By Mike McMahan, LPC
There has been a push by progressive-leaning folks online for Queen Elsa, one of the main characters in Disney’s beloved Frozen, to identify as lesbian in the anticipated sequel and to have an on-screen love interest. I fully support this idea.
Lesbian and gay people have gained more and more acceptance in society as they have taken on more visible, public roles. This shift is very evident in pop culture as well. I remember a time when no one blinked that Eddie Murphy had a track on one of his stand-up albums called “Faggots” (he has since apologized for these jokes). And did you know that the Beastie Boys considered calling the classic Licensed To Ill album Don’t Be A Faggot? Thankfully, for the Beastie Boys, the record company refused to release the album under this title (the one time a record company refusal to release something actually worked out well for everyone, just sayin’). It’s safe to say that, had the LP been released under this title, it would have been reissued at some point with an alternate title. Whether the Beasties would still have been the icons of progressive values that they are now is pure guesswork.
In 1997, it was a major news story when Ellen DeGeneres came out, and the titular character on her sitcom, Ellen, came out at the same time. It will be interesting to see how history regards DeGeneres, especially now that the fight for things like marriage equality has been christened “the new civil rights movement.” She took a lot of risk in doing what she did and, though she has been highly successful in the time since, there were no guarantees at that time. She literally risked her career.
My personal feeling is that as more LGBT people have come out, many of us have gotten to know them as people. It’s very common these days to have gay family members and co-workers, which has led to the shocking realization (gasp!) that they’re people just like everyone else. This, in turn, led to the relatively quick turnaround from the popularity of Defense of Marriage Acts in the early 2000s to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision recognizing marriage equality in all 50 states.
The CDC has identified numerous health issues associated with homophobia. For example, gay and lesbian youth who’s families reject or resist their child’s sexual orientation are eight times more likely to have attempted suicide and six times more likely to report high levels of depression. Having a lesbian Disney princess will undoubtedly reduce homophobia, as it normalizes being gay and reminds kids that LGBT people are just like other kids, only they happen to fall in love with people of their own gender.
The field of psychology strongly supports LGBT rights. Recently the American Counseling Association cancelled a convention in Nashville in protest of a law that allows counselors to refuse LGBT clients on religious grounds. In addition, the American Psychological Association has issued a statement condemning conversion therapy, which seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation from gay to straight. While the field of psychology as a whole now strongly supports LGBT equality, that was not always the case. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), which describes criteria for diagnosis of different psychiatric illnesses, listed homosexuality as a “mental disorder” up until its third edition, which was published in 1980(!).
Which brings us up to now. Disney has made strides to be progressive, including having their iconic princesses come from minority groups. In addition, Frozen itself laid waste to the idea of “love at first sight.” Who wants to end up with someone as two-faced as Prince Hans? So, perhaps, as the idea of a Frozen sequel continues to gain steam, it was only natural that there would be a push for Elsa (conspicuously single in the first film) to have a love interest and for Disney to bring another formerly disenfranchised minority to the forefront: members of the LGBT community.
In a previous post, I discussed the possibility that Elsa was suffering from depression, symbolized by her isolation in a castle of ice. This symbolism could just as easily be applied to the idea that she feels isolation due to having to hide her sexual orientation. After all, she does have a power that she has to hide under gloves. Even actress Idina Menzel, who voiced Elsa in the first film, supports the idea. So what’s the problem?
Well, that depends on who you ask. As expected, this proposal has generated a significant amount of controversy and sparked a counter-movement, composed of those who do not support this idea. I support free speech, discussion and understand that people have a right to their opinion. That said, these arguments are largely based on religious objections. I don’t want to make this a discussion about religion and morality, so I’ll just say that while I respect the role that religion plays in people’s life and understand that it can be a source of strength, I don’t believe these arguments are a valid reason to deny people things like basic respect, civil rights or health insurance.
Another objection (or question) that will arise from parents is “how did I discuss this with my kids?” In my opinion, this is a valid question, but let’s put it in perspective. This is a Disney film, not an R-rated adult film or a piece of pornography. At the most there is going to be a kiss between Elsa and her girlfriend. My suggestion would be that this discussion be similar to any other discussion about adult matters such as sex. Children of different ages will have different sorts of questions, and what parents feel is age-appropriate will vary from family to family. I always recommend books as a way to explore issues with your kids. An excellent book on this subject is And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson. This book (which is based on a true story) is a very family friendly title that has two male penguins falling in love, but is more or less just like any other family story about two parents welcoming a beloved child into the world.
As the father of a four-year-old and a man who has gay friends and co-workers, I have told my daughter “most of the time boys fall in love with girls, but sometimes girls fall in love with girls and boys fall in love with boys.” As homosexuality continues to be more accepted in our society, it is likely that your kids will have friends who have same-sex parents. I myself have worked with several same-sex couples who have children. The definition of family is changing and evolving with the times. I hope Disney takes a huge next step and does the same.
Mike McMahan, LPC, is a psychotherapist based in San Antonio, Texas.
By Mike McMahan, LPC
Oh, sweet nostalgia! This weekend marks the return of David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) and company as they fend off another attack of hostile aliens in really, really big spaceships. Independence Day: Resurgence is here! While this film has been eagerly awaited by a certain segment of the sci-fi fanbase (it’s no The Force Awakens but…), it’s almost certain to have its detractors. When the original was released 20 years ago, it ushered in an era of big-budget disaster flicks, which Resurgence has already acknowledged via a Goldblum joke in the trailer: “they like to get the landmarks.” As a fan of the original film, I’m looking forward to this, though I’m fully aware that it might not be so good. Early reviews seem to indicate that it, well, sucks.
I’ve often thought that a sequel to a successful film or the follow-up to a hit album presents the artist with a tricky tightrope. The phrase I’ve often used to describe this process is that the audience expects “different but the same.” Consider: if the film changes elements too drastically or if key characters are missing, audiences will complain that it didn’t “capture the spirit of the original”. Some prominent examples of this phenomenon include The Phantom Menace, Blues Brothers 2000, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Jaws 2. On the other hand, if a sequel is too much the same, it’s dismissed as a cynical cash-in to lure gullible fans of the first movie. This seemed to be in effect with the truly awful Matrix sequels, which seemingly amped-up the effects and the confusing pseudo-philosophy but had little or nothing else to offer. The Hangover sequels seem to fit this category as well.
Sequels usually come out relatively quickly, in order to build on the buzz and fortunes of the original. Not so with Independence Day: Resurgence. I’ve wondered what took so long, as if ever there was an obvious opening for a sequel, it was this. I thought that the original attack should be followed by a “colonization wave,” but the producers seem to have decided on a “distress call” sent by the original invaders that prompts the (naturally) bigger ships on an attack mission. But 20 years? Wow! Truly a moment to reflect on all that has happened since.
The producers of the film produced a fake “history” video to catch everyone up-to-date, but what about in your own life? If you were a part of the target market of the original (teenagers), you’re in your 30s now and approaching middle age. What’s changed in your life since the release of the original? Building on the idea of sequels and their relationship to the original, how did you get thru the last 20 years? Perhaps you went to college, entered the workforce, got married, or became a parent. Or, perhaps, none of those. All of us have our own individual paths to walk, none of which are the same as anyone else’s.
When I work with clients on discussing their past, I think it’s helpful to emphasize strengths that led you on your journey. Consider the biggest challenge that you overcame. Something you might ask yourself about that difficult time in your life is “how did I get through that? What strengths or skills did I apply from earlier lessons in life?” I also find it very unhelpful to view your past as a series of failures. When you are facing a struggle, it can be very tempting to see your life as a series of disasters, having landed you in whatever predicament you may be struggling with today. It can be very difficult to look at positives when you feel mired in negativity.
As a therapist, it’s important not to rush a client into looking at positives, especially when a person is struggling. No one wants to pour their heart out about their struggles only to have a therapist say “sure, you feel like you’re totally screwed, but what’s going well?” This seems like asking for a punch in the face. Instead, a therapist may want to look for exceptions, or things that don’t fit the current problematic narrative. At times, a therapist has to take an opposite tack if the client is so invested in the problematic narrative that they can’t identify any positives. “What keeps this problem from getting worse?”
Perhaps, most interestingly, think about where you were in your life in 1996 and think where you are now. Would your 1996 self have predicted how things would turn out? Why or why not? And, think about 20 years from now. If you could take a time machine (of a UFO) and blast forward into your future, what would you see? What steps can you take right now to get you on the path to that future?
If nothing else, take a lesson from the original Independence Day. On July 2, 1996, the world seemed like it was totally doomed. By July 4, everything had turned around due to a guy flying a biplane while drunk. Solutions may not always come from the obvious places…!
Mike McMahan, LPC is a psychotherapist based in San Antonio, Tx.
By Mike McMahan, LPC
It’s the eternal question of rock ‘n’ roll fandom. “Beatles or Stones?” A different version of this question was posed by Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction when she asked Vincent Vega if he was “an Elvis man or Beatles man,” even though Vincent’s answer literally could not have been more obvious.
Let me just make this disclosure up front: I am undoubtedly a Beatles man. While I recognize the Rolling Stones’ huge, huge influence on rock ‘n’ roll, I just don’t particularly enjoy them. But part of being a therapist is working with people who you may not like or may even have a strong negative reaction to. In grad school, one of my live supervision instructors gave us an exercise to find at least one strength in each client that we observed or interacted with. At times it could not have been easier. Other times, it was much more challenging. Sometimes people have characteristics or present themselves in ways that make them difficult to like or difficult to find positives in. It was a great challenge and I never forgot it. I am of the belief that this exercise can apply to life as well. We all know people who make things hard on everyone around them. However, if we are to endorse the idea that everyone has value and something to contribute (a principle I believe in), it does mean everyone.
With that…. On to the topic at hand. What, exactly, is a strength-based assessment? Frequently when a person is assessed for mental health services, the key questions in the assessment will focus on the problem. This occurs for two reasons. First is that they are there because there is a problem or situation in their life that needs addressing. How can you deal with a problem if you can’t express it or identify what it is, at least by the symptoms or incidents that are occurring? And, second, if the insurance company is going to pay for treatment, they want to know what the problem is.
What’s the problem here, you may be asking? “The doctor asks me what’s wrong, why shouldn’t my therapist?” My take (and that of many forward-thinking practitioners in the field) is that concentrating on the problems may re-enforce them in the client’s mind. The whole point of coming to therapy is to feel better about things, but also to learn to cope with life’s challenges in a way that is positive and healthy. I’d argue that people don’t benefit by discussing the symptoms and dwelling on the difficulties that may have led to these challenges. Now, I’m not suggesting that therapists act like ostriches and stick their heads in the ground. Of course there are things going on that clients want to change—that’s why they’re in therapy. I have yet to meet a client who says “my life is too perfect.” I’m sure they’re out there, though. I never fail to be amazed that the things that bring people to therapy!
As positive psychology grows in popularity and acceptance, we clinicians have had the opportunity to expand our assessment tools to include strengths that may be useful in helping the client cope with the presenting problem. Examples include: a hobby or creative endeavor that provides the person with fulfillment and contributes to self-esteem; a strong support system; a hopeful or optimistic outlook; and so forth.
So with all these explanations in mind, let’s take a look at a strength-based assessment of the question at hand: Beatles or Stones?
For the purposes of this demonstration, let’s assume that the presenting problem (in essence, why is the client here?) with both bands is “how do we continue to maintain this success?” Given the worldwide success both groups still enjoy, this isn’t actually a problem, of course; but this isn’t actually an assessment, either. So the question to ask will be how to continue as successful entertainers with long-term careers, piles of money and hordes of adoring fans. A “problem-driven assessment” (for lack of a better term) might focus on things like “the Beatles have been broken up for years” or “the Stones are a dinosaur nostalgia act.” While true about the Beatles and arguably true about the Stones, what’s helpful about these observations?
One approach to psychotherapy that can yield benefits is by identifying past strengths and figuring out how they may be overlooked when confronting current challenges. What were the strengths that helped them reach their incredible levels of success? Interestingly, when you get right down to it, these bands have some similar strengths, as well as the differences that make the question “Beatles or Stones?” such a telling query.
1. Strong songwriting: John Lennon and Paul McCartney (and, to a lesser extent, George Harrison) produced one of the strongest catalogs in the history of recorded music. Some songs were clearly written by one or the other, but others relied on collaboration. A perfect example of this approach is the hybrid songwriting of one of my favorite Beatles songs, “A Day In the Life.”
2. A desire to progress: Beginning with Revolver and Rubber Soul, the Beatles took artistic chances that could have alienated their core fan base who enjoyed the pleasant and inoffensive pop tunes that were their early hallmark. By openly embracing the spirit of the decade (including drug use and the growing peace movement) as well as bringing in a Dylan influence of deeper lyrics, the Beatles charted unknown territory. Beyond this, they utilized (for the times) cutting edge studio technology to create Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart's Club Band, an album so innovative there are entire books discussing the studio wizardry that led to the album’s birth. I could also make a strong case that this album is the blueprint for the entire prog rock genre. This philosophy that bands must evolve became the gold standard for many critically acclaimed bands in the ensuing decades including Pink Floyd, The Clash, Wilco, Radiohead, Opeth, Baroness and Guns ‘n’ Roses, just to name a few. Bob Dylan is the master of this, and he and the Beatles seemingly took cues from each other during the mid-to-late 60s.
3. A distinct visual look: the Beatles’ changing looks were a key part of what made them icons. From the suits in the early days to the psychedelic weirdness in the middle period to the Earth rocker look of the late era, any photo of the Beatles can immediately be dated by their attire.
4. A recognition of the value of merchandising (a.k.a. “merch”): the Beatles secured their place in pop culture history by recognizing the value of putting your name and image on everything from lunchboxes to keychains to buttons to t-shirts. This ubiquitous presence ensured that they would stay around, via nostalgia, for decades to come. As the music industry has struggled to find ways to make money, merch remains a cash cow for successful bands.
5. Knowing when to walk away: there is something to be said for going out on top. This approach dots the pop culture landscape and can secure a strong legacy and enduring adoration from the public. Most would agree that while The Band could have kept cranking out albums, they benefited from staging The Last Waltz, arguably the best farewell concert in history. The Beatles were also smart enough not to reunite (something reportedly considered in the 70s), although I suspect Lennon’s unfortunate passing likely had an impact here as time went by. Still, they could have made millions by having Julian or Sean Lennon fill in for a tour that could have sold out stadiums—but they didn’t. This “go out on top” philosophy applies to other mediums too. On TV, for example, both Lost and Seinfeld benefited from producing strong programs that didn’t get watered down by weak desperate later seasons. I suspect the Game of Thrones TV show is looking at this as well--something author George R.R. Martin would have been wise to consider. And, as far as books, Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series could have continued indefinitely, but she has chosen (for reasons known only to her) to call it a day, at least for the time being.
1. Strong songwriting: the Stones have a catalog that is so loaded with chestnuts it is probably rivaled only by the Beatles in terms of sheer volume. Even when they present greatest hits-type shows they can’t squeeze them all in. The Stones also have a defiant quality to their music that somehow fits sing along type moments in huge crowd settings, such as sports events. Perhaps it’s a licensing thing, but “Start Me Up” plays better to an NFL crowd than “I Am the Walrus.”
2. Swagger: when they began their career, the Stones played up their apparent “danger,” in contrast to the Beatles, who may have defined the archetype of the boy band. Both were a calculated marketing ploy and the Stones represented, in my opinion, one of the earliest examples of counter-programming. I would argue that as the Stones have aged that this swagger became something of a liability, though many (or even most) would probably disagree. Something about a 70-something Mick Jagger strutting his stuff is a bit goofy to me, but anyone who has seen the Stones recently says they still deliver. I saw them on the Steel Wheels tour in ’89 and they seemed old then. And that was around the midpoint of their career!
3. Longevity: while I made the argument above that the Beatles went out on top, there is something to be said for sticking around as well. Millions of people have seen the Stones live and experienced the magic that can only occur when a band is right there in front of you, bringing the rock. There isn’t a lot of great looking or sounding video of the Beatles performing live, and they had pretty much retired from performing live by the time that they created the albums that I believe cemented their artistic legacy (Sgt Pepper’s onward). On top of that, watching a recording isn’t nearly as compelling as the real thing. The Stones have benefited from years of touring and playing out their legacy live on stage.
4. A recognition of the value of merchandising: same as the Beatles, discussed above. Mick Jagger’s lips are the most famous lips around.
5. A “stay the course” attitude: I believe this is the key difference between the Beatles and the Stones, their early presentation aside. You pretty much know what you’re getting with The Stones. They settled on a blues-based sound based around Keith Richards’s bluesy, alternate-tuning riffs and Mick Jagger’s kiss-off attitude. It worked, and they’ve largely stuck to it—unfortunate deviations into disco aside (I’m looking at you “Emotional Rescue”).This “don’t fix what ain’t broke” philosophy has later been utilized by AC/DC, KISS, Dinosaur Jr, Primus and Slayer, among others. The Grateful Dead, for example, experimented on some of their albums but kept the architecture of their live show the same for almost 20 of their 30 years.
So, what do we have here? If I was using therapy to address the question that I identified as the “presenting problem” (how to stay successful) I think I would concentrate on two things with each band. With both, I would agree that merch is where the real money lies. I’m amazed that there are people out there who don’t own all the Beatles or Stones they could possibly want, but the albums continue to sell—-partly due to remasters, I assume. Still this is a drop in the bucket compared to all the Beatles and Stones stuff that sells in department stores, mall shops and so forth. In addition, I’m sure a truckload of shirts and other souvenirs are sold every time the Stones play or McCartney performs a concert. On that note, the Stones can/should continue to “stay the course.” I’m pretty comfortable saying no one cares about any Stones songs written after the mid-80s or so--why change? On the other hand, one of the Beatles’ strengths is experimentation, so why not explore more of that? I haven’t seen the Cirque du Soleil Beatles’ production (Love), but I have heard the soundtrack, and it’s quite adventurous. The mixing technique that reveals doors between the tracks and joins them together was quite inventive and refreshing after all these years. And McCartney (let’s face it, the key surviving Beatle—sorry, Ringo) has experimented on his own, as well. Though they didn’t get a lot of press, his two collaborations with producer Youth (released as The Fireman) are well worth a listen.
But, that’s not really the premise of this article, which was the answer to the “Beatles or Stones” question. As far as the question of who’s better: sad to say not much that is quantifiable. It’s really just an opinion. I still like the Beatles more than the Stones; partly because I like their songs more, partly because I like the idea of progressing within a genre of music (rock) that is, at times, limiting. I have always suspected the question is really about whether you identify with the Beatles’ or Stones’ early image—the “nice lads” or the “bad boys.” This, to me, is why Vincent Vega’s answer was so obvious—of course he’s an Elvis man. But maybe it means something else, and I would love to hear folks sound off in the comments section.
As far as what knowledge of strength-based assessments means to you readers, it is an opportunity for you to use this methodology to reflect on past successes, why they happened and to take a look at your own strengths. It’s also something to consider when/if you seek out mental health services. You may want to ask yourself if your therapist is helping you identify your strengths or relying on endless recitations of the problems. Multiple approaches are effective and I am not meaning to malign anyone’s approach. But, in my opinion, a strength-based approach is likely to yield faster results and more positive outcomes in the long-term. And maybe have a little fun with that very interesting question: Beatles or Stones?
Mike McMahan, LPC is a psychotherapist based in San Antonio, Tx.
By Mike McMahan, LPC
We’ve talked before about how we create narratives in our life by adding or taking away elements as we construct the narrative of our own life . However, sometimes it’s not just about how you perceive events. Some of this narrative and the way it’s constructed may depend on how you attribute motives to others.
Take for example, your job. Virtually everyone has had a difficult boss or co-worker who seems to relish making your life a living hell. But does this person see themselves as evil? My guess would be, in most cases, no. They see themselves as “fighting the good fight” or “teaching a lesson” or “making sure you do your job.” A recent article from Uproxx about, of all things, a CIA agent, addressed this very point, noting that no one believes they are the bad guy and, of course, the inverse; everyone believes they are the good guy.
The part I found particularly fascinating was that American films had been mentioned during an interview with an ISIS member, who invoked Star Wars and Independence Day. “He said, ‘All these movies that America makes…they’re all about a small, scrappy band of rebels who will do anything in their power with the limited resources available to them to expel an outside, technically advanced invader.’” This observation is spot-on. In fact, histories of Star Wars have stated that creator George Lucas intended Star Wars to be a commentary on the Vietnam War with the Empire representing, you guessed it, the United States.
So, if everyone sees themselves as the good guy, what’s a person to do? In my clinical work with clients, I try to help them see other perspectives on people’s actions. Rarely, if ever, do we know why people do what they do. Sometimes things that are seen as hostile or cruel by the recipient may have simply been an ill-considered casual remark by the other party in the exchange. Even those of us who try to be considerate cannot know what others feel. Certainly there have been times in all of our lives when we likely hurt someone’s feelings without even realizing it. Does this make us a “bad guy?” I’d say no, it makes us human. All we can do is consider the feelings of others and do our best to keep them in mind.
Mike McMahan, LPC is a psychotherapist based in San Antonio, Tx.
Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture