It occurred to me that there may actually be no such thing as the dysfunctional family. The way I see it, prior to the industrialization and urbanization of America, most families were more spread out geographically from one another and at the same time a great deal more dependent upon each other for their health, wealth and prosperity. But as we moved in greater number to the cities and became crowded close about one another (different families to each other and members of families within smaller, more compact dwellings) we began to behave in ways that were not nearly as conducive to the preeminence of the family unit as we had been when our very lives and livelihoods depended upon it.
Almost simultaneously, the radio began to replace the fireplace as the focal point of the evening and the place of learning and social interaction. Where once, the fireplace promoted conversation and imagery, the radio squelched conversation, but at least left imagery intact. Maybe someone outside the familial unit was telling the stories now, but at least the images they conjured were still those that emanated from your own imagination.
With the coming of the great upheaval we call world war II, the radio completely supplanted the fireplace and became the true focal point of the home as it brought all the news, stories and music of that most tumultuous time into the homes for all to sit and listen.
Then came the fifties and the proliferation of the television quickly displaced the Radio. Now the stories and the images were being provided for us. Gone completely were the days of friends and family weaving stories by the fire with imagery that you provided to compliment the intricate and varied webs the story-tellers might weave. All one was asked to do was sit idly by while someone else’s ideas, images, values and commentary was spoon fed to all of us at the great table of network TV.
Not only were the stories by the fire gone forever, but even the sacred time known as the family dinner came under assault as more icons of the onslaught came into the home; things like TV tables and TV Dinners… No more dinner conversation where, regular as clockwork, everyone would come together to enjoy the Lord’s bounty at one table where they would share with one another what each of them had won, lost, and learned that day.
Then, folks of less artful intent learned that this new family hearth could promote images that never were as if they had always been. Could create needs where none existed. Could promote new desires to those who had previously had nearly all of theirs filled… We began to be told over and over the tales of flawless people with perfect marriages who lived in ideal homes with impeccably groomed lawns and raised loving families with faultless children who lived safe, happy lives; and all in the name of an emerging sense of American exceptionalism that was no more real than the stories that were being used to promote it.
As we watched these faux people in their paper mache worlds, we began to see ourselves as more and more inadequate by comparison. And as that inadequacy grew, we were given more and more items which we could buy and wear that would certainly close that inadequacy gap. All we need to do was “buy” into this new exceptionalism that we were being sold each day. If we only ate the right cereals and wore the right colognes and dressed with the right labels, and on and on and on and on, our lives would be as perfect as those we were viewing… wouldn’t they? It was all so “functional.” Wasn’t it?
And if that didn’t work for you, well then you could buy into a whole different brand of thinking; that of the dysfunctional with the Rickie Lees and the Dr. Phil’s and the Jerry Springer’s and on, and on, anon and on… Even dysfuntionality had become an industry and we were buying it up as quickly as it could be produced as well…
Well, perhaps none of it is any more real than the images that we perceive as the little jets of color and light create images on the surface of our TVs. Perhaps we have bought into it as much as we have bought into every other trend that has been handed us over the last fifty-plus years and all without question or comment. “All we, like sheep, have gone astray”… Oh, my bleating heart.