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in treatment: genre and psychoanalysis

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Gaby Wood a little while ago in the Observer on In Treatment:

The American series has been such a success that all the major TV buyers around the world have taken it up, with one prominent exception: Britain. (It will be screened at the Edinburgh Festival, though, this summer.) France, Portugal, eastern Europe, Sweden… Levi begins to reel off the countries that have bought it, and interrupts himself, mystified. “What do you think? What’s different about England? Maybe the British are too discreet for this.”

“Too repressed,” I suggest.

“Well,” he sighs, “that’s another way to put it.”

Ha! That’s something, isn’t it. When basically every country in the world shows the thing, except this one, the diagnosis slips from “just not interested” to “please, seriously, I don’t want to, I can’t, see that.” Anyway, enough for now on that line…

We loved the first season, chez Ads, and are currently twenty half-hour episodes into the season currently showing back home. (Thank god, really really, for bittorrent…) It’s a softly terrific show, humanely soft, and nicely written throughout. Unlike The Sopranos, which certain American therapists got hoodwinked into thinking was saying something positive about their line of work, In Treatment is, I think, an advertisement for the practice and value of therapy. *

But there’s something interesting about what it has to negotiate in order to be this. Almost all workplace narratives shown on television, whether of a dramatic or comedic turn, depend upon sexualization of said workplace in order to function as entertainment. And further, the particular form that this sexualization takes when inserted into the workplace might be called the erotics of hierarchy. Doctors sleep with nurses, patients, and other doctors. Ad men sleep with their secretaries. Partners at law firms sleep with junior attornies. It’s a tic of the genre, but admittedly the interplay of power and desire does make for interesting drama. (This is probably why no one’s ever made a good TV show about academia – showing teachers sleeping with students would probably be titilating but a bit too disturbing, even for HBO…. I am a bit surprised Showtime hasn’t taken up the concept yet… **)

But the funny thing about it, in the case of In Treatment, is the fact that unlike the law firm or the hospital, sex and its prohibition are actually the defining characteristics of the workplace in question. Hospitals aren’t built to keep doctors from fucking nurses, but as Adam Phillips has said (quoted here, which I found via this),”psychoanalysis is about what two people can say to each other if they agree not to have sex.” It’s an astoundingly smart description, though it tempts one to wonder if the formula is reversible: when people talk after agreeing not to have sex – happens all the time I imagine – is it automatically psychoanalysis? Hmmm…. Perhaps you need to sign a contract, or maybe it’s a question of the couch, the carafe of water positioned just out of reach, the tissues on the table.

On the other hand, as we all know, the prohibition of contact propagates – as prohibitions will do, psychoanalytically speaking – the very desire that they aim at countering. Thus transference and counter-transference and all the rest. So sex, according to the conventional wisdom of the business, is all over the place but also nowhere, held off on the sidelines – everywhere present but nowhere manifest, as long as things proceed as they should.

So we end up with a situation, when we’re thinking about In Treatment, where something interesting happens vis a vis genre and theme/scene. In its terminal reliance upon the sexual tension between analyst and analysand, a reliance that comes at once of the genre (sexualized workplace fiction) and the predispositions and market awareness of the means of distribution (think: mandatory Bada Bing scene in every episode of the Sopranos), the show ends up speaking some sort of secret but not-so-secret truth about the scenario that it’s taken up.

Every once in awhile, the interference of form is in fact the key to a sort of distorted realism – and revelatory distortion is always what was meant by the word realism right from the start. And furthermore (and sorry to be so telegraphic, but I’m getting tired) this relationship probably tells us even more about the genre of psychoanalysis itself, the sort of story it tells and it tells itself its telling, than it does about HBO programming and the anglo-telenovela.

* Can somebody explain to me what happened to Big Love? It’s our filler when we run out of In Treatments to watch, and while it was never a great show like the others, it was at least watchable. Now, jesus, not so much. A shame, really….

** Actually, you know, it’s not like I haven’t thought about writing up the made-for-cable campus dramocomedy. In fact, I talked to some colleagues about this, who have media connections, and perhaps another drink and we all would have started writing the pilot. Still, their connections are British, so the damn thing’d end up on the BBC, and thus likely in period costume and with all too many significant pauses and general overacting… Ah me.

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 4, 2009 at 10:52 pm

Posted in psychoanalysis, teevee

2 Responses

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  1. “The idea of therapy in the early 21st-century seemed to the Britonic realm’s televisually-inclined citizens to be too laughably neurotic to even consider contemplating even on a long lonely lazy rainy Sunday without even a Grand Prix on to satiate their eternal ethereal boredom at the entire horrifying miasma of a meaninglessly-perpetuated existence punctuated only by orgies of misery interrupted by small patches of random sensual pleasure all encased in a disease-prone body predestined to cease organic operation at a certain point in the future whereby it would give up its cells to the universe for re-use in some other just-as-meaningless body to be made use of in much the same way ad infinitum ad absurdum until the universe collapses under the force of its own gravity thereby putting a stop to everything until the next Big Bang when the whole uber-idiotic cycle would again start again all over again, again.”

    — From the Introduction to Post-Psychology in the Post-Everything Era, Heidi Hucker (Products Without Ads Press, 2184).

    David

    May 5, 2009 at 2:35 pm

  2. estoy enamorado de heidi hucker.

    praxedis

    May 5, 2009 at 4:53 pm


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