This particularly dumb holiday ad has a little boy playing with a present: a magic set.
His aunt zooms in to ask how her favorite nephew is doing. Poof! Annoying auntie with her sweetie-pie tone and her bedlam hair gets zapped! Gone! Yes!
Being a consumer of mass media is just so tiresome some days. Is there no other sensibility available to us? Are we doomed to live in a world largely defined by the Archie McPhee catalogue?
Well, it's holiday time, and that means having to deal with annoying, insane, stupid, tasteless, ignorant, low-rent, neurotic, clueless, old-fashioned or just plain old, childish or just plain young--we could go on--relatives.
How can one be expected to bear it?
Christmas is such a great day to leave the folks at home and go to the movies. Those stupid ads striking that boring "postmodern" ironic pose--those reflect some severely stale thinking.
Scholars say that the cultural ideal of the rugged individualist is as old as the nation itself. Right. The idea, though, that families--particularly parents--are something you have to cure yourself of is devoutly Freudian. That psychoanalytic perspective took hold in the United States in the 1930s, gathered steam in the '40s and '50s, and, by the '60s, had an entire country blaming parents for problems and shortcomings. (Bruno Bettelheim--let's get back to him sometime.)
Some people, of course, have such sick relatives that they are better off without them. Most of us, though, are not in that category.
Still, we're a bunch of whiny fault-finders. (We can't help it. It was the way we were raised.) Example: I could go to a therapist and spend $125 an hour talking about how I have been mistreated for years by a certain relative. The therapist, being skilled, would have me vent and also explain why that relative's behavior has been so unusually hurtful.
Or I could mention my resentment in passing to Dad. Who would say: "Aww, Joey. Forgive and forget." (At no charge!)
This is not to demean psychiatry, which can be lifesaving. It is meant to demean psychoanalysis, though, which is easy and popular to do. TV ads and the general populace may be stuck in the old paradigm of finding fault, but leaders in psychiatry, psychology, human development and sociology--did we forget someone?--have moved on.
Being connected to family--particularly parents--is now recognized as crucial to well-being, both emotional and physical. A strong sense of family is about the only bulwark against a toxic culture. This is the theme of Mary Pipher's best-seller-for-years "Reviving Ophelia," about teenage girls. The importance of family for boys is the subject of James Garbarino's "Lost Boys," William Pollack's "Real Boys" and "Raising Cain," by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson.
Also in this vein is a new book from Edward Hallowell, the psychiatrist well-known for the book "Driven to Distraction," about attention deficit disorder.
In "Connect" (Pantheon, $25), he writes that not everyone is cut out for family life. "It is wrong to believe or to tell others that the only way to happiness is through family connection," he writes. "But for those for whom it is meant, there is nothing better."
He writes: "If there is a method to making positive connections grow and last in families, I would sum it up like this: Keep an open heart, always be ready to forgive, never amputate and build on the belief that you're better off with them than without them. In other words, find a way to make it work."
So with Christmastime here, I just wanted to throw this out as a suggestion. We could cut some slack. Even if they set the table with lead crystal goblets and leave delicate, hideous glass figurines on end tables where only "bad" little children would touch them. Even if they plug in that stupid harvest gold electric carving knife and serve pork butt stewed in its own fat in a crock pot, and Jell-O with canned blackberries and cream cheese molded in. Even if they keep complaining about their arthritis, or talk endlessly and only about the weather.
We could cut some slack. These people are family.
And as soon as the dishwasher is switched on, we can run out to the movies.