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“Pulling at the Roots of Evil” (inspired by Arthur Silber)

[Arthur, am in the process of following up on your links on the above subject. Thanks. I respect your sensibility re “evil”. That its roots originate in childhood trauma and it recycles through the generations.]

There is an urgency for those of us struggling to be and stay sane and strong enough to identify -- call out -- “evil” and to begin to help society become aware of it. To help us all get deprogrammed from its relentless and massive grip to the best of our psychological and intellectual abilities.

Let me shoot off some of my own preliminary thoughts here. Off the top of my head, my favorite teachers of the roots of evil are Alice Miller, Scott Peck and Eric Berne.

I am a long time fan of Alice Miller. Her “trauma theory” is simple and profound. Psychological disturbances follow if trauma victims are not afforded an adequate supportive opportunity for processing trauma. More often, instead, the trauma is repeated again and again. And often and even more horrifying, the victim of the trauma is toxically assured by the traumatizer or even witnesses to it that the motivation of the trauma was well-intended and for the victim’s “own good.” One example, the old adage, “spare the rod and spoil the child” from years ago, supporting corporal punishment. Physical punishment too often is meted out to a child earnestly and shamelessly when the adult himself or herself was earnestly punished in such a way by his or her parent and assured it was for his or her “own good.” Sometimes the additional whammy is the claim that it is in line especially with God’s will.

What “acting out” occurs in its wake when trauma is not identified honestly and processed by its victims. When trauma is repressed its symptoms come out in either aggressive or passive aggressive behaviors. Acting out or acting in. Psychosis or neurosis. Unidentified evil in the guise of “good” can infect a national sensibility and support the most horrifying justifications for mass violence and cruelty, especially by a “daddy” or, yes, “mommy” authority leader acting for the “good” (pseudo-good) of the national family. The enthrallment of evil upon perpetrated children. Let’s face it, the willingness is there to deny or minimize massive evil coming at you from someone trusted and beloved. It arouses confusion. “Confuse” from the Latin. “Con” means “with”, “fuse” means “bond.” Bonding with one's aggressor. Being confused by him or her or them. This “enthrallment” supported by “confusion” can easily be re-triggered within ex-children in adulthood.

Victims of parental trauma will often deny or minimize parental trauma and as Miller and others contend these victims will, if unrecovered, perpetrate that trauma, especially similar trauma, often rationalized in the name of “tough love”, onto their own children. Sometimes, through broader transference than just their own immediate progeny, former victims have so identified with their parental or substitute parental “aggressors” they find opportunities to inflict insidious punishment onto a vast range of victims. Escalating its nature.

I believe the opportunities for parents to unconsciously perpetrate evil against their own children and train them to be perpetrators themselves is profoundly and epidemically true, and profoundly and epidemically not understood by most people.

In Miller’s book, For Your Own Good she even dramatically declares that if Hitler had had a child the psychotic “acting out” he did on millions of people would have been targeted at his own child to absorb his sadistic and destructive dysfunction. Or that, she even contends, perhaps if Hitler’s father had not had the child, Hitler, there would have been a Hitler a generation earlier acting out his perverted will on millions. Hitler was abused by his father. Hitler’s father was abused by his father, etc., etc. Miller’s not playing when she talks about dysfunctional parenting and its ramifications on a family line, a culture or all of mankind.

One of her favorite phrases is “poisonous pedagogy”, the enthrallment of a society to a patriarchal, puritanical sensibility. A status quo toxic standard operating procedure in parenting. Patriarchal, power-addicted and competitive behaviors by parents and authority figures, rather than humanist or “feminine” (not re gender but in the proverbial philosophical sensibility) ones that foster partnership and cooperation, harmony (to use a vocabulary I learned from Marion Woodman).

Eric Berne was a brilliant psychologist. I have at times shared about one of his theories on political blogs to explain the power and popularity of authoritarian demagogues such as John McCain. I think he offers as much in comprehending the roots of evil as Miller and Peck.

Eric Berne is known for the powerful, 60s, pop psychology book, Games People Play based on Berne's theory of transactional analysis. Berne maintained that there are three ego states that human beings communicate from. The parent ego state, the adult ego state, and the child ego state. Parent ego state communication might be someone telling some one else firmly to button his or her coat because it is cold out. It carries a degree of authority but a caring or good will nurturance. Adult ego state is the rational one. Straightforward. Maybe relaying information. “It is cold outside.” The child ego state Berne divides into several categories. Maybe the child will respond rebelliously and say re buttoning his or her coat, “Don’t tell me what to do!” or “Okay, mommy,” (or daddy) and button the coat to please or out of fear of the parent (authority).

Now, understanding Berne’s modes of the child ego state, I maintain, holds the key to appreciating to a great degree how primitive power and control addict adults trigger and control vulnerable and malleable fellow adults because of their childhood unrecognized trauma and enthrallment to “toxic” authority figures who have abused them.

Berne maintained that there were two counterpoint categories of the child ego state. The natural child and the adapted child. The natural child mode feels free to behave spontaneously. Emotions and physical sensations are embraced easily. The adapted child state, the second, is more cautious and has been influenced by the censoring of parents and society’s social codes in general. Conditioned by the authorities in the social environment.

Berne also introduced the idea of something called the “pig parent” which is an additional child ego state that instead of speaking with a discernible child ego state sounding voice actually mimics the parent ego state voice. It issues orders and injunctions but not with the good will and wisdom to protect another as the voice of the parent ego state, though it postures that.

Using the voice of the parent, the “for your own good” tone of authority, the pig parent child ego state firmly uses that counterfeit voice to primitively and selfishly satisfy its own needs and impulses. Sadly, the “pig parent” to many citizens, in considering political abuse of some leaders, resonates to people’s own history with parents who controlled them maybe far too often from the “pig parent” inappropriately dysfunctional ego state. The genuine parent and adult ego states would have had the welfare of a child or fellow adult in mind, not the childish ego needs of the asserter. But a child is not sophisticated enough to separate when mommy or daddy is not maturely parental and is "acting out" at them in a childish way but using parental language and tone.

So when John McCain pops off in his angry but paternal rhetoric, say, millions swoon back in Pavlovian response to their own fathers, perhaps, that “pig parent” coming at them and since they are in denial of the toxicity of their real parent, McCain gets to infantilize them -- trigger them -- by his “pig parent” authority posturing so authentically similar to the toxic “pig parent’ voice of their own parent. That parent that was not acting out of nurturance but primitive self-aggrandizing impulses. They buy it. Because it is FAMILIAR and they continue on in denial of how abusive it actually was. McCain gains power. They are invested in his being sincerely paternal when he is so not. Those not feeling the transference feel stupefied at McCain’s power.

Maybe Rush Limbaugh is an even better example of someone coming from the "pig parent" child ego state faking they are of a parental "for your own good" protective perspective. Dick Cheney, there is another poster “pig parent”. Sarah Palin is an example. George Bush. Barack Obama, though not a bombastic “pig parent.” But a toxic paternalism power emanates from him, too, on occasion. Listen for him to scold us more and more to sacrifice. (Though to me it seems Obama postures from the adult ego state but too often actually reacts from the "adapted" child ego state, with the child ego state "pig parents" of Congress, Pentagon, Republican party, military, media, etc. piling onto him and his offerings.)

I can’t remember who once mentioned in his or her book how Americans originally became so enthralled with celebrity movie stars. Their theory was that when movies were invented, and people in the audience looked up at massive heads and upper bodies on the screens -- the likes of the Clark Gables, etc., -- they felt like tiny infants in the arms of colossally powerful parent figures and there was a profound and primitive bond made between actor celebrity and child-audience member. Primal and strong and unconscious. I found that theory quite exciting and sensible.

As for Scott Peck and his contribution to this preliminary exploration of evil, Peck explores in People of the Lie the power of authority over conscience. The power of necrophilic leadership, that wants to keep things static and distrusts change and expansion for its own need for secure power, against biophilic leadership with its healthier willingness to learn, explore, expand and be flexible. A willingness to CHANGE.

Another Peck theory in People of the Lie is about compartmentalizing and diluting one’s moral responsibility in enabling social dangers. He calls it "specialization". Someone who sells guns excusing himself or herself for not actually doing the shooting so gun deaths have nothing to do with them in their minds and hearts. Those who make guns excuse themselves because they don’t sell them, etc. Also, in terms of war, the excuse that “I was just following orders” in the patriarchal system chain of command is a profound minimization for sure. So it is not my fault someone was killed by me shooting my gun. It is the responsibility of the person who told me to shoot the gun. They were the authority I had to respect.

The other day at work I became angry at the nature of a project I was assigned. My regular supervisor was leaving and the substitute supervisor was not the person I felt to object to so I popped into the manager’s office who was new and who asserted she had an open door policy. HAH!

It became immediately clear that I had broken the corporate code. I had jumped the shark. There were two degrees of separation between us and though she was in contact directly to the delegator of my very project, the supervisor under her was delegated to deal with me but did not have rights to communicate directly to the originators of these projects.

This is the corporate patriarchal chain of command system. Now the supervisor who communicates with her is not the person who suffers through said project and she is not as fully acquainted with its scope as I am. So my acquainting the manager above the supervisor with it directly was informing her more immediately of the reality of this oppressive project, and she could have ideally been in a position to communicate with the originator of the project above her what its problem was.

The manager refused to offer empathy or even extend much of an opportunity for me to share and ordered me out of her office. I suddenly had an epiphany of what Peck was speaking about with the compartmentalization of evil and also Marion Woodman’s calling out of the patriarchal chain of command system based heavily on power and competition rather than a humanist or feminine system based on cooperation and partnership, a lateral not vertical system of communication.

I went to see the movie "Fair Game" recently and intend to write a review of it. One of the revelations within that movie was the betrayal of Valerie Plame by the CIA and its governing leaders in the administration after an 18-year relationship with her as a solid middle management operative doing earnest work, or so she believed, in counter-proliferation. She, too, was divided from the top “deciders” by at least two or three degrees of separation I would guess. And though her comrades in the middle management knew that the aluminum tubes and yellow cake were propaganda tools for an unjustified war, the reality that they were best acquainted with went unheeded by the top leaders and thus media due to the power chain of command and its political and profit-motive needs.

The lower echelon and its revelations based on reality were and still too often are easily discounted by the “authorities” since the system of status in the chain usurps integrity and reality. In this case Plame was apparently a “true believer” in the necessary work being done by the CIA and her betrayal by the CIA and the system she was risking her life for, its turning on her to discount her and her husband’s stand on calling out Bush’s lies about yellow cake, shows how in the national family she as an earnest member of said family was profound. How the “pig parents” within that administration went after her and her husband, too. And these authoritarian “pig parents” carried great weight with many enthralled citizens.

I heard recently that in Sarah Palin’s new book, she asserts she is a fan of Simon Cowell. Simon Cowell makes a good poster boy for the “PIG PARENT”. His feedback to people exhibiting their talent is malicious. Yes he gives his performance-based reasoning, but it is from a mean-spirited, pig parent, punishing state not a nurturing “parent” authority one. And yet Simon’s voice enthralls millions of fans who enjoy a schadenfreude high and also might feel a perverse sentimental fondness for Cowell from their own childhood shaming by parent aggressors. Out of self-protection they ended up identifying with instead of rebelling against and rejecting “pig parents” as role models. I guess it could also be regarded as a “Stockholm Syndrome” dynamic.

Added to the mass national enthallment of the “daddy” and “mommy” pig parent demagogues we add the endorsement of them by the mainstream media that gives them the mike rather than leaders of integrity with the courage to speak truth to power. Pig parents are spotlighted zealously by corporate-owned media wiling to enable pig parents because they are willing to enable them back. Pig parents are so confident and so dramatic and so righteous.

We all have experienced “pig parent” ambushes from others, and we all have conveyed “pig parent” messages to others. It is a matter of degree. It is a matter of recognition.

And it matters that we become aware of the dynamic and its power. It’s massive and toxic, “evil” power.

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whaleshaman's picture
Submitted by whaleshaman on

His best on this topic is the essay "The Little Fascist," from his book [still available for purchase new or used online] What Do You Say After You Say Hello? [1971]. Here's a small portion:

Every human being seems to have a small fascist in his head. This is derived from the deepest layers of the personality (the Child in the Child). In civilized people it is usually deeply buried beneath a platform of social ideals and training, but with proper permissions and directives, as history has shown again and again, it can be liberated into full bloom. In the less civilized portion of the population, it is openly exposed and nurtured, and awaits only proper opportunities for periodic expression. In both cases it is a strong force in advancing the script [a life plan based on a decision made in childhood, reinforced by the parents, justified by subsequent events, and culminating in a chosen alternative]; in the first case, secretly, subtly, and denied; in the second case, crudely or even proudly acknowledged. But it may be said that whoever is not aware of this force in his personality has lost control of it. He has not confronted himself, and cannot know where he is headed.

I've reread the entire essay "again and again" for 35+ yrs and still uncomfortably learn something new--mostly about my self.

Thanks, libbyliberal, for this post.

Submitted by libbyliberal on

I wonder if I have a copy of that. I was buying a lot of psych and self help books back then and for years.

Berne's perspective was truly incredible. He was a truly populist psychologist and I wonder if he got the professional respect he deserved, though he certainly reached so many. That brought him respect of his readers who appreciated his colorful and down to earth images and presentations.

I wonder if this little fascist above links up with the "pig parent" child ego state?

He wrote of another child ego state, the "little professor" who needed a sense of security to expand and let the creativity flood out.

Did you ever read RD Laing? I remember one of his books, Knots, that was very profound.

These days I quote more often Eckart Tolle, A New Earth, and his references to the dangers of an ego-driven life. He also speaks of the collective national ego, which was combatted healthily at one point by the backlash to the Vietnam War. We certainly need that kind of backlash now.

So happy to hear from someone who appreciates Berne, too!!! Claude Steiner is good, too, his protege iirc.

Submitted by lambert on

The useful thing about Games People Play was that the games could be applied in RL and the lines were as bright as they can be in human affairs (a lot like AA's insights into the personal and family dynamics of alchoholism, come to think of it), which is the test of a good taxonomy, I think. Here's Berne's taxonomy, though if somebody can find a better source, that would be great; the book seems to have become a staple for executive coaches, management consultants, and pastors, which is really unfortunate.

To project small group dynamics onto civil society for a moment, quite possibly wrongly, one might imagine the right playing Blemish, the left playing Ain't It Awful, and the rest of us.... Well, what are we doing? I don't recall whether Berne felt that the system of games was inescapable and totalizing or not, though I imagine -- he was a 70s Californian, no? -- he thought not. In the words of Firesign Theatre, "This is no movie; this is real!" So it would be nice if "we" didn't play games....

NOTE In terms of linking civil society and small group behavior, it would be useful, perhaps (and I'm sure I'm reinventing or unconsciously repeating the work of somebody who really knows what they're talking about) if we conceived of small group behavior as an essential component (how not?) of the complex system of civil society, while not projecting its structure onto civil society. That is, the President, in small groups where authoritarian followership is the norm) may be seen as a father, and therefore, in that context, his pronouncements may operate as if they were those of a father, but in the larger, systemic context, civil society "The President" is not a father at all. In other words, let's avoid category errors (and also ask ourselves how category errors originate and propagate, and cui bono. Does anyone know if "cui" means "what" as well as "who"? I'd like to ask what system benefits, as well as what person...)

Submitted by lambert on

.... as actually been an acronym -- POTL -- here for some time.

I'm not so sure that feminine communication is, by definition, lateral. I remember an article I read in the Harvard Business Review, years ago, when I read such things, that had two diagrams, one of the male/masculine organizational chart -- a vertical tree structure with a few at the top and many at the bottom -- and the other of a female/feminine networking chart -- a horizontal system of nested circles, with an inner circle and progressively more outer circles. The author felt there was a great contrast between the two. The irony, of course, is that from a data structure perspective, the two are identical. The top == the inner, and the bottom == the outer. The only difference was in the graphical representation, which deceived the eye, and thence the mind. (And if the argument is that female/feminine modes of communication jump from inner to outer, are more inclusive or whatever, so do male modes; that's called an "old boy's network.")

Not to say that there aren't substantial differences in male and female modes of communication, but I don't think they're binary or schematic. And power trumps gender...

UPDATE When I added that term to the glossary, I thought the problem was the Republicans. Naive! Silly!

Submitted by libbyliberal on

Thanks for commenting, lambert.

Patriarchal paradigm is all about power and competition, whether with males or females enabling it. Humanist is about cooperation and partnership. I won't use "feminine" then because that kicks up gender issue.

Re the feminine paradigm, I think Marion Woodman was using that vocab in terms of the yin/yang modes of being. Yin. Softer and more nurturing. Not biological female, gender, but in terms of style. Humanist. But called "feminine" by her. She deals with mythology and also cites the early "female" images of god, more about joy and nature, than the patriarchal image of a masculine god -- the GOD -- that came later with punishment promised, power, control, us vs. them, etc. So I sometimes use the word "humanism" not "feminine" mode of communication to mean lateral, rather than "patriarchal" stratified vertical structure.

I agree with Ann Jones, though, and think we should press for having 50% female membership at the negotiating table in Afghan peace reckoning ultimately fwiw.

Re women's communicating and learning style, I think Julia Cameron uses the word "spiraling." I think I see that sometimes when I create a blog or communicate. Not always logically ordered.

Your Harvard study sounds interesting. I could appreciate in and out being different from top and bottom if I am grasping what you are saying. What did you mean "data"? Old "boys'" network is yes a network but just for boys. Boys' treehouses, no girls allowed.

Also, they say the underdogs (women in terms of majority of men in positions of power in our culture) are far more aware of themselves -- relationships among them, and their relationships with top dogs for their survival -- than the top dogs who can afford to be more obtuse cuz they got the power and don't need to read and communicate in nuanced ways for basic survival as the social class beneath them does.

Team-relating. When I was in school, boys actually did more team relating than girls since sports wasn't a big enuf deal for girls then. Girls grouped more often in little exclusive clusters and boys had a sports goal and had to get along and got over skirmishes faster for the sake of the team and the game.

Submitted by lambert on

connects very well to Shock Doctrine, as well as to Austerity.

That said...

I'm never clear on whether analysis like "pig parents" is metaphorical or analytical. (One thinks immediately of the studies of the Nazis that connected the rise of Hitler to German toilet training. I'd bet that World War I had a bigger impact...)

For example, in economics, we really do know, as a matter of fact, that "Government is not like a household" on fiscal policy (at least when the government is sovereign in its own currency). So the "household" metaphor is deceptive, and in fact leads to horrific policy outcomes -- the austerity that both legacy parties embrace, though the Ds somewhat more circumspectly.

So, here we have another metaphor: Civil society is like a family. Perhaps the real issue is not whether the authority figures in civil society are good parents, or "pig" parents, but whether civil society should be thought of as having parents at all.

Again and again we find, fraud being the norm for our elites, that one side is lying, and the other is not telling the truth. And sometimes in fighting the small lies, we miss the big ones. "The Ds are nurturing parents" might be a small lie. "Civil society is like a family" would be the Big Lie that, in fighting the small lie, we accept.

Versailles is a vast edifice of bullshit and lies, and it's very clever about reproducing itself through its host organism (us).

Submitted by libbyliberal on

And Berne's theory fits in with authoritarian followers exploration.

Why do vast numbers of Americans buy into a primitive and childish bombastic scolding parentally controlling voice like McCain or Limbaugh? Because chances are they were abused by that kind of parental voice coming from actual parents at significant or chronic times in their lives. And if they have not matured enough to recognize it was inappropriate and psychologically and spiritually toxic from said parent, and instead identified with the aggressor, viewed it as "tough love" and sentimentalized it, they are suckers to be conned by narcissistic leadership in their culture. Enthralled by it. The faux-strong parental scolding confident voice. Learned helplessness. Stockholm syndrome-like.

I don't discount toilet training and religious training in Germanic culture to set up Hitler's fascism. Lack of independent and critical thinking capacity. She or he who rocks the cradle rules the world or offers up malleable humans in terms of poisonous pedagoguy.

Look at the children set up for pedophiles in Catholic church.

American school system, more about control and order than encouraging real intellectual expansion in children sadly, or encouraging critical thinking. Now that requires a serious paradigm shift.

And I do see the United States as a seriously dysfunctional family. Works for me. Doesn't have to work for everyone, now does it?

Not about right or wrong, sometimes, lambert. Sometimes it is about the right to an opinion or an angle of approach lending to one's temperament and/or life experience.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

Their motto during their revolution was "Liberty, Equality and FRATERNITY"; the three legged stool of democracy. Fraternity and Sorority are lateral relationships, not hierarchical. We need more brother and sisterhood. That is why unions make sense.

Submitted by Fran on

talking about the need for balance between 'masculine' and ' feminine'. We all have both qualities in different degrees. She talks about how our society/ culture has gotten out of balance. This is really her cause at this point in her life, I think. An important one, I also think. I don't know why, but I find her a little hard to read.

I like Alice Miller for understanding individual experiences. "Drama of the Gifted Child' talks about how the child who can perform well becomes valued for his/her performance and develops a false self. Maybe explains a lot of our 'elite' educated leaders, though.

This all ties in with what has been happening in our educational system for a long time, and the qualities that are encouraged by it. Do well on standardized tests and you are important; have human values, not so much. (I once told a class of 'good students' that I was subbing for, that being smarter did NOT make them better.)

I see a lot of kids being spoiled in recent generations - more so than abused. But, I still think this has an ill effect. They are spoiled, yet neglected - somehow not real to their parents. Parents seem unwilling to be adults. They want to remain perpetual kids themselves.

I don't care for Ekhart Tole (sp?). I feel like he is too full of new age platitudes.

I liked RD Laing when I was in college. Wanted to hear him speak, but there was a charge for it and Buckminster Fuller was speaking at the same time for free and I also wanted to hear him, so I went to that lecture.

Oh, Timothy Leary came to speak and I was disgusted. By then he was burned out, and when he said his 'Drop out Turn on, etc.' mantra, everyone gave him a standing ovation. Not me.

Just speaking off the top of my head here.

Submitted by libbyliberal on

I wrote my blog from memory rather than fresh review of the great authors and theorists I mentioned. I remember reading awestruck Drama of the Gifted Child (originally called Prisoner of Childhood). That whole concept of the "false personality" ... of having to give up one's natural self for "conditional love" or really minimal conditional acceptance at best (since one's parent had had their unconditional self-love messed with by their parents, and their parents' parents had, too, etc., etc.), thus sabotaging one's own sense of inner security and capacity for self-acceptance and self-love and self-appreciation and entitlement to joy and peace in one's own personal world.

Witnessing Obama it would seem his climb to the top was driven by perhaps tragic "impression management" pressure to be a perfect person. That disconnects one from one's own inner spiritual vitality. Makes one oversensitive to fear and to shaming and one's ego insistent on an impossible "perfectionism." Grandiosity and self-hate are two demons that run the ego and flip back and forth. Look at W. I am sure that applies to him, too.

Marion Woodman I haven't read in a while but I was so taken with her insistence on a paradigm shift in society from the overly-masculinized patriarchal culture to partnership and cooperation. Her empathy for the plight of women, especially in the area of eating disorders. Remember reading The Owl and the Baker's Daughter long ago.

Interesting take on kids and adults today. Watching sitcoms and even commercials your theory about how "parents are unwilling to be adults" holds up. (I don't have children myself so I should talk.) Every generation has its cross to bear, has its traumas as this one sure has had and where will it take the next generation? The depth of amorality, the lack of values exercised by our supposed governmental guardians. How much values clarification have we afforded the kids of America as we are all becoming serfs to psychopathic corporations and the war/money ruling class? Responsibility is having an "ability" to "respond". Look at the level of impunity for horrors like torture, war, fraud, etc.

Tolle's take on things, he has incorporated a lot of the psychological premises of these great theorists and others I feel. Made a "guru" by Oprah whom I have enormous issues with though she has raised "consciousness" so often in good ways, she certainly was of use in bringing us Obama and even George W. who had such a lovely interview with her. Oprah's cronyism ... when the woman plugs bad movies to the loyal fans ... out of kinship with the actors or is that about the corporate powers that be behind the scene ... well, that is creeeeeepy and a lot of foreshadowing. Look at Oprah's childhood wounding, too.

I felt the baby boomers some who fought so hard against Vietnam horror would be better guardians of America. Whaaaaaat happened? Though when I saw that Canadian documentary a while back called The Corporation the situation we are in today was obviously coming. Corporations = legal persons that are psychopathic.

Thanks for responding, Fran!

Valley Girl's picture
Submitted by Valley Girl on

Libby, thanks for this great piece. Apart from other great thoughts, this really intrigued me, for reasons to be explained.

~~I can’t remember who once mentioned in his or her book how Americans originally became so enthralled with celebrity movie stars. Their theory was that when movies were invented, and people in the audience looked up at massive heads and upper bodies on the screens -- the likes of the Clark Gables, etc., -- they felt like tiny infants in the arms of colossally powerful parent figures and there was a profound and primitive bond made between actor celebrity and child-audience member. Primal and strong and unconscious. I found that theory quite exciting and sensible.~~

The article linked, via a Quick Hit by Valhalla, Your Brain on Metaphors (h/t Jawbone!) is a long read. This Is Your Brain on Metaphors A lot to absorb and consider.

This passage struck me, though, when I first read the article- (wow!)

~~Another brilliant study by Bargh and colleagues concerned haptic sensations (I had to look the word up — haptic: related to the sense of touch). Volunteers were asked to evaluate the resumes of supposed job applicants where, as the critical variable, the resume was attached to a clipboard of one of two different weights. Subjects who evaluated the candidate while holding the heavier clipboard tended to judge candidates to be more serious, with the weight of the clipboard having no effect on how congenial the applicant was judged. After all, we say things like “weighty matter” or “gravity of a situation.”~~

I have to say I was dumbstruck by this information, that the weight of a clipboard could make such a difference. And yet, this seems to parallel closely your remembered information about celerity movie stars!

~~people in the audience looked up at massive heads and upper bodies on the screens~~

~~Subjects who evaluated the candidate while holding the heavier clipboard tended to judge candidates to be more serious~~


Valley Girl's picture
Submitted by Valley Girl on

I'd forgotten about that one!

Yes, absolutely.

Let me add that maybe "folks" think that Obama is a "good listener" because he has big ears. haha.

Submitted by libbyliberal on

appreciate that reality re the heft of the clipboard. those subconscious metamessages we get and don't even know we are being seduced by.

like when people add IQ points to anyone with a British accent and subtract them maybe from those from the South, though southerners get back emotional intelligence points I think just from having a southern accent because they sound so relaxed which to me is civilized more than northern hurriedness, but are they or is it the lilting voice that seduces more than the actual spirit?

i too groove on stuff like this. I never forgot that passage about the movie moment of bonding, though wish for the life of me i could remember who communicated it. Darn.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

Actors have always held a kind of celebrity status throughout history even if they couldn't be buried in sacred ground. It's probably their larger than life personalities. From Aristophanes to Moliere to Lillie Lantrey to the Barrymores to Dietrich to Monroe to Tom Cruise, they often come from humble beginnings and somehow become stars in the firmament making them accessible unlike the aristocracy. They were adored while at the same time kind of trashy and naughty. There was a certain honesty about their embrace of wickedness.

Movies made it possible for most people to watch drama and comedy cheaply and in a kind of cocoon that was a bit different than in a legit theater. It became more intimate. And then with the Actor's Studio's entry into film with Brando, Dean, Eva Marie Saint, Julie Harris and the direction of Elia Kazan, you actually started getting into their heads and they were often troubled heads. Quite seductive.

Valley Girl's picture
Submitted by Valley Girl on

Great comment. I find this topic fascinating. I dunno if you could turn it it into a Corrente post, with an update on "celebrity status", but I hope you can.

I grew up in LA, and thus "the movies" and "movie celebrities" were an accepted part of the culture. Sorry, that's hard to explain. But, it permeated everything.

And, in some small part of me, I longed to be an actor. Not because of the adulation, but because I loved the idea of the inventiveness and the challenge of becoming someone else, if ever so briefly.

When I took my prof job in GA, I went into "unaccepted" territory- not a good thing for a scientist to do. I took acting classes, worked in local theater, and did some stuff that got me "SAG eligible". I could only do this because GA is a "right to work" state. It probably cost me a lot of credibility department- wise, but I wouldn't have done otherwise.

I think that people in general make very harsh judgments about actors in general. I think actors get a bad rap, apart from the "celebrities".

Okay, gotta stop. I was trying to say more above, but ran out of coherent words.

Submitted by libbyliberal on

The seduction of those new method actors and even method acting.

A method to the madness, eh?

So very interestingly put about the democratic rise of celebrities into a kind of trashy aristocracy.

I am always fascinated by how enthralled people get by the fame of others. I know with some famous people I have found myself near in years past, my mouth has gotten as dry as a sugar wafer with my fear of embarrassing myself before them or my desire to impress them. I HATE that I have reacted so obsequiously. Geeeeez. What is that power? What is that mystique?

And then on the other hand there is the schadenfreude people reveal toward the rich and famous. Also troubling.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

After abandoning my PhD dissertation and running off to NYC, I was an actor for a time. I did serious stuff and then sketch comedy with Wayne Knight at Lewis Black's comedy club. But then had to pay the rent, so I became an agent. I repped Emma Thompson, Alan Arkin, Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub and Lewis Black. Wonderful times of much laughter and passion. As you can tell, I love the serious comedians. What a joy to be able to talk to Alan everyday. What a mind. I still think that he has come to us from another planet to enlighten us.

Good actors stay close to their childlike imaginations and keep their sense of play. That, at times, makes them childish. But it is the price they pay for the gift of playfulness.

Glad you let yourself have fun.

Submitted by libbyliberal on

Something so wonderful to let the "little professor" have the corral to create from. Many of us don't oblige our little professors enuf with time and energy.

Wow, mm, you deal with some great heavyweights of talent. Emma T. and Alan A -- Tucci and Shaloub ... wonderful actors. I caught Lewis Black at Caroline's Comedy Club long ago and his passionate rage on stage was something to behold. Such vibration!!!! He enthralled.

Valley Girl's picture
Submitted by Valley Girl on


I don't know all the names on your list. Well, 3 of 5. But, I always longed to do comedy. Alas, I never got the chance, except in the classroom.

I'm interested in your implied distinction between "serious comedians" and whoever the rest might be. Off the top of my head, I'd say Chevy Chase is a "non-serious comedian", whereas Steve Martin is a "serious comedian". Those are just two names who come to mind, at this moment.

I don't know if you count Stanley Tucci as a serious comedian, but I think you do, from what you said. He really is a great actor, imho.

OH, this: America's Sweethearts: Tucci was great. And Alan Arkin too. Couldn't find the Arkin part of this, but... that was memorable too! Oh, and I do like John Cusack.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

Maybe serious is the wrong word. I like michievious actors; actors with serious clowning ability, but also writing and thinking ability and who allow you a glimpse into their dark sides.

I like your examples. Both actors are good clowns. Martin allows you to see his vulnerable and sad side.

Valley Girl's picture
Submitted by Valley Girl on

well, imho, the best of comedy always has a dark side. A vulnerable and sad side, exactly as you say. I mean, where else does comedy come from?

I'm not entirely sure how to read your comment in one sense, because you mention Steve Martin, but not Chevy Chase. CC is a clown, no doubt. But, I've never seen serious substance to his comedy, and perhaps that is my own failing.

Even in my limited experience doing spontaneous "stand-up comedy" in the classroom (not pre-planned, it just happens because of who I am) I know that what comes out of the moment usually resonates, where as old gags and clowning around make me look stupid!

btw, I found the Arkin bit of "America's Sweethearts", and blogged this.

Valley Girl's picture
Submitted by Valley Girl on

just my take-- I doubt that many would put him in the "comedian" category. But, imho, he does qualify, if not in an obvious way. I dunno. But, again, imho, he does qualify as mischievous.