As I mentioned in my previous post (http://www.mikemcmahanlpc.com/therapy-goes-pop-blog/how-the-hateful-eight-simulates-being-a-psychotherapist), I recently saw The Hateful Eight. I was pretty darn psyched about it, so this week let’s have a double dose of Quentin Tarantino here at Therapy Goes POP. Two guns blazing, just like one of Tarantino’s influences, Hong Kong action maestro John Woo. Like my previous post, this post will also contain some minor *SPOILERS* for The Hateful Eight.
The counseling theories that I work from (Solution Focused Brief Therapy and Narrative Therapy) fall under the umbrella of postmodernism. What is postmodernism exactly? I see it used frequently and it is one of those “buzzwords” that gets thrown around a lot and is used as an opening to discuss all sorts of things. A lot of people seem to think the work itself refers more to a style of writing/thinking/creating rather than having much meaning on its own. This is, frankly, a criticism I can understand, though I do believe that it is one of the more important philosophical trends to emerge during the last century. The Wikipedia page (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodernism) is actually quite informative, though, like much of the writing on postmodernism, is at times impenetrable for mere mortals like you and I. For our purposes here, perhaps we can agree that postmodernism posits that there are multiple “truths” and that each of our own personal truths are filtered through our own experiences. This includes broad categories of experience such as gender, race and sexual identity. But (and this is important for readers of this blog) we are also influenced by cultural and artistic communications that we encounter, including books, music, movies and TV. I am a strong believer that forms of entertainment that move us deeply have the power to shape our experiences and our worldview. In fact, that is the underlying premise for this entire blog. Based on his films and content of interview, I am confident that Quentin Tarantino would agree with this assertion. Another basic tenet of postmodern and points of view opens the door to the idea that women and minorities have been underrepresented in history, literature and other forms of cultural communication, which is something I do believe is true. Race and how we, as Americans, discuss it is a big theme in Tarantino’s work, and The Hateful Eight is certainly no exception.
One of the big criticisms of Tarantino’s work is that he “steals” from films that he enjoyed (or was inspired by) in the past. The most obvious defense is the old adage “amateurs borrow, professionals steal” which has been true in art and music forever (I’m looking at you as a great example, Led Zeppelin). But, yeah, appropriation has always been an element in any successful art. You can’t reinvent the wheel every time. I think that this use of homage is an artistic choice on Tarantino’s part, much like sampling is a key part of hip hop and electronic music. He certainly cannot deny the strikingly similar scenes lifted virtually shot-for-shot from earlier movies. Take a look at this video which shows his scenes side-by-side with the scenes that inspired them: http://digg.com/video/tarantino-movie-references. My personal opinion is that this is symbolic of the belief that we are inspired by all that we have seen and experienced up to this very moment, and to deny that this influences our perceptions is fairly short-sighted. Accepting this notion is something that can be helpful to therapists, clients or just regular folks casually reading this blog post.
A big part of Tarantino is his precise use of language. Consider the scene in which Tim Roth’s Mr. Pink (in the screenplay excerpt below, known by his real name, Freddy) is being trained to be an undercover cop in Reservoir Dogs, and what the more experienced officer tells him:
HOLDAWAY: It's like a joke. You remember what's important, and the rest you make your own. The only way to make it your own is to keep sayin it, and sayin it, and sayin it, and sayin it, and sayin it.
FREDDY: I can do that.
HOLDAWAY: The things you gotta remember are the details. It's the details that sell your story.
This same theme reoccurs in The Hateful Eight, in which the fraudulent Lincoln Letter is praised by John Ruth for a touching detail: “‘Ole Mary Todd’s callin’, so I guess it must be time for bed’ … that gets me.”
Another major component of the postmodern therapies is the belief that language shapes our reality and that how we speak about things shapes our opinion and perception of them. This is why, as a therapist, I will press people for details about what they are experiencing. Yes, therapy is about “opening up.” But something has to happen, too. Efforts to shift how we speak about things are everywhere. To take a fairly recent, obvious example, consider the shift in verbiage from “illegal aliens” to “undocumented workers.” Or the shift in language about the Oregon militia members, who are now being referred to by the media as "militants." These different terms are intended to refer to the same group of people, but give different perceptions of the people being spoken of. Choice of words may also show the beliefs of the person doing the talking.
This sort of shift in language plays a huge role in the success of the postmodern therapies. The parent of a child I worked with in the past told me “I don’t really know what you’re doing, but whenever we talk to you things seem to be happening and whatever was going on gets better.” I took this as a huge compliment, obviously, but it also shows that even subtle shifts in language usage can be very effective. Consider the simple but powerful example of a client saying to me “I’m depressed.” I may repeat this back later as “you’re feeling down but you’re taking some steps to work on it.” Oftentimes I will notice the client using this phrasing later in the session, and I believe that they will talk like this outside of the office, which I hope will lead to a feeling of progress, which will, in turn, be reflected in reality.
The takeaway, for you, is this: think about one challenge in your life that you would like to overcome. Now ask yourself “how am I talking about this problem/barrier/obstacle?” Oftentimes, you may be talking in ways that are defeatist or self-negating. My challenge to you is to talk about this problem as if it is in the process of going away. Be very observant of the effects on others. Do people sense your optimism? If so, what are these people noticing about your behavior? What are you doing differently? In time, you may see new solutions to your problems, or the way you perceive them may change.
And, if that doesn’t work, just go watch some Quentin Tarantino films.
Mike McMahan is a therapist in private practice in San Antonio, Tx.
Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture