Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Family Romance in Popular Culture

The family romance is a conscious fantasy, later repressed, in which a child imagines that his birth parents are not actual but adoptive parents, or that his birth was the outcome of maternal infidelity. Typically, the fantasy parents are of noble lineage, or at least of a higher social class than the real parents.

The family romance fantasy has several possible aims and sources: revenge against frustrating parents; rivalry with the parent of the same sex; separation from idealized parents by means of their transformation into fantasy parents; and the elimination of brothers and sisters for competitive or incestuous purposes.

Be that as it may.

Always Remember I Love You is a 1990 television film starring Patty Duke and Stephen Dorff. It tells the story of a teenage boy who, after finding out he was adopted, runs away from home to search for his biological family.

Shortly after Robert Mendham (played by Stephen Dorff) turns 16, he finds out from his parents (David Birney and Joan Van Ark) that he was not only adopted, but stolen from his childhood home (a fact ignored by his parents until that time). He then runs away from home to search for his biological parents and ends up in a small town in Ohio where, using the public library files, he tracks down his mother Ruth Monroe (Patty Duke) and father Earl (Richard Masur). He then manages to befriend his biological brother and get taken in as a runaway by them, while trying to find out where he belongs, all the while keeping his true identity from them.

In terms of the Family Romance the Mendhams represent the imagined, ideal parents of the fantasy, while the Monroes represent the child's real parents who are of lower social status.  Always Remember I Love You is a variation of the Family Romance in that the child leaves the noble parents to live with the parents of lower social status, then rejoins the ideal parents.

Robert's biological brother represents the imagined twin sibling who comfort's the child in his loneliness after he has annihilated his parents in fantasy.

The fantasy of having a twin sibling is oedipal in origin according to the psychoanalyst Dorothy Burlingham. As revenge against the parents who have not gratified the latency child's wishes, the child murders the parents in fantasy, but erects in substitution a fantasy of having a twin sibling who will comfort the child in his loneliness. The ensuing fantasy friendship between the twin siblings is full of adventure, challenge, conversation, struggles, learning, and more.

Our friends may have contacted Patty Duke in the year 1991.  Patty Duke is the former President of the Screen Actors Guild.  She suffers from bipolar disorder and was treated by Jay D. Amsterdam, M.D. in Philadelphia, as she writes in her autobiography, Call Me Anna.  I participated in an experimental drug study in the year 1978 at the University of Pennsylvania  that was conducted by Dr. Amsterdam, a psychiatrist and nationally-prominent psychopharmacologist.  Such is the devastating nature of my paranoia that delusions seem to have entered every part of my mental life.


Gary Freedman said...

To the Powers: You can never prove I am sane!

Gary Freedman said...

Sophocles' play Oedipus The King is a representation of the Family Romance. Oedipus, the son of a King, was raised by Shephards -- and the rest is myth!

Oedpius, as an adult, murders his biological father, and fathers children with his biological mother -- not knowing that these are his real parents.

Gary Freedman said...

Patty Duke was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1985 to 1988.

Duke was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1982, and since then has devoted much of her time to advocating and educating the public on mental health issues.

Gary Freedman said...

The actor Stephen Dorff is half-Jewish -- whatever that means!