20 March, 2010

Okay someone better get excited

A few months ago I made a post about how much I liked the TV show United States of Tara last year. The first episode of the second season is airing on Monday and I'll probably be posting about every episode so I thought I would briefly shill for it and attempt to get other people interested.

Before I start, though, I should say that I wasn't as conscious of ableism when I watched the first season as I am now. I'm also probably much less conscious of ableism regarding mental illness than I am regarding any other kind; writing about ableism tends to focus on physical disabilities, and in real life my experience is with developmental disabilities, so I think I'm less likely to notice when people with mental illness are being discriminated against. United States of Tara is about a woman with a rare, "exotic" mental illness, Dissociative Identity Disorder. It's a comedy (/drama). Even though I don't know anyone with DID, I am pretty sure that Tara's experience in the show is very unrealistic. She has very distinct, cartoonish alter egos who are different ages and genders from her, have their own specific styles of dressing and talking, and behave outrageously. Tara's feelings about her mental illness, and people's reactions to it, are often portrayed as serious--but the actual behavior of the alters is usually meant to be funny.

I don't know how I would feel about this if I had DID or a similar illness. I think that I like how Tara's DID isn't portrayed as something incredibly tragic and heavy. It obviously is a problem, but for Tara's family, the alters are just another part of life and they can be funny. Of course, maybe I'm just rationalizing this because I like the show. I'm hoping that FWD/Forward or another blog that writes about disability issues in TV shows will have some posts about United States of Tara.

But yeah, now that I've done disclaimering here are some reasons I watch the show:

1. I love Toni Collette a lot (because I'm gay okay, fuck you, it is not my fault).

2. It's written by Diablo Cody--which I know is the opposite of a reason to watch something in some people's opinion, but I really don't get all the hate. I mean, so what, the characters say snarky things and make references. I think it's fun.

3. Some of the reactions people have to Tara's DID are really spot-on depictions of the stupid things people say about invisible disabilities, like when Tara's sister refuses to believe that Tara's DID is real and claims that she fakes it for attention, or when one of Tara's clients says "I think all women have DID, a little, because we all have to be so many different people in one day."

4. Tara's 15-year-old daughter is a cool character because she is a stereotypical rebellious teenage girl (she dresses in an "edgy" way, has sex, etc.) but she is really smart and resourceful. Tara gets stressed out about the things her daughter does, but we're not actually made to think that the daughter is stupid or a bad person.

5. Tara's 14-year-old son is even better because he's a gay character who is neither written as a stereotype or written against stereotypes. He happens to be quirky and kind of girly, but not in a really obvious musical-theater way like Kurt from Glee. He's just an odd kid who is gay. Also, even though there are problems that come from him being gay, they're not necessarily the expected ones. His parents and sister are completely used to him being gay, for example, and don't even see it as an issue.


  1. I am not sure how I feel about united states of tara, though I know a person affected by D.I.D and yeah..

    It does a horrible job with D.I.D, I talk to a friend online who has D.I.D and she is very insulted with the show. (though she does applaud someone for trying to use the disorder, it was so overdramatized and overdone that it insults her just a bit.)

  2. oh yeah, I was sure it couldn't possibly be realistic for her alters to be so ridiculous and overdramatic

    I guess I feel like it's maybe okay because the show is sort of over-the-top and "quirky"? but I feel like I'm possibly just making an excuse by saying that.

  3. (Part 1)

    I'm not yet convinced that DID even truly exists. I have always had an interest in psychology/psychiatry and have read a lot about the subject and I have my own history of abuse.

    If DID is a real disorder than why don't I have it? I'm not going to write my abuse history but I'm be the perfect candidate: severe abuse, female, white, intelligent, artistically inclined.

    I've read stories from people with DID whose abuse histories are less severe than mine. But, yet again, I do not have "multiple personalities."

    I did not "recover" my "repressed" memories later in life. Yes, I don't remember some of my abuse and it comes to me in the form of dreams and other unconscious ways and I "remember" them and discuss them with the help of my therapist, but I have ALWAYS remembered some of it, even if I denied it because I couldn't handle the emotional impact or the reality of it. I was never a normal functioning person with a normal life who went to therapy for depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, etc. and "uncovered" memories of severe abuse. I went to therapy because I know, for a fact, that I have been severely abused.

    I have also read abuse stories that are probably not true. For example, despite intense investigations, evidence of "satanic ritual abuse" has not been found and SRA makes up a large portion of DID/MPD.

    Some professionals think that MPD/DID is completely iatrogenic and that their abuse history is something called "false memory syndrome." Now, I don't agree with most of what the False Memory Syndrome Foundation says because they are very extreme in many ways, but I can't help but to agree with some of it because some of this MPD/DID stuff is utterly ridiculous.

    Donna Williams claims to have MPD/DID but she does not have it in the "traditional" sense: she was always aware of being "another person," in her "alter state." In true MPD/DID, if it even exists, a person would not remember anything about their alter state. So, she doesn't have MPD/DID, even though she claims she does. She most likely has borderline personality disorder like I do.

  4. (Part 2)

    Now, I've given different names and labels to different "parts" of myself and I even dissociate, as is common among people who have a history of abuse similar to mine and these are actually pretty common symptoms of borderline personality disorder.

    But I still don't have a diagnosis of MPD/DID.

    I have diagnoses of borderline personality disorder (severe), PTSD and major depression.

    I think I met someone in real life once who said she had DID/MPD. I'm pretty sure it was completely fake and that she only did it for attention. I don't even think she had a real diagnosis: she just told everyone she had MPD/DID. I'm pretty sure her official diagnosis was borderline personality disorder.

    I think that everyone with MPD/DID really has severe borderline personality disorder like I do. I think they just do it because they want their therapists to pay more attention to them and to have their therapists find them interesting so they won't abandon them. Oh, and MPD/DID gives you a reason to stay in therapy for the rest of your life.

    I'm so glad I have a good psychiatrist. With a different therapist I might actually receive an MPD/DID diagnosis and not be able to have a "real" life.

    Most of the "experts" in MPD/DID are quite sketchy. Many have had their license revoked for malpractice and have been sued for millions for emotional damage. The sanest doctor, Richard Kluft, has also claimed that one patient of his had over 4,500 alters. 4,500 alters, really? How could you possibly count that many? Just...HOW?

    The goal is to overcome your past and be a functioning, happy person, not to stay in therapy forever. MPD/DID people often are in therapy for the rest of their lives.

    Jim Hopper is someone to read about "repressed" memories, though. He presents it in a scientific, scholarly fashion here.

  5. I, too, was curious about the show's reception among the DID community, and not only learned that the show has both a consultant with, and specialist on DID, but collected these informative links:













    What I love about the show is that Tara is portrayed as a dimensional person with her own experiences, which are either addressed or dismissed by those around her. It shows the value of support, and the harm of prejudice. Tara's immediate family, while perhaps a bit idealistic, serve as an example of how a family should be – supportive and loving, even in the most difficult of situations. While the family is undoubtedly affected by Tara's condition to an extent, they never try to make it all about them, but acknowledge Tara's own struggles and how they primarily affect her. They are there for each other. Granted, her family isn't perfect (which is realistic), and sometimes will crumble under the chaos, but it is made clear throughout the series that they respect and care about Tara. In contrast, there are characters, such as Tara's parents, sister, and acquaintances, who don't treat Tara like a person, and humiliate, exploit, shame, or alienate her.

    As someone who does not have DID, I cannot relate to the main character in that way, nor do I know how realistically the show portrays DID. As a viewer (and someone who is neurodivergent), I see the show as exemplifying the DOs and DON'Ts of interacting with a person with an illness or disability, as well as humanizing those with an illness or disability.

    1. I haven't read those links yet but I agree with you. I felt though that the show moved farther away from this as it went on and eventually started to retcon Tara's family's earlier acceptance as a sign of how they were in denial and basically a toxic thing that was messing with the kids. In the first season there was a sense that even though Tara embarrasses her kids she is basically a good mom and sometimes the embarrassing things about her are part of how she is a good mom. By the last season her "fucking craziness" is putting her family in danger.

      I think this probably bugged me the most because the reviews/recaps sites I read all praised it so much. They all found the show offensive and unrealistic in the first season basically because the family wasn't miserable enough about Tara's illness, and praised the show for its realism when it devolved into a slasher film. ARGH.

  6. I accidentally linked to the age restriction notice page; here is the correct LiveJournal link:


    Yeah, the show did take an especially different turn in the final season, and now that it's over, won't even have a chance to fully unravel and perhaps end on a more positive, less sensationalistic note. I don't know if that was the writers' original plans for the series, or was the result of a possible influence by the network to appeal to a more general audience and increase ratings. Either way, it was rushed, much darker, and neglected the heart of the show. I do miss the characters...