Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Dysfunctional Families

The other day I watched a portion of an Oprah show. Our queen of all media host paid a little visit to the "Yearning for Zion" group compound in Texas. This is the LDS splinter group that made national headlines a few months ago when many of the children were removed. Oprah went to get a first hand look at the polygamist lifestyle, the children, the "prairie dresses" and, of course, the distinctive hair styles of the women.
Obviously prepped for the visit, all the women and kids were filled with smiles and kind words for their "family" their "heavenly father" and their heaven on Earth living situation. They were all quite sincere. Only a few of the men squirmed a bit when the topic of sexual abuse, marrying teenagers against their will, or some of the evils of this post modern age, like TV, computers, movies and other technological innovations. They do have cell phones, though.
Aside from being entertaining, the program was, for the most part, non-judgmental. The elephant in the room is that this little universe is all predicated on an extreme strain of fundamentalism with oppressive, if not misogynist underpinnings. What stands out from all this is that when asked what they do for fun or enjoyment, the kids say, "nothing" They say school and work are fun. Maybe so. After all, no TV, video games, music (CD's records, popular music) no computers, internet, or dance classes, Little League, no Disney. In fact, the only time they leave the isolated compound is when they need Dental, or Dr.s appointments. At this point, it looks as if the state of Texas may have overreacted. (what's new!) The kids have been returned and aside from Warren Jeffs, the much publicized leader of the sect, whose crimes are common knowledge, the state needs more and better evidence to make many of the charges stick. Are there underage marriages? Are the psychological techniques of brainwashing employed? Are many of these women and children incapable of what's happening to them? Yes, yes, and yes.
That evening I watched a portion of a documentary on Jim Jones, and the tragedy of Jonestown. By the time I awoke at 3 a.m. the similarities between these two "cultures" were overwhelming. I lay in bed thinking, sure there are differences, but far more similarities. What jumped out at me is how the people in both institutions looked when they defended those who oppressed them. It was the smile, the one that hardly beams, but simply dribbles forth with mock amazement that anyone would question the smiler's choice. I was struck, too, with how Jones' followers called him heavenly father too. Both communities are steeped in paranoia, the real kind; the one that's defined in the DSM IV as a persecution complex. When asked what his initial thoughts were after the shit hit the fan at People's Temple, a man who had witnessed the demise of his wife and son with the infamous cyanide laced Kool-Aid, said, "I wondered where all the guns had come from." He and only a handful of others escaped inside the jungle suddenly realizing that the mass suicide was an atrocity. At what point does the human psyche recognize the fallacy behind tyranny?

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