Author Archives: kjacobson@mindspring.com

Being Moral

This blog has basically been languishing for a couple of months because there has been very little to write about while filming for S8 was underway. During the previous two year lull between series we managed to find some intriguing topics to write about that were, even if tangentially, related to the show. We covered many of the psychological and the narrative elements brought up by the characters and situations depicted.

My most recent posts have been about laughter and civility and then about why this show should be categorized as a comedy. My argument providing evidence that it’s a comedy contributes to this post. I am very troubled by many things going on in our country and the world these days, and I thought I could express my concerns about another major area that is of great consequence to me — morality.

Students of Shakespeare often come across studies of his comedies by Northrup Frye. Northrop Frye was a Canadian literary critic and theorist whose work is so well known in literary circles, that I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned him before. His lasting reputation rests principally on the theory of literary criticism that he developed in Anatomy of Criticism (1957), one of the most important works of literary theory published in the twentieth century. One of the areas that Frye addresses in his work is how comedy treats morality, and I want to mention a bit of his critical analysis here. Among some of his remarks we can find his view that a Shakespearean comedy tends to end with either a marriage or a festival that brings about a “social integration [that] may be called, first, a kind of moral norm and, second, the pattern of a free society. We can see this more clearly if we look at the sort of characters who impede the progress of the comedy toward the hero’s victory. These are always people who are in some kind of mental bondage, who are helplessly driven by ruling passions, neurotic compulsions, social rituals, and selfishness. The miser, the hypochondriac, the hypocrite, the pedant, the snob: these are humors, people who do not fully know what they are doing, who are slaves to a predictable self-imposed pattern of behavior. What we call the moral norm is, then, not morality but deliverance from moral bondage. Comedy is designed not to condemn evil, but to ridicule a lack of self-knowledge.”

As a comedy, Doc Martin fits rather nicely into Frye’s description. We have the variety of characters who are there to frustrate the reconciliation between Martin and Louisa and who follow a stereotypical behavior pattern. They are included, I would argue, as examples of people who lack self-knowledge. To a great extent I would include both Martin and Louisa in this category. We consider these characters comical because of their lack of self-knowledge, not because their behavior has moral lapses.

The subject of morality comes up directly in the show in the last episode of S3 when Isobel asks Louisa what her fiancé is like and Louisa replies “He’s straightforward, he’s moral, he’s…Martin.” What does Louisa mean when she says he’s moral (based on what we know from the show)? Here are some of my thoughts: Louisa believes she can trust him (and Martin asks her to trust him throughout this episode); he’s someone who wouldn’t cheat on her, which she would find important because she needs that sense of security and loyalty; she would probably be looking for a man who she thinks will never break the law (like her father has); she would want someone who is reliable, a man of his word (as opposed to her mother); and a man who is thoughtful and treats people without prejudice (I surmise this based on her own sensitivities toward others). Being straightforward could refer to his tendency to speak his mind without softening the message. Even when Martin asks Louisa to marry him, he states his feelings openly and unguardedly. And yet we know that often his unfiltered comments have shocked Louisa, and even hurt her feelings.

Morality refers to norms about right and wrong human conduct that are so widely shared that they form a stable (although usually incomplete) social consensus. Since Martin Ellingham is a doctor, I thought it appropriate to include the manner in which medical matters interact with morality and ethics. Larry Churchill, Stahlman Professor of Medical Ethics, Vanderbilt University who specializes in medical ethics and bioethics, has written about moral quandaries as they relate specifically to medical circumstances. Churchill reminds readers that “we are the species who says ‘ought’.” “Ethical problem-solving usually involves critical, applied analysis of…rules and principles, as well as reflective thinking, remembering and imagining.” There is a certain amount of difficulty in arriving at a single all-encompassing concept of ethical theories, according to Churchill. Each theory has “a useful, but limited, range of application.” Nevertheless, Suffering and empathy are central to the moral life of medicine.

A recent article in the journal “Cognition” also argues that people’s conception of the normal deviates from the average in the direction of what they think ought to be so. When thought about with this in mind we can identify some moral quandaries in DM: Ought Louisa have changed her mind and decided so late not to marry Martin? Ought she have told Martin about the baby? Ought Martin have told Louisa about leaving for London? Ought Louisa have mentioned how her father left Portwenn in disgrace? When it comes to the doctor-patient relationship, Martin likes to assert the confidentiality of the patient; however, there are times when keeping that position introduces a moral quandary. Ought Martin have told Aunt Joan about John Slater’s medical condition? Ought Martin have allowed Louisa to be seen by his old flame Edith? Ought he have suggested that he could take care of Louisa during her pregnancy? Ought he have called his patients by so many derogatory names in public?

An example of a norm would be restraining oneself from making any personal comments out loud. Conventional etiquette instructs that “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” For me this means that there is no profit in public derogatory comments about someone’s appearance, intelligence, or habits. If we want to be critical of something (or someone), comment on its (or his/her) importance and essential assets and deficits in a nonspecific manner.

But since this is a show that infringes on norms, we also see a mishmash of behavior that muddles morality and norms. Is he moral at times and immoral at other times? Can a doctor be considered moral even when he doesn’t follow norms of behavior? Much has been written about the ethics of power between doctors and patients. To a great extent, this show takes it for granted that because it’s meant to be funny, Martin’s abrupt and rude behavior towards his patients should not involve whether his imposing posture, tone of voice, and superior education makes his approach immoral (or amoral). Nevertheless, there are times when he crosses that boundary. Luckily, there are also times when he softens his tone and we see enough of his compassion to consider him morally upstanding. It seems likely they realized that despite the fun it was to have him bark at patients and call them idiots, if they included too much of that, they would cross that line and those scenes would no longer be funny.

The same authors of the above article also assert: “You are certainly capable of distinguishing carefully between what is typical and what is good. You are able to understand that something occurs frequently without also thinking that it is morally acceptable, or that something occurs infrequently without thinking that it is weird or deviant.” So we might arrive at the conclusion that we have some compunctions about Martin’s treatment of his patients without allowing those reservations to reach the level of serious impropriety for a doctor. (I must say that more and more I am struggling with whether I can laugh at this part of his persona. It’s all meant as innocent mockery, but lately such banter by people in power has taken on a malevolent tone that makes me recoil. I know the show is distinct from reality; nevertheless, too much of shows like that and, it seems to me, repugnant personal behavior becomes normalized.)

To many morality means what is proper behavior as opposed to what is improper conduct. Even that sort of designation has its problems. The terms morals and principles may seem distinct from each other to some and quite interchangeable to others. Some use these words together, as in moral principles. What seems most important is that we agree that there are guidelines for behavior that have developed over time and that we all acknowledge as morally acceptable and of high principle.

You may find this hard to believe, but the initial instigation for this post was the Grenfell Tower fire in London on June 14th. Here was a case of the owners of the building making what I would consider an immoral decision to clad the exterior in less expensive but attractive flammable material. They may have believed that a fire was highly unlikely and that it was important to improve the appearance of the building. Nevertheless, like so many other businesses lately (e.g. Volkswagen, Takata, BP, and others), they chose to save money over lives. (We shouldn’t be smug about this sort of thing because we have some of the same immoral behavior in the US. Just recently there was a fire in a building in Honolulu that had no sprinkler system. That prompted a call for mandates for all high rises to have sprinkler systems. Apparently many cities across this country do not require them.)

Then I started thinking about other things going on in this country and became aware that there are many people writing about the question of moral behavior these days. If morality is important to us, then why are we currently struggling so much to find our moral compass?

Ethics, too, are dependent on codes of conduct specific to a certain place. Are we now experiencing, as David Brooks has argued, a lot of dying old orders — demographic, political, even moral? Brooks continues: “As Joseph Bottum wrote in ‘An Anxious Age,’ mainline Protestants created a kind of unifying culture that bound people of different political views. You could be Catholic, Jewish, Muslim or atheist, but still you were influenced by certain mainline ideas — the Protestant work ethic, the WASP definition of a gentleman…Over the last several decades mainline Protestantism has withered. The country became more diverse. The WASPs lost their perch atop society. The mainline denominations lost their vitality…the country divided into at least three blocks: white evangelical Protestantism that at least in its public face seems to care more about eros than caritas; secular progressivism that is spiritually formed by feminism, environmentalism and the quest for individual rights; and realist nationalism that gets its manners from reality TV and its spiritual succor from in-group/out-group solidarity…But where are people going to go for a new standard of decency? They’re not going to go back to the old WASP ideal. That’s dead…but who is going to fill it and with what?”

Bioethicist Larry Churchill has written: “Ethics, understood as the capacity to think critically about moral values and direct our actions in terms of such values, is a generic human capacity.” I hope so.

An article in the NYT on 7/9/2017 referred to “why certain morally charged content goes ‘viral.’ The main reason to mention this article is that they note that “a moral emotion is something like hate or hope — an emotion that features normative judgment and affective mood. In contrast, a non-moral emotion is something like fear or love, and a non-emotional moral concept is something like ‘injustice’ or ‘fairness.'” I interpret this to mean that they surmise that moral concepts can be either emotional or non-emotional, ergo they are either based on how they affect someone subjectively or on how they are a disinterested summation based on accepted norms. Another op/ed article, this time from 7/14, explains: “I don’t think moral obliviousness is built in a day. It takes generations to hammer ethical considerations out of a person’s mind and to replace them entirely with the ruthless logic of winning and losing; to take the normal human yearning to be good and replace it with a single-minded desire for material conquest; to take the normal human instinct for kindness and replace it with a law-of-the-jungle mentality.”

When it comes to Grenfell, an article in the NYT written by Henry Wismayer wonders if “it remains too early to say whether this ambient regret will translate into a greater popular will to forestall the city’s course. But if there was ever an indelible image to wake a city from its coma, it’s there staring down at you when you get off the Tube at Latimer Road station — the tower of the unwanted, London’s shame.” Not every moral dilemma has as evident and abhorrent a reminder as Grenfell tower.

Incongruities and other thoughts

While writing the post on ambiguities it occurred to me that there are several other issues I have with S6. If we’re going to wonder about various scenes and their meanings, I have a few things I’d like to ask:
1. Martin and Louisa have lived together with James for at least 6 months by the time they get married. For all of S5 Martin has very little trouble dealing with their incursion into his life. In fact, he seems to thrive on it, taking JH for a ride in the car to soothe him, taking him to Ruth’s while Louisa sleeps in, keeping him in his office when necessary, etc.. Why would their presence be so problematic now? True, as I’ve previously noted, children’s accessories grow as they grow. The nice thing, however, is babies start sleeping through the night and don’t cry as much, and they can do more.

2. Louisa would like Martin to talk to her, confide in her. But she’s known for a long time that he doesn’t like to talk about very much, especially personal issues. Why would she think that he would start talking more openly just because they’re married? Most of us keep physical or psychological difficulties to ourselves. I would guess that most spouses aren’t aware of their mate’s feelings of anguish over many things. Once she learns of the return of the “blood sensitivity,” she might have been able to coax more out of him. She hasn’t been that willing to talk herself. The difference between them is in degrees, not in substance.

Here are a few things they’ve never told each other:
Martin — his experiences with his parents, his experiences at school, his visits to Portwenn (including whether he had ever heard of Louisa or her family when he visited – or anyone else who has lived there for a long time), his relationship with Edith, and many other details about his likes and dislikes.

Louisa — her life with her parents and in Portwenn, her education in London, her decision to be a teacher and live in Portwenn, whether she ever heard of him staying with Aunt Joan, any hobbies she’s had, e.g. surfing, boating, whatever.

3. After Margaret tells Louisa about Martin crying himself to sleep many nights as a child, why wouldn’t Louisa ask Martin about that? She finds the story disturbing and Margaret’s explanation and excuse unconvincing. Definitely something most women would want to find out more about.

4. It’s a bit odd for Louisa to be aware of Martin’s inability to sleep and not try to talk about it. When she’s worried about Mrs. Tishell’s return, he makes an effort to calm her worries. He even tells her that things are always worse when it’s late. Wouldn’t that have been an opportunity for them to talk about his worries or at least given her reason to ask him some other time?

5. Louisa talks to Ruth about Mrs. Tishell. Why wouldn’t she ask Ruth about Margaret and Martin’s childhood? After all, Ruth has told her that she often “overshares.”

I am also going on record with some thoughts I have about S7. These are based on what has already been included in the show and in no particular order:
1. There will be some medical emergency that brings Louisa and Martin together. It might be something with James or maybe with Ruth.
2. Eleanor could return to disrupt their lives again. Now that Margaret’s gone, Eleanor could make a reappearance.
3. There will certainly be some shenanigans at the B&B Ruth and Al establish.
4. They obviously have to find some other childcare arrangements. There could be someone from an agency who comes and might even be a “supernanny” type, who would rub both of them wrong. We’ve had on OCD nanny; they might go the other way and have a nanny who is good with James but leaves things in disarray. This could be true whether or not they are living together.
5. As far as I’m concerned Mrs. T has become a caricature and should never have come back at all. By the end of S6 she was no longer funny; she had become a total nut case. I don’t know how they would explain it, but despite Selina Caddell’s great acting, Mrs. T’s character has run its course and should not return. Jenny could then take over the pharmacy and be a different source of irritation for Martin. (I assume Jenny and Bert will marry, but that is not entirely definite. Hopefully any marriage will be simple. We don’t need another wedding with ancillary events. They could get married sometime on their own.)
6. I can imagine many funny scenarios that involve James and his development. What about Martin finding fault with the pediatrician they take James to? There are all sorts of toys that Martin could put together for James now that he’s shown his capacity for figuring out directions to construct the crib. James will start to talk too and be more mobile.
7. They will go to a marriage counselor and that will have all sorts of repercussions, some funny, some disruptive, some affectionate.
8. I recently read a BBC news story that could be used. James Henry’s crying had kept up the neighbors in S5, perhaps their household could be disrupted by new neighbors.
9. I feel certain that there will be a lot of strife between Martin and Louisa in the early episodes of S7, hopefully with more humor included. But I feel just as certain that by the final episode there will be a convincing reconciliation that will end the show with us all thinking that this couple will stay together. And I am just enough of a romantic (and a fan of Sara Bareilles’ music) to suggest the last tune played on the show should be her “I Choose You.” Lyrics
Plus, I could choreograph a Zumba dance to this!! It’s not a tango. It’s considered pop-rock, but it’s got such a good beat I think it makes listeners want to dance and, more importantly, its words express what this couple should be saying to each other. Caroline Catz could sing it, although I think much of the sentiment would be better said by ME. (I’d love to hear CC sing even if she just sings songs to JH.)

Originally posted 2014-10-04 10:57:25.

What does Aunt Joan NOT know?

On Facebook Allie Cavanaugh quoted a remark Martin makes to Joan after Louisa returns to Portwenn pregnant. It’s a funny remark that is a great example of linguistic ambiguity. In S4E2, Joan has entered the reception area and approaches Pauline and Pauline tells her that Louisa has been hired at the school. Joan is unaware of Louisa’s resurfacing and, despite Martin’s efforts to stop Pauline from mentioning Louisa’s condition of being “with child,” Pauline tells Joan Louisa is expecting. Joan is not clear about what Louisa is expecting and Pauline clarifies for her that she is expecting a baby. Immediately, Joan looks at Martin and he ushers her into his office. Then, as Allie notes, he says, “It’s not my fault” and Joan looks a combination of let down and relieved. Right away Martin says, “Well, it is my fault, but it’s not just my fault. It’s not my fault that you don’t know. I didn’t know ’til yesterday.” Here’s another great sequence of linguistic gymnastics. It’s his fault that Louisa is pregnant–well, it’s both their faults; however, he doesn’t want to accept fault for not having told Joan. There is this contraption called the telephone that he could have used, but he seems to think of it as mainly a means of communicating about medical problems. He rarely uses it for everyday conversation. I think that could be another male personality trait, although I know a few women who hate to talk on the phone.

Being reminded of this scene started me thinking about the many times when Joan is surprised to find out something about Martin that others know before she does. Although Joan is his nearest and dearest family member, it’s a little startling that Martin often does not tell Joan personal and important confidences. The fact that Martin is late telling Joan these things reinforces our observation that he has a tendency to not talk about personal matters.

One of the most important of many examples is when Joan learns belatedly that Martin and Louisa have decided to marry. She is told by the postman that Martin and Louisa have spent the night together after several others in town have heard the news. By the time Martin arrives at Joan’s farm, she knows he’s been to see the Sawle sisters beforehand. She is remarkably unfazed by being told late, but we know Martin has not felt inclined to call her about that either.

We can go back to the first episode where Martin has gone through the interview process and seeing his office space before taking the time to visit Joan, despite having chosen to come to Portwenn because she’s there. Their conversation when he appears at her farm sounds very much like he had not contacted Joan before making a decision to take the position in Portwenn. In fact, even though she had been an important person in his childhood, he hasn’t seen or talked to her in 30 years, with the possible exception of Christmas calls.

Martin does not tell Joan that he will be at the concert with Louisa for their first date. Joan has been doing what she can to encourage Martin to go after Louisa, but she only finds out they are going on a date when she sees them walking to the concert setting. In S3 he does not tell Joan that he’s having second thoughts about marrying Louisa and leaves Joan to wonder where he is. Meanwhile she has been running all over town trying to make sure everything is ready for the wedding. She’s coerced Penhale into releasing the flowers, she’s asked Bert what he’s going to do now that the food tent has collapsed, and she’s stood with Roger Fenn at the church in expectation of Martin and Louisa’s arrival. Martin hasn’t only left Louisa at the altar;he’s left his aunt there as well.

These are a few of the important occasions when Martin has neglected to tell Joan what’s happening and they stand out because he wants Joan’s approval, she is his greatest supporter, and since moving to Portwenn they have reestablished their close relationship. When he leaves Joan out, it is a sort of precursor to shutting out Louisa in S6. That he doesn’t talk is an understatement!

Originally posted 2014-10-03 06:40:38.

More on Personality Inventories

Believe it or not I am going to refer to an article from The Wall Street Journal rather than the NYTimes. On the front page of Tuesday’s paper there was a story about Personality Tests becoming more widespread in the hiring process. The article states: “Such tests are used to assess the personality, skills, cognitive abilities and other traits of 60% to 70% of prospective workers in the U.S.” They also report that “workplace personality testing has become a $500 million-a-year business and is growing by 10% to 15% a year.”

We have had a lively discussion about the application of personality inventories in therapy. Now their effectiveness and fairness are being scrutinized due to their growing popularity in the employment world. The WSJ article is lengthy and mentions many concerns about how these tests can be used and misused. Food for thought…

Originally posted 2014-10-01 10:32:42.

Ambiguity Unbound

I am writing this post as a way to work through some of the positions I took while responding to comments made on this blog. I also continue to read comments on Facebook and elsewhere and I find it vexing that so many fans of DM have registered their belief that S6 was meant to take Martin to rock bottom so that he would be able to come to grips with his personal problems and work on them. In the process, they believe, he will understand what happened in his childhood to make him withdrawn, unsmiling, anti-social, and oriented toward ritual. He will also learn how he can change his basic approach to life and family and become a better family person. I see this as an affront to the show in that it was created as a dramedy with a main character who is grouchy, anti-social, focused on his profession, and with traits that are integral to him regardless of how he got that way. I like it that way. The show gives us hints of both nature and nurture sources for his behavior, but deliberately keeps it all ambiguous — that is, it does not provide any final determination to these potential origins. I don’t think the show should make any serious moves toward trying to “fix” Martin. Furthermore, what troubled me about S6 was how it took the show too much in the direction of a drama and sucked all the life out of the character of Martin Ellingham. We saw bits and snatches of it, but overall he was a totally different type — brooding, withdrawn from Louisa, and disengaged from the community to a greater degree than ever. As the series continued, we lost the miscommunications, the interactions with the townspeople, his physical clumsiness, and his need to appeal to Louisa. Some viewers argued these changes made sense on a grand scale. I am hard pressed to find a good reason to have taken the show in this direction except as an effort to shake things up or perhaps because MC lost so much weight and their best solution was to make him more handicapped. One asset they magnified in this series is the ambiguity inherent in the stories and relationships. Most episodes introduced a great deal of ambiguity and I find that something to applaud. I am writing this post to assess the value of ambiguity and discuss it.

Ambiguity in works of literature or other arts enriches our experience of them. Much of our discussions about DM have been generated by the ambiguity perpetrated by the show. In academic circles it is said that ambiguity can intentionally (or unintentionally) increase the interest in a work of art by refusing to allow easy categorization and interpretation. And studying ambiguity and how we resolve it can give us insight into both thought and interpretation.

We can go back to Aristotle in our investigation into ambiguity. He and other philosophers brought up the issue of ambiguity in relation to how thought and language interacted. Aristotle identified various fallacies associated with ambiguity and amphiboly (ambiguous words or sentence structure). An in depth study of ambiguity would take us into all sorts of usage examples. There are many manifestations of linguistic ambiguity: lexical, syntactic, various forms of speech ambiguity, and collective-distributive ambiguity, amongst others. The English language can be particularly filled with ambiguities due to the frequency of words that look the same on the page but mean more than one thing. Context always helps but cannot always resolve the problem. There is also some difficulty with language not being specific enough. So, if Doc Martin tells a patient to suck on a lemon but doesn’t say for how long, it is up to the patient to realize he can stop as soon as the doctor has determined a possible diagnosis. Persevering with the behavior longer than necessary makes the ambiguity more apparent and amusingly absurd. Often it is ME who takes what people tell him too literally, and that is another example of speech ambiguity. (I went through some of this in my post on “What Makes DM so Appealing?.”) From the beginning of the first episode of the first series when Louisa says to Martin “You’ve got a problem,” we are in the arena of linguistic ambiguity. What does she mean by “problem?” Initially we consider it her reaction to being intensely examined by a strange man sitting across from her. Soon we realize that his problem is the haemophobia that has brought him to Portwenn, and soon after that we learn he has a host of other problems including the townspeople. Finally, we know that his problem is that he is in love with Louisa. I am confident we could find a myriad of examples of all of the above types of linguistic ambiguity throughout all the series of this show. And S6 starts out in that vein too. I like the Martin who in S6E1 answers Louisa’s tender remark “Whatever you say” with “I didn’t say anything.” I like the Louisa who tells Martin she told him she didn’t want a honeymoon because she didn’t think he would want one, which totally confuses him. I like the Martin who reacts to Louisa’s request to be more social by spontaneously inviting someone to dinner, for that night. Yes, use language ambiguously and have fun with it.

In addition to the ambiguity of language there is ambiguity of action. I have been arguing pretty strongly for viewers not to forget that we are being maneuvered/manipulated by the writers, et. al. of DM and should not project too much onto the characters and their behaviors. This is as it should be because whoever writes the story controls it. I argued quite vociferously that we can’t answer the question “Should Martin and Louisa stay together?” because it is not our place to determine that. My position is that whether or not their marriage would work in a real life setting, this show will never separate them because it’s a dramedy and not a tragedy, and dramedies don’t have sad endings, and because any final separation of Martin and Louisa ends the show, the show will not be “Doc Martin” anymore. Without Louisa, there is no show. I brought up the example of Gone With the Wind and said how ludicrous it would be to wonder whether Rhett should have married Scarlett. I’ve now become aware that there was a lot of turmoil about the end of the story when it was first published. According to an article by Brad Leithauser in “The New Yorker,” (Nov. 20, 2012), “People all over America asked: Did Rhett abandon Scarlett forever? Or did the two of them eventually reconcile?” As Brad goes on to say, “I’d long considered this whole debate deeply silly. Wasn’t it obvious? Rhett and Scarlett didn’t do anything after the last page. With the novel’s close, they ceased to exist… But, of course, it was obvious only if you were approaching the book as a box rather than a keyhole.” What he means is “I might have said that there’s a special readerly pleasure in approaching a book as you would a box. In its self-containment lies its ferocious magic; you can see everything it holds, and yet its meagre, often hackneyed contents have a way of engineering fresh, refined, resourceful patterns.” But [his niece] might have replied that “she comes to a book as to a keyhole: you observe some of the characters’ movements, you hear a little of their dialogue, but then they step outside your limited purview. They have a reality that outreaches the borders of the page.”

Those of us, like Brad and me, who teach literature (film) treat it as a box, but many readers (viewers) treat it as a keyhole. I think it’s important for any story to draw its readers/viewers in and that often takes the form of inviting personal investment in the story, including speculation about what would happen “if.” Another author, Celeste Ng, notes “you need to leave a few unmapped places so the characters can step beyond the boundaries you’ve sketched, a few strings untied so that the puppets can move freely without your hand. In other words, you need a little ambiguity: a space, however small, for the reader to fit into the piece. A story needs a little room for the reader to interpret, to bring in his or her own perceptions and conceptions.” Her argument is very similar to one Stephen King makes in his revealing book On Writing when he advises writers to not be too specific, to write descriptively but leave room for the reader to imagine the setting in his/her own way. The primary factor is leaving some uncertainty.

Since we’re talking about a television show, I thought I would mention that Robert McKee’s book Story, which provides a road map for writing good stories for the screen, also notes the use of ambiguity there. McKee emphasizes that one element of good story writing is the climax, and one form of climax is the “open ending.” In an open ending a question or two are left unanswered and some emotion is left unfulfilled. In other words, there is ambiguity. This type of ending is what is used many times in DM and it’s what has led to so much speculation and conjecture from so many of us. I don’t think we have to get caught up in the possibilities of how various relationships could be resolved or could have developed to enjoy the show, but I am aware that wanting to relate to these characters on a personal level is a key facet of what keeps viewers coming back to see more.

S6 was particularly prone to using the open ending climax and may have, therefore, stimulated more speculation than usual. Let’s look at the ending of each episode from S6.
E1: The episode ends with Martin and Louisa returning home covered with blood and dirt, Bert bringing the bag he forgot to give them and hoping to pin the mistake on Morwenna while also worrying about the condition of the lodge, a patient complaining of an eye problem that needs immediate attention, and the dog entering uninvited.
Ambiguity — Will they explain what happened? Will they review their wedding night and laugh about it? Will they give Bert an earful? What exactly happens after they get back? All open ended.
E2: The episode ends with Morwenna accepting Al as a lodger and Dennis being diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Louisa has cut her forehead walking into a door and Martin questions whether she washes her hair enough and rinses it sufficiently.
Ambiguity — How will Morwenna like Al as a lodger and how will it change their interaction? Will Dennis forgive Louisa’s criticisms? Will Martin’s comments about her dandruff once again cause a rift in their relationship? (Louisa never likes it when Martin comments on her personal hygiene
habits.)
E3: The ending of this episode is when ambiguity gets much more meaningful. Martin is struggling to treat his slashed hand without vomiting and covers the gash when Louisa enters the room. She is somewhat concerned about him, but rather callously reads him Becky’s newspaper article criticizing him. He tries to be polite but is really just doing his best to hide his recurring battle with his haemophobia. The camera dollys back as Martin continues to fight his nausea and the shot magnifies his circumscribed world.
Ambiguity — How will Martin handle the return of his haemophobia: he can continue to claim he’s fine and try to ignore it or he can decide to seek help. Will Martin keep the recurrence of his phobia from Louisa? What about his isolation? What does his serious demeanor mean for his future and for them as a couple?
The other prominent ambiguity is what kind of show is DM becoming? We have now begun to see the symptoms of nausea due to his haemophobia treated as a serious issue rather than something that makes us laugh. The initial premise of a doctor who is phobic about blood was established as utterly inapt. This time, with some subtlety, they have shown Martin hiding his inclination to vomit at the sight of blood. Several of the following episodes will continue that difference in approach from previous series. Whereas Martin’s tendency to vomit whenever there is a bloody patient or he must draw blood has been well-known by the community and a source of humor, and they all took this reaction in stride, now he appears markedly humiliated by it.
E4: This episode was of a somewhat lighter nature with Martin more his usual self, telling off patients and calling them idiots. He also manages to sit through the music circle with James and actually impress the women by diagnosing a problem with one of the babies. The ending, however, shows him struggling to deal with the commotion created by a wife and child. This time Louisa is making dinner and he finds it hard to not participate. She asks him to feed James and in the last moment he gets a dose of James’ food on his face and suit.
Ambiguity — I find this ending much more typical of the show as a whole. Every ending has some ambiguity based on the mere fact that we don’t know what happens next. Martin could explode from being overwhelmed by the noise and activity level or he could manage to keep his emotions hidden.
But the kind of notable ambiguity is not so evident here.
E5: It’s during this episode that the series takes a serious turn. Not only does Louisa find out that Martin has been withholding the return of his “blood sensitivity” from her but the final scene takes place at nearly five in the morning with Louisa sleeping while Martin sits at his desk in semi-darkness. His clock and tool kit sit in front of him but he cannot engage in that as a comfort this time. His face looks troubled.
Ambiguity — This ending is very ambiguous. We can tell Martin is highly disconcerted. Why?
The possibilities include the return of his phobia, his insomnia, depression (which could be
the product of both the phobia and/or the insomnia), concerns about his compatibility with
marriage and family life, the return of Mrs. Tishell, all of the above. Prior to this last
scene Joe has rescued Al from sleeping on the beach and we seem headed for a fairly heartening conclusion. But all of that is undercut when they bring us back to the Ellingham household for the concluding scene. We are compelled to revisit the internal stresses in Martin.
E6: This is a pivotal episode when Martin’s mother appears and further shakes up their home life. It’s not enough that the blood phobia has returned, that Martin can’t sleep, that he and Louisa are having trouble relating to each other with Louisa beginning to wonder if she’s the reason for his unrest and whether the house is too small, but now we have to add another person in the small space and someone who is unwelcome. Isn’t this called stacking the deck?
Ambiguity — Throughout the episode Martin looks disturbed whenever he sees his mother with James. When we see him standing over the crib in the middle of the night about midway through the episode, we can imagine he might want to protect James from his mother’s injurious influence. The final scene has her entering Martin’s office carrying James, something Martin is immediately unhappy with. She tries to make a bid for a new start with Martin, but he’s not having it. He’s quite unreceptive to her and she leaves sadly disappointed. At the close of the scene Martin holds James and looks thoughtful. Is he pondering whether his father regretted anything? Is he suspicious of his mother’s motives? Is he confused about his feelings and conflicted about how he just spoke to her? Does he think he should warn Louisa not to trust his mother with James?
[Martin Clunes’ ability to stare into space with a troubled/thoughtful look on his face is
abundantly employed throughout S6.]
E7: During this episode life in the Ellingham house becomes extremely strained. Louisa can’t find a way to break through Martin’s defenses and Martin has become totally unyielding. He grudgingly attends Sports Day but wants to leave from the moment he arrives. It’s only after Louisa gets hit by a car and is taken to the hospital that Martin realizes his multiple blunders and tries to redeem himself by berating the doctor in charge of Louisa’s care. All that does is cement Louisa’s disenchantment with him and their marriage. If we can find a bright spot it is that their talk in the hospital is the first time in a while when they’ve actually spoken to each other for any length of time. The talk includes a few linguistic ambiguities, e.g. Louisa saying she’s not coming home because she needs a break and Martin unaware that she means a break from him. The open ended climax is when they return home only to find Margaret who promptly insults Louisa and only makes matters worse.
Ambiguity — Once again Martin stares after Louisa in total distress. He has the baby to deal with and his mother at hand. What will he do? Will he apologize to Louisa? Will he tell off his mother once again? Will he appeal to Louisa’s sense of loyalty? Will Louisa leave and not return? (You know that I think that would never happen, but the question must be asked.)
E8: Obviously the final episode should bring the series to some sort of conclusion. This last episode is more like the last episode of S3 — they both end with more questions than answers. Louisa is on the plane expecting to depart for Spain when Martin enters the plane in order to take her off because he’s discovered she has an AVM. Unbeknownst to Louisa, he had been making arrangements to come after her anyway but now there’s even more urgency. Once again we have an already trying situation between these two augmented by a medical emergency. And once again we are treated to a tender conversation between them under very
difficult circumstances. After Martin completes the operation, during which he vomits when he sees her blood and she rolls her eyes for humorous effect, he finds privacy in a bathroom stall where he is tearful. Soon after, we see Louisa in a hospital bed and asking for her husband. Martin appears and they talk. They agree that the operation doesn’t change how they’ve been interacting at home and they can’t continue as if nothing is wrong. He leaves without so much as a warm tap or comment, although he looks sympathetic. She watches him leave with a sad, but affectionate face.
Ambiguity — Where do we start? Martin tells Ruth he wants to be with Louisa and he tells Louisa he needs her help to be a better husband, but despite all of the signs that he’s ready to do what it takes to stay married to Louisa, in the end he’s back to being unable to express himself to her
directly. Will she go home when she leaves the hospital? Will he demonstrate his desire to make
her happier in the marriage? Is he tearful in the bathroom because he saved his wife’s life or
because he was able to perform surgery successfully again? Or Both? How difficult will it be for Louisa to go back home and try to work on their marriage?
Will we have the show we have come to love and admire back again? Can they find a satisfactory way to return the characters to their previous personas?
One thing that is unambiguous is that Margaret will not be back!

This exercise has been lengthy and time consuming, but has helped me look at the many ways that ambiguity can both enhance the humor in a show as well as stimulate greater viewer participation. Ambiguity demonstrates the versatility of language and, as The Handbook to Literature states: it is “a literary tool of great usefulness in suggesting various orders and ranges of meanings and enriching by holding out multiple possibilities.” Many of the greatest books in literature use ambiguity. The fact that great films and television shows use it too enhances their quality as well. What I am saying is that I like ambiguity and open ended climaxes to stories because they are more representative of life and because they make me think. Nevertheless, I will always think of works of literature, and excellent shows and films, as complete. Too much speculation beyond the scope of what’s on the page or the screen corrupts it. I cannot remember any occasion when a student has wondered how the ending to a classic book could have been different. We examine the text for the beauty of its contents and how it’s written. It’s a work of art and should be admired just the way it is.

[Post Script: I recently looked at my copy of Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse and found this note from the author: “Of course, I neither can nor intend to tell my readers how they ought to understand my tale. May everyone find in it what strikes a chord in him and is of some use to him! But I would be happy if many of them were to realize that the story of the Steppenwolf pictures a disease and crisis — but not one leading to death and destruction, on the contrary: to healing.” Hesse realized that his own message was being subverted by readers’ misinterpretation. He was so unhappy about it that he felt the need to add a note of caution. Ambiguity creates its own hazards while leaving a space for readers to relate on a personal level.]

Originally posted 2014-09-12 21:27:33.

Work in Progress

So that you don’t think I’ve run out of ideas yet, I want to let you all know that I am working on another post. This next post will be more philosophical/literary and I hope that doesn’t put anyone off. I think it is a natural development of our discussions and will, hopefully, give us more food for thought.

I’m digging deep for more ideas and will continue to scrounge the newspapers and magazines for them. It’s getting harder by the week!!

Originally posted 2014-09-05 17:10:18.

The Buddhas, Buddhism, and Doc Martin

As I’ve said several times, I am not a student of religion and I have no specialized knowledge of Buddhism. I have one benefit in this area — my husband has read about many religions and has some books on Buddhism. Therefore, I have read parts of Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor, and Religions of Asia, 3rd Edition, by John Y. Fenton, Norvin Hein, Frank E. Reynolds, Niels C. Nielsen, Jr., Grace G. Burford, and Robert K. C. Forman (all of these authors are professors at various American universities). To write this post I will be relying on these references and a website that really gives a great outline of what Buddhism is all about.

As we all know, there are several Buddha statues placed around ME’s exam room. The presence of these statues has prompted viewers to wonder what their meaning might be. I read somewhere that when PB was asked about the Buddhas, she refused to discuss them. There are many ways to interpret her response, and I’m not into speculation of that kind. Nevertheless, if she won’t discuss it, we will never know what their actual purpose is. Ultimately what I’ve decided is to use the Buddha figure ME considers valuable enough to take with him and strap into the backseat of the car as the important statue in the show. I think if we’re going to put some energy into trying to determine what the Buddha might mean to ME and DM as a show, the fact that he separates out that one to take with him in the car, and it’s also the one Edith notices when she first visits his office (S4E1), makes it the one to concentrate on.

The Buddha appears to be in the meditation pose in which the back of the right hand rests on top of the left palm with the thumbs lightly touching each other. The right hand, being on top, represents enlightenment and the other, the world of appearance. Thus, this gesture symbolizes overcoming the world of appearance through an enlightened state of mind. This was the state of the spiritual leader, Gautama Buddha. The fact that it is in the car when Martin chases after Louisa, fearing for her safety, could be interpreted as contributing to his enlightened state of mind once they reach the pub and Louisa is in labor. It is still in the car next to Louisa when they take the baby home from the hospital. When she gets into the back seat, Martin says the baby makes everything different and, when they arrive back in Portwenn, he asks to stay overnight. His view of having a child and staying with Louisa has taken a dramatic turn. Could the conversion be due to some influence of the Buddha?

Why he finds it valuable and how it is related to Edith are hard to answer questions. Is he calling it valuable because of its material value, its sentimental value, or its value to him as a person? (Here we go again with the significance of language and how a word can have many meanings.) How was Edith involved with the Buddha? Was she there when he found it? Does it have something to do with their relationship? It’s hard to imagine that they traveled somewhere to get it because of his aversion to travel and hotels, but they could have gone shopping in London together and seen it at some store. We don’t know why it’s valuable; we only know he considers it valuable.

I will try to distill the salient points of Buddhism that I’ve read about and could be related to this show. I want to strongly caution that all of this is totally my own guesswork and might have absolutely no merit. I have no reason to believe anything I come up with coincides with what the writers, set designers, producers, etc., etc. had in mind. As long as we understand that what I’m doing is purely an intellectual exercise, I can go on.

Buddhism is based on the life and teachings of Sakyamuni Gautama Siddhartha (please excuse the lack of proper accents on some of the letters), a name that comes from his clan name followed by his family name and his given name. Siddhartha means success. He lived in the 5th C BCE in northeastern India. One of my sources states, “Buddhism has so many different teachings that it is impossible to fit them into a single, coherent, logical system. They do, however, fit together as therapies or medicine…Buddhism teaches that beings are sick, and the Buddhas are the physicians.” The stories told by Siddhartha’s followers describe a boy born to the ruler of the Sakya kingdom and who was insulated from sickness, decay, and death. He was given the best education possible and married to the most beautiful princess, by whom he had a son. He names his son Rahula which means the fetter. This name could be a sign that he was ambivalent about the value of married life.
[At this point we could pause to note that obviously the idea that Buddhas are physicians might be related to Martin’s profession. In addition, we could draw an analogy between the first rate education Siddhartha received and Martin’s education, as well as his marriage to a beautiful princess followed by the birth of a son and Martin’s similar circumstances. Martin, too, might consider his son a fetter despite loving him.]

Eventually, Siddhartha left home and practiced asceticism but that did not lead to any clear answers about the cycle of life. He went into the forest and found himself under a tree where “he vowed that he would not move until he had attained perfect and complete enlightenment.” As a result, meditation became an integral part of his belief system. The teachings of The Buddha are called The Dharma and consist of the Four Noble Truths. According to another source, “the first two truths (anguish/suffering and its origins) describe the dilemma, the second two (cessation and the path) its resolution. He awoke to a set of interrelated truths rooted in the immediacy of experience here and now…An unawakened existence, in which we drift unaware on a surge of habitual impulses, is both ignoble and undignified.” Furthermore, “instead of presenting himself as a savior, the Buddha saw himself as a healer. He presented his truths in the form of a medical diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment.” [I hesitate to make too much of this, but it must be significant that Buddha is so intertwined with medicine and healing.]

The Four Noble Truths “are challenges to act.” Suffering is the first noble truth. Buddha believed that “all sentient beings…live lives in which suffering is an inevitable and ultimately dominant component.” The Second Noble Truth asserts that the cause of suffering is desire and craving. The Third Noble Truth is the cessation of suffering through Nirvana, which means “extinguishing.” Here it means the extinguishing of craving and, therefore, of suffering. “When the mind no longer grasps and craves what is by nature impermanent, suffering ends.” The Fourth Noble Truth is the path out of suffering. The path is called Noble Eightfold Path and those who follow it are released from suffering. Buddha is said to have followed it himself. For me the path is somewhat vague. It consists of “right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.”

The Noble Eightfold Path is sometimes divided into three basic divisions, as follows:
Division Eightfold Path factors Acquired factors
Wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā, Pāli: paññā) 1. Right view 9. Right knowledge
2. Right intention 10. Right liberation
Ethical conduct (Sanskrit: śīla, Pāli: sīla)
3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
Concentration (Sanskrit and Pāli: samādhi)
6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration

To the best of my understanding, Wisdom is the ability to be discerning and depends on each individual’s capacity to know right and wrong. Ethical Conduct is the necessity “to restrain from unwholesome deeds of body and speech to prevent the faculties of bodily action and speech from becoming tools of the defilements.” Right Speech is “abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, and from idle chatter.” Right Action is “abstaining from taking life, from stealing, and from illicit sex [or sexual misconduct].” Right Livelihood “means that practitioners ought not to engage in trades or occupations which, either directly or indirectly, result in harm for other living beings.”
The five types of businesses that are harmful to undertake are:
Business in weapons: trading in all kinds of weapons and instruments for killing.
Business in human beings: slave trading, prostitution, or the buying and selling of children or adults.
Business in meat: “meat” refers to the bodies of beings after they are killed. This includes breeding animals for slaughter.
Business in intoxicants: manufacturing or selling intoxicating drinks or addictive drugs.
Business in poison: producing or trading in any kind of toxic product designed to kill.

And Concentration “is achieved through training in the higher consciousness, which brings the calm and collectedness needed to develop true wisdom by direct experience.”

The Buddha points both to cognitive and emotional causes of suffering. The emotional cause is desire and its negative opposite, aversion. The cognitive cause is ignorance of the way things truly occur, or of three marks of existence: that all things are unsatisfactory, impermanent, and without essential self. The noble eightfold path is, from this psychological viewpoint, an attempt to change patterns of thought and behavior.

[I want to pause here again because this is a lot to take in and because I think we can see a link to some of ME’s behavior. When Louisa describes Martin as moral before their wedding in S3, she could be saying that he subscribes to the Eightfold Path and, indeed, he exhibits highly ethical conduct as defined by Buddha. He abstains from lying, idle chatter, stealing, and illicit sex. He also has chosen a profession that is the polar opposite of harming others and he doesn’t eat meat or use intoxicating drinks. Even his view of people being able to change could be linked to Buddha’s belief that by using the eightfold path a person is trying to change his/her patterns of thought and behavior.

Although all of the above is one way of applying Buddhism to the show, we have other sources for these traits and actions such as psychological conditions or childhood traumas. Thus, we cannot attribute it all to following the Buddhist philosophy. We can only say that it is possible to find a connection to Buddhism.]

In addition to the Four Noble Truths there are two doctrines that are distinct to Buddha’s teachings. These are Interdependent Arising and No Self. My source explains that the doctrine of Interdependent Arising states “all phenomenal reality, both cosmic and personal, comes into being through a process in which 12 constituent elements are continually arising interdependently (that is, dependent on and in conjunction with one another). These 12 constituents are ignorance, karmic predispositions, consciousness, name and form, the five sense organs, and the mind, contact, feeling-response, craving, grasping for an object, action toward life, birth, and old age and death. All reality can be seen as a kind of circular chain, the links of which are these 12 constituent elements. Each one of these elements, and the suffering it involves, therefore depends on each other link…It becomes possible for any individual person at any time to stop his or her involvement in the process by eliminating one or more of the links in the circular chain.” For the Buddha the two weak links that are more easily eliminated are ignorance and desire or craving.

The doctrine of No Self professes “the individual is made up of five psychophysical elements…: corporeality or physical form (which includes physical objects, the body, and the sense organs); feelings or sensations; ideations…; mental formations or dispositions – the likes, dislikes, and impulses we have about those ideas; and consciousness, the awareness of any or all of these elements… There is no essential “I” to protect and fight for. Thus, egoistic striving is seen to be delusory, and one’s own suffering is reduced. One is also more available to others, for one is freed from one’s own agenda.”

[Martin appears to have eliminated ignorance, at least when it comes to medicine, and he has few desires or cravings, although he drives an expensive car and dresses in natty suits. His major desire is Louisa, of course, and perhaps being a surgeon. Has his desire for Louisa led him to be too caught up in his craving? Can he be said to have reduced the suffering associated with these links? I struggle to believe he isn’t suffering over Louisa. When it comes to his sense of self, he seems to have relatively little interest in his psychophysical self as defined by this doctrine and he is without much of an agenda. Nevertheless, we don’t see much reduction in suffering as a result.]

I’m not sure if my discussion of Buddhism has been a satisfactory summary of Buddha’s teachings or whether it has shed any light on why there are Buddha statues placed in ME’s office. Despite spending some time reading about Buddhism and trying to find ways in which it can be related to the show, there is a part of me that can’t help wondering if they have no important meaning. Sometimes props are used to misdirect viewers or as an inside joke. As I said at the outset of this post, all of this is speculation and may have no real connection to the show.

Originally posted 2014-08-31 16:34:41.

Article on phobias

Just saw this article in today’s NYTimes about phobias.

For me it was a long way of demonstrating how important coaches are to overcoming a phobia. It also mentions the frequency,variety and genesis of phobias, and notes that both genes and environment play a role in the origin of a phobia. It explains phobias “tend to run in families, though not necessarily the same phobia.” We could do something with that. Margaret has a phobia of babies? Or children? I’d say intimacy except that she seemed to like the intimacy she had with Christopher until Martin arrived.

So many articles, etc. that trigger thoughts!

Originally posted 2014-08-29 10:30:46.

Let’s Tango!

I still plan to write a post on Buddhism, and I have one other idea in mind too, but I thought we could have some fun looking at how the Tango relates to the show. I do not consider myself anything more than a person who enjoys listening to music. I love musicals and I love to dance too. I can’t say that I’ve ever danced the Tango. Salsa, yes, but no Tango so far. (I tried Body Jam for the first time yesterday and I struggled with getting the steps right. I can do Zumba though.)

I decided I could use some education about it. You guessed it — I read an article in the NYTimes that got me thinking. The article is really about being uprooted and that’s why I found it quite interesting. It begins by noting that the Tango is related to men who came to Argentina as immigrants looking for work. “They’re people who have gone through the meat-grinder of uprooting and survived it; they’ve come as close to death as one can without dying. It seems that the memory of a personal catastrophe, followed by a miraculous survival, has somehow remained inscribed in the dance’s movements. Part of what makes the Tango so erotically charged is that death is always so close at hand. To this day the Tango has carried with it this uncanny mix of vulnerability and strength.” (I couldn’t let that go by without noticing that is exactly what I mentioned when describing ME as an antihero.)

I remembered that in a comment to my post on what makes DM so appealing Carol wrote about the importance of the music. I had totally overlooked the way music might play a role in our overall appreciation of the show. She stated: “I have seen an interview with the composer and he says something about a type of Tango rhythm that they used that seems to be the rhythm of Martin and Louisa’s relationship (I forget exactly how he said it) but the “back and forth” movement is so important.” I decided I should watch the interview with composer Colin Towns to see what he said. In the interview I found, Towns recalls that it was the editor, Nick (McPhee), who came up with the idea of using the Tango. Towns thought it was a great idea because Cornwall would usually be associated with folk music. Also, “you have a really dignified man” in a village in Cornwall and “the Tango is powerful and reflects how this man would relate to Cornwall.” Oddly enough, on the KQEK website, Towns is quoted as saying: “The acoustic guitar fits very well for what I need, and the Tango (which was Martin’s idea) carries a dignity, slightly overpowering aloofness that matches Martin’s character of an established surgeon sent from the city to deal with a local community – a quirky doctor who is caring but difficult, out of step sometimes, doesn’t suffer fools, a bull in a china shop, but ultimately very human. The Tango is not Cornish but works great with the story. So yes, small community, small band – for this it works.”

Regardless of whose idea it was, I want to say that probably the most important reason the Tango was chosen for the show is because it is so alien to Cornwall and doesn’t fit the setting. Not only is this another subtle way to get a laugh, but also it reflects the incongruity of Martin Ellingham becoming a GP in Portwenn. It’s also amusing because he is anything but graceful and would never be found dancing the Tango. That goes along with the notion of ME being dignified that Towns expresses. On the other hand, the way the Tango is constructed is like the push-pull of Martin and Louisa’s relationship with the power struggle at its core. In most examples of dancing the Tango the man is the leader and the woman mirrors his steps. In DM the courtship dance between Martin and Louisa is rarely led by Martin, but the step by step movement of the Tango has potential as a counterpart to their relationship. First of all, Martin’s posture works perfectly because the proper Tango posture is your head held high, your spine straight, your core strong and chest lifted, and confidence oozing from your body language. (OK, the confidence part is a little questionable.) The steps for both parties: slow, slow, quick, quick, slow. But for the leader it’s:

Forward with your left
Forward with your right
Forward with left
To the right with your right
Feet together, moving left to meet right.

Forward slow, slow, quick, then quick to the side, then together. I think we can make that work for them as a couple.

We actually have one scene in which Martin and Louisa dance (at their wedding reception) and Martin takes the lead with Louisa having trouble following. Nothing too strange about that, huh?

The NYTimes article is more about how exile can be beneficial in that “exile gives you a chance to break free. All that heavy luggage of old ‘truths,’ which seemed so only because they were so familiar, is to be left behind…The redeeming thing about exile is that when your ‘old world’ has vanished you are suddenly given the chance to experience another.” What the writer, Costica Bradatan, argues is that “uprooting is a devastating blow because you have to separate yourself overnight from something that, for as long as you can remember, has been an important part of your identity.” Bradatan acknowledges that “to live is to sink roots. Life is possible only to the extent that you find a place hospitable enough to receive you and allow you to settle down. What follows is a sort of symbiosis: Just as you grow into the world, the world grows into you. Not only do you occupy a certain place, but that place, in turn, occupies you. Its culture shapes the way you see the world, its language informs the way you think, its customs structure you as a social being. Who you ultimately are is determined to an important degree by the vast web of entanglements of ‘home.'” However, “uprooting gives you the chance to create not only the world anew, but also your own self. Deprived of your old world, your old self is left existentially naked. It is not only worlds that can collapse and be rebuilt, but also selves. Selves can be re-made from scratch, reassembled and refurbished. For they, too, are stories to be told in different ways. Often with uprooting there also comes a change of languages, which makes the refashioning all the more fascinating. You can fashion yourself in very much the same way a writer fashions her characters.”

In the end, Bradatan believes that the Tango “is sadness itself that is danced.” For him that is its strength. So the Tango is erotically charged, and associated with catastrophe and survival. And now I’ve gotten way too serious, but you have to admit all of the connections we can make with the Tango also relate to other discussions we’ve had before. Martin’s uprooting has shaken his sense of identity but also given him an opportunity to remake himself. He left behind what he was familiar with, both the good and the bad, and now has established a new home in a different world where he can attempt to create a new self and write a new story. He doesn’t need to change so much as reclaim who he is. Out of the somewhat catastrophic events that brought him to Portwenn he can renew himself. Let’s Tango!

Originally posted 2014-08-19 21:21:41.

Normal On My Mind

Blame the NYTImes again! Last Sunday they published an article on what study subjects identified as normal, and the results add a fascinating layer onto our previous discussion of what the term normal means.

In our past look at the use of the word normal in Doc Martin (see “Normal Is A Loaded Word”), we toyed around with substituting several other words, e.g. typical, proper, conventional. What this article brings up is another word: ideal. For me the biggest takeaway is their determination that “when people think about what is normal, they combine their sense of what is typical with their sense of what is ideal. Normal, in other words, turns out to be a blend of statistical and moral notions.”

It may be useful, as my husband suggested, to think of normal as lying on a bell-shaped curve, as many of our concepts do. The height of the bell would be the best interpretation of what we usually accept as normal, while the side to the right of the curve would be gradations of ideal, and the side to the left would be heading toward totally abnormal.

The SD at the bottom of the graph is standard deviation from the mean/median (or average/midpoint) of a sample. When applied to this example, what the article is arguing is that when people are asked to judge whether something is normal, they actually are likely to see normal as where the +1 SD is on this bell curve. In other words, they see normal as being one standard deviation towards ideal.

If we apply this to the show, we could regard Louisa as struggling with this dynamic. She has been living in a fantasy world of judging normality in the community, in her parents, and subsequently in Martin Ellingham and herself on a scale that leans toward ideal when the real world, as portrayed in this show, is actually leaning toward 1-2 SDs in the opposite direction. In other words, she is surrounded by a world that tends toward the abnormal.

By the end of S7, she has come to the realization that the community is filled with unusual people, and that she and Martin are also unusual. We considered this disclosure strange coming from someone who had continuously been portrayed as accepting the differences in people. We thought her revelation came out of nowhere, and I’m not ready to reject that entirely, but…

In looking at the ending of S7 in this hypothetical manner of a bell curve, I wonder if the writers were using the above rationale when they wrote Louisa’s closing dialogue so curiously. It would have been better, IMO, if they would have provided some sort of clue for us to use since, according to the article, “however deeply ingrained this cognitive tendency may be, people are not condemned to think this way. You are certainly capable of distinguishing carefully between what is typical and what is good.” On the other hand, they caution that “most often, we do not stop to distinguish the typical from the acceptable, the infrequent from the deviant. Instead, we categorize things in terms of a more basic, undifferentiated notion of normality, which blends together these two importantly different facets of human life.” If we want to be generous, we could decide that Louisa has had some sort of epiphany explained by her recognition of how to distinguish between the typical and the good.

Originally posted 2017-02-01 16:05:46.

Personality Inventory

Since we all seem interested in how personalities are formed and can be assessed, I thought I’d provide a link to The Big Five Inventory from the Berkeley Personality Lab where they have developed “a self-report inventory designed to measure the Big Five dimensions” of personality. As you’ll see from the reference, they have tried to take into account much of the research in the field for the past 30 years. The Big Five factors are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

The primary research at Berkeley has been done by Oliver P. John whose website gives you more information about him. You will also find a link to the short test you can take to see how your personality turns out. I did it and it took no more than 10 minutes and was quite interesting. You really just find out where you land on a continuum.

I’m guessing that Martin and Louisa would have markedly different results. Whether that would have any bearing on if they can be happy together, this test cannot determine. Any comments about this test and its uses are welcome.

Originally posted 2014-08-10 08:51:58.

Fun New Yorker cartoon

The Aug. 4th New Yorker Magazine has a great cartoon by Kanin that I wanted to post but have had trouble finding a way to get on the blog. In it a couple are lying in bed and he tells her, “If I could take back ninety percent of the things I have said, then I think people would know the real me.”

I just think that’s perfect for ME.

http://nyr.kr/UsVsDr

Originally posted 2014-08-04 11:53:42.

Duet of missed messages, S3E4+5

Other interests aside, my true passion is literary analysis and I am pleased to get back to that again. In this case the analysis will be of S3E5 because I want to argue that what we see going on between Martin and Louisa in this episode represents well the kind of “push me, pull you” interaction they have throughout the show, including during S6. The theme of control is also very much a factor in E5. (Please excuse the length of this post. I always try to keep my posts as brief as possible, but sometimes I find that difficult because I’m also trying to do a thorough job.)

In order to put E5 in perspective, I think we need to start by looking at E4. In this episode Carrie Wilson stirs up Louisa’s jealousy about Martin’s love life. We will see much more of this during S4 when Edith appears; therefore, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s been there for quite some time. From S1 on we’ve seen that Martin is smitten with Louisa. (Despite Martin Clunes’ claim about their initial plan, my impression is that it was immediately apparent that the relationship between ME and LG was going to play a central role in this series. I have no doubt that Caroline Catz increased that likelihood or changed the nature of it, but there was always going to be a tension between these two characters.) During S1 they create regular conflicts between this couple over their differing views of how to treat patients, ending with a harrowing effort to save Peter Cronk during which Louisa witnesses firsthand Martin’s capabilities as a doctor and a person. Martin even ends up looking compassionate to her in relation to Adrian Pitts. We applaud Louisa’s decision to defend Martin while agreeing with her that he has a knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Unfortunately, he undermines his own desire to have Louisa as a love interest by the end of the series, setting up what happens between them in S2 and beyond. The final episode of the regular season of S2 ends pretty much the same way S1 ends — Martin spoils whatever close bond they appear to be developing by insulting Louisa.

By the time we reach S3, things between Martin and Louisa have stabilized to some degree. Nonetheless, Martin continues to do damage to their fragile relationship despite obviously being anxious to find a way to connect with Louisa. The writing of S3E4 is once again attributed to Jack Lothian and I find some analogy to Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” in it. (If I’m right, Jack Lothian has fun using his knowledge of Shakespeare on this show.) In general, the play and this episode are filled with constant misinterpretations amongst the characters as well as suspicions of straying attention between the men and women. Jealousy is at the heart of the play and is also important in E4. Louisa has spent much of S3 vexed by Martin’s reticence to do anything that will reignite their affair. When she sees Mrs. Wilson making moves on Martin and hears Mrs. T.’s comments that men are often vulnerable to women like her, she is provoked. Here’s where we get a scene in which Martin has trouble interpreting what Louisa is saying. As in S6E1 when Louisa’s position on having a honeymoon is totally unintelligible to him, Louisa’s reaction to his acceptance of her invitation to Penhale’s party at Carrie Wilson’s hotel makes little sense to him. Louisa has no idea that Martin has just turned down a similar invitation from Mrs. Wilson and is suspicious when M accepts her invitation so quickly. Rather than being satisfied that he has accepted, she finds his quick acceptance troubling and probably believes his unspoken motive is to go to Wilson’s hotel. This is one of many times when he has no idea what she wants him to say. Of course they are interrupted by the phone and a so-called emergency and Louisa leaves without knowing whether she’ll see Martin later or not.

It turns out that Martin has more than one reason that brings him to Wilson’s hotel. He has run over her precious dog and decides to bring the dead animal to her. When he arrives, Aunt Joan derails his initial plan and we’re not sure what will happen either with the dog or with the party. But the party goes on and Martin is still left holding the dead dog wrapped in newspaper. As he enters the party area, we begin another series of misinterpretations as Louisa’s immediate delight at seeing him there is undercut by Martin’s focus on finding Mrs. Wilson so he can hand over her dog. Mrs. W shows up and immediately offends Louisa because she thinks Martin wants to have some time alone with her. Once she finds out his real purpose, and Louisa is there to witness someone else bearing the brunt of Martin’s lack of tact, things change rapidly. Now Louisa and Martin can have a moment alone and Louisa can show concern. However, she once again jumps to conclusions when Martin asks her what she’s drinking, assuming that he’s judging her for drinking wine. Soon they are standing apart from the group and find concordance in their assessment of Mrs. Wilson as narcissistic, hypochondriacal, and extremely annoying. Once again Louisa proffers an invitation, this time to a concert, and Martin accepts immediately. He even makes a nuanced comment when she warns him the musicians are amateurs when he says “everyone has to start somewhere.” Things seem to be going well until Louisa turns her head toward the window and Martin attempts to kiss her head only to have her jump away and ask him what he’s doing. Aren’t we witnessing a tender and possibly emotional moment generated by Martin that is met with rejection from Louisa? Just then Penhale makes an announcement that forces Louisa to leave precipitously, although she mentions the concert date to Martin just before walking out the door.

The maneuvering for control between this pair is magnified throughout this episode and will continue into the next. Louisa wants to maintain Martin’s interest in her while also backing him off at times, and Martin wants to be agreeable to her while also having trouble getting out of his own way. Awkwardness abounds on both sides, but we think we are heading in a good direction until the next episode and its constant fluctuations as to who is making the right moves at the right times.

The first time Martin sees Louisa in S3E5 is while Pauline is taking a blood sample and doing a poor job of it. Louisa mentions their date and wonders what to wear. Martin does the gentlemanly thing and says he’s sure she’ll look nice. So far, so good. His day takes a detour when he discovers Pauline has given him the wrong notes for the patient he’s examining. But this scene gives us a little insight into what’s to come in that Martin asks the patient who initiates sexual activity between him and his wife. He observes that usually one is keener than the other. Beyond the truism of this observation is the hint that who the initiator is takes on importance. Initiating something also indicates an effort to take control. To me, the key to this episode and to the relationship between Martin and Louisa is the issue of control — who has it, who doesn’t, what should be done about it, etc.

When we next see Louisa, she is dressed for the concert and putting on the finishing touches. It’s clear she has taken great care in how she looks. She goes downstairs and opens the front door before Martin can get there. She could have waited for him to knock, but has preempted that. She hopes for, but doesn’t get, a compliment on how she looks. Despite his earlier flattery, he neglects to say something here and actually makes things worse by wondering if her shoes will be a problem. (We learn later that women’s shoes seem to be a preoccupation of his.) She tries to prompt him by remarking how his suit looks, but this could be seen as a sort of role reversal. They arrive at the concert where they sit on the grass. Before intermission it’s Louisa who sneaks glances at Martin and initiates contact by putting a flower in his lapel; after intermission we see Martin peeking at Louisa. It’s a nice way to balance their attraction to each other while also indicating the back and forth nature of it. His reaction to the flower is typical Martin in that he is not pleased, but he leaves it there.

The flower is still in his lapel when they go inside for intermission. At this point Martin makes one false move after another: he’s sullen and unfriendly towards Holly, then offends Joan’s friend the caterer. Louisa is surely unhappy about his behavior and Joan notices. Joan goes right to the heart of things when she sarcastically asks Martin “you being your usual charming self?” Nevertheless, they return to their place on the grass for the second half of the concert and Louisa notices Martin looking at her. The sexual tension is rising. Soon we see them leaving the concert and walking down a path to the car surrounded by other concert goers. As in S1E6, Martin wants to take Louisa’s hand. This time he follows through and appears to feel triumphant when he does. However, once again Louisa takes charge, draws him aside, passionately kisses him and receives the same response as before — Martin takes refuge in medical speak and particularly insensitive comments. CC plays the scene perfectly as she looks at Martin in disbelief and anger. It’s kind of the last straw for the date even though with Louisa hope springs eternal. Louisa, too, responds similarly to her reaction in S1E6, this time by marching off in a huff. It’s somewhat amusing to see her so convinced that her kisses will be returned in kind yet always end up with the same Martin, who is incapable of letting go. In this case she is stuck riding home in the car with him, but she gives him the silent treatment and soon tells him she doesn’t want to see him anymore. We can see the oscillating power struggle here pretty clearly: Louisa has initiated the date, initiated the compliments, and initiated the kiss, while Martin has instituted his influence by remaining “his charming self” and all that that implies, as well as having a breakthrough of sorts by taking Louisa’s hand. (I have to say that I think the best response Louisa could have had to Martin taking her hand would have been to simply let him have this moment and walk to the car hand in hand with him. Naturally, for the purposes of this show, she doesn’t do that and her reaction underscores the basic control issues always at stake between them. She is also always battling her instincts and emotions.)

Martin makes a vain attempt to explain his reaction, but she’s not looking for an explanation of his scientific interests; she wants a sign that he feels something for her. As usual, Martin is left wondering what went wrong. Both of them seem tearful and regretful. The fact that Martin spends the night unable to sleep emphasizes his desolation. We can only assume he’s been trying to ascertain what he could have done differently without the capacity to come up with any answers. He appears to be making an effort to be introspective, something he has a lot of trouble doing. (If his breakup with Edith continues to be a factor for him, we might imagine that he feels bereft that a woman he loves has once again rejected him.) This time he decides to take action and leaves his office with the intention of talking to Louisa. In effect, he is running after her; however, he chickens out and it’s just as well because Holly’s arrival would have interrupted them anyway. His plan to take control has gone unconsummated.

Later that day he returns to a state of deep consternation while sitting on the couch. Louisa’s rejection has been quite a blow and he is uncharacteristically lost in thought about it. Joan walks in at that moment and observes that Louisa seemed fed up with him at the concert. In her view, Martin and Louisa can never be a couple and he should simply move on. It isn’t until she’s expressed that view to Martin that she notices how upset he is. Meanwhile, Louisa asserts to Holly that her date with Martin is the end of their relationship. Their future as a couple seems doomed.

The time for despair passes quickly as events take over. Holly slips and hurts her back, putting in motion a series of incidents that bring Martin and Louisa into contact again. After they get Holly to Louisa’s house and into Louisa’s bed, Martin tells Louisa he has to check on Holly the next day. After Martin returns home Joan appears at Martin’s kitchen door again and reaffirms that in her mind Martin and Louisa are like chalk and cheese, and that “we are what we are, we can’t change.” But Martin disagrees and is sure he can change. He equates change here with talking rubbish, by which he means acting more concerned about others, but the important matter is that he is asserting his ability to control his behavior and he sets out to prove it. An accident, or event that we can’t control, has led to Holly needing a place to stay and forced Louisa to offer her home. It has also meant that Martin is forced to tend to Holly at Louisa’s house and that Holly cannot leave despite being scheduled to rehearse somewhere else. No one has control over any of these situations.

The change in behavior that Martin attempts only makes Louisa think he’s acting weird. Martin reacts with one of the most emotional outbursts he has with Louisa because he feels like nothing he does satisfies her. He tells her, “I don’t know what you want.” EXACTLY!

The next morning Louisa returns to find Holly out of bed against doctor’s orders. Holly’s determined to assert control and leave, but soon she falls again and this time her injury is life-threatening. Martin arrives in a hurry and the previous altercation between Martin and Louisa is put aside so they can work together to treat Holly. Holly’s accidents have been the catalyst to bring Martin and Louisa together twice, demonstrating how Fate is beyond our control. This time it takes both Martin and Louisa to handle the situation and there is a kinder, gentler exchange of who’s in charge. Martin’s aversion to blood makes him nauseated and Louisa asks if she should take over; Martin recovers and manages to remove the piece of glass lodged in Holly’s back; Louisa tries to help by filling a syringe but drops the vial of medicine; Martin calmly finds another way to save Holly; and they reconnect over Holly’s revivified body. As Holly is loaded onto the ambulance, Louisa makes clear that she has had a resurgence of respect for Martin. She’s shaken but tells him he’s an extraordinary man. It is here that he finally takes control and decides he can’t leave without asking her to marry him. She, in turn, can’t believe her ears and asks him to repeat his proposal. (Asking him to repeat nice things he says is another amusing recurring scenario throughout the series.) Louisa accepts his proposal and runs to jump into his arms. Their embrace is emotional on both parts and is one of several scenes like this where they are both overcome with emotion. Thus, the episode ends with the exchange of control between these two being equalized.

Included in this episode is Pauline’s addiction to gambling, another loss of control. Significantly, Martin intercedes between Pauline and her mother to give Mum a lecture on how Pauline’s gambling is an illness not a weakness, and that it controls her. He demands an admission from Pauline that she is an addict and her commitment to attend a support group to get treatment. By the end of S6, he’s made the same demands on Michael in regard to his OCD. Martin definitely recognizes that many psychological conditions are out of the control of those who have them and these people would benefit from therapy.

S3E5 contains so many of the primary forces in the show. It emphasizes the issue of control and how Martin and Louisa constantly tangle with it. In addition, their emotions are a factor with Martin exhibiting more emotion than usual. Many of the set pieces that are used in the show appear here as well, making this episode very representative of the show as a whole.

Originally posted 2014-08-01 15:57:54.

Strange but True

I know you’re going to think I’m incredibly reliant on the NYTimes, and I won’t argue the point, nevertheless its articles can be quite enlightening. Now that I’ve had a chance to catch up on some reading, I also found an article in the NYTimes Mag. from July 20th interesting. The title is “Maria Bamford vs. Her Brain.” Immediately the name Bamford jumped out at me, then I learned that she suffers from a particular form of OCD called “unwanted thoughts syndrome” which presents as compulsive thoughts that the afflicted person can’t seem to stop thinking. Later the article notes that inappropriate thoughts are not uncommon in most of us, but “in the mind of someone with O.C.D., they are more likely to lodge themselves and repeat. The thoughts don’t tend to inspire actions, only fear. It’s like having a homegrown terrorist in the brain.” According to the article about her, “[Bamford] sometimes talks about her brain as an entity not entirely in her command, as something unruly and perhaps best understood from a slight distance.” She speaks of her brain in the third person and she has found that her brain “behaves best in controlled settings, thriving on rules and boundaries.” Like ME’s interest in reading medical journals to keep up with the latest medical advances, Bamford is a voracious reader of all sorts of writing including highbrow literature.

The therapy that has been the most effective for Bamford is “a technique called ‘flooding.’ She was instructed to write down her compulsive fears in exacting detail, then to record herself reading them out loud and, finally, to play them back for herself, again and again, until they stopped causing her anxiety.” She found the procedure difficult, however, the unwanted thoughts went away.

I wouldn’t diagnose ME with OCD exactly, but he has many OCD-like behaviors that we see more pronounced in S6 when Michael’s OCD is in evidence too. His blood phobia could be accompanied by unwanted thoughts that relate to the initial reason he gives for the onset of the phobia. He met the family of a patient he was preparing to operate on and suddenly found he couldn’t cut into the patient. It’s quite possible the prospect of cutting into the patient became associated with inappropriate thoughts that were unwanted and hard to stop. ME’s inclination to stick to controlled settings that follow rules and boundaries would then be a means for him to control his brain.

They could try therapy that includes “flooding” with potential success and the potential for humor as well.

Originally posted 2014-07-28 13:54:45.

Another article of interest

Before I write something more in depth, I thought I’d reference an article from yesterday’s Sunday Review in the NYTimes. We have all seen how Martin Ellingham’s position in Portwenn (and even in London) gives him a lot of power. All docs at some point deal with life and death issues, and we certainly see ME saving the lives of several villagers, including Louisa. His decision to become a vascular surgeon has also been a choice that includes a large degree of power over others: his patients, the nurses, even other doctors who rely on him. Basically, he likes being in control and he sustains his position of power whether he’s operating in London or the only physician in Portwenn. When I read this article, I thought it was relevant to our discussions of how ME relates to the world, and even whether he can change. See what you think…

Originally posted 2014-07-28 13:18:18.

My response to DM about the Rational v. Emotional

This post is the first I’ve published as a response to a comment by a blog reader. The reason I decided to create a post rather than reply as usual is that I have so much to say. When I write my posts, I do a lot of editing that I can’t do as easily when writing a reply. I often write down my thoughts, take a break and save what I’ve written, then come back and reread them. This type of revising is hard to do as a reply.

I will refer to DM’s comments throughout my response with the plan of making everything as clear as possible. In preparing to answer this post, I have learned a lot more about several of the terms DM uses and about Antonio Damasio’s research into the mind/self relationship. I hope what I have put together will stimulate more discussion. How rational and emotional reactions function in humans is a fascinating topic and, although it relates to the show, the study of emotions and how they affect our behavior is certainly applicable to us all. Should you decide you’d like to hear Damasio’s TED talk from 2011, here’s the link.

The way I interpret DM’s remarks is that they not only refer to the original topic of how emotions can be related to rational/logical decision making, but also to the topic of whether people can change (or even should change). When DM writes of the third component of the self or mind as being how one acts on one’s feelings or thoughts, he/she notes that this “underlies a great deal of one’s ability to learn and one’s capacity for change.” In the final paragraph of DM’s comments he/she states that ME made a bargain with himself while he was still young to become a great surgeon like others in his family (probably most like his grandfather who he admired), and that this may have been the only thing he ever wanted. To me that begs the question of who is Martin Ellingham and does he need to change to be able to want more for himself? Not only that, but when DM brings up the paradox of the Ship of Theseus, he/she is bringing into our discussion the concern that if ME (or anyone) makes changes of significance, he may not be the same person anymore. In the case of the ship, every part of the ship was replaced during restoration and Plutarch asked whether it remained the same ship. We could ask that question in many instances, and that has happened throughout history until today we have something called “Trigger’s Broom” which refers to a roadsweeper in the BBC sitcom “Only Fools and Horses” (1981-2003) where a broom has had 17 new heads and 14 new handles but is still considered the same broom. (Fun fact: the role of Trigger in that series was played by Roger Lloyd-Pack, who played the role of Phil Pratt in Doc Martin and recently died of pancreatic cancer.) Some people wonder if a person with a psychiatric disease, and who takes medicine or has therapy that makes them more stable, is still the same person? We could ask here if counseling will make ME a different person in a substantial way. He wants to change and believes he can change, but what does that mean? He can certainly manage his blood phobia with adequate therapy; however, would Louisa want Martin to be that different from how he is now? His emotional breakthroughs in S6 already demonstrate some change, and Louisa might appreciate a change in his willingness to express his feelings to her. On the other hand, too much change may not be desirable because he would not be the person with whom she fell in love. It’s a great question and hard to answer.

This issue also goes to the heart of DM’s comments in general and his reference to “thinkers from Aristotle to Descartes to Damasio.” In my opinion, Damasio’s theories about emotions are of particular import here because they are so current. Damasio studied people with damage to the part of the brain where emotions are generated, primarily the insula, the anterior cingulate cortex, and the medial prefrontal cortices. (The insulae are believed to be involved in consciousness and play a role in diverse functions usually linked to emotion or the regulation of the body’s homeostasis. These functions include perception, motor control, self-awareness, cognitive functioning, and interpersonal experience. The anterior cingulate cortex is involved with rational cognitive functions, such as reward anticipation, decision-making, empathy, impulse control, and emotion. And the medial prefrontal cortices have been implicated in planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and moderating social behavior.) Damasio learned that when these emotion producing locations are damaged, decision making ability was also compromised. All of this is to say that without emotions we have trouble making decisions; therefore, as I argued in my original post, when we make decisions, even rational or logical ones, we must be accessing our emotions.

DM agrees that ME exhibits emotions, especially anger, disgust, and fear. I would add sadness, relief, and tenderness. He displays tenderness towards James Henry regularly, has shown tenderness towards Louisa when he rubs her cheek or expresses concern for her, and shows some tenderness towards a few others as well. He is brought close to tears several times in connection to Louisa, and when she returns his love or he convinces her of his sincerity, he is relieved.

DM’s paragraph that stands out to me states:
Considering the conative-self of Martin Ellingham helps to explain, at least to me, some of the paradoxes he embodies: he is a driven and highly accomplished professional, yet he is perplexingly passive; he brooks no acceptance for the status quo in anyone else, yet generally resigns himself to little more than enduring his situations and his phobia; he desperately loves and desires Louisa, yet he is perplexingly ineffectual at pursuing what he so obviously wants.

What DM asserts is that ME is missing the concept of “wanting” as distinguished from the concept of “having a duty to” do something. Want and desire are typically equated, and there are many theories of desire. I think what we have in the case of ME is someone who has desires but, when it comes to certain circumstances, is totally at a loss to act on them. As DM says, ME wanted to be a surgeon and acted on that desire, taking the steps necessary to reach that goal. He also decided he did NOT want to be with Edith and acted on that. However, when he becomes infatuated with Louisa and wants to have her in his life, he does not know how to act. Here is where applying the psychological theories developed by observing typical behavior may fail us because this character doesn’t conform to these. ME has emotions, can act on them at times and be decisive, yet is paralyzed when dealing with this one person, Louisa. Perhaps, as DM believes, ME regards emotions as something he would like to remove because he would be safer without them. But I’m not sure how DM arrives at this suspicion. It may be based on how ME reacts to Louisa’s emotional outbursts. Emotions are painful for everyone. On the other hand, they are also pleasurable and we see this when ME takes Louisa’s hand and we see his feelings of satisfaction, or reads to JH or successfully operates on a variety of people. We watch as he appears proud of his handiwork and adjusts the cuffs of his shirt or admits he saved someone’s life. He is not anhedonic as an alexithymic person might be. Although he fits the definition of alexithymic insofar as an inability to have emotional awareness, social attachment and interpersonal relationships in addition to having difficulty distinguishing and appreciating emotions in others. He does not fit it in that he enjoys his clock hobby, sex, and socializing with his aunts. (DM is clear that in mentioning alexithymic behavior he is not making a diagnosis.)

I am not certain what DM means by saying that the bargain ME made with himself about becoming a surgeon may have formed the basis for his “haemophobia and may ultimately form the basis for his redemption.” Was the bargain one that limited his desire to one, and only one, acquisition in his life — the skill to operate well? Will the redemption come in the form of a reduction in his phobia or in the success of his marriage? Or both? Did it bring on his haemophobia by putting too much pressure on ME to perform as well as his grandfather? I’d like to have more of an explanation about this statement.

Like DM I am generally wary of some of the suppositions about how abuse as a child, or bad home or boarding school life may have impacted Martin. We are provided these possibly damaging influences without any specific evidence to support a judgement. The idea that DM expresses that there is still an “undeveloped” part of Martin is very intriguing because that could be what gives the writers freedom to explore all sorts of areas. Rather than trying to change him by trying to turn him into someone different, Louisa may find it possible to foster those traits that have languished and can be expanded now. In S6 they’ve given us signs of so much potential for growth in terms of his emotional status. In S7 we might be shown many ways for that to happen.

This discussion about the interaction of emotions with so much of what we do as humans has broad implications beyond this show and is another example of how this show brings up so many deeply philosophical and psychological ideas. I did not realize when I first noted the way the show counterbalances the rational with the emotional that it would lead to such a far-reaching discussion. I hope what I’ve said has been of value and that many of you will add your own thoughts. I also look forward to hearing more from DM.

Originally posted 2014-07-12 10:34:25.

The Rational v. The Emotional

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about rational decision making versus emotional decision making and how those two approaches have been offset in DM. After reading several philosophical views on this subject, I have decided to first look at the way we would typically divide these two strategies and then inject some variations on those.

What we would usually think of as the difference between acting rationally and acting emotionally revolves around whether we react quickly without giving ourselves enough time to weigh the pros and cons of a decision or whether we reflect and refrain from reacting at all until we’ve given ourselves time to think things through. The rational decision results from containing our emotions and trying to remove them from any choices we make; the emotional decision generally stems from allowing ourselves to respond without much thought. Either one can end in positive or negative consequences.

In my post on Aunt Ruth, I noted that this show asks us to weigh the rational with the emotional. I see AR as the rational aunt as compared to Joan who is more emotional and emotive. From the moment Ruth arrives for the funeral she exhibits an affectless approach to events around her. She expresses condolences in a required sort of manner and, when Louisa introduces herself, she notes that Louisa is “the schoolteacher Joan kept on about.” Her demeanor is not offensive, merely sober and unsentimental. Whereas Joan might have given Martin a hug and possibly even done so with Louisa, Ruth shakes her hand and shows no signs of grief. (Later we find out that she can’t produce tears because she has Sjogren’s, but she shows no evidence of wanting to cry here.)

The two women have taken very different paths in life. Joan has been married and had at least two lovers we know of; Ruth has never been married and has had no attachments as far as we know. Joan has been happy living on a farm in a small village while Ruth loves London. It’s the often used contrast between the city and the country where the city represents order and regimen, the country represents tumult and commotion. Joan’s life has always seemed a bit tumultuous. She tends to her animals and vegetables, neglects her finances and allows her insurance to lapse, occasionally cooks for others, starts a B & B to earn money, involves herself in many neighbors’ lives and does her best to help out Louisa during her pregnancy. She manages to get things done although she lets herself get out of control with Theo Wenn. Joan shows signs of being capable of rational decision making, e.g. she points out to Martin that people can function with phobias and still do their jobs well, she tells Martin to leave when he blurts out some angry comments to Louisa, etc.

Joan’s death has brought Ruth to the country and her inheritance of the farm has led her to stay there. She imposes order on her surroundings by hiring Al and setting out to write a book. Many events interrupt her routine, but she always stays calm and composed and handles each event without so much as a break in her stride. She eventually moves into the village after Robert Campbell gives her quite a scare, and where the living arrangements are closer to what she prefers. She completes the book and continues to consult on cases. She misses life in the city, although she appears to have made her peace with that and will be content to make excursions to London now and then. We see her express strong emotion only once – when Martin tells her she has Sjogren’s instead of Lupus.

At first glance, we might think of Martin Ellingham as an entirely rational adult. He is science oriented and evidence based. His overall approach seems to be to do his best to eliminate emotions from his decisions, both professional and personal. Over and over he suppresses his emotions by engaging his medical knowledge. His strongest emotional outbursts are directed at patients who frustrate him with their ignorance and lack of compliance. He has a close relationship with Joan and can be tender with her, but even in her case he often reacts clinically, e.g. when he accidentally shoots her in the leg with the Colonel’s gun and then tells her it’s just a superficial wound. His decision to move to Portwenn has been made under a cloud, although still with rational forethought. It’s certainly not where he’d rather be. Even his hemophobia is handled in a way that keeps it from being emotional — he throws up and carries on or draws blood while looking away. He’s managed to reconcile himself to it (at least until S6) and accommodate it. He’s offset by Louisa who has an emotional attachment to the village and its residents. She’s always happy to return while he’s always looking for a way to leave. Martin’s facial expressions rarely change from consternation and seriousness; Louisa’s are a smorgasbord of emotions. He stands stick straight and never dresses comfortably; she has many poses and has no hesitation in wearing jeans or other relaxed clothing. She gets obviously exasperated with many people in her life, including her mother, her father, some friends, and Martin. She has highs and lows along with some even keel times. She applies her professional expertise when necessary, but finds it hard not to get personally involved.

Beyond these characters, we have a number of others who are emblematic of this dichotomy. Bert and Al certainly work in opposition to each other. Bert has no interest in properly balancing the books or in doing the necessary research before jumping into a new venture. Al is computer oriented, thus used to sequential thinking and planning for expected outcomes. Bert takes short cuts in general, while Al tries to do each job to the best of his ability.

But now that I’ve been trying to more deeply think about this dichotomy, I’ve realized it’s not so clear-cut. Nothing ever is. When we apply this distinction to the characters in DM, we get a confusion of outcomes, especially since I have read more about how to define rationality and emotionality and found that they are less distinct from each other than I originally thought. Emotion is a huge topic in philosophy and almost all of the great philosophers have tried to devise a theory of emotion (Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Hobbs, etc.) Then there was a period in the 20th century during which philosophers and psychologists stopped trying to develop a theory because it was such a broad topic. Recently there has once again been a lot of interest in a multidisciplinary approach to what emotion is. Rational thought is also a topic of much theorizing.

In an article published in Psychology Today on June 18, 2010 by Joachim I. Krueger, Ph.D. titled “One Among Many,” (“Reason and emotion: A note on Plato, Darwin, and Damasio. If reason and emotion affect decision-making, which matters more?”) Krueger states: one of the clear functions of emotions is “to guide us towards pleasure and away from pain. To succeed in gaining what is good and avoiding what is bad is difficult in an uncertain environment. We often make decisions that resemble gambles. When we invest in a company, buy a new house, or get married, there is a chance that things won’t work out as hoped. It’s critical that we’re able to judge what risks are worth taking – and emotions can help us make those judgments…Considered in isolation, emotions are rather arational (neither rational nor irrational)…By transforming goals and desires in the heat of the moment, emotions can lead us to make choices that hurt our long-term interests…Things get a bit murky, though, when we try to apply calculated reasoning to social decision-making. Many social situations involve costs and benefits that are difficult to assess and compare.”

When I relate this to ME, I can’t help wondering whether his effort to be rational actually masks an emotional substructure. In other posts we’ve been writing about the times when Martin exhibits emotion. We know his emotions can break through his defenses and clearly affect him. They can distract him from his job, make him act impulsively (like running to talk to Louisa or Ruth in the middle of seeing patients), and keep him up at night. What the show may be telling us is that even though Martin (or anyone) represses his emotions on a frequent basis in an attempt to apply rational thinking to his life, his life (our lives) is, in point of fact, governed by emotion. When it comes to social choices, we cannot separate our emotions from our decision making. M’s attraction to Louisa stems from a deeply emotional wellspring that doesn’t conform to rational arguments, and that does not make it wrong; it makes it normal.

Furthermore, Krueger notes: “Darwin would argue that the influence of emotions on decision-making has survived the rigors of natural selection…We see three reasons why this may be so. One reason…is that emotions give useful guidance whenever the environment fails to provide all the information needed for thoughtful analysis… It may be the case, however, the type of context in which emotions help is more common in our world than the type of context in which they hurt. The final reason not to discard emotions remains the fact that they make us act quickly and decisively.” Despite Martin’s or Ruth’s rational outer demeanor, we see how emotions cause them to react quickly and decisively many times, and it’s when they react quickly and decisively that the outcome is often positive. For Martin these moments include when he asks Louisa to marry him, when he can’t wait outside while she’s in labor and bursts through the door to tell her he was wrong about her and the baby, when he races after her to get her off the plane, and certainly when he runs to help patients in need or to find Ruth to ask for her help. For Ruth there are fewer moments but they would include telling the desk clerk at the hotel to stop wasting time and grow a backbone, when she tells Al she will go into business with him, and when she tells Robert Campbell she loves him as he’s about to stab Martin. I would have to say that these examples contain a confluence of rational and emotional qualities, but incline toward the emotional superseding the rational. When Ruth tells Robert she loves him, it’s an immediate reaction due to anxiety; however, she is also reaching into her grab-bag of psychiatric tricks to deal with psychopathic behavior. Similarly when Martin rushes to the airport, he is acting out of a rational desire to take care of Louisa medically, but it’s also because he is extremely worried about her and has already decided to follow her because he’s desperate to salvage their marriage.

Ultimately what I have come to appreciate is that it’s a very rare person who can dissociate his/her emotions from any decision. Trying to contrast the rational from the emotional is a fallacious mission. Although the writers of DM may have wanted to draw a distinction between two positions that seem to be in conflict with each other, they couldn’t because emotions are actually at the root of all behavior and cannot be extricated from the rational.

Originally posted 2014-07-03 17:49:35.

Another post coming soon

I thought I should mention that I am working on another post and hope to publish it soon. It’s taking a while partly because of the topic and partly because we have a lot going on at home right now. We live at the beach and have many visitors at this time of year. Of course, next week is a holiday week in the US. We love having so many visitors, but there’s less time for writing, etc. I hate to miss out on swimming in the ocean and all the other fun things to do. So please bear with me and don’t give up on reading the blog!! Thanks!

Originally posted 2014-06-26 15:41:18.

Doc Martin and the Mystery of the Folktale

When thinking about whether DM could fall into the category of Fairytale or Folktale, I started with remembering that one of the films that preceded DM was called “The Legend of the Cloutie.” The film’s premise was that a legend of the town could be associated with a house Dr. Martin Bamford wants to purchase. The legend is a local folk magic story involving a piece of cloth tied to a tree (branded a Cloutie) that has the power to remove a kind of illness as the cloth rots and falls from the tree. The film was rather silly, but there is that history of a story based on a legend.

We have to distinguish between Folktales, Fairytales, Legends, Myths, etc. As a general rule legends and traditions are narratives of an explanatory nature concerning creation and tribal beginnings, supernatural beings, and quasi-historical figures (e.g., King Arthur, Lady Godiva). These stories are related as fact and concern a specific time and place. They have a verisimilitude and should appear realistic. Fairytales are entirely fictional and often begin with such formulas as “Once upon a time …” and “In a certain country there lived … .” There are many interpretations of all of the story types listed above, most of which involve historical and psychological analyses. Psychologists have used them as a form of expression of cultural traditions and customs, and to study the unconscious. Many folktales conclude with some sort of moral message. I think that gets too deep for our purposes. We could probably tease out some moral messages in this show, but is that really why the show was created? I think this show has a serious underpinning but it stops short of teaching viewers the difference between right and wrong behavior.

What prompts us to wonder about DM and its connection to a Fairytale or Folktale is all of the ways in which it seems unreal. We can begin with the fact that the weather is never bad in Portwenn. Despite its location in England where rain is plentiful, there never seems to be a rainy day. Plus, the fact that they film in Spring and Summer means we see no cold, wintry weather.

No news from the world ever enters Portwenn. For all we know, WWIII could have started and the villagers would have no idea. Newspapers are seen on occasion, but the village is in a world of its own. No one leaves for long, and only Al returns from his trip abroad with anything approaching a bad experience. All the outsiders arrive in Portwenn without any information about what’s happening in England, much less other countries. Very few people ever want to leave.

Very few people are afflicted with serious illnesses. Anyone who gets sick, even Roger Fenn and his throat cancer or Peter Cronk and his ruptured spleen, is treated and released in short order and without complication. It’s a show about a doctor, but not really about serious medical conditions. The thrust of the show is the characters in it, especially Martin and Louisa, and not what medical case will the doctor identify and treat.

The hotel’s name is “Camelot,” which refers to a castle and court associated with King Arthur. It is the fantastic capital of Arthur’s realm. The word “Camelot” is easy to see on the front of the hotel and seems to be highlighted when Martin and Louisa’s wedding is held there. The hotel has the appearance of a castle and is not the only castle-like building used. When Mrs. Tishell abducts JH, Penhale’s first thought is she took him to a hotel that is called “The Castle.” When she isn’t there, they are told to go to another faux castle, and that’s where they find her and the baby. We are not usually surrounded by castles in today’s world.

Of course we can’t leave out the opening scene of S3E1 when we hear Louisa reading to her students outside in the harbor area. From my point of view, the way this opening scene is handled indicates a humorous mocking of the fairytale qualities we might be seeing in DM. Let’s analyze this opening scene…

We have the typical sweep of the environs of the village while the credits roll, but then we find ourselves with an aerial view of the harbor with a motor boat heading towards the village. Next we hear Louisa’s voice saying “Once Upon a Time in a kingdom far, far away.” Here is the classic beginning to a Fairytale along with an airplane and a motorboat. So far we haven’t seen her and don’t know what she’s doing.

She reads on as we watch Martin walk down the street carrying his medical bag: “the Prince arrived to search for the Princess he was destined to marry.” She reads, “the Prince was handsome and charming,” (while Martin scowls at the young girls he passes) “and fierce” (as Martin quickly sidesteps an oncoming vehicle. He looks angry and annoyed, but not brave).

She continues: “With his faithful hound at his side,” (as we see the bushy dog always bothering Martin come out of a side street and trot across to briefly walk beside Martin and then perhaps move on) “the Prince journeyed for days on end” (Martin is making his way down the sloped street probably on his way back to his clinic. His journey has been short.) “He fought dragons” (Martin passes a woman with long hair), “wizards” (Martin passes an old man with a walking stick), “and goblins” (Martin sees a young man with knit cap and sunglasses), “and just when he thought all hope was lost, he finally arrived at the Castle where the Princess was imprisoned.” (Martin walks out from the narrow street into a sunny, wide space overlooking the waterfront where Louisa sits and reads to her students. Far from a place of imprisonment.) “The Prince climbed the hill to free the Princess before she…” (Martin has just walked down the hill. It is at this moment that Louisa feels faint and collapses on the ground. The children scream, Martin notices what’s happened and jumps over a bench to reach Louisa. Somewhat gallant, but not the stuff of Fairytales.)

Louisa comes to with Martin checking her. She appears to be awakening out of a dream, but all too quickly reality hits, Martin once again derides her school, and she pulls herself together.

What they have deliberately done is undercut every line of the fairytale’s components. In addition, I couldn’t help thinking about the “Harry Potter” series of books that had just been completed around the time of this series. Four of the movies had also been completed by this time. That series fits the qualities of a fairytale to the letter and was highly successful. It certainly included dragons, goblins, and wizards as well as heroes. This part of the episode could easily have been written to satirize the Harry Potter story while also humorously contrasting the story of DM with anything approaching a Fairytale.

The other thing that happens here is S3 opening with a reference to Martin and Louisa being destined to marry. As we know, this series is about their near breakup followed by plans to marry which eventually lead to a decision to part ways. Once again, the prediction of marriage in the Fairytale is undercut by the outcome of the series. (I guess we could also argue that ultimately destiny does triumph because they marry later after all.)

I have come to the conclusion that although the creators of this show toy with some features of Fairytales or Folktales, there are too many ways in which it differs from those genres and in which they purposely satirize them to consider this show some form of Fairytale. It is set in a location that exists in reality, although they’ve tampered with the realism of it, and the events that take place are all too real. Moreover, there are no supernatural creatures, no magic, and no heroes that bear any resemblance to ones in Fairytales.

Originally posted 2014-06-16 21:40:51.

Another post under consideration

I am writing this to tell you all that I am looking into writing a post about how DM might contain some features of fairy tales, actually more folktales. It was Santa’s suggestion and I figured it could be fun to look at it. As you probably realize by now, I can’t write something without researching it first. From what I’ve seen so far, I may have to argue against that notion, but I haven’t decided yet. What I’ve found has not been definitive enough for me to make that decision.

I don’t know how long it will take me. I’ll do my best to come up with something soon. I’m sure you will all find some things missing from my examples, and that’s always great. Hope no one thinks I’m taking all of this too seriously!!

Originally posted 2014-06-12 20:02:46.

Dramedy, its history and its connection to Doc Martin

We’ve been spending some time considering the serious issues that DM refers to and how we should relate to those. It occurred to me that it would help if we understood how the show is constructed and what makes it fit into the category of TV shows called “Dramedy.” We all know that the term is a combination of “drama” and “comedy,” but I decided I needed to learn more about the special attributes of a dramedy. When I read a variety of sources, I discovered there is more to this designation than simply combining these two types of shows.

I thought I’d look at the definition of “Dramedy” as determined by several sources and then see how we can apply it to Doc Martin. My expectation is that we will be able to look at DM in a more comprehensive way that will add to our appreciation of the show. It is fascinating to look at the history of this genre and it provides some context. I found a good source to help with that and will give a brief run-down of it. Then I found a source that helped me understand more specifically what the conventions of a dramedy are. Of course, I have no idea if anyone working on DM studied these conventions or had them in mind while working on the show; however, I think I can demonstrate how the show follows them quite closely. For me, it was illuminating to analyze the show this way.

The first modern example of combining drama with comedy can be traced to Charlie Chaplin’s 1921 silent movie “The Kid.” In 2011, “The Kid” was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” It was one of the first major films to combine comedic moments with dramatic elements, and is widely considered one of the greatest films in cinematic history. Both Shakespeare’s plays and Greek plays had combined comic scenes with drama too. But we’re talking about TV shows, so I will concentrate on those.

All of the information I will use now comes from the online site TVIV.org. I have excerpted the portions of their discussion of dramedy that I consider the most helpful.
According to TVIV.org (and many other sources) the TV show M*A*S*H—based on the 1970 film—signaled a clear departure from the rigid definitions of sitcom in the 1960s. Like dramas, it frequently employed cinematic elements and storytelling tools—single-character narration, documentary-style cinematography, crane shots, etc. In the structural sense, its most important convention defiance was its use of season-long (or longer) story arcs—while most episodes addressed one conflict which was eventually resolved (or at least concluded), changes in situation permanently affected the characters, up to and including the deaths of major characters, and some story arcs were stretched out over the course of several episodes or an entire season.

To describe this new type of series—too weighty to be merely a “comedy,” too light to be a true “drama,” and containing a great deal of structural elements of both—television critics of the 1970s coined the term “dramedy.” However, even prior to M*A*S*H, television comedies had begun to address serious social issues. Here “All in the Family” comes into prominence again. (I used it previously to discuss what makes DM so appealing, and now I must refer to it for other reasons related to DM.) It debuted in the season prior to the 1972–73 season (in which M*A*S*H premiered). The “situation” of each episode was often a lead-in to a rather frank and unflinching portrayal of genuine societal concerns of the 1970s—racism, rape, abortion, religious conservatism and freedom, etc. The term would also be applied to such series as Barney Miller, which, while a half-hour comedy with a laugh track and broad characters, still nonetheless showed those characters as complex and often permanently affected by their police work.

According to ITIV.org: As the 1980s started and a new breed of television-bred producers, writers and creators such as Steven Bochco and David Chase began to get their own shows, the trend only increased. Bochco’s series “Hill Street Blues,” for instance, centered around police detectives and police work—a dramatic premise dating back to Dragnet. However, “Hill Street Blues” was often tongue-in-cheek, and many of the characters existed almost exclusively as comic relief.” Bochco and his contemporaries (such as Joshua Brand and John Falsey on “St. Elsewhere”) and ultimately successors placed comic relief characters as central to the plot, and would often involve even their more serious central characters in more comedic situations. Thus, the term “dramedy” began to apply to their works.

But it was in 1986 that another show broke through the divisions of drama and comedy in a significant way. The show “Moonlighting” was nominated for Comedy/Musical categories for the Golden Globes and for the Drama categories for the Emmys. Moonlighting had both structural and thematic elements of both. In its premise, it was truly a romantic comedy, yet it was also a serious detective drama. “Structurally, it employed cinematic elements and the four-act structure, yet some of the cinematic elements it borrowed were from Warner Bros. cartoons—clearly comedies.”

“(In 2006) the term (was) redefined to largely exclude structural elements and to focus on a subsection of thematic elements. Those comedies, which, while clearly comedic in tone, nonetheless handle the dramatic situations as serious issues are now considered ‘dramedies.'”

As you can see there’s a rich history in television that encompasses the evolution of Dramedy. Although this review focuses on American television, I believe it set the standards for TV in general.

I want to now move on to an in-depth look at the mechanics of dramedies and how they appear in DM. For this information I decided a good source is a 1996 article written by Richard Taflinger, Ph.D., associate clinical professor in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University:
Taflinger asserts “the dramedy is…the most difficult of comedy shows to produce because it must contain three things: 1) a superb cast working as an ensemble; 2) a clearly delineated sphere of activity for plots; and 3) excellent writing.” DM satisfies all of these criteria.

Most dramedies have a core cast of 6-8 characters. DM fits this scheme because its core cast consists of eight characters who form its ensemble: Martin Ellingham, Louisa Glasson, Bert Large, Al Large, Aunt Joan/Aunt Ruth, Mrs. Tishell, a constable (Mark Mylow/Joe Penhale), and a receptionist (Elaine/Pauline/Morwenna).

When it comes to the sphere of activity, Taflinger specifies:
“The sphere of activity must not only be clearly delineated but must have an essential nature of its own, one that by its very appearance gets a reaction from the audience…Since the locale is so important in the dramedy, it is more strongly emphasized behind the credits. For example, the camp and surrounding territory are clearly shown in the opening of M*A*S*H, and the neighborhood and house shown for ALL IN THE FAMILY.” The introductory credits for DM are always accompanied by the sweep of the scenery in and around Portwenn, eventually settling on a view of the harbor from above.

Taflinger argues “there are two kinds of dramedies. In the first, the human dramedy, the emphasis is on the characters battling the theme as it relates to the theme’s effects on other characters. In the second, the advocate dramedy, the characters are in two warring factions, each faction advocating a certain point of view about the theme.” He adds:
“Human dramedies usually have a subplot, the only type of situation comedy that does. The subplot is often comic, underscoring the main, more serious plot. It is also usually a conflict between people, rather than a conflict between people and the intangible forces surrounding them…In all cases, the subplots underscore comically and thus intensify the main plot.” Among the episodes of DM we have many comic subplots that would satisfy the qualification of underscoring the main plot. Starting with the first episode, we have the main plot of Martin Ellingham’s awkward arrival in Portwenn combined with the comic subplot of the awkward discovery that one woman’s HRT cream is giving both her husband and her boyfriend breasts. ME has to decide whether to stay on in Portwenn and find a way to deal with all sorts of unwelcoming behaviors by the townspeople while also having to find a way to mediate between the triangle of lovers. In the end he gets punched in the nose, but the couple’s anger gets defused and he decides to stay in Portwenn. If we wanted to, we could go through almost every episode and come up with a comic subplot that underscores the main plot.

Taflinger delineates several segments to each dramedy: complications, crises, climax, and denouement.
“The complications are based on the theme but involve character or action. They are new developments in the problem that require the characters to examine their own thinking or take an action that opposes or supports their point of view on the theme.” In DM the epsiode complication that jumps to my mind is S6 E7 when Mike is pursued for being AWOL. He’s AWOL because the army planned to alter his OCD, or fix him, and he didn’t want to be fixed. He ultimately agrees to turn himself in and hopes the army will allow him to deal with his OCD in his own time.

During a crisis,”the characters are presented with a dilemma and must do or decide something to relieve the stress.” Among the many times the characters in DM are presented with a dilemma we can include water contamination, Mrs. T’s absconding with JH, and Mrs. T’s return to Portwenn after being in psychiatric treatment.

“The climax forces the character to examine his or her beliefs and actions in support of them, and either vindicates or condemns him or her.” Here we could apply ME’s handling of Stewart or of Helen’s death, and many other occasions.

“The denouement of a human dramedy will often end with the conclusion of the subplot, thus ending the show with a laugh rather than deep introspection.” The first episode of DM is a good example of ending with a laugh, but here I see some deviation of DM from the norm because there are many episodes that end on a serious note. This is especially true at the end of S3 and throughout S6. Even here, however, the humor of the subplots keeps the episodes from getting too far away from comedy. For example, S3 E7 was filled with humorous events although the denouement was no laughing matter. In S6, we can say DM became much more of a drama than a dramedy and most episodes ended without a laugh.

Next Taflinger addresses how the characters are typically developed:
“The regular characters in a human dramedy are in occupations that allow them to meet and deal with characters who have problems relating to a societal ill…They discover and try to solve the problem; the problem thrust upon them by the nature of the societal ill with which they are concerned…They are usually compassionate, human, and try to believe that each person is an individual worthy of respect and personal regard.” We have no trouble associating this with DM. Both ME and LG have jobs that engage them in dealing with “societal ills.” ME must treat people who can’t miss work or who don’t have the capacity to properly follow his medical advice. LG must handle all sorts of parenting problems as well as her students’ family conditions. Both of them treat everyone without prejudice. The rest of the regular cast follows these precepts too.

Taflinger continues:
“There is one main character…Most plots revolve around this character, usually as he works to solve the problem, but occasionally he is the bearer of the problem.” This is DM in spades.

“Usually one of the supporting characters causes antagonistic feelings among the others, and will usually bear the brunt of any subplot. His personality grates on the nerves of the other characters, and makes them desire abatement and/or revenge.” This quality is satisfied in DM by both Bert and Mrs. T. Bert more regularly causes disruptions that result in some sort of redress, but Mrs. T has her moments for sure.

“The transients in a human dramedy have two purposes: 1) they are the source of most of the primary problems, either as the creator or the bearer of the problem; and/or 2) aid in finding and/or applying solutions to the problem. The former is most common.” Again, DM fits within this mold. The transients include psychologist Anthony Oakwood, hotel owner Carrie Wilson, doctor friend Gavin Peters, Joan’s former lover John Slater, Ruth’s stalker Robert Campbell, and so many others. They are, for the most part, the bearers of the problem.

“There is a theme in virtually every episode of a dramedy…They are personalized and personified, relating specifically to a character so that the audience can see the effect on the individual.” I see this as closely related to the transients and we certainly see themes throughout DM.

“Psychologically, the characters are as close to fully rounded human beings as can be found in situation comedy. They are capable of depression, exhilaration, love, hate, anger, serenity, sentimentality, compassion, wit and stupidity. Most importantly, they are capable of logical and rational thought tempered with intuition and emotion.” For DM we can add that they are often afflicted with a variety of psychological conditions.

Taflinger also states, “the place of work is not comfortable and quite often not even attractive, just functional.” Again, DM comports with this convention. The small building that contains both ME’s surgery offices and his personal rooms is far from attractive and cramped when he is alone. The kitchen doubles as a place for private use as well as for the use of the receptionist. Once he adds Louisa and James Henry, the space seems extremely tight, especially since they don’t use the living room very often. Saying it’s functional is almost a stretch by the end of S6.

I have been using the features of a human dramedy because that is what DM most closely fits. In advocate dramedies “the main character is one who represents a definite point of view that is usually very limited and not subject to change…These characters resent and oppose any point of view other than the one they hold. They think they are always right, and anyone who doesn’t agree with them is a fool, an idiot, or worse. They are outspoken to the point of crass rudeness, will voice their opinions loudly and long, and if proven wrong will not accept the argument but will make personal attacks on their opponent’s intelligence, background, and morals.” In addition, “opposition characters hold opinions and philosophies diametrically opposed to the main character’s. It is from this opposition that plot conflicts arise. Such characters are usually in the main character’s family, allowing ready access for battle…The involved neutrals are peacemakers and clarifiers. They are most important, however, as representatives for the audience, giving the audience someone with whom to identify and enabling the audience to see the effects of extremism.” “All in the Family” is clearly an excellent example of an advocate dramedy.

Finally, Taflinger notes, “although the dramedy is often very funny, it is not because of a deliberate striving for laughs no matter how they are gotten…It uses both serious exploration and discussion and comic intensification to examine a theme and make the audience aware of intellectually and feel emotionally about it.” DM does exactly this. There are moments when they go for a laugh, e.g. ME hitting his head or falling down stairs, Penhale acting the buffoon; however, the major thrust of the show is to use comic intensification that affects viewers on an intellectual and emotional level.

When I read about the attributes of dramedy and applied them to DM, I realized that the show really sticks to the conventions associated with dramedies. Despite my deep appreciation for this show, I am struck by how there is a formula that it follows to a great extent. The excellent character development and writing are also key elements of all human dramedies. Doc Martin is in good company, and we should not be surprised that it’s been such a success since it conforms to the same standards of many of the most outstanding TV shows in memory.

Originally posted 2014-06-05 19:01:33.

A Quick Observation: another look at the birth scene

I happened to be checking out the CC music videos that Kate has posted on her website and, by chance, one of them led into the final scene of S4 when L gives birth. I have always liked that scene and watched it again. This time, however, I realized that the interaction between M and L can be seen as a microcosm of their relationship.

L has set out on her own to see the obstetrician when Tommy, the taxi driver, loses consciousness and drives off the road. M comes after her because he knows Tommy is compromised by methanol ingestion, a medical condition he can remedy. He tries to tell L, but the phone reception is not good and she can’t hear him. When M finds the car off the road, he is markedly concerned, primarily about L. But she’s mostly worried about Tommy. The scene in the pub they go to so Tommy can be treated depicts their struggles well.

M forces Tommy to drink vodka to counteract the methanol while L looks on and finds M too rough on T. She tells M that making a mistake like T has done is only human. “People make mistakes, people make a mess of things. It’s called being human, Martin. Most of them learn from that, unlike some people.” What she is saying here is both self-reflective and accusatory. Both L and M have made mistakes and a mess of things. Have they learned from their mistakes? She clearly thinks M hasn’t, and we know he hates to admit he’s made any mistakes. She is another case in point, however. She’s seems more willing to accept her own mistakes, e.g. she takes the antibiotics he prescribes for her UTI after she realizes she’s been taking foolish chances just to be contrary. Nonetheless, she can also be intransigent and volatile.

She soon goes into labor and feels the need to sit down. When M pulls the chair out from under her, I thought it was an unnecessary pratfall, but now I’m wondering if that too is a way of indicating that he’s very nervous and that her support structure (Martin) is rather shaky. He helps her up and then his nervousness becomes prominent. He tells L to stay calm, but it’s he who can’t be calm. In the midst of this tense scene, the EMTs arrive and M yells at them too. Significantly, Martin tells them “she’s having her baby,” and L corrects him saying “no, your baby.” She’s making it clear they are in this together. We could see her comment as an admonishment to him, and it is, but I think it’s also a sign that she acknowledges now that the baby is theirs and not just hers.

M’s way of coping is to try to take control, but in this case he has no way to control events and his anger surfaces again. At this point L finds his attitude unhelpful to her and asks him to wait outside. She banishes him from the room. Properly chastened, M leaves while assuring her he’ll be nearby. He struggles to stay out yet his time away from the action gives him a chance to think.

Now L starts having second thoughts about ordering him out and reconsiders. She tells the EMT: “I’ve changed my mind. Let him in, let him in.” As if they can read each others’ minds, he bursts through the door at that moment, finding it impossible to stay out any longer. He feels compelled to tell her “I was wrong.” No sooner are those words out of his mouth than she motions him to join her. As he kneels next to her, he spills out his heart saying, “I was wrong about you, about leaving, about everything. When I saw that taxi, I feared the worst.” This sequence of dialogue reflects what’s been missing in their relationship. She needs him with her and he needs to tell her how he feels about her. They share a passionate kiss that is soon followed by strong labor pains. Nicely done…their love for each other has been renewed but there is pain ahead.

During the ensuing labor and delivery, L holds M by his suit jacket and pushes and pulls him away from her and back towards her. I now see this as a perfect depiction of their interaction throughout the series. First she pushes him away, then she pulls him close over and over again. All the while Martin is literally getting yanked around by Louisa with a look on his face that shows a combination of concern and bafflement. (I don’t want to ignore how funny this scene is and how much it mirrors what most women in labor are like to their husbands. Women should not be held responsible for their actions during labor and delivery!)

Once the baby is born, M is hesitant to hold him, but L tells him he can learn, and he responds by taking the baby and saying “Yes, I could.” The scene now seems a foreshadowing of the end of S6 when M tells L he needs her help learning how to be a better husband. During S5 Martin has made the transition to being a father and helping with the baby. If he can learn that, there is every reason to believe he can also learn what it takes to be a better husband.

(Another post coming soon)

Originally posted 2014-06-01 16:46:48.