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United States of Tara, Buck, Alice and T

Showtime’s United States of Tara is a paradox, especially for the Southern Baptist Convention.

Toni Collette

Toni Collette as Buck, Alice, Tara and T.

Written by Academy Award winner Diablo Cody, the dark-comic show’s central character is Tara.

She suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), and when stressed cycles with comic effect between her four personalities — Buck (a man who believes Vietnam deprived him of his male parts), Alice (an "traditional, old-fashioned" housewife), Tara (hard working mother of two who paints nursery room murals) and T (the pot-smoking, sexually avid, shoplifting teenage rebel).

The comedy is real, but derived from a disease that is caused, WebMD explains, by “severe trauma during early childhood, usually extreme, repetitive physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse.”

Finding humor in that is paradoxical, as Lisa F. Smith comments at IMdb.com as part of a plea to prevent the comedy from airing:

This disturbs me greatly, because DID is caused primarily by extreme abuse or even torture of very young children. This is not a disorder which is caused by biochemical structure of the brain. Making a comedy about it is much like saying that the end result of abusing a toddler can be funny!

Yet humor may heal, as Frink says in response to Smith:

Her point is undeniable, yet I side with the artist in wishing to see the work performed. The artist who with Juno gave us an enlightening comedy whose core is an out-of-wedlock teenage pregnancy — also a painful topic.

A nation awash in prejudice toward mental illness may also laugh its way toward understanding the humanity we all share with the afflicted.

Perhaps. Grace Uncensored, written by a therapist who focuses on DID issues, says Tara may “finally be an accurate representation of the issues of someone having DID and normalizing that difference.”

The Southern Baptist Convention does have a special stake in this debate. The SBC’s rejection of a proposal “to create a central database of staff and clergy who have been either convicted of or indicted on charges of molesting minors” effectively adds to DID-victim numbers.

Christa Brown at Stop Baptist Predators explains that “Without even any record-keeping on credibly accused clergy, there’s nothing to prevent Baptist clergy-predators from moving church to church.” And as she documents, they do.

Pedophiles leave in their wake a variety of trauma, including some DID.

United States of Tara may help us better understand DID and so reduce our misguided prejudice against mental illness, but iit cannot reduce our obligation to act against its causes.

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January 3, 2009 - Posted by | The Arts

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