Friday, February 13, 2004

Group Therapy: February 13, 2004


Hey, buddy. What’s up?

You know what I’ve been thinking about? Fathers and Sons. And fathers and sons. And brothers. Not to mention Big Brothers.

I think of you as a brother, Brian. You know that. A big brother and a Big Brother.

Have you ever seen that TV reality show, Big Brother? It’s on CBS in the summer. It’s been on TV every summer since the year 2000. (That was the year George Bush got elected—by the electoral college, a scam devised in 1787 by a small group of educated, white males in Philadelphia. I thought George Bush—son of former President George Herbert Walker Bush—was a pretty good president at first, a real Texas-style cowboy. But some time last year, my interest in President Bush Wayned, so to speak).

The premise of the TV show Big Brother is to take twelve people—called “houseguests”—put them together in a secluded house, and video-tape in real time all the interpersonal interactions and goings on in the house. The houseguests have no communication with the outside; neither personal communications with others by telephone or letter nor any access to the media (no TV, radio, or newspapers). The video is edited for broadcast; and that’s the TV show Big Brother. Houseguests vote one person out of the house each week, and the last to remain wins $500,000.

It’s really a fascinating thing, if you’re interested in group dynamics. There are all kinds of twists and turns in the group dynamics, the interpersonal maneuvering and manipulation. The show has been on for four seasons now, and each year, the dynamics are different based on the particular collection of contestants. You’ll find a subgroup of persons forming an alliance against another subgroup; or a group ganging up against an individual houseguest; or single individuals battling it out with each other, and so forth. Just like the maneuverings on Capitol Hill. In the first season of the show, in the year 2000, one of the houseguests, a guy named George, tried to organize the entire house against the producers of the show. That fizzled very quickly when the producers advised the houseguests that CBS had a group of alternates lined up—strikebreakers, really—ready to take everybody’s place. You don’t mess with Big Brother.

That first season in 2000, one of the houseguests was Josh Souza, a tall, athletic guy of Portuguese heritage. There were rumors among the houseguests that Josh had an alternative sexual preference. Whatever he liked besides women I don’t know. But it was clear he liked to “break the seal” of young ladies, and maybe some ladies who were not so young.

He was a good-looking guy with a genius-level IQ. If I had been one of the houseguests that year, sharing the house with Josh Souza, the rumor mill would have been running non-stop.

Souza is a friend of Kai Wittenberg, another professional reality TV-show contestant. But all that’s really beside the point.

One feature of Big Brother is the so-called Diary Room. That’s a room in the Big Brother house where contestants can go, singly or in groups, to talk to the camera. The Diary Room provides a venue for a houseguest to vent his thoughts and feelings. It’s sort of like the equivalent of “the message in a bottle” tossed out to sea. It’s a therapeutic outlet, really, for people to just get away from everybody else in the house and talk out loud to Big Brother—who, of course, remains invisible and unheard by the communicating houseguest. When a houseguest talks to Big Brother in the Diary Room it’s as if he is “in dialogue with himself.” See Garry Wills, James Madison. It’s sort of like a session with a silent psychoanalyst behind the couch. Of course, sometimes psychoanalysts fall asleep during a session—that really happens. I guess sometimes on Big Brother, the show’s producers, who monitor communications with the houseguests, have gone out for a cup of coffee.

I guess you can see where this is going. These letters to you, buddy, are my Diary Room. These letters are my way of communicating with Big Brother—that’s you, buddy. Big Brother, big brother, Brother-Animal, whatever. Also, Father Confessor, I guess. Do Father Confessors nod off, too? I don’t know. I’m not Catholic. I’m just a fake psychoanalyst.

You know who originated the idea of the Diary Room? James Madison. You were a history major, weren’t you, Brian? Madison, the fourth President of the United States, was also a contestant on the late 18th-century reality show, The Founding Fathers. It was a big hit in the 1780’s. The premise of The Founding Fathers was to take a collection of educated, white males—lock them up in a room in the State House in Philadelphia (now Independence Hall), and have them devise a constitution for the thirteen original colonies.

One of the rules of the game was that The Founding Fathers were not allowed to take any contemporaneous notes of the proceedings, or record their recollections of the proceedings. It was like group therapy; people in group aren’t supposed to disclose any communications that occur within group to outsiders. In the case of The Founding Fathers, violators of the confidentiality rule, if discovered, were to be evicted from the State House. Madison had a mind of his own, though. He didn’t follow the rules. He covertly recorded everything—“and the rest, as they say, is” historiography, as Michael Beschloss would say. Beschloss is a historian with a special interest in The Founding Fathers (and The Ruling Sons).

There’s an interesting moral issue there. Game show ethics, I guess you would call it. Madison’s conduct violated the rules of his time, but posterity is grateful for his record. Was Madison morally right or morally wrong to do what he did?

The things I’ve told you about my experiences in group are technically a violation of the rules of group. But, I make my own rules. Just like Vernon Jordan and his friends, in and out of Akin Gump, the law firm where I used to work.

There’s really a whole class of confidentiality violators. I’m one. Madison, The Founding Father conventioneer, was another. Bruno Bettelheim was really a confidentiality violator. He survived a Nazi concentration camp and disclosed his story to the world. Problem for Bettelheim was that his story was so unconventional nobody believed it. Fun for the Nazis, trouble for Bettelheim. Of course, my old neighbor, Dan Ellsberg, was a famous confidentiality violator. He disclosed the secret, sordid history of the Vietnam War, the so-called Pentagon Papers, to The New York Times.

Madison, Ellsberg, Bettelheim, and I all have one thing in common. We have all violated confidences or disclosed material that The Powers that Be—whoever they might be—would prefer remain sealed.

Brian, I gotta go. I don’t want to hog the diary room. Other people are waiting for a chance to communicate using the latest in 20th century technology.

A couple of things, though, before I go.

Do me a favor. Look into something for me. Some time ago, I mentioned that the front-desk manager in my apartment building, Tim Norton, had a friend in the building, a guy in the army, the so-called “cookie guy.” I think the “cookie guy” is Captain Brad Dolinsky, U.S. Army. Captain Dolinsky lives on the 6th floor of the building. That’s your assignment, buddy. Find out if Brad Dolinsky is the “cookie guy.”

One other thing. I’ve decided not to contact the head of the library system to find out if you can be my fake psychoanalyst. I have an idea of what kind of reply, if any, the Director’s office would issue. “Listen, Brown, as far as we’re concerned, you can be a fake psychoanalyst, a fake priest, or a fake accountant. Just do it on your own time, and away from Library property.”

What I’ve decided to do, instead of contacting the Library director, is to contact the head of the Catholic Church down here in DC—Father Theodore. Otherwise known as The Old Man and The Holy See.

I’m not a Catholic, so what can he do to me? He can’t have me excommunicated, much less have my library privileges revoked.

I’d like to tell Father Theodore about my pathetic story—the story of my loneliness and moral decay. I’d tell him about you, Brian, my letters to you, and how I’d like to be your buddy. Remember, Brian, you have your immortal soul to think about. I thought Father Theodore could offer moral and spiritual guidance to me and you, guidance that would help both of us pursue the right path.

Check you out later, Brian. I wish you a long, happy life here at the library on Macomb Street.

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