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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Another post coming up

I haven’t published anything in a little while and wanted to let you know that I do plan another post soon. I have to admit, however, that I am struggling to come up with meaningful post ideas. I have been planning to write a short story with a DM reference, but not really fanfiction. If I reach a point where I’m happy with it, I will decide what to do with it and let you all know.

Please keep checking and see what you think about my next post. Thanks for being readers of this blog. Karen

Originally posted 2014-05-10 15:38:56.

Should Martin and Louisa stay together?

To answer this question we have to address the whole issue of what it means to pose a question like this about a TV show. My approach has always been to work off what’s written and try to analyze what’s on the page (or screen). The author wrote it like that for a reason and, if the work of literature or the show is a success, it’s because of how the author established the story.

As I said in my recent post about why DM has appealed to us, the match between Martin and Louisa is essential to the show. For those of you who have seen “Breaking Bad,” would you question whether Skyler should have stayed with Walter? It turned out to be a really bad decision on her part, but she went back to Walter for so many valid reasons, and that’s one of the important issues we end up thinking about. The show would be totally different if Skyler left Walt and never went back; and DM would not be DM if Louisa doesn’t reconsider and try again. The show is built around this couple dealing with all sorts of relationship difficulties, struggling to manage them, finding it hard to know what happened between them to make their attraction to each other so frustrating, and then realizing that they genuinely want to be together.

Maybe in the real world their marriage would not last even though they both care about JH. So many marriages don’t these days. But, in my opinion, we have to be very careful about thinking about their relationship as if it’s in the real world. Of course, many people make the wrong decisions about who to marry and whether to stay together all the time. However, this is something different; this is a purposely contrived situation to probe what might happen with two people named Louisa and Martin who want to stay together, despite having many personal problems. It’s also meant to be funny to see what they are confronted with and how they decide to handle it. Series 6 began with one of the funniest episodes of all of the series in my view. The plan was to have Martin and Louisa finally get married because their romance had gone on long enough without that payoff. After their wedding fell apart at the end of S3 and viewers were angry about how that turned out, they decided not to toy with it again. But we could never have expected that everything would be just fine now and we would watch a happily married couple enjoy even one uncomplicated night. E1 included some lovely moments for us to take pleasure in, then one thing after another goes awry. Nevertheless, as I’ve written when I looked at all the humor in that episode, the antics of that night still have the newlyweds working in concert with each other and ending up as well as can be expected after a night of that kind.

We can’t think in terms of what would happen if we changed the key match in the show. After just having written a bunch about “All in the Family,” I wonder if anyone would have ever thought to say “why didn’t Edith leave Archie?” Or, “Why does Carmella stay with Tony in “The Sopranos?” Or, in “Downton Abbey,” what if Sibyl didn’t choose to marry Tom, or Mary didn’t turn down others for Matthew?

We don’t ask whether Rhett Butler should have married Scarlett O’Hara (in Gone with the Wind). The whole story would be different if he hadn’t, even if they would have been better off apart.

These stories are constructed and developed with these broken relationships because they are at the heart of the narrative; they make the story what it is. If we counsel them to forget about each other and move on, the whole story falls apart.

Yes, DM is about more than whether Martin and Louisa can be together. It began as a tale about a vascular surgeon who has to leave surgery because of his blood phobia. But from the moment he meets Louisa on the plane to Portwenn, we know there will be an ongoing tension between these two. We enjoy the other characters, the patient interaction, the scenes with Mark and Julie, or Penhale’s mishaps. We laugh at and get annoyed with Mrs. Tishell, or Pauline, or Bert and Al. The thing that brings us back to the show, however, is what will happen next with Martin and Louisa. More than that, it’s the very human mistakes they make and their marital discord that we can’t stop thinking about and talking about. The whole show would blow up if the script had them separating for good. Just look at what happened at the end of S3 when it seemed like that was exactly what the outcome would be.

Caroline Catz was asked if her character was coming back for S4 on some talk shows between series, and she tried to be coy. I never doubted she’d be back because without her there is no show, in my opinion. Without Louisa, and Caroline Catz’s tremendous portrayal of her, we have a show about a quirky doctor treating patients who he generally disdains, and being rude more often than not. It would probably be entertaining and might still be fun to watch, but loses much of the depth we all like. With Louisa, we have a show about a man who has to deal with many demons and whose love for one woman makes him see everything differently. He wants to change; he wants a family; he wants to try to be a member of the community (after a fashion). He’s an accomplished physician with much greater dimension and complexity.

I don’t mean to sound too strong on this, but I have to say that posing this question strikes at the core of what it means to write a story. There are no “shoulds” only what is, and we then study it, and learn from it, and try to make sense of it. I know I’ve come on a bit heated in writing the above. I just cannot see how we can ever admire literature or excellent films or TV shows unless we accept the premise upon which they have been written.

I’m ducking now to protect myself from whatever animosity I might receive…

Originally posted 2014-05-01 15:02:31.

What do Aunt Joan and Aunt Ruth think about Martin and Louisa?

I have been asked to address how Joan is depicted as viewing the relationship between Martin and Louisa. It’s an interesting question because she is somewhat mixed about it. I thought while I’m at it, I might as well look at Ruth too.(I noted Joan’s uncertain response to their decision to be together in my post “Mothering,” but didn’t go into any detail then.)

As I’ve begun thinking about this topic, I realized that Joan is the only one who M accepts hugs from and who he offers to hug, and fairly regularly. He tolerates hugs from her even while recoiling from physical contact with most others (with the prominent exception of Louisa of course). As I’ve said in a previous post (Mothering), Joan is really a surrogate mother for M. He has chosen to come to Portwenn after his hemaphobia forces him to leave his position as a vascular surgeon primarily because Joan is there. He needs Joan’s TLC, whether he consciously recognizes it or not, and she’s pleasantly surprised to know that he’s chosen Portwenn. During their reunion we learn that the last time she saw him was 30 years ago when he was 11 yo and he was still wetting the bed. We also learn that she and Martin’s father (her brother) don’t get on. She asks Martin to forgive her for cursing her brother and then calls him a “bloody idiot.” Thus, despite the long break in their interaction, Martin has never forgotten his aunt and, from the way she reacts to seeing him, she still has a soft spot in her heart for him, and they both hate Martin’s father. I think this aspect of their relationship is important in connection to determining how much Joan’s approval of Martin’s pursuit of Louisa means to him. We also could imagine that being drawn to Louisa so quickly contributes to making him decide to stay in Portwenn. Indeed, one of the last scenes in E1, after he’s had a terrible initiation to Portwenn and has told his agent Chris Parsons that he intends to leave, has him passing by the school again and staring at Louisa through the window. Soon after, he stands at the front window to his surgery building, looks out towards the school across the way, and takes out a saw to cut down the “For Sale” sign outside. Both Joan’s presence and Louisa’s appeal, in addition to the comments Bert makes and the likelihood that Martin hates to give up on anything, contribute to him deciding to stay in Portwenn.

The other thing that’s important about Martin’s first meeting with Joan is how much emphasis she puts on his love life. First she wonders if he left London and performing surgery because of some difficulties with a woman or lack of any female contact, next she remarks that he’s pale and needs to eat better if he wants to find a woman. So right away we know that Joan cares about Martin having a woman in his life. Later in the first episode there is a scene where Martin stares at Louisa while she is working with the students. Nearby Joan is unloading some vegetables from her truck and notices Martin “skulking.” She deduces that he and Louisa have not gotten along, but he denies that he is skulking, and says that he just happened to spot Louisa. Still, we as viewers are now aware that Martin is interested in Louisa and that Joan notices. Soon we also know that Louisa is interested in Martin. She flirtatiously approaches him at the street fair and they have a short introductory conversation. The interplay is established, and it’s pretty obvious that how their relationship develops will be a key plotline. With that in mind, Joan’s reaction to it carries importance.

The way the writers, et. al. have involved Joan in the development of the relationship between Martin and Louisa is by making her the intermediary between the two. Oftentimes she functions as the confidant or vessel for their comments about each other. Some examples include:
In S1,E2, Louisa and Joan have words about Martin and his unsympathetic behavior toward Roger and others. Louisa at this point thinks Martin is not treating the people of Portwenn nicely enough.

In S1,E4, Louisa first asks Martin to join her at the community dance, but he turns her down. Louisa offers to give Mark the ticket instead and Mark mistakenly assumes that she has asked him for a date. When Louisa arrives, Mark asks her to dance and she dances with him to have fun. Despite having chosen to skip the dance, Martin shows up there in order to find Mark. When Martin walks in, Mark and Louisa are dancing and then appear to be having an intimate chat. Martin decides not to bother Mark and Joan notices Martin leaving. She immediately picks up on Martin’s disgruntlement about Louisa and Mark. She notes that he really wanted to interrupt Mark. Joan’s attitude indicates amusement at Martin’s apparent interest in Louisa, but her remarks should also be interpreted as trying to encourage him to not back down. (In fact, she encourages him to pursue L on several occasions, especially when Danny appears.)

Then in S1,E5, John Slater returns to Portwenn. Joan tells Martin that she wants to renew her love affair with him, and Martin is against it. He knows John has a life-threatening heart condition but tells Joan he just doesn’t think that starting up their relationship again is a good idea. She tells him she doesn’t need his blessing, but she would like it. I expect that if Joan would like his blessing, Martin would like hers as well. She also tells him that she gave up John for him because his father wouldn’t let her continue to see Martin if she carried on her affair with John. This revelation also explains why John is somewhat spiteful towards Martin. By the end of the episode, Martin admits that he would have said anything to put Joan off John and he tells her about John’s condition. The scene ends with Joan crying and Martin putting his arms around her, something he rarely does with anyone, even Louisa. As a result of these exchanges, we know that Joan and Martin are very close and neither one would want to disappoint the other.

The next time Joan has anything to say to Martin about Louisa takes place in S2, E8 when Joan stops Martin to thank him for giving up his flat in London so that she can keep the farm. They are once again situated on the street near the school and, though I missed it previously, Joan notes that Martin is afflicted with the “Ellingham curse,” which she defines as “never talking about anything…keeping your emotions hidden.” (We can certainly vouch for the “Ellingham curse” coming back to haunt Martin’s marriage.) She follows that with a hug and then mentions that rumors abound that Danny is very keen on Louisa. She literally tells Martin to “do something, say something.” There’s nothing subtle about Joan’s awareness that Martin is attracted to Louisa, and perhaps that Louisa is attracted to him too. Of course, at that exact moment Louisa exits the school with some students, and Joan strongly encourages Martin to approach Louisa. He clearly wants to, but also looks a bit like a little boy taking advice from his mother. Martin manages to speak to Louisa, although she wants to talk about Mark Mylow and the trouble with Julie. However, her final comments about Mark are filled with innuendo as she tells M that she admires Mark for not holding back. Martin is tongue tied again at this point until he decides to ask her if she’s going to “go for it” with the architect. Naturally he ruins the moment by sarcastically asking her if she’s waiting for a “signal from on high.” So Joan’s effort to get Martin to intervene between Louisa and Danny somewhat backfires. Martin’s comments may, however, have had an impact on Louisa because later in the episode she turns down Danny’s marriage proposal and tells Martin that she wants to have a drink with him and talk. Joan has surely been instrumental in getting these two together even if it’s in an indirect way.

In the final episode of S3, Louisa seems to think Joan is an instigator of Martin’s endeavors to find a way to link up with her, as she immediately presumes Joan has suggested to Martin that he give her a birthday card. It’s an amusing way for Martin to attempt to recover from telling Louisa she’s a stalker. He also wants to ask her to have dinner with him, but Louisa’s father’s appearance eliminates that option. Joan becomes the source of Martin’s information about Louisa’s father and is the person who saw Terry steal the lifeboat money. Joan’s integrity is so beyond reproach that once Louisa asks him directly whether Joan is lying, Terry cannot look Louisa in the face and maintain his position that he wasn’t responsible for the theft. Joan is a pillar of the community, and, as such, wields special influence. I doubt that’s lost on either Martin or Louisa.

It’s when we get to S3, E4 that Joan’s comments begin to get contradictory. Her conversation with Martin after he’s walked in on her and Edward having sex on the kitchen table is remarkable in that she attacks M for disapproving. She comes to see Martin to talk to him about her relationship with Edward, but this time (as opposed to when John Slater showed up) she does not seem to want his blessing. Even more significantly, M wants to diagnose her attraction to Edward as due to her HRT implant and she tells him “this is not a medical problem.” (Sounds a lot like what Ruth tells Martin in the last episode of S6. When it comes to emotional situations, Martin is always going to look for a medical condition first.) In terms of Joan’s influence on Martin and his love life, it’s when she tells M that Edward’s attentions make her happy that we get down to what’s essential. She, like Louisa later, considers happiness important and she accuses Martin of wanting “everybody to be as lonely and miserable as you are.” Of course, Martin immediately denies that he is either of those things, but we know Joan thinks he is. Ipso facto, for Joan life is better when you have someone in it who makes you happy.

We really get down to business in the next three episodes during which Martin and Louisa go through some ups and downs with Joan involved in a fairly serious way. First, Martin and Louisa bump into Joan when they get to the concert and she seems quite pleased to see them out together. They only see her again when the concert breaks for intermission and Joan discovers that Martin has insulted her friend, the caterer. Joan looks decidedly let down when Martin takes a bathroom break, and she can tell Louisa is unhappy about the recent interaction. Joan first looks at Louisa as she leaves, then back in the direction of where Martin went and sighs deeply. We get the sense that Joan would like things to go well between the two of them.

Of course, the date ends badly, Martin can’t sleep because he’s so unhappy that Louisa has told him she doesn’t want to see him again, and when he decides to “do something, say something” by going to Louisa’s house to talk to her, he gets cold feet and can’t follow through. It’s the middle of the day but Martin is the one who’s emotional now. He’s reached a low point when Joan walks through the back door. She notices he’s glum and wonders how the date went. She mentions that Louisa seemed fed up at the concert and, somewhat dishearteningly, tells Martin that “any outing between the two of you is an accident waiting to happen.” She’s being matter-of-fact until she sees that Martin is close to tears. She knows better than to say any more, but she appears quite sorry for him. Nevertheless, she returns later with dinner and makes some more observations about Martin and Louisa. At this point she tells him that L and he are like chalk and cheese and that L would never have made him happy. Joan seems to equate happiness here with having the same approach towards people: Louisa likes them and Martin, “well, you’re you.” This time it’s Martin’s turn to make a derogatory comment about Joan’s life. Joan is certainly hurt by this, but doesn’t back down. Thus, in the span of this episode we’ve not only been taken through a potentially good evening out between Martin and Louisa to a dismal end to their excursion, but also seen Joan go from being regretful that Martin and Louisa’s date isn’t going well to being convinced that they could never have a successful relationship. I suppose Joan is being a realist who cares about Martin enough to try to comfort him by telling him to move on. Ultimately, their conversation about the prospects of Martin and Louisa being able to get along revolves around the question of whether people can change and Martin sets out to demonstrate that he can the next day. Even though Martin’s attempt at being more concerned about Holly’s condition is unconvincing to Louisa, the day certainly ends with the outcome he was hoping for. I think we have to view this vacillation on Joan’s part as a combination of practical assessment and concern for Martin.

By the next episode, Martin and Louisa have decided to get married and have spent the night together. Naturally, all of this takes Joan by surprise when she hears about it from the postman. However, by the time Martin gets to Joan’s house to tell her, she is totally on board and thrilled for him. She’s a little put out that it took him so long to tell her, but she’s got a family ring to use as an engagement ring and gives it to him gladly. During the last episode of S3, Joan has become anxious for the wedding to go well. She makes sure the flowers get to the church, worries about who will officiate, and wonders what Bert and Al are going to do about the food. She also stands outside the church nervously looking for Martin and Louisa to arrive. I would imagine that she is very disappointed when the wedding couple don’t show.

Joan’s attitude switches to being very supportive of Louisa once Louisa returns to Portwenn pregnant in S4. Throughout this series Joan questions Martin’s lack of involvement with Louisa, often accompanies Louisa to either see Martin or to her appointments in Truro, and generally seems angry at Martin for not doing more or for acting unkind to Louisa. It’s apparent that once again Joan thinks Martin isn’t doing enough to convince Louisa that he’s interested in her and the baby. I suppose she would like to see him demand to be a part of the prenatal care and finds him too willing to accept Louisa’s rejection of his help. We see a particularly irritated Joan during the labor and delivery scene where she is obviously vexed that Martin takes so long to tell Louisa that he wants to be with her. Of course, Joan can breathe easy by the end of the episode because Martin has come through after all and is with Louisa when the baby is born.

I know this has turned into a very long post. I have to admit I got very caught up in doing a thorough analysis. I was going to look at Ruth too, but will put that in another post. I hope I’ve done a decent job with the question I was supposed to answer. Please let me know what you think.

Originally posted 2014-03-28 00:39:41.

In defense of Louisa, S6

To my way of thinking there have been too many comments about how Louisa has deteriorated in S6 and that she has become very harsh and angry. I want to look at things from her perspective a bit and defend her based on how she has been portrayed in this series and throughout the entire length of the show. I’ve given a pretty full assessment of Louisa in my post Women’s Issues, Part 1, and I’ve mentioned more about her in a follow-up post Women’s Issues, series 6. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to say more because I continue to read remarks to the effect that Louisa is expecting too much from and demanding too much of Martin.

Yes, she went into the marriage knowing that Martin is a difficult man and hard to talk to sometimes (to paraphrase Martin’s self-appraisal at the end of S5). She certainly knows that he can ruin intimate moments and is not the most romantic (not mister hearts and flowers). And we have no idea what happened between them following his confession of love and expressed intention to change at the end of S5 and the wedding at the beginning of S6. We have to assume that things were going well in their relationship or they wouldn’t have decided to get married.

So Louisa starts the marriage with reason to believe she and Martin are now on a better track. He looks at her lovingly throughout the wedding events, he expresses certainty that he wants to be married, and even after a tough night they both appear on the same wavelength – the night was difficult but they handled everything well together and they continue to look at each other fondly after reaching home the next morning. What happens next is a series of typical marital squabbles over child care, her wishes for him to be more engaged in her world and in the community, and the juggling of time demands when both parents work. Of course his mantra is that her life would be easier if she stopped working. She doesn’t see it that way and his regular reiterating of that is really upsetting to her, and many women should relate. Some of the stress would be relieved – child care concerns, the mixed emotions of being apart from her baby while she deals with school issues and meetings, possibly household needs. But other stressors would appear – loss of standing in the community, loss of self-respect, loss of her sense of purpose, perhaps a lack of direction in her life. Louisa is presented as needing all of these and shouldn’t be forced to give them up.

Meanwhile, some of the changes in their home life have started to affect Martin even though he wants to help with JH and tries to engage in more activities with L. He has adapted to JH and being awakened at night during S5, and he’s been capable of taking care of the baby when L is out or when childcare difficulties arise. But the older James gets, the more toys there are and the more noise too. I understand that these new conditions would require difficult adjustments for M, but they come gradually and we all generally adapt because it all benefits the child and makes our lives easier in the long run.

But Martin, more than most men, is very closed off to his wife. When she kisses him goodbye and tells him she’ll miss him, he’s very uncomfortable and doesn’t respond in kind. When she comes home at the end of her work day and says she missed being with both James and Martin, he tells her he did fine without her. When she kisses him goodnight after they get into bed, he accepts her kiss, but does not reciprocate. When she asks him nicely to take some time off to go away with her and James, he refuses and uses the excuse that he has a responsibility to his patients. He confesses to Ruth that his blood sensitivity has returned, but doesn’t tell Louisa. She knows he’s having trouble sleeping, but nothing she tries helps (e.g. lavender oil, magazine, offering to talk). When she can’t sleep because she’s worried about Mrs. T returning, he recommends going to bed because “everything seems worse [when it’s late].” But it’s not as though he takes his own advice. His mother arrives and he never tells L anything about their history or about their conversations while she’s been there. He agrees to attend the Sports Day event when he should have turned it down because he was never really interested but couldn’t tell Louisa honestly. We can argue about whether agreeing to do the awards was him trying to be helpful or whether he was going along to get along, but for me L was right to think he would approve of encouraging students to exercise. She is aware that their home life has been growing more difficult, but she could never have imagined that he would behave borderline antagonistic towards her. She had offered to find someone else, which I see as an effort to give him a way out, but he’s there in front of his mother and possibly unwilling to look uncooperative to either his mother or L.

Expecting Louisa to curtail her own emotions, be understanding of his without any willingness on his part to divulge his feelings to her, and to either stop her own activities or reduce her own effort to do her job well, is a lot to ask. Without any input from him and any attempt to give her some insight into what he’s going through, L cannot know how to interpret his rejection of her. If your new husband appears to be turning away from you within a few months of getting married, you can’t possibly be blamed for being devastated and upset. She’s confused, hurt, angry, disillusioned, worried, etc., etc. Give her a break!

Originally posted 2014-03-17 12:07:19.

Mobile phones

I’ve been thinking about the way mobile phones are used in DM because I can’t help being surprised that there aren’t many young people seen texting in the show. We see the group of girls wandering through town on a regular basis, but they don’t have their phones out and they don’t have earphones in their ears. I am especially aware of this because everywhere I go these days, there are people looking at their phones, listening to music on their phones, and texting. It’s like a group obsession. But in DM there is very little texting or using phones to listen to music and tune out the world. We’ve had Morwenna and Al using their computers to establish new identities and join Cornish Couples, an online dating service. They text each other when they are presenting themselves as Nefertari and Colin. We’ve seen Bluetooth in the car when Martin tries to call Louisa while driving. We’ve seen Martin, Louisa, Pauline, Al and Edith all use mobiles, so we know that they are a part of life in Portwenn. In fact, Pauline makes the most of her mobile phone by disseminating photos of the doc and the dog after taking pictures on her phone. But not much texting?!

Actually, from what I’ve read, young people in Britain are moving toward instant messaging instead, but they would still be using their smart phones for that.

Our mobile phones have certainly changed our lives. Most places no longer have public phones, or have very few. We can reach each other almost anywhere now, although that’s not always good. For doctors it’s mostly helpful and we see that in DM. Without his mobile phone, M would be unable to contact Pauline or Morwenna to bring his bag, or he wouldn’t be able to help while in the car when Caroline gets an electric shock or he needs to summon an ambulance for any number of medical problems. It comes in handy when he wants to talk to Louisa, either to ask her a question or to find out where she is.

The show is such a combination of old and new that it becomes a bit confusing at times. We have computers, including laptops, but still have old fashioned radios, stoves, desk telephones, and classrooms. The old buildings and shops are charming and add character, but I am sometimes surprised to see the lack of modern devices and contemporary behaviors.

Originally posted 2014-03-13 20:49:38.