Monthly Archives: February 2015

Flight Of Icarus

Woke up feeling light, thought I could fly, went for a jog instead. Stay grounded, I thought. Am I the anti-R Kelly? He’s referenced in the film Birdman, which–it was suggested–I should write about. Therapists, I replied, should write more about films, art in general. So I will.

Riggan Thomson, played by Michael Keaton, sits in his room (levitating, actually), looking like he woke up on the right side, also feeling light, though he is yet to take off. Nor is he grounded exactly. The earth, his world,  seems too constrictive for that. Within moments, his meditation is broken and he is stomping through tight hallways, talking frenetically with anxious producers, a broadway debutante actress, as well as a second actress, his apparently pregnant girlfriend. He is less conversant with his recovering addict daughter Sam, played by cat-eyed Emma Stone, who brings serious chip to her chip-on-the-shoulder role. Thomson is a mess. He is washed up, an ex-superhero star (The Birdman) who now seeks respectability and depth in Hollywood’s darker sibling, the theater. And the culture of theater is less glamorous: it is dirty, claustrophobic, and peopled with either non-entities (the anonymous stage crew), or the impossibly self-absorbed. Thomson at once fits in and doesn’t, but he’s bought in. In fact, he’s invested all he’s got into this play which is an adaptation of a short story by his one-time idol, Raymond Carver. So committed is he that he’s willing to assault, perhaps even kill the mediocre actor who is fucking up rehearsals. In this respect, he is no less driven than the abusive Terrance Fletcher character from Whiplash, though he seems more transparently fragile–insecure, even psychotic.

The Hollywood past doesn’t leave him alone. It stalks him in the form of hallucinations, the Birdman alter-ego whose appearances bring to mind the imaginary friend character of Beautiful Mind, though unlike that film, it’s clear from the outset that Thomson is–what?–at least troubled. But he’s not alone in his craziness, which makes things very interesting. All of the support characters are fucked up also, to more or lesser degrees. One character who seems even crazier than Thomson is Mike Shiner, played by Ed Norton. Shiner is the man Thomson might have been ten years earlier: cocky, gifted, uncontrollable, exhibitionist in all ways, so out there that he disguises his underlying fears, of inadequacy and impotence. His act, both on and off stage, is ingenious, and in an oedipal/electra nod, Sam is of course  drawn to him.

Shiner’s addition to the play brings it to a new level. He is box office potential, but also hip, in with the critics, who seem to despise Thomson, especially a bitter, spinster-like figure who hangs out in a bar across from the theater, awaiting his opening night like a vulture. Meanwhile, the previews, as in that strange, half-price experimental stage of live production, are falling apart. But that’s okay according to Shiner, who schools the outsider Thomson on what is important, what is real. What evolves is a play that dissolves the fourth wall between artist and audience, just as Keaton and director Inarritu flirt with our wall with their Birdman/Batman parallel.  The climax of this path is an accident. In between scenes during the last preview, he heads outside for a smoke break, but locks himself out of the theater. Next, he is wandering through Times Square in his underwear, dodging onlookers and voyeurs in what becomes a serendipitous publicity sensation. This wasn’t what he wanted, however, and afterwards he confronts the hateful critic in the bar, appealing to her sense of fair play, her compassion for the struggling artist. But she’ll have none of it. Convinced he is a charlatan, she pledges to “kill” his play.

At this point everyone–Shiner, Sam, the producer, cast and crew–think he’s delusional, not dealing with reality, though they don’t know the half of it. With opening night upon them, Thomson has one more trick up his sleeve, one more flight of fancy: an on stage suicide that will blow everyone’s mind, even Shiner’s, as well as his brains out. It doesn’t come off (actually, only part of his nose comes off as a result of the on stage gunshot), but the play does, and even the hateful critic can’t resist the uberrealism, ultimately giving Thomson  a rave review. The following day, he is in hospital, recovering from his wounds; meanwhile, the press, the internet public, his producer, are all excited because the play is a triumph. Thomson is not excited, however. Ambiguously disappointed, he removes his bandages, inspects his face in the mirror, and steps out the high rise hospital window. This possibility, of Thomson’s suicide, persists throughout the film and remains until the last shot, wherein we see Sam gazing out the open window, first in frantic abandonment, then in wonder. She believes he can fly.

If you’ve ever felt like a poseur, a madman or woman, a capable person but sometimes a dufus, you should like what Birdman is about. Check it out.

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Statement To The Recruits

In a recent statement to the membership of the California Marriage and Family Therapist Association (CAMFT), association lead counsel Cathy Atkins issued guidelines for members regarding the controversial new law AB1775. It’s an interesting report featuring answers to questions posed by members, numerous interpretations of intent, none of them explicated in the Penal code, but leaving therapists and other mandated reporters (not to mention our clients) still wading in ambiguous waters.

* Firstly, it’s good to read a (sort of) acknowledgement that AB1775 is much more than a legal addendum designed to keep us all in touch with advancing technology. It is in effect a re-definition of sexual exploitation, to include the viewing of child porn (CP) alongside a pre-existing definition that was previously  confined to its production and distribution.
*Cathy’s guidelines addresses what I’ve called the conflation of child porn viewing into a definition of sexual exploitation by pointing out that the words “downloading” and “accessing” could be interpreted as meaning the exchanging of files, and so the additional language is designed to reinforce the original Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act ( CANRA) laws. She suggests that police will not investigate the mere “downloading” or “streaming” of child porn, and implies that law enforcement will take into account a therapist’s opinion as to whether CP use is “stumbled upon”, whether there are  “factors to be weighed” (such as a spouse’s contrary characterization of CP use), or whether CP use will lead to direct harm of a child. In short, she suggests that therapists will have discretion  in their reporting and that social services/police will take into account our opinions about our clients, but warns that said discretion will not protect us from liability, or even prosecution.
*Hmm? Do we accept this explanation? I’m dubious, obviously. Firstly, I think it likely that police will think that therapists who dispute potential direct harm to children are merely advocating for their clients; that police will not think the viewing of porn is “accidental” simply because we think it is (and wouldn’t such reports be a nuisance?); that police will think the viewing entails (or has entailed) exchanging by virtue of the aforementioned technological advances/nuances related to the internet, and will thus have a pretext for investigation, plus the ensuing legal fall-out, leading to disruption of existing therapeutic episodes, not to mention child abuse prevention efforts,  via the hegemony of the CASOMB system (an issue not referenced by Cathy), as I have described in previous messages to the CAMFT e-tree. So much for therapist discretion, I think.
*Also, I think police are likely to agree with the 2012 US attorney general’s opinion that viewing CP alone does indeed constitute exploitation because the viewer is judged to be aware of the abuse depicted in the CP. And since a therapist becomes aware through client disclosure, then that knowledge of the abuse in turn triggers the obligation to report. The logic here is as follows: we are witness to someone who has witnessed abuse, and because we don’t know the victim we report the witness. Next, Cathy warns that if a therapist is aware that a client has accessed pornography, fails to report that use, and the client later abuses a child, then the therapist may be held criminally responsible for the failed report of possession (or viewing, I guess). BTW: unless a solid correlation exists between use of pornography and direct contact child abuse, then this argument validates the use of prejudice as tantamount to reasonable suspicion–another form of conflation. Otherwise, we should be making Tarasoff reports (pertaining to reports of threats made against others) if our clients report owning copies of American Psycho. More topically, perhaps, are we to infer risk to others if clients are enamored with 50 Shades Of Grey? This law, or the interpretation of it,  thus strikes at the heart of the “imminent risk” principle of exception (of when to break confidentiality), so central to an understanding of the original CANRA laws. Oblivious, AB1775 supporters promote an inference (which belies current research, actually): that viewing of porn will lead to child abuse, or might; and that “might” is sufficient to trigger a process that will leave those tentatively disclosing clients wondering what, if anything, they will ever again share with a therapist.
* So it seems like glibness to assuage members that all will be worked out, and that AB1775 “does not affect the standard of intent of the CANRA statute” . We are not investigators, Cathy reminds us. But we are encouraged to do due diligence to protect children which, as the tautological thinking unfolds, invariably connects the viewing of porn with actual harm to a child. The bill’s author, Melissa Melendez, and others, want police making the distinctions between the accidental users, the regular users, and those relative few who will use CP and also directly harm children. Not the lawyers at CAMFT. Not the researchers. Not any mental health professionals. Not us.
We are the recruited.

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Four Star review of The Situation

Fewer words from me this week, more quiet satisfaction. And so, a guest blogger of sorts. I’ll read along

Affirmation at last


Graeme Daniels, MFT



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