February 1, 2009
So are you watching the “United States of Tara” series? (It’s on again tonight.) Have you been watching “One Life to Live”? Have you seen the various other shows on television that have a character with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID/MPD)?
I certainly have not watched all the shows and movies that incorporate DID’ers into their character line-up, but I have seen enough of them to hope that in the “United States of Tara” Showtime series, the dissociative character does not end up being the local serial killer.
Doesn’t that plot line get old for you?
It sure does for me.
The “United States of Tara” has potential to go either way. So far, one of Tara’s insiders, Buck, angrily refuses to conform to society’s rules, beats up neighborhood teenagers, aggressively humiliates his own children, and frequently takes target practice at the local gun range. Great – so the propensity for violence is there, but the show is supposed to be a comedy, so we’ll see how far they take this theme.
In the soap opera, “One Life to Live”, the dissociative character Jess-Tess-Bess (aren’t the rhyming names cute?) was just seconds away from being an official killer of her kidnapped sister, but something dramatic and wonderful happened just in the nick of time, and the sister got out, no thanks to Jess-Tess-Bess the great big mess.
I do like how “One Life to Live” has attempted to show the inside (internal world landscapes) and the ongoing discussions between internal alters as part of their storyline. That’s been interesting, and at least shows to the viewing audience that the insiders, even when inside, don’t just go back into nothingness. The scenes from the internal world are limited to one internal place where at least one character at a time is in a big cage (what’s up with that?). It shows how the external world becomes the world viewed on a movie screen, far away and separate from the insiders that have conversations with each other.
Jess, Tess, and Tara have shown amnesia for areas of their lives, especially the areas that are emotionally harder to digest. Ok, that’s true enough. And in that sense, the shows demonstrate how strong amnesia is for the dissociative person, but how much outside people can see the various alters, and their actions, and how outside people who aren’t filing information away via amnesia, can and do remember all the different actions that the dissociative person does.
Tara’s husband and children all remember vividly when Tara switches to T the obnoxious sexualized teenager. Tara’s son doesn’t forget how rude and crude Buck’s nasty comments are to him. Tara’s children are affected severely by the behaviors of her alters, and while Tara conveniently blocks out her obnoxious, damaging behaviors from her direct awareness, the children still carry the scars of her behavior.
Tara is a good mother, but she just isn’t there all the time. Tara’s relatively helpful alter, Alice, has potential to have positive motherly traits — she bakes a really mean cake! And she can put the troubled schoolteacher in his place, but she’s still not the mom, and the kids miss their mom. A lot. And understandably so.
While Jess is barely recalling the incidents involved with locking her sister up in a hidden room in the basement with dynamite, the sister and her fiance remember every detail and are understandably angry and upset about it.
Ok – ouch. That’s a painful point, but it can be true for dissociative disorders. Dissociative people can block themselves off from truly grasping how their negative behaviors have affected other people.
Obviously, the media has built up the extremities of the DIDer’s bad behavior for the drama ratings on their show, but the point is there. In regular life, most multiples do not go around locking their sisters up with dynamite or beating up ratty teenagers on the local schoolyard. They may feel like it, but most don’t actually do that.
Working on accepting responsibility for what the other alters do (or have done in the past) is a hard part of dissociative treatment. As demonstrated in the media, these negative behaviors which are much more comfortably hidden behind dissociative amnesiac walls, are often painfully remembered by others.
Now, if you are dissociative and reading this blog, please don’t start screaming at me about how much you are hurting, and get all in a huff about how dare I say that you could hurt others. I KNOW that you are hurting too – I really and truly do understand that. This blog is about a slightly different topic, so… please take a step back from that raw edge, and let me talk about what it’s like for other people.
For Tara, her husband is extremely supportive and understanding. That is actually very nice to see. It’s not easy for spouses to be as understanding of everything, but the fact that he accepts all of her insiders, has a connection with each of them, and responds to each of them as who they are, is good. (And no, I’m not going to touch the “who he should or should not have sex with” controversy in this particular blog, but who knows, I might tackle that another time, because it is, in all reality, a big issue.)
Tara’s daughter both loves the DID and hates it. It’s very cool, and yet it’s very embarrassing for her.
Tara’s sister seems to not understand or accept the dissociation, so that factors in another element in family dynamics. That’s going to be a big topic for further discussion too!
While I’m not totally thrilled with the way DID is being presented on these shows, for now, I’m certainly going to keep watching. I want to see more about how Dissociative Identity Disorder is being portrayed in the media, and I can use the shows as a baseline starting point to teach about the actual reality of DID to others. These latest shows have at least progressed somewhat from the old murder mystery approach to DID, and I’m pleased to see that.
I’ll certainly have many more comments to make before either of these television series are done.
In the meantime, what are your thoughts and comments about these dissociative characters in the media?
- Who is your favorite DID character in the media? What makes them your favorite?
- What is your most hated DID characterization from the media? Please explain.
- Have you seen yourself in any of the DID characters portrayed on the media? How so? How not?
- If you could affect how the media presents DID/MPD on the television, what would you suggest?
- What are your thoughts about “United States of Tara”?
- What are your thoughts about the dissociative characters on “One Life to Live”?
I’ll be posting more about this topic in weeks to come….
Happy SuperBowl Day everyone….
Kathy Broady LCSW