Three decades ago, All in the Family started the controversy ball rolling by featuring Archie Bunker’s barking bigotry against the backdrop of his quarrelsome yet loving family. That was a new and shocking dose of reality in a sitcom, but the program I reeeally came to love was the first family-featured reality show The Osbournes (MTV, 2002-2005) starring rock star Ozzy, his wife Sharon and two of their kids — because they reminded me of my own family in so many ways — uh, sans the rock-n-roll drugs, bats, goth crosses and non-housebroken dog pack, that is. What I instantly recognized was their snappy loud-mouthed, high functioning family dynamic.
The phrase “dysfunctional family” is as misunderstood and misused as the word “karma” by our culture. Webster’s defines dysfunctional it as “not functioning normally or properly,” and Buzzle.com defines it in more psychological and sociological terms: “…A disastrous unit where repeated malfunctioning is the rule.” Yet its misusage by so many if not most people appears to indicate that they think it includes family yelling or the drunk relative at holiday time. While constantly speaking very loudly to each other may signal a mindlessly ingrained poor habit and/or a familial cultural reflection, what I really wonder is: Does a media-pop culture that increasingly abuses the phrase “dysfunctional family” do so from paucity of actual functional role models, fueled by an encouragement of its own judgmental narrow-mindedness? Simply put, does watching families (and couples) fight on TV make us feel superior or at least better about our own situation(s)? Do we emulate in our relationships, and/or pass on what we “learn” from these show to our kids?
While The Osbournes show featured their wacky antics and animated family communications edited for entertainment value (I loved when their crazy ass high-drama included a regular percussive beat of Beep! over their offensive language), regular viewers could plainly see their obvious love for one another week to week. Heck, even Dr. Phil featured them on his stage and proclaimed them to be a loving and functional clan. How can a family that most of the general public labels as dysfunctional, be concluded as being a responsible, loving and functional family by professional observers, sociologists and doctors alike?
Ouch!: The Narrow-minded “Hug”
If the Osbournes are labeled “functional” maybe our media-pop culture/Ourselves need a new definition of the word dysfunctional. As I see it, “dysfunctional” is simply a term used by some therapists and show producers to heighten and sell drama as a something here needs to be “fixed” product. They’re not the only culprits: our widespread misuse and constant abuse of this word seems to give narrow-minded people (e.g., those feel the need to take their own personal life and standards and force them on everyone else. In a tolerant society, it’s necessary to learn that people who are not exactly like us are not necessarily “dysfunctional”) permission to apply it to new people and circumstances they know little to nothing about, have not dealt with in the past, and tend to be afraid to deal with in the present moving forward. In other words: Prime, USDM(-edia) Approved judgment sells shows, potentially unnecessary therapy(-ies), and goods.
New! and Imploded
Sure, historically there have been plenty of TV families (real and reality) for us to view: the blended Brady Bunch and single-mom Partridge Family were highly rate households alongside Bunker’s colorful nuclear clan, and much more recently, there’s the Kardashians (who I wanted to hate, but to whose genuine sisterhood-embracing antics I find myself often saying, “Right on, chicas!”).
However, now there’s a much more insidious trend emerging on the TV-family line up. If TV programs are meant to imitate or reflect life, what do current reality shows — now regularly starring formerly abused, addicted and/or victimized women, and including conveying sexuality in “survivor” terms — such as Kendra (E!) formerly of the Playboy Mansion, currently of her own reality shows fame (not to mention the abusive antics of cast members on any of the ‘The Real Housewives’ (fill-in-the-city) series), say about our culture? Are there more of these shows purely for entertainment value and ratings, does this help shed light on formerly closeted issues, and/or is this increasingly a reflection of our culture’s grasp and practice of “relationships” and “family”?
Oh and, honey. This isn’t about simply turning it off or not watching. These shows ah sooow ohn! Everywhere. Your kids and their friends are watching. So…what shows — reality or otherwise — have best reflected your own family experience to you? How do they make you feel? Do you enjoy shows that feature people who seem more “broken” than you feel you and your family to be? If so own it but know: why? Do you feel our culture has become more, less dysfunctional, or stayed about the same, over the past decade?
Images: The Osbournes, MTV. Real Housewives of Atlanta, SlightlySarcastic.net.
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