All Blacks collaborating with Apartheid by touring South Africa. Every name I mentioned he knew something extra about them — where they worked (it was the good old days before professionalism), family circumstances. He was proud his dad had been chairman of the South Canterbury Rugby Union. Calvin’s living room was festooned with memorabilia from his Boys Brigade days in Timaru to his service medals. He showed me his discharge papers from the Air Force once, and knew I was interested in 20th Century music so offered me loan of a book on jazz greats of the 1930s and ’40s.

There are two that will stay my most vivid memories of Calvin. One was when he phoned on what turned out to be the last Saturday of his life asking me to take him to Psych Survivors. I warned him it was down steep stone steps at Pt Chev Beach — but age didn’t stand in his way. Yet by this stage, feeling more and more isolated in the community, he was grateful even to get out of the house. I know he appreciated Piri Ratana especially, who would go around some weekends to cook him a really good meal. I think Piri must have shelled out for these meals, as Calvin looked after his money.

The second memory is of Calvin approaching me at the Clubhouse dining table his last day — he attended religiously for the Thursday roast lunch under special invites back to the premises. This was less than an hour before he collapsed. Out of the blue, he announced to me that if he “made it through to December” he would receive a “$2,000 bonus”. I had no idea what this referred to but as he walked away I shouted — there was no question in my mind — “You’ll make it! We’re all cheering for you!” Very strange how things turn out.

Last and foremost, thanks Alan McMaster, Clubhouse’s own St John’s Ambulance veteran — who could show the young incumbents a thing or two about urgent response. No spring chicken but always highly motivated and a ball of fire on cue, Alan sprang into action for Calvin — relaying his vital signs through Stephen to 111 over the phone: “Tell them he’s Status 2, and I want them here, like, yesterday!”

Calvin could’ve had no better surroundings to go out on, knowing he was among friends with a caring professional at his side. He was a great character of the kind you don’t see among recent generations, with a great many touches of colorful eccentricity, and I can’t help but feel the world is less interesting without him.     — Gaz

MEDICAL REVIEW: One more death in the mental health system

In psychology/psychiatry, religion on August 14, 2012 at 12:18 am

There follows a club magazine article I wrote on Kelmen Bartocci, who succumbed suddenly to pneumonia — as so many of us do — during the Southern winter (August) of 2011 in Auckland, New Zealand.

KELMEN in GOD’S PRESENCE:  LIVING the DREAM

     The actual experience of mental illness is seldom discussed in so-called ‘consumer’ circles. Like mentioning suicide, it’s publicly discouraged in favour of ‘being positive’: See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil — and it might go away. The great thing about Kelmen on earth was he was almost always affable — agreeable. But he did have his moments, with those who didn’t live up to his gentlemanly standards. With his strong Irish accent and quizzical, crooked smile that spoke of another world, he was unfailingly leprecaunish. To his closest friends, members of the Te Atatu Catholic congregation at the funeral, he was a “broken” or “weak” man whom they loved all the more, as this brought him closer to God. He was tormented by his standing in the sight of God — always questioning his worth, but especially as he came closer to his time as if he had a fore-inkling of what was in store for him.

Kelmen was of a generation of immigrants to New Zealand in 1959, as a seven-year-old from Dublin. He wasn’t always a devout Christian. Before the traumatic breakup of his marriage and the malicious aftermath contributing to his breakdown, he was a devotee of Indian wisdom. Local identity Herrwig, an old friend of Kelmen’s and who regularly spoke to his mother, alive until three years ago, told me he rarely made an important move without his guru. It was a lifestyle that worked for Kelmen then, at least materially, plying a trade as a fruit-and-vege marketer near Pak’n’Save, Mt Albert, to be very well off.

Kelmen showed extremely high functioning in activities he liked — chess, mathematics, languages, astronomy, and lately tennis! — but the emotional reverses of life got to him in a cruel way. Sensibly, like many of us who like to see the best in people, for self-preservation he avoided harmful situations but showed a happy exterior to the world. If the serotonin is running right, all of us have fond illusions about ourselves — if we want to keep our self-esteem up. If you’re in the mental health system these illusions are called delusions, something pathological. Kelmen’s delusion, constantly underestimating himself, was that of a formidably intelligent but humble man let down by life. His  immersion in religion was obvious, with blessings and praises flowing freely. Alternating feelings of elation and encroaching fear were almost palpable as he sat hands clenched together waiting for lunch or an imminent house meeting at Crossroads Clubhouse, Grey Lynn, Auckland. He talked about people he met in terms of seeing God in them or not, and how close they were to Him. So when I heard of Kelmen’s sudden death at just 59 and six weeks — a thunderbolt out of a clear blue sky — mixed with the sadness was the thought that it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. He is now exactly where he wants to be.   — Gaz

Being Psycho in New Zealand: Part Deux

In morality, philosophy, psychology/psychiatry, sociology on August 13, 2012 at 11:36 pm

Intro: One of the great things about New Zealand for a creative writer is that anyone who is alternately chronically depressed and anxious about the state of the world, and having to live in it — as any artist worth his salt is — can collect a social welfare benefit. One of the crap things about New Zealand is that the British class system still shows through, health insurance can only be afforded by the wealthy and real Accident Compensation can only be accessed by the lawyers of the wealthy. The rest of us so-called disabled who don’t fit into society try to exist on tiny ‘benefits’. My particular disadvantage that makes me virtually unemployable is also my vocation: telling the absolute truth, unvarnished. Below there follows an article that was rejected by the director of my own ‘caregiver’ organization, Crossroads, an associate member in Auckland of the international Clubhouse movement. Intended for its bi-monthly Chatters magazine, it has been lightly edited for purposes of comprehension outside New Zealand.

MIND MAZE

It’s  a great idea that people who have had breakdowns be encouraged to work — if they are able. At something stimulating, not work a machine can do. A longtime friend of mine who qualified as a fine artist in the ultra-demanding degree course at Elam Art School, disowned for many years by his family, has worked forever at the so-called welfare organisation Wrap’n’Pak, $3/hour drudgery. This is a criminal waste, even diabolical punishment given his high ability, high standards of excellence he places on himself and concomitant low threshold of frustration.<p>     Global capitalism deems 15% of people expendable from the workforce. A job could be a lifesaver if: 1) the pay is reasonable; 2) hours aren’t split so pay goes on travel expenses; 3) you don’t get fired for no particular reason a day short of your three-months probation (a employer-friendly law passed by the National Government last year). Problem is there are precious few jobs in New Zealand today where even one of these criteria holds true.<p>

Government says  it wants us to work but, coming from the moral high ground of conservatives maybe it just wants someone to hound. Some people’s lives aren’t worth living unless they have others around whom they can grind down through biased policies, then tell to pull their socks up and buy some shares in assets the public already owns by paying taxes.<p>

The Mainstream Employment program numbers just 200 lucky souls throughout the country and I now see why. I was approved for the program May 2011, did an employment course and was given a job agent to help with my c.v. (resumee) and find work for me. My agent is very conscientious — thanks Cherie of Elevator! She is a stick-to-it American go-getter. Me?— I’m okay, actually thinking of trying another agency called Workshy, where, knowing the situation, they just put their feet up and collect a steady salary. It’s part of my makeup that when people tell me to “Hurry up and wait” — and nothing appears after a year or so — I tend to hibernate to keep from breaking out in stress-induced blistering face shingles. Yet, I know if a job does come in I’ll have to rev up and hit the ground running: one more stress. My g.p. insists I am not capable of open employment, and should only work up to 15 hours a week at a suitable job in a suitable environment. Of course, I do much more than that weekly, writing and editing various projects on the go.<p>

Three employers had my c.v. for five months before giving me thumbs down. A Head of Department at my old university (Auckland) finally said she didn’t have time to support me on the job. Support? — I’m a self-starter. What was looking the likeliest prospect — a job with the ADHB (Auckland District Health Board) — has been put on indefinite hold. The particular workplace, Starship Children’s Hospital, started just two other people with disabilities in jobs until the DHB sees how they  do. My suitability is judged on the work of others. This is wrong under UN Human Rights resolutions, plain commonsense and the Cub Scouts Code for all I know. Is this to save on diagnosing, assuming we all have the same shortcomings? One scrapheap fits all? If one of the two lucky ones given jobs goes berserk and starts shooting, are we in the queue automatically arrested, or just given the boot from any job prospects? I can’t help reflecting that this isn’t the future my mother planned for me when she carried me for nine months, raised me 18 years solo and made untold sacrifices. Just to be shot down on the whim of a bureaucrat?<p>

This is all part of the stigma, isn’t it, from the government down — no matter what they say. It’s a widespread government policy ghettoing people deemed mentally suspect for being different, unable to be boxed in as a specific economic cog in the scheme of things as they visualize it. You can’t claim ACC (Accident Compensation Commission) — Your destiny is a bennie. This is a discriminatory practice that seems to be just accepted, just because. That is, unless you can tell the doctors the precise single incident that caused your breakdown, or the proximate cause, maybe the remote causes going back to childhood, beyond to genetics, likely the largest component. We human sacrifices are left struggling on inadequate pay, facing condemning social stigma, unfit and undeserving of work  — a lifelong sentence for some. In the past year I have lost five friends — not just fellow ‘clients’ but people I socialized with in my own time — including two who chose not to live out their full sentence; one aged 34, the other 46; both so intelligent and functionally capable, with so much individual initiative that was left unrecognized or simply neglected.<p>

No lowlife bennie for a certain Ms in the news recently. Lent the ears of ministers and prime ministers for 10 years, she just wants more — compo, that is, on top of her “very large” insurance payout to sweeten the pot. Her ACC windfall needs to be much more to maintain her in the lifestyle to which she’s become accustomed. After all, it’s not like the rest of us had lifestyles to lose.<p>

Is this the luck of the draw? Hardly. Are some people more deserving? — Nope. So in the words of Hal David, “What’s it all about, Alfie?” I suspect just old-fashioned greed. Thems that haves, gets.    — Gaz De Forest

TV REVIEW: THE MONK IS ON YOU

In Humor, psychology/psychiatry, television on December 24, 2011 at 7:12 pm

BittyschramThe tv series Monk started in July 2002 and is still going (as far as I know — we only get reruns here in New Zealand). But it’s never been the same since actor Bitty Schram (playing the feisty Sharona) left before filming the second half of series three; she appeared in just 38 episodes. Yes, the actor left — so this was not a creative decision as claimed by the producers but a power play, and it SHOWS.

Who knows what the creator of the series, one Andy Breckman, thinks of this. He must have worked out the balance of the characters to the nth degree if he’s gone through what most good tv writers do. Then just have it subject to arbitrary change when the producers, presumably rolling in more millions of profit each year, tell an actor “Take it or leave it.”

Yes, Traylor Howard is blonde and cute. (I admit to a prejudice against the ugly modern trend of females named with two unfeminine surnames.) I’ve seen her in a few teen movies from the early ’90s and she did well enough. But there is no way her character Natalie has “replaced” Sharona — who lent just the right spice to the mix. Ted Levine seems to me a very accomplished comic actor (and otherwise) and Jason Gray-Stanford does well too as the often hapless detective lieutenant. Tony Shaloub is expert in what he does on screen — but part of what he does is executive producer, and he doesn’t seem to be quite as good at this. It obviously creates an unhealthy power imbalance among the cast.

But whether this one event triggered more unfortunate trends I can’t say for sure. The comedy had gotten less clever, more slapstick. The tone is more crassly sentimental, to the point of getting us to feel sorry for geeky Teen Monk in numerous flashbacks. As if anyone’s interested — Yet, he might get his own series one day in a lucrative spinoff, as these things tend to happen. Straining for plots, Monk is put in less and less likely situations until credulity is strained beyond breaking. Knowing just a little about mental health, I’ve known from the start that someone who suffers from anxiety as constantly and intensely as Monk does could never bring himself to focus on a case for more than a few seconds at a time. No way could he function coherently as a detective over a whole case, never mind a genius who solves every case. But for the sake of involvement (which every good drama needs) I was willing to suspend disbelief.

Yet, the producers throw away this one main premise of the character when it suits them. After the umpteenth rerun episode I just started to watch — and felt too insulted to continue — Monk, on the run from the police, had just come out of the ocean to be greeted by his friend Leland Stottelmeyer (Ted Levine). The captain says something like, “That must have been hard since you can’t swim.” And Monk replies, “I was highly motivated.” These injokes are fine if the series wants to descend to the pat, unchallenging level of Murder She Wrote or Love Boat, but don’t expect me to hang around.

BIOPICS & SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF

In film, psychology/psychiatry on August 16, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Suspension of disbelief is the willingness, probably unconscious, of the viewer to believe what he sees on screen. What is seen is so involving that he is swept up in participating in the production. It used to apply to special effects in the old days. Convincing ones were very expensive. But then, no way do today’s super-whizbang computer-generated graphics representing explosions or gunfire come across like realistic, everyday life. They’re meant to come across like a game of Dungeons & Dragons.

Movies of yesteryear have it all over modern films in that for biopics the subject was always someone long dead and so the acting depicting the central figure had a good shot as coming across as believable as that real-life person. If a still-extant prominent figure was significant in the story but not central the writer would include a key but very short scene in long shot or acute-angled close-up of the back of his head accompanied by what he hoped was a reasonable facsimile of the person’s voice.

In the Eighties a series of biopics of rock’n’rollers were hailed for the portrayals from Gary Busey as Buddy Holly, Lou Diamond Phillips as Richie Valens… but Kurt Russell as Elvis? All due credit to Kurt’s chutzpah for taking on this project, but why would an audience want to see a well-known actor pretending to be Elvis? A pretence was all it could be because “The King” had only died in 1977 and there were dozens of his movies in circulation featuring (too much of) the real thing.

Great credit must go to the convincing performances of the actors more recently portraying Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Idi Amin… But in Frost vs Nixon, Frank Langella as President Richard Nixon comes across more like he is trying to play Mr Ed: “I am not a crook, Wilbur.” Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock is just as ridiculous. king_georgeviKingClive

And, The King’s Speech — Colin Firth as George VI?! Maybe if James Fox or his brother Edward had been available or of half-suitable age, they could have at least portrayed the King’s special sanguine stolidity… Having seen just clips of Firth in the role, at no time was he able to suggest even a hint of an impression of George VI — still a well-known persona to history buffs — in looks or in his distinctly reserved manner. How is this an award-winning performance?

Probably, Firth (and Langella and Hopkins) gave an actorly performance par excellence — uninhibited, energetic — of the kind you might see on the West End stage, resembling the pupil in Pygmalion and so impressing many members of the Academy.

ROCK MUSIC — MICHAEL JACKSON: It’s not as if Elvis just died!

In generational/fashion, morality, music, psychology/psychiatry on June 28, 2009 at 7:47 am

From all the fuss of the past few days anyone would think Elvis has just died. Instead it’s just the ever-encroaching end, the gradual unravelling, of an American Idol of yesteryear. To me, Jackson embodied in one increasingly strange person all the show business imperatives necessary to get to and sustain yourself at the top of celebrity today. Looking at all the Madonnas and Britney Spears of the past half-century, who have followed Jackson’s lead, it’s amazing how much success can be engendered by essentially stupid people with a single idiotic but unquestioned idea pursued single-mindedly, without thought entering to disturb the ‘creative’ process.

He was the dream of every American Idol show and its multifarious spinoffs around the world that perpetuate such realities as: the generic ‘rock’ voice shorn of all distinction or real emotion, pared of all identifying idiosyncracies or sign of humanity, so as not to offend anyone by unsightly originality or unseemly singularity — the equivalent of the ubiquitous fuzzed guitar notes and chords backing rock tracks for the past thirty years.

The toast of Motown and little soul-groovers around the world in 1970 (‘I Want You Back’, ‘A-B-C’, ‘The Love You Save’), the Jackson Five lowered themselves fast to Osmonds Pop and on to disco mid-decade. michael jackson 1By late decade Michael as a solo had rid himself of genuine soul and found something distinctive: white skin and a perky little nose, which alarmingly shrank year by year into an almost microscopic compass point. More than music, most charitably described as amorphous sound designed to dance to, the multitude of stage moves he devised, all executed jerkily at lightning speed but still with immaculate timing, were right up there in the best traditions of circus performers seen on America’s Got Talent — and, it must, be remembered, years before them.

Most successfully of all in the superstar firmament, he developed an unparalleled ability to generate fan sympathy in the face of evermore outrageous self-indulgence, previously the domain of friends and mentors such as Elizabeth Taylor and Diana Ross. Was that his underlying essence, and predestined downfall, that he possessed the psyche of an androgynous being in which the rules that everyone else had to live by didn’t count? Like your ordinary garden-variety diva (and many are said to have the mentality of cultivated, nurtured pot plants) but encumbered by male expectations?

Generating so much money for so many people, he was pampered so that every whim no matter how bizarre was catered for. Every momentary desire was met with a resounding “Yes” by the Yes Men surrounding him day and night, and female celebrities spread their legs to be implanted with his divine seed in hopes of producing cloned products in a dynasty of inevitable success. Not only were the needs of others of no account but he was so far removed from reality that he brought others into actual physical danger — as when he used his baby as a public performance prop — to satisfy his own need for public acclaim, at least notoriety when he was capable of nothing more.

Above all he is responsible for the superstar mantra “Make your own rules” — not in stretching the boundaries of intellect in creating imaginative new music.

And tonight on the news there is a mass spontaneous tribute to his “Moon Walk” — with fans crowded in the street, linking hands and all shuffling backwards together, at least with better coordination and timing than you would expect from, say, a gathering of demented winos. What greater legacy can a performer leave?

His other trademark innovation on stage was simulating masturbating on stage, in time, into a white clinical glove — presumably all the better to inspire those better endowed with semen to donate. It undoubtedly inspired Justin Timberlake to develop his own innovative great leap forward in performance art: simulating humping women dog-like from behind, on stage, to the delight of his millions of fans around the world who pay hundreds of dollars each to see this and the other wonders of his talent.

That all said, I once caught a sustained glimpse of Michael Jackson in a two-hour interview, probably recorded around the turn of the millennium, undertaken to ameliorate the worst backlash after the pedophile accusations. (For the record, I believe them to be false, but how stupid can you be to take unrelated children into your bed and explain it “as the most loving thing in the world”?) I remember my mother, who had just watched it with me and was genuinely intrigued, asking what I thought of him as a genuine creative personality. I told her that I didn’t know if he was a genius but he came across to me as a genuine artist in pursuit of what artists should be — thoughtful, considered work.

Given the nature of the sensationalizing media and the chameleon-like image of Jackson’s public persona as portrayed, who can say what was in his mind from one minute to the next? So I bow to the authority of Quincy Jones, a hugely influential figure in music production for half a century, for the final word — confirming Michael Jackson didn’t like being a black man but dubbing him all the same a “performance genius”. Who might guess what Leonardo da Vinci would have turned out looking like had a mass media existed to shine the brightest spotlight in the world on him 24-7?

And so the debate goes on …

Movie Review: Night Must Fall (MGM, 1937)

In film, morality, psychology/psychiatry on May 29, 2009 at 10:51 pm

It’s been said by at least one film historian that by the end of the Thirties the technique of making talking motion pictures had been mastered and made into a new art form, with virtually all of its salient aspects having been explored and employed to utmost effect within that short period. The achievement encompassed in those first ten years after the demise of Silents absolutely dwarfs the so-called ‘progress’ in film in the further twenty years up to the collapse of the Studio Era, and throws into abject shame the backwards direction taken by the industry in the half-century since then — ever accelerating since George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and their many mini-clones in James Cameron, Peter Jackson and so on.

With special effects alone becoming ever more ‘sophisticated’ but looking all the more unrealistic on screen, we must be just a few short steps from Alfred Hitchcock’s prediction: We enter a private chamber, the logical conclusion moving on from largely deserted, sterile multiplexes. We get wired up, and feel whatever shocks we prefer for the moment to whatever centers of the brain that turn us on, in vain attempts to get what passes for a satisfying entertainment experience today. The bar has risen so high technically, and dropped so low emotionally and artistically — so far below everyday human relations — that staying home for a good wank must surely be the higher human aspiration. All the better if you can get another to participate, never mind a lot cheaper.

Every now and again a true lover of human drama gets to revive his spirit through seeing a film made with some thought and imagination. It’s usually several generations old, and shown on pay television in the dead of night when few are watching. As far as I’m concerned, all the better for this exclusive experience — let the sheep go where they may, with the flow.

Originally a hit London and Broadway play written by and starring Welsh actor Emlyn Williams, this screenplay was adapted by London-born John Van Druten; a year after it was released on screen he was drafted in by David Selznick to improve the script of Gone With the Wind. A movie set and filmed in England under the UK branch of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Night Must Fall was produced by Hollywood staffer Hunt Stromberg and directed by Richard Thorpe. By all accounts Thorpe was no more than an efficient workman, so credit for the fine ‘look’ of this picture must go to veteran cinematographer Ray June and its sound to prolific MGM composer Edward Ward.

Also from the studio’s Hollywood staff came stars Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell. Homegrown stars remaining in Britain provided only a weak draw at the box-office, even at home theaters. It was believed that all the screen talent Britain had to offer was already in Hollywood: the likes of matinee idol Ronald Colman (emulated by Basil Rathbone, Errol Flynn, David Niven and US Anglophile Douglas Fairbanks Jr), admired thespian Charles Laughton, elder statesman George Arliss, child star Freddie Bartholomew (Roddy McDowall and Elizabeth Taylor to follow in the early Forties), highest-paid Brit femme Madeleine Carroll (and Merle Oberon and Ida Lupino, soon Vivien Leigh), and comic supreme Charlie Chaplin persevering with new silents at the rate of one every five years.

Publicity shot of the star taken for Night Must Fall (1937)

Publicity shot of the star taken for Night Must Fall (1937)

Yet in America, Robert Montgomery was no longer at the peak of popularity as he had been as a youth in 1929-30, and Rosalind Russell was still on the way up. So, with an English setting and including a sterling but very English cast in Dame May Whitty, Kathleen Harrison, Merle Tottenham, Alan Marshal, E. E. Clive and Beryl Mercer, the film was panned by your typical know-nothing film critic of the time (and they still rule the media). Variety had it that the movie was slow and dull. Studio head Louis B. Mayer disowned it. What better compliments can a film hope for? Naturally, over the decades since it has been greatly appreciated as a ‘sleeper’ — a film with a relatively small budget, that was never supposed to be a hit, was largely condemned at release, and has proven all the better quality for that.

The striking aspect of the movie for me, which makes it so much worthier than virtually any modern film in general release, is its basis in ‘pure film’. Techniques in film language commonly used then are used with flair: sustained close-ups, long-distance panning shots, deep-focus group shots to contrast motives. The constant play of light and shadow over all indicates mood, heightens suspense and literally illuminates good and evil subconsciously to the audience. Nowhere is the gratuitous crushed skulls with flying gore and blood-spattering so necessary to get the message across to today’s clueless audiences. And gone, over generations, is the magic of film.

The action opens with a man walking his dog at night on the edge of a forest, and almost stumbling on to another man who whistles a merry tune but seems to be on the ground rustling in the fallen leaves — It later turns out he is covering up a body. In the next scene, morning, all is drenched in sunshine (a motif repeated throughout), suggesting that everyday life goes on regardless of dark undertones in this sleepy village — its inhabitants blissfully unaware, maybe not wanting to know.

A woman is missing in the village, and first to show real insight into her likely fate is the lowly paid, spinster companion (bachelorette is hardly appropriate — she wears hornrim glasses, a dead giveaway in film shorthand) of domineering dowager May Whitty, played by Ros Russell. She is incidentally the old lady’s niece and we learn how resentful she is of her aunt’s manipulative hypochondria, as she pretends wheelchair-bound helplessness. But Ros is seriously emotionally repressed, repeatedly rebuffing the affectionate advances of supportive solicitor (lawyer) Alan Marshal.

He is far too polite, nice to the core. Ros yearns for excitement and danger in her life. This must be why, though she very early suspects a new employee on the scene (Robert Montgomery), an obvious go-getting self-advancer, of being homicidal, that she colludes with him to win the old lady’s favor. She is strongly attracted to him. The mood gradually becomes more sombre as Ros neglects her self-indulgent, spoilt aunt, inviting danger into the home in the person of the suspicious stranger who ingratiates his way to be the lady’s trusted ‘support’.

Ros sums up ‘Danny’: “You have no feelings. You live in a world of your own — of your own imagination.” Thus defining a sociopath, no matter to her. She collaborates with him in winning over her aunt: He spend’s a week’s wages on a shawl and presents it to the old lady as his dear departed mother’s. Just in time, Ros removes the price tag and Danny knows he has her in the palm of his hand too.

Curiosity about her loved one getting the better of her, Ros, the cook (Kathleen Harrison, playing wryly humorous in the kind of role that Thelma Ritter later made her own in Hollywood), and maid, Merle Tottenham, playing dithering and emptyheaded, supposed to be Danny’s intended, search his room thoroughly. They find evidence of a double life but he walks in on them before they can open his suspicious hatbox — just big enough for a severed head, they think.

Despite this, when the police detective calls round and is about to call Danny on the hatbox, Ros claims it as hers — thereby providing his escape route to continue murdering. He has already spied the old lady putting money in her secret hideaway. For the second time Ros goes to seek reassurance from her frustrated suitor and turns back — conveniently away long enough for Danny to strangle Mrs Bransom. She returns, she tells him, to find him out — but has no regrets that her aunt is dead. Suitor and police walk in in time to save the ever-ambivalent Ros.

While this film treatment could be called Hitchcockian in its view of the charming but murderous sociopath and annoying old ladies, it departs from the pattern of blameless beautiful woman as intended victim. Rosalind Russell plays here a woman who cooperates fully in the danger she is enmeshed in, and herself is seemingly oblivious or careless of others’ feelings as she focuses wholly on fulfilling her own fantasies.

Movie Review: ‘Love from a Stranger’ (1936)

In film, psychology/psychiatry on March 25, 2008 at 3:04 am
Ann Harding in her young prime, c.1929

Ann Harding in her young prime, c.1929

This is another of those old movies with a lot of things wrong with them but is still interesting enough to tempt me to stay up till 2.30am watching it on tv. I’d never seen it, or heard of it, but I was particularly fascinated because I’d never seen Ann Harding on screen before. I was unsure at first and thought it might be the English actress of the same name; she was using that popular trans-Atlantic accent required from ‘lady’ stars of the time who were trained to enunciate like English women born to the manor: Ruth Chatterton, Kay Francis, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn… She looked like the American star physically but surely there was something missing.

But no, this Ann Harding was the American superstar of very early talkies. A top attraction from 1929, her pay rate from the RKO-Pathe studio in 1933 was $9,000 a week — in all the Hollywood starlight behind only Will Rogers, Greta Garbo and John Gilbert second equal, Maurice Chevalier and Ruth Chatterton. Like Chatterton, Nancy Carroll, Elissa Landi and several other stellar women of the time, she was stereotyped in “women’s pictures” and quickly lost popularity.

This film was made in England by lower case company Trafalgar but had the supposed advantages of the American star — even one on the slide rated higher box-office than most top English ones — as well as a prestigious American screen writer (Frances Marion) and director (Rowland V. Lee). Before looking it up I couldn’t place it in time and guessed it must be around 1931, even ’30; there was something primitive about the staging, even the lighting. And the directing was so unimaginative and static I thought it must have been made during that short phase on the introduction of talkies when filmmakers were still getting used to audio technology. Luckily the ingenious plotting and imaginative dialogue of Frances Marion, by this time a legendary screen writer for a quarter century, made up for it.

Certainly by now, though just 35, the gloss seemed to have gone off Ann. In the “Golden Era of Movies” around this age was considered the declining phase for screen females — unless you were Shirley Temple, then it was 10. At 38, Joan Crawford was dumped by MGM, and at 40 Bette Davis was playing middle aged in every sense. Even the thought of a sexually active 50-year-old in the mold of Jessica Lange, Ellen Barkin or Pam Grier — if it ever even occurred to any male mogul in Hollywood at the time — would have been considered outright disgusting. From earlier photos, Ann was highly attractive, with a luminous presence. A sedate and dignified blonde — a species totally extinct on screen since the Thirties.

Rathbone, the master villain, in costume in 1936

Rathbone, the master villain, in costume in 1936

Here she might have been deliberately unglamorised to make believable for the role of a woman (on the wrong side of thirty and in danger of being left on the shelf!) duped into love by a charming roue. Her leading man was Basil Rathbone, looking her match aged 44, years before he got into his famous Sherlock Holmes series that sustained him another decade. He had been a much sought-after leading man early in the decade for the screen’s leading divas, and was now in his period as the best costume villain on screen, usually trying to foil Errol Flynn, in Captain Blood, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Mark of Zorro and so on.

The plot has it that after winning a lottery she dumps, after a minor spat, her long-time boyfriend (Bruce Seton) — one of those teddibly, teddibly civilized, dependable Nigels or Lionels of the day who admirably played the doormat once shat upon. When she springs the news on him, in Basil Rathbone’s presence, that she’s thrown him over, he later apologizes for how he reacted, having left the room dumbfounded in the circumstances. Of course, he hangs around for the rest of the movie trying to keep her from harm. Neither he nor her faithful sidekick (Binnie Hale) can talk any sense into her. She even writes off the ex as a jealous cad interfering with her new-found but illusory happiness. Note that the template of the independent, wilfully self-absorbed female, totally lacking in judgment between male characters (or rather, deluding herself over her own motives), was not new in the Nineties.

As these things tend to go in real life — and remember this is written by a woman, and from an Agatha Christie story — the heroine’s love has been won by an unmitigated bounder and disreputable rotter rolled into one. It turns out several of his ex-wives are no more and he is quite a celebrated case, so much so that there are books about him floating around. Somehow the heroine doesn’t recognize him from the photo and anyway she only starts to object when he raises his hand to her.

The acting in the denouement is fairly ripe but expertly done, and incredibly subtle by today’s standards — where the actor-automatons just scrunch their faces up in unadulterated fury and beat the shit out of each other. The psychiatry here isn’t even half right — as usual mixing up psychotic and psychopathic characteristics — but that’s entertainment?! Not for the Arnie/Sly Stallone/Harrison Ford crowd or other special effects and pyrotechnics lovers.

MEDICAL REVIEW — THE THERAPEUTIC EFFECT OF ARTISTIC ACTIVITY FOR PSYCHIATRIC SURVIVORS

In anthropology, art, literature, music, politics, psychology/psychiatry on March 21, 2008 at 2:41 am

By G. A. De Forest, presented 4th October 2007 at the ‘Planting the Seeds’ Conference, Wellington, New Zealand

Artistic endeavours are one of the few ways people enmeshed (and often emotionally entombed) in the mental health system feel free to express themselves on their own terms. That is, if the artistic effort is not closely monitored by an NGO [‘non-governmental organization’, in the form of a charirable trust, incorporated society or business that is deemed to be providing services for mental health ‘consumers’]. There are cases of NGOs appropriating the work of ‘their’ artists for promotional or other purposes without asking permission of the artist or even attributing the work to the artist. An attitude of such disrespect would not be tolerated towards artists in the commercial world outside the mental health system, where an artist’s intellectual property is definitely his or her own—created by the artist and owned by the artist, morally and legally.

Comedian Spike Milligan -- might have been lobotomised in the South Pacific for his irreverent bipolarism

Comedian Spike Milligan -- might have been lobotomised in the South Pacific for his irreverent bipolarism

The aloneness of the dedicated artist, especially an eccentric one, is emphasized in a society where the Pacific priorities of family and wider social hierarchy are highlighted and conformity and ‘team play’ are foremost. The lumping together of culture and heritage in the same government ministry has cemented tradition as a prime societal objective, when the genuine artist might have as his goal to change culture and damn heritage. Overtones everywhere of cultural-political correctness and the economic importance of the tourist trade make it plain that to be exhibited in Te Mana, our national showcase to the world, is to make it big in New Zealand’s contemporary art world.

Too frequently clients are fed a diet of conformity by providers in the guise of helping. A wounded psyche, already disinclined to complain for fear of some backlash from the system, is encouraged to ‘think positively’. Genuine and deeply held opinions may be brushed aside as symptoms of the person’s condition by staff—who may lack a great deal less insight about life, about the possibilities and potential of the mind, and about simple person-to-person ethics.

This problem has unfortunately not been eliminated by including more and more ‘highly functioning’ former clients among staff, who are often picked for well developed logical functioning and who perform administrative tasks competently and efficiently but might understand little of the artistic process. Moreover, for fear of being seen as ‘a little loopy’ themselves by health authorities, many tend to err on the side of conservatism. The phenomenon of the professionally distanced client advisor or peer supporter is a recognized problem. Just as there are cases of ‘supporting’ NGOs exploiting their artistic clients, so there is no shortage of former clients, now staff, who censor their own kind for fear of being thought of as a collaborationist in nonconformity. It can be seen, then, that artistically inclined clients are stuck in an environment where opinions and emotions unpopular in society at large might be better expressed through fictional works, visual imagery and music.

I have learnt from experience as a writer that an article telling the unvarnished truth—with first-hand facts and statistics to back it up—should probably not be circulated within the so-called ‘The Consumer Movement’ (which actually shows very little if any movement). The result can very easily be vilification, even victimisation. A ‘nonfiction’ writer wanting to be heard by other mental health clients should go into satire, where the names and specific situations are changed to protect the guilty; or preferably fantasy, where the creative spirit is allowed free rein and there is no real risk of a backlash rebounding on a sensitive individual with the anguish that can cause.

Salvador Dali, super-eccentric Spanish painter

Salvador Dali, super-eccentric Spanish painter

The therapeutic effects of a healthy fantasy life have long been recognised as far back as Freud and beyond. These fantasies, however frowned upon in polite conversation, are of course essential to the human condition. Most are safely tucked away in dreams, even daydreaming. It is the dedicated artist’s job to bring them up from the unconscious and expose them to daylight, where in art form they are allowed to be openly appreciated—though no matter how skilful and insightful, even inspirational, still the artist might be the butt of disparaging remarks from those who have no insight into their own human condition.

It is no wonder that music in whatever form is the most universal of all pastimes—either performing or listening. Its rhythms were first engendered in the womb from our mother’s heartbeat, and after birth our mother’s tone of voice—hopefully singsong baby talk—assures us that all is right with the world. A baby learns to sing—wordless tunes in pure music—long before it learns to talk. In times of stress through teenagerhood and full adulthood what better resource to turn to when the world around us seems to be spiralling into chaos? It is no wonder, either, that many of the most ground-breaking musicians and other artists have been victims of mental disturbances—and found that artistic activity was their one reliable outlet and friend in times of real crisis.

Too often thrown back on their own inner resources, the artistic client must maximize both the quantity and quality of his creative time. For visual artists and writers this will inevitably mean more solitary time—which could create problems of its own if taken to extremes. For performance artists it means more time socialising in their most rewarding activity, generating much-needed feelings of wellbeing. For all, the time spent engaged in their chosen field will usually bring a feeling of satisfaction, often at least moderate pleasure and sometimes elation, even ecstacy. Hence the well-known catchall term for the creative process: The Agony and the Ecstacy.

It is a paradox that onset of serious mental symptoms leaves a person less inclined to perform music, while driving oneself to vocalise or play his or her instrument could very well act to somewhat relieve a depressive mood. It is in this way that structured daily sessions provided in various arts and crafts by NGOs alleviates the need for a high level of motivation on the part of the participant. Once in the class the creative instinct takes over and the therapeutic value gained will be related to how much is put in.

The generally high and in some instances exceptional standard of art works seen regularly at exhibitions sponsored by Auckland NGOs can be matched by those who choose to remain totally independent of umbrella organisations or attend ‘brushing-up’ classes to hone their skills and share fellowship with other artists. The proportion of visually creative people (and other artists) making up mental health clients as a whole must surely exceed that of the general population. Many completed art school as young people only to suffer a serious breakdown interrupting their career. The slow and often painful return to art brings their life back on course to where it should have been, and the return of competence in their chosen field boosts confidence greatly.

The emergence of worthy singer-songwriters from the ranks of mental health clients, some gaining national attention and acclaim, has been perhaps the most impressive success in the arts. Among those less musically gifted, informal vocal and instrumental groups allow essential expression of primal emotions. It is obvious, from observing the dynamics of an informal musical group coordinated by myself, that simply expressing oneself musically is a freeing experience, enabling a quantum leap into a deeper mental and spiritual personal state than, say, polite conversation, even among friends. Someone who has been almost totally silent during a social gathering for two hours immediately previous, will burst forth with torrents of forceful communication. It is a painful paradox then, at least for performance artists, that they feel least like singing or playing when they are going through a bad patch. It is then that friends and supporters should guide them back into their art to reintroduce and sustain a habit of self-therapy.

For the visual artist, it can easily be imagined that the first stroke of paint on canvas brings forth creative possibilities. There is a fast rush of creation stimulated by the activity itself. On the second and third strokes more ideas suggest themselves and on the fourth and fifth maybe already a pattern is emerging. A direction steadily coelesces into a theme, or the work is finally abandoned. But either way the stimulation of higher mental processes has brought many hours of hopefully undistracted, undiluted spiritual pleasure for the artist. Any wider appreciation by friends, supporters, recognition by the mental health community, even general public, are bonuses which can boost general confidence but does not match the ultimate high: the very act of creation.

It has been said that the future of the world depends on its most creative, free-thinking individuals; certainly not those living by ‘the rules’ and striving for consensus. If this is true—and I believe it is, it is a shame that more research has not been done into the higher workings of the mind.

Movie Review: ‘The Fugitive’ (1993)

In film, psychology/psychiatry, television on March 15, 2008 at 11:34 am

Last night I watched the movie version of ‘The Fugitive’ on television — and for the first time right through. I’d always thought of it as one of those far-fetched Harrison Ford actioners, if not quite as outlandish as ‘Air Force One’. Now I see it is really Tommy Lee Jones, the Fugitive’s nemesis, who dominates.

It’s inevitable with all these remakes that we compare them to the originals. This one, as with what seems like at least ninety percent of the others, falls short. That’s despite the creator of the tv series, Roy Huggins, being executive producer. I have to admit a bias here, if that’s what it is. I could always identify with David Janssen’s special hurt furtiveness he brought to the role of Dr Richard Kimble, persecuted daily by the justice system and law enforcement officers, reliant on the kindness of strangers, etc… As well as his usual mannerisms — so well known at the time because ‘The Fugitive’ was the second of Janssen’s four distinctive series that I can remember. Each week he was in a different locale, with different guest stars, and a different flavor brought by new writers. There was something involving about his screen magnetism too.

David Janssen: the haunted face of The Fugitive (tv, 1963-67)

David Janssen: the haunted face of The Fugitive (tv, 1963-67)

I suppose this is where Harrison Ford tends to leave me cold. (And not only him — I can only think of three modern star actors who have engaged me to the point where I can’t take my eyes off them: Jessica Lange and Ellen Barkin for their sexual magnetism, and Sean Penn for other abilities.) I once saw an interview where Harrison related a story about starting out at Columbia studio in the mid Sixties. A producer told him about Tony Curtis playing a janitor (or somesuch) but “the instant you saw him on screen you knew you were watching a star”.

The perpetually snarling face of Harrison Ford as The Fugitive (1993)

The perpetually snarling face of Harrison Ford as The Fugitive (1993)

At this point, at least in the story as Harrison tells it, he replies like a wiseass that he thought “you were supposed to believe you’re watching a janitor”. Well, Harrison, that’s the absolute least a capable actor should be able to do. And you’ve been doing it for thirty years now.

As in the original, the Detective Lieutenant Gerard character here played by Tommy Lee Jones is an intensely ego-driven obsessive to say the least. (For some reason his christian name is ‘updated’ from Philip to Sam, maybe as a nod to the supposed true-life model for The Fugitive, the Fifties’ Dr Sam Sheppard.) But unlike the original, in which Barry Morse plays Gerard as a blinkered, determined functionary of a type well known in everyday life, this Gerard is jokesy-cool at the same time as blowing away an offender at point blank range without blinking an eye or twitching a hair. Also, while in the original series Gerard has no reason to believe Kimble is not guilty until almost the very end of a four-season series, Tommy Lee Jones is fed obvious clues all along the way but remains ruthless in his pursuit, including trying to shoot the cornered Kimble in cold blood.

Tommy Lee Jones as psycho-cop

Tommy Lee Jones as psycho-cop

Then in a sudden switch at the end he ludicrously transforms into the firm-but-fair cop with a heart of gold, and repudiates his “I don’t care!” mantra (about Kimble’s guilt or innocence) for an affable mano-a-mano chat with Kimble in the back of a squad car.

This is the kind of thing that must be expected since screenwriters started thirty years ago writing primarily for wookies and other creatures rather than humans — but it doesn’t make it easier to take.

TV REVIEW: REALITY TV? — GET REAL!

In morality, psychology/psychiatry, sociology, television on December 29, 2007 at 7:43 pm

So-called ‘reality tv’ in the Survivor format must be the sickest, most degenerate form of entertainment created in the 20th Century for a mainstream audience — that is, short of such obvious moral atrocities as snuff films, and excluding bear baiting, dog fights, bull fights and other wantonly abusive ‘entertainments’ invented in previous centuries but still enjoyed by the morally calloused.

Yesterday I watched the final episode of one of the milder series, produced in Britain, in which eight morbidly obese youths trek 500 miles (800km) in eight weeks, from Land’s End at the southwesternmost tip of England, through some of the mountainous country of Wales and Cumbria to Edinburgh in Scotland. The strict diets they were on doubled the ‘challenge’ and heightened tempers as the natural camaraderie among the young people descended to ruthless rivalry and the stronger picked off the ‘weak’ one by one.

Two fell out relatively early on but another two who walked about 400 miles were still deemed to be losers. One of them, a young man of over 400lb, had lost 65lb (30kg) by his own efforts but, defeated by the ever-increasing daily pace, was still nagged to carry on by the producers and relentlessly berated even by his mother — though he was obviously close to physical and mental breakdown. In my (admittedly limited) experience of watching these shows it struck a new low in exploiting emotionally fragile young people. The narrator concluded at the end that four of the eight had taken control of their lives — obviously the ones who had stuck to the program’s format and succeeded as tv stars, in fact the ones most controlled by the producers.

The vast number of last-man-standing type series are too numerous and too loathesome to go into here, and deserve a condemnatory book of their own — if anyone with common decency could stand wallowing in the filth long enough to do the job justice. It beggars belief (like the inexplicable quarter-century existence of Hip Hop) that such ‘reality’ series — where teams of weak characters are exhorted to sink to the lowest of the low, gnawing at the other and then turning on their own to prove themselves ‘worthy’ to survive and win a million bucks — could themselves survive the endless train of personal destruction taken from one Pacific paradise to the next.

Possibly, being as popular as they are, it is a perverse ‘tribute’ to these Survivor-type programs that they have helped materially to lower the morality of wider society — to the point where the programs themselves seem so mild by now that Internet entrepreneurs and webcam stylists have taken the destruction through the next ‘logical’ steps, to such ‘entertainment’ as “Kick the Wino to Death”, or “Sexually Attack an Innocent for Fun and Humiliation”.

%d bloggers like this: