Friday, October 09, 2009

TV Snapshot: Humorous look at broken communities and suburbia

In "The Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," Agent Seeley Booth and Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan are talking with psychologist Sweets about a murder that occurred in a cul-de-sac in a suburban neighborhood. Their conversation humorously reveals not only the ongoing conflict between the professions of Bones and Sweets (anthropology and psychology) but also some all-too-often prevalent attributes of suburban communities—and broken communities in general.

Sweets: Suburbanites tend to put too much emphasis on their outward accomplishments. Now this creates a sense of detachment.

Booth: Ennui.

Sweets (impressed): Very insightful.

Booth (pleased): That’s right.

Sweets: All right. The inherent uniformity and shared ideals of a planned community suggest that the neighborhood can be psychologically analyzed as a single, dysfunctional personality.

Bones: You mean you can look at it anthropologically?

Sweets (irritated): Really, you’re gonna shanghai my whole discipline?

Bones: You’re tapping into what anthropologists call “lines of influence, dominance and persuasion.”

Booth (impatiently): Go on, Sweets. Just let him go on.

Sweets: So, we can look at the community as a single dysfunctional personality, dealing with sexual infidelity, indebtedness, resentment…. Suburbanites will not only lie to outsiders, they’ll lie to each other and to themselves.

Bones: What Sweets means is that societal norms endemic to the suburban acculturation dichotomize exterior postures and clandestine protocols.

Booth (growing even more impatient): Just give me one thing that’s gonna help me catch the murderer—just one thing.

Sweets: Alright, deal with these people as separate elements of a collective personality. Identify the threat that Kurt Bessette posed to their psychological equanimity, and the killer will emerge.

Bones (surprised): I agree.

Booth (throwing up his hands): It doesn’t help me one bit.
Heh, this was a fantastic episode of Bones that reminded me a bit of the same themes and dysfunction more darkly explored in the Rear Window honoring Disturbia (see my muses on the film here). As folks have noted before, modern neighborhoods tend to foster privacy more than community. As a result, you can actually live in a neighborhood where you don’t know anyone—and you don’t have to let anyone know you. And, as Sweets points out above, that tends to lead us to focus on “outward accomplishments” rather than real, authentic relationships—and that enhances our sense of detachment from each other.

But, I must admit, I was particularly struck by Sweets’ explanation of a neighborhood or community as a “collective personality” or “single, dysfunctional personality.” Interestingly, this seems to suggest that we are part of a community whether we want to be part of it or not—that whether we intend them to or not, our actions (or lack of action) and words (or lack of them) influence and participate in the formation of the communities in which we live. We are—each and every one of us—responsible for the way our community functions and the state of its collective health.

And that’s definitely good food for thought not only when it comes to the neighborhoods and communities in which we live but also the living-together we do as believers.


(Image: Fox via Hulu)

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