By Mike McMahan, LPC
“Madonna is back in the news”—words that never seem to stay away for long. It appears that there will be a new, unauthorized movie about her life. And, predictably, she’s not happy. "Nobody knows what I know and what I have seen. Only I can tell my story. Anyone else who tries is a charlatan and a fool. Looking for instant gratification without doing the work. This is a disease in our society." Madonna benefits from every bit of news about her, in my opinion. She is an early example of the celebrities of today, who seem to be in multiple mediums at any given time and who are more cult of personality types than artists or performers. Madonna became known for her music and worked hard for success, no doubt. Is she more than hype now?
But that’s neither here nor there. Because Madonna is totally, absolutely right in her statement denouncing this film. No one knows what she knows and what she has seen. “Your life is your story” is emblazoned on the front page of this very website, and I believe it is completely true. As a premise for therapy, the statement (and Madonna’s likely disingenuous rant) hits it right on the money, and the idea of re-telling and re-shaping your story in therapy is something that works. In some ways, this style—narrative therapy—is more accessible now than when it first was proposed years ago. There are examples all around us.
I sometimes ask clients to look at their life from someone else’s perspective in order for them to gain insight into whatever situation is being discussed. “If your brother was here, what would he say about your decision?” It’s not that this other person knows more about your life. But they may have noticed things that slipped by you. They definitely have their own perspective on things, and you are a supporting character in their life story. In your own, you are obviously the lead.
But Madonna’s statement pre-supposes that this film will portray her in a negative light. But is that true? What if someone wrote an unauthorized bio of your life… and it made you look better?
We don’t have to look hard to find examples where public perceptions of people’s lives gloss over their imperfections. John Lennon is widely perceived as a symbol of love and peace. And, hey, I absolutely love The Beatles. But if you read serious works about him and the band, he’s not that nice. At all. There are numerous, documented incidents of him being racist, homophobic and an adulterer. Which image of his is "true?" One of them? Both? Neither?
Or consider the film Schindler’s List. It is based on a novel, but that novel is based on the life of real hero Oskar Schindler, who saved the lives of many, many Jews during the Holocaust. This is a man who has a memorial tree planted for him in Israel who, oh yeah, was a Nazi. The movie paints him up as a saint, however, whining at the end that he could have saved more lives. But further reading suggests that Schindler was a war profiteer who ended the war much wealthier than he began. But he also took enormous risks to save lives. So the “truth” is, perhaps, less flattering (though I would argue much more compelling in Schindler’s case).
So, consider this: what would an unauthorized biopic of your life look like? I suppose it would depend on who made it and what sort of story they wanted to tell. If you’ve lived long enough, you’re a treasure trove of stories and experiences. Which would you prefer: authorized or unauthorized? And why?
Mike McMahan, LPC is a psychotherapist based in San Antonio, Tx.
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Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture