Sunday, August 05, 2007

I Dream of Jeannie - The Free Child

I really enjoyed using a Seinfeld episode to demonstrate a psychological theory so I started thinking about a lot more possibilities of combining fun video evidence with what may be, for some, stale theory. In this post I will be using a clip from "I Dream of Jeannie" as an excellent example of a term from Transactional Analysis I explained in the previous, aforementioned Seinfold post - the "Free Child".
"I Dream of Jeannie" is a TV series from the sixties which remains pretty popular to this day. It is about an astronaut who finds himself on a deserted island somewhere in the Pacific. There he finds a bottle with a genie which quickly becomes his very own "Jeannie". She returns with him to civilization and much laughter and hilarity ensue.

Jeannie - The Free Child
Jeannie is sweet, warm-hearted and loving. She is also very emotional, spontaneous and delightfully creative but also extremely difficult to predict and therefore also quite difficult to live with despite being charming and beautiful and all-powerful. Another problem is that despite her love for her master, Major Nelson, she keeps landing him in trouble. There is a good reason for this which will be explained below.
Jeannie obviously possesses all the qualities of a Free Child and that is indeed her dominant mood. One of the main characteristic of the Free Child, which puts him at odds with the rest of society and especially The Parent, is a complete disregard for the value of time. Since the Free Child is always completely immersed in the present, then the basic elements of time, the past and future, are of no consequence to him. Another way to put is this: for the Free Child, past present and future blend into one.
This conflict is demonstrated beautifully in the chapter "Every Day Is Sunday". In this episode Jeannie decides that Major Nelson has been working too much and needs a rest. He protests that he has to go to work and so she just makes everyday Sunday, announcing that it will remain Sunday until he enjoys himself. But Major Nelson is committed to working and, well, see for yourself.

I made two clips using an amazingly simple free software - Solvieg Multimedia AVI Trimmer - all you have to do is put in the start and end times and press a button and voila – you have a clip. I don't think it can get any simpler. Now, if I can find such an easy way to rip my DVDs I will be able to use a lot more material on this blog.
In any case, here are the clips from the second episode of the second season. You are invited to watch them and read the accompanying remarks. Enjoy!

The first clip is from the very beginning of the episode:

In the beginning of this clip we see Jeannie displaying much concern over her master. She sounds caring and also reasonable – it is true that everybody needs some time off to relax. Many episodes start like this, with Jeannie in a Parental or Adult mode. But soon enough the Free Child comes to the fore. Major Nelson says:
"Too bad every day can't be Sunday."
With an impish smile and a gleeful laugh, Jeannie turns this thought into action. Creativity and laughter are sure signs of the Free Child – and it is such a free, infectious laughter, isn't it?
Tony, on the other hand, is in full Adaptive Child mode: he must ignore his bodily and psychic needs and go to work. He has to be on time. He must hurry. "He must", "He has to", "There is no time for…" - these are all Parental dictates that cannot be reasoned with. The use of the words "must" and "have to" precludes any rational conversation.
Throughout the series Tony alternates between issuing these Parental decrees to himself and to his Jeannie and obeying them as an Adaptive Child. Throughout the series Jeannie does her best to bring the Free Child into his life. Tony's Parent resists valiantly but he never does get rid of Jeannie, does he? Perhaps he realizes deep inside that she is exactly what he needs.
Surely Jeannie realizes that what he needs is some fun and she is out to make sure he gets it:

Here we can see the dynamic explained above: Tony admonishes his Jeannie, telling her what to do without explaining why - the Parent talking to the Adaptive Child. But Jeannie is too much of a Free Child to slip into that role. She listens, and ignores him completely.
Tony says, in a most condescending tone (another sure sign that the Parent is speaking) : "There is a time for working and there is a time for tiger hunting."
But Jeannie is only interested in the experience, in having fun: "Did you bag a tiger?" she asks.
But Tony cannot enjoy himself. He knows he is supposed to be at the office. His Parent is killing him: "Things aren't supposed to be this way," it is telling him. "The regular order of things has been disturbed!" it shouts.Tony's Adaptive Child is cringing and he tries to correct things but to no avail - the Free Child is loose! Only when Tony lets his own Free Child loose, will the world return to normal (Well, nearly.The episode does not end on such a happy note. But I won't ruin it for you.)
By the way, how did Tony get back from safari? Throughout the series Jeannie sends him and Roger all over the earth and yet they always manage to get back within minutes. How do they do it? Am I the only one that is bothered by this inconsistency?

Here is one last clip for your enjoyment. Tony tries to explain to Jeannie why she must turn off Sunday and let everybody work.Actually he does an admirable job. But Jeannie does an even better job explaining why her way is better. I find it hard to argue with her! This demonstrates the difference between the Adult, which is extremely utilitarian, and the Free Child which is immersed in the moment.

Finally, one last point. Tony is right - if everybody stopped working, society as we know it would collapse. This may or may not be a good thing. But the point is - the Free child does not think that far. He is so immersed in what is going on now, in himself, in his immediate interests that all other considerations are mostly beyond him. This is why, with all her good intentions and all her love for her master, Jeannie always screws up.
In order to function properly and be effective in the real world, the Free Child must be accompanied and guided by a strong Adult. Jeannie does not possess such an Adult. But - her master, the successful and intelligent astronaut does.

This suggests that their "Tikkun", the reason God (or fate if you wish) brought them together, is to correct their mutual deficiency: Tony will learn from Jeannie to be a Free Child, and Jeannie will learn the Adult from Tony. In time, each will become a whole healthy human being.
Will they manage to do this? I think it would be very difficult for them to solve their problems using the Transactional Analysis theory by itself. It is useful in describing what is going on and communicating with other people about it but the theory lacks an accompanying, effective practice. This has been supplied by the Imago Theory which has been described on this blog several times (see the all Imago posts here).

In any case, I haven't seen the rest of the series yet so I don't know how the relationship develops. But you can buy the whole series here and find out for yourself!

1 comment:

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