Just Sit Right Back and You’ll Hear a Tale…

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Lately Gilligan’s Island reruns are back in my locale, and I’ve found myself tuning in now and then. As we’ve been focusing on television Better Endings all this week, I’ve come to realize something about Gilligan’s Island that I never understood before.

Like Dorothy of The Wizard of Oz, and Hawkeye Pierce of M.A.S.H. (as Brenda helped us realize this week), or any “central” protagonist within an ensemble cast of characters who regularly interact through a series of adventures, Gilligan is the SELF character of the archetypal ensemble marooned together on—after all—Gilligan’s Isle.  The rest of the characters he is marooned with represent archetypal aspects of Gilligan’s unindividuated Self, in Jungian terms; and the purpose of the castaways’ adventures is to help Gilligan to strengthen and integrate these projected shards of Self, to individuate as a more mature, responsible person. Then, presumably, he can go Home.

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So what is Gilligan needing to develop in himself? His intellect—the Professor; his leadership capacity—the Skipper; feminine traits of two Anima complexes—the graceful Movie Actress Ginger and the girlish, giggly Marianne; and the acquisitiveness and pomposity of the wealthy Howell’s, who represent the opposite of Gilligan’s rather lackadaisical lifestyle. Gilligan does come to manifest, over time through his dreams and island adventures with his ensemble cast, all of those qualities these projected other-than-Self characters exhibit. He often comes up with the “brilliant idea” that trumps even the Professor’s experiments. He plays the Howell’s son at times, benefitting from their largesse. He displays his own girliness at times, while interacting with the Women. And always, he lives in the Skipper’s rather corpulent shadow, hardly daring to assert himself but often being called upon by the Skipper energy itself to step up and step forward, learning greater responsibility along the way.

Working together, episode after episode, adventure after adventure and dream after dream, eventually Gilligan’s ensemble cast of castaways learn to better communicate and cooperate with one another, so that, with the season’s “Return to Gilligan’s Island” finale, they do return to their separate lives in Hawaii, each of them having been strengthened, especially Gilligan.  Ironically though, after each character experiences disorientation in modern society after 15 years away, the two-part finale actually ends with the group again taking a cruise together, again running into a tropical storm, and again becoming marooned, right at the same island they had left!

So here’s a fun exercise for you:

Fill in the following blank with YOUR first name:    _______________’s Island.

Who are you marooned with, that you interact with regularly, either at home or at work or in some other context? What archetypal QUALITIES do your individual castaway crew members represent to you or about you? Who among them expresses character traits you wish were stronger in yourself? Whose behavior do you distance yourself from, though secretly you might admire or else fear you in some ways resemble that person? Whom do you depend upon to do things you could be doing on your own; or conversely, do you allow someone to depend on you to do things they are capable of doing—and more—without you?

What are your own goals with respect to your ensemble cast situation? How can you get off the Island together?

(AFTER tvkapherr’s Comment: I neglected to add that of course just as our Other-alters are archetypal projected images as we interact with them, so are WE to them. And some would add this can also extend to all of us being projected images of the Divine.)

So this is all in good fun. Do feel quite welcome to Comment and share your insights and stories, if you feel so inspired!

Ahoy, Mateys!

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Sifting for Gold

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I woke with an image today of a piece of meat that had been hammered to tenderize it, and I sensed nonverbally that it meant I should shift my approach this week to “sifting” rather than “pounding” on a topic. So what might that mean for the topic of television Better Endings?

What are some benefits we may sift from the dross of television fare? I’d say when we become interested in or identified with either one character or an entire ensemble cast, and when we are witness over time to positive transformations in those ‘character arcs’, this can lead to personal growth and development in ourselves, by association.

So I invite you to focus on some transformational storylines from TV to uncover Life Lessons you have gained insights about through the adventures and interactions of some of your favorite characters. Transformational storylines require some basic character “flaws” initially that may get resolved or transformed over time.

M.A.S.H. comes to mind. We see in this popular sitcom an ensemble cast of rather disparate seeming characters at first, who have been thrown together at a medical triage station near the front lines in South Korea, during the Korean War. But since nothing is truly accidental, especially in storytelling, this odd assortment of personalities is actually not random at all. Let’s explore the key characters and traits they represent, traits that may have archetypal reflections for the audience!

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Some
 M.A.S.H. Character Traits:  Strengths/ Weaknesses

Maj. Hawkeye Pierce  jokester, intelligent, man of conscience / sarcastic, cynical, drinks alot

Maj. John ‘Trapper’ McIntyre  comical, blythe, accomplice to Pierce / buffoon-like, shallow

Maj. B.J. Hunnicut   loyal friend to Pierce, introspective, good husband / depressive

Sgt. Radar O’Reilly  acquisitive, resourceful, ‘common man’/ self-abnegating at times

Maj. Margaret Hoolihan  military upbringing, sharp, crisp leader / promiscuous, overbearing

Maj. Charles Emerson Winchester III  intelligent, highly educated, musician / out of his element, snooty

Col. Sherman Potter   competent but “allowing”, retirement aged / dismissive of order

Col. Henry Blake    fatherly, compassionate / drinks too much, gullible at times

Priv. Maxwell Klinger  passionate, rulebreaker, inverts norms / overly self-oriented, escapist

Father John Patrick Mulcahy   pious, resourceful, caring / doubtful at times, sense of inadequacy

Major Frank Burns   rule-governed, hapless luck / awkward, philandering

Over the many seasons that the TV series MASH was on the air, most of these characters experienced major epiphanies that led to subtle and sometimes extreme character transformations.  All of them experienced together what the anthropologist Victor Turner would call “shared liminality” resulting in  “communitas”. Liminality is the ‘between and betwixt’ situation of these characters overall in the war context: they have been stripped from their lives in normal society and they are caught “in the margins”; in the nebulous, dangerous shadowland of the MASH unit. They attain communitas by putting aside their individual differences of rank and their normal social status as civilians in order to realize their common goal of administering medical aid to wartime victims, serving together as a well-organized team.

In the context of interactional encounters that occurred over time through the series, our key characters faced their own weaknesses, and developed their strengths, over and over again.  As we laughed at their foibles and reveled at their strengths, we laughed ALONG with them, as at our own selves. This is how this ensemble cast came to mirror our own archetypal traits, as Americans perhaps, but moreso as humans immersed in the “human comedy” of life.

You can reflect for yourself about how the individual MASH characters transformed over time. What Life Lessons can we sift from our collective memories of this beloved TV series? Put aside our differences to exercise Conscience in response to terrifying threats. Learn to laugh at ourselves and be grateful for Friendship, that overlooks or tolerates our foibles, at least, and that fosters and supports our efforts at change and growth, at best.

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The series finale of MASH was culturally iconic and ‘expiative’ of all of the ills of warfare. Hawkeye Pierce suffers a nervous breakdown and submits to psychoanalysis. This betokens a human epiphany that was central to the overall message of MASH—which provided a metaphor for the Viet Nam War and its aftermath in the American collective conscience. War is brutal and potentially destructive to the human spirit, Pierce’s breakdown asserts. Human conscience and sensitivity will not allow the vicissitudes of war to triumph. Hawkeye responds well to analysis but he will go home a changed man, a doctor in a home town community where he will get to know his patients personally, as individuals.

******   ******

It’s in the in-between
that the real magic happens.
The seeds are planted,
the roots take hold…
and we blossom into who
we were meant to be.

~ Kristen Jongen
re-blogged today from Brenda’s
FriendlyFairyTales.com