Category Archives: Film

If John Grisham wrote “The Association”

Recently, psychologists have been shocked to learn that we have been misled for many years by our main professional organization, the American Psychological Association.  I count myself among the swindled.

For nearly a quarter of a century, psychologists in clinical practice who were seeking to maintain their membership in the APA have been charged an additional fee, generally amounting to about half the basic membership rate, to support “professional practice advocacy.”  (The latter supposedly helps practitioners have some kind of “advocates” among the lobbyist-infested halls of Congress, etc.)  The main point being, whether or not you wanted to support that lobbying, or could comfortably afford it (our profession not being as lucrative as, say, psychiatry, or selling Mary Kay products), you were told that this was a “mandatory” part of your annual dues.  Since membership in our professional organization is supposedly a good thing, and even sometimes a job requirement (such as when we teach in APA approved graduate programs), we had no alternative but to pay this fee.  Nearly $150 or so a year, added to our dues.

Well, as Gomer Pyle used to say, “sur-praaaze, sur-praaze, sur-PRAAZE!”  As the result of a recent accidental discovery by a curious member, we find that this fee was never actually required for membership in the APA. Rather, it bought us an additional membership in a separate organization, something called the  “APA Practice Organization.”  Supposedly a lobbying group that has worked hard to make sure that… well, I have no idea what they actually do.  But as a non-card carrying member for nearly 25 years (because nobody issued cards, you see — or letters, or even decals to stick on our bumpers), I can state that nobody ever informed us that the vig was really to buy us a membership in this organization.  Nor that the only thing that was truly “mandatory” about the fee was that you had to pay it to be a member of the APAPO — not the APA.

I’ve had years when not having had to pony up an extra C-note and a half would have been helpful.  More to the point, I find myself  resenting that the same organization against which we had to mount protests to make stop supporting the prisoner torture of the Bush administration, has been lying to its members about what, exactly, it took to stay a member.  Essentially, from everything we are hearing, we’ve been deliberately overcharged and (I don’t know what other word to apply here) defrauded for a quarter of a century.  To the tune, collectively, of millions of dollars.

I have heard there is at least one class action suit simmering about this, and if so, count me in.  I want my money back, with interest, and then some.  Not because I’m opposed to some kind of professional “lobbying” or whatever, but because I’m opposed to an organization that purports to stand for, and even to take on itself the mantle of being the arbiter of what is ethical behavior by psychologists, then turning around and pulling stunts like this.  And “aw, gee, it was a mistake” won’t cut it.  If we did this to our patients, we’d have the APA Ethics cops all over us like a cheap suit.  (The bulky kind, not the kind that is too tight and splits when you bend down to pick up a quarter.)

I’ve wondered about sending a little note off to someone.  Like, say, the US Dept of Justice.  Of course, those are the same guys who won’t prosecute war criminals, not “well placed” ones, anyway.  But so you see the problem.  Institutions seem to be kind of unreliable these days.  Especially when it comes to good old fashioned institutional boat-rocking — the kind of rocking that our 20-somethings expected Obama to do, the kind that they blame the “boomers” for having not done, little realizing that they’re now living through exactly the kind of things we did, when our hopes for a better, more empathic, more ecological, more, I guess, Swedish society were trampled on by the Reaganauts (the Tea-Partiers of the 1980s.)

At times like this one turns for solace to fiction.  So I find myself imagining …. (screen goes hazy here… harp music trills…)

It’s Tom Cruise in “The Firm.”   And it’s late in the flick, the scene where he shows up in the clinic where there’s  a bunch of us psychologists, thuggish folks all.  All with our foamy bats which we are about to use to pound on him, for the same cathartic reason, whatever it is, we’ve been chasing the kid all through the film. (Go watch the movie.)  So now we’ve got him cornered, right here in our little clinic… but instead of quaking in fear and begging that we not “interpret the transference” all over his sorry ass, he opens his briefcase.

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Filed under Film, Psychology, Psychology profession

Doctor Mustard, In the Consulting Room, With Words

As a kid I was fascinated by a comic strip about a bumbling cop, Fearless Fosdick, most famous for his habit of pursuing bad guys by “firing a warning shot into the crowd.”   In one series of strips, there was a sinister murder weapon that was killing people off — a sheet of paper on which was written a joke that was so funny that anyone who read it would die of uncontrollable laughter.

Thus was planted in my adolescent brain the possibility that a thought could literally kill a person.  (And of course, an undying curiosity to read that joke.  Kind of the Fosdickian equivalent of Odysseus panting to hear the song of the Sirens.)

Later I discovered that various writers of thrillers had attempted to plumb the depths of this concept.  Two of the most famous were Agatha Christie and Thomas Harris.  Harris, in The Silence of the Lambs, included an episode in which the evil psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter persuaded a man in the next cell, “Miggs,” to commit suicide by swallowing his own tongue.  (Lecter is generally good at mindfucking, but this is his most notable example of having a non-drugged victim literally kill himself.)

In her novel Curtain — Poirot’s Last Case, Agatha Christie creates a villain whose skill was in getting others to kill by means of psychological manipulation.  A string of murders are all committed, seemingly by a collection of unlikely suspects; in each case the “killers” had been manipulated into performing the deed by this third party, labeled “X” for much of the book.  Generally, “X” needed only a brief, seemingly casual conversation to launch the “bolt” through the other person’s actions.  It’s often pointed out that “X” is a kind of Iago on steroids.

This is a fascinating topic.  But a moment’s reflection might reveal that the idea of being manipulated into doing something horrendous is not far removed from our everyday experience.  Seductions abound, whether it’s someone using sex or wealth or “best foot forward” lies to get us to marry (or at least sleep with) them, or advertisers conning us into buying the ten dollar shampoo when it cleans no better than the cheapest brand.  Much in our lives is about being, or resisting being seduced into doing things that may be against our self-interest, whether as individuals or “demographics” or entire nations.

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Filed under Fiction, Film, My fiction, Uncategorized

Writing to Transform the Conservative Imagination


Last night I watched the old 1969 musical Paint Your Wagon, which featured one of the very few positive portrayals of a polyamorous relationship in any popular film.  Since as a psychologist I happen to know something about the research on poly relationships, namely that they can be healthier in many ways than traditional monogamous relationships or so-called “nuclear” families, I find it interesting that so few film or literary portrayals of these relationships exist.  Then of course, there’s also the point that so predictably, by the end of the film this tender, indeed quite wonderful picture of a poly marriage between two men and one woman has to be completely dismantled, with the surviving couple embracing traditional one woman, one man marriage.

The ending doesn’t ring true, of course.  The tenderness and vitality of the threesome and the vitality and health of the community of miners who support and embrace their marriage, feels like the thing the writers really believed in.  As the mining town collapses into the ground upon the arrival of the preacher and the “good people” who show up to colonize and wreck the place, we have a fleeting image of one of the collapsing buildings, bearing the sign “Garden of Eden.”  The film is deeply subversive in the good sense of that term — it lays out an alternative vision of a truly beautiful form of existence found seldom in our culture, and the implied question, behind the false commercial ending, is “why not?”

But as any writer with experience knows, they would have never made the film if it ended with a happy three-person marriage intact.   Continue reading

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Filed under Compassionate society, Film, Writing, Writing and society, Writing profession

Your bell and candle: The conventionality trap and writers


This evening watched a swell old flick, Bell, Book & Candle, in which a witch played by the beguiling Kim Novack (and/or her cat — one can’t be totally sure) manages to seduce and beguile poor innocent little Jimmy Stewart and make him fall in love with her.  Well, things go as they do and so after a delightful romp, in the end poor Novack has discovered that she can’t really be “in love” unless she basically loses her witchly powers and becomes, gasp, a traditional 1950s housewife who cries and wears pastels.   Later on, found this nice post where the same observation was made.

It’s easy to recognize this abrupt retreat into tedious conventionality in the film as you watch it now, probably easier than it may have been for viewers in 1958, when possibly a smaller percentage of the country was “hep” to the various subtexts in the film and when people were still treading cautiously lest they be suspected of “un-American activities” by friends or neighbors.  But it’s also easy  to forget that George Carlin wasn’t famous yet, the sixties had not happened, and Elvis was still shocking people.  So we may feel tempted to blow off such a conventional ending, if we even notice it as a kind of letdown, except that things probably aren’t all that different today in many respects.

For many writers, there is still a strong external, and so internalized pressure  toward conventionality in what you write about, and how you write it.  It may not seem so much politically- as it does commercially driven.  (If there is really much difference between the two.)  The editorial calendar of a major writers’ magazine recently came out, and their year is planned mostly around articles on “how to make it,” how to make your blogs sell, how to market stuff.  Very little on what to write, on the inner life, the craft, the guts of writing as traditionally understood.  Writers, apparently, have been replaced by marketers who word process.

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Filed under Film, Writing, Writing and society, Writing profession