Freud and The Fall From Grace
The virtuous man contents himself with dreaming that which the wicked man does in actual life. (Freud)
My daughter asked me the other day if I could have dinner with Freud and ask him just one question – what would it be?
It was easy:
“Sigmund – what do you think of modern media?”
Anyone who has ever read Civilization and It’s Discontents, or On Narcissism, knows that our dear Dr. Freud would have a FIELD day with all of this. I was not trained psychoanalytically– but Freud is as classic as a Chanel suit – he got a lot of it right. He would likely puff on his cigar and opine on flattened egos, and urges for validation, and our conflicted primitive impulses.
He would also have a field day with our modern day pitchmen. Bill Cosby is the latest roadkill in a line of recent falls from grace (sandwich pitch men, the soiled spawn of the large litter of Duggars). And it keeps happening – right wing politicians found in compromising positions, family men found on vacation with their newest nubile girlfriends – you get the idea.
I teach my students one thing in my Abnormal Psychology class – the louder an idiot preaches, and the more they tout their lifestyle – the larger the skeletons in their closets. If you are comfortable with your position, with your opinion, with your lifestyle, and are not conflicted – you don’t have to scream about it. You simply know it, and don’t feel the need to defend it. And you are wise enough to see both sides.
This defensive posture, of taking an extreme position while secretly behaving in a VERY different way is called “reaction formation” – a term that reflects someone maintaining a zealot’s passion or a moralistic stance – while simultaneously committing the very sins against which they preach. (e.g. a politician who vehemently prattles about family values and has 3 mistresses on the side).
We want our media pitchmen and actors and leaders to be paragons of morality. They are not. They are entertainers – and by dint of that, may even be more morally slippery than the rest of us (anyone who can endure the slings and arrows of Hollywood has learned some bankrupt strategies to stay alive in those shark-infested waters).
So when Mr. Cosby and others like him take the high ground, we should start looking for the low ground on which they most likely stand. In our social media driven marketplace which evolves by the second – the person with the most extreme position gets heard. That can be extreme vulgarity, extreme nudity, or extreme moralism. Behind all extremity tends to be extreme discomfort.
We hate when our Bill Cosbys and other heavy-handed moralists and “family values folks” fail us. Since childhood, we have liked knowing who the good guy is and who the bad guy is. But we need to become more informed consumers of what we see. The self-righteous tend to be wrong. And a hasty apology written by an insincere publicist is considered adequate contrition.
For every Bill Cosby that gets found out, there are many more plying their trade. We have the power to pull the curtain back on these Wizards. If it’s too good to be true, it is likely false. Bottom line – stop looking to the media for heroes. The real heroes likely live among us – regular hard-working people who play by the rules, struggle to pay the bills, and find divinity in the prosaic. Rarely are our heroes standing on red carpets.
Whether Donald Trump trumpeting hateful vitriol about Mexican immigrants in America, powerful men denying allegations of indecency, or pious families hiding dirty secrets – media is a game of Three Card Monte. If you are going to play (or watch), recognize that you are being had.
And sit back with some popcorn and wait for their fall from grace.