Masters of Sex Being a Freudian Masterpiece
Masters of Sex is the only TV show that I know of that is an effective and brilliant representation of many of Freud’s ideas, as well-as representing the repressive nature of “Leave it to Beaver” society far more-so than Mad Men. Sopranos mentioned Freud half a dozen times, and had moments of repressed memories, but overall it seemed to be insufficient as a piece of work depicting Freud’s ideas of social restraints (Tony has sex with whomever he likes and there is little if any conflict ‘tween him and his wife about it until the divorce, and they reconcile at the end of the next season.), religion, Ego, the dangers of loving what we can’t control, failure and the conflicts between individual happiness and social norms and hegemony. One could argue that The Sopranos does have a somewhat unique representation of the last point, but ultimately it is the characters own misdoings in a clearly immoral way in almost every occasion that breeds their downfall, or voluntary close association with those individuals I’ve described; seldom if ever does social constraint established by closed-minded representatives of the Church or those who embody their constraints prove a barrier to the mob men. And if anything these men due to their Italian roots find a deep sense of solace in the Church, Tony’s wife though a loving woman is the archetype Conservative “Catholic Grandmother” which there will be less of in the world approaching and the Church most-likely would consider The Sopranos to be “pillars of the community” for their donations. But back to Masters of Sex.
There’s the obvious commentary on women being in a secondary and submissive position of society and homosexuals being demonized. There isn’t much worth commenting here that isn’t obvious to the average viewer of even moderate political leanings – that is anyone who isn’t a raving religious fanatic or someone with psychological maladies which would cause someone to hate either homosexuals or women. I could into detail step-by-step with each individual example, but the basic point for this element of the show is that Conservative values are detrimental and immoral because they encourage prejudice and closed-mindedness as does religion. Big surprise.
Johnson represents the sexually liberated and intellectual women; the women who has “liberated herself” or more specifically her very nature is that of a free individual both in terms of expressing her sensual desires and realizing her academic aspirations. Both Ethan (I forgot his last name) and Dr. Masters – oh it’s Hauss, not sure if I’m spelling it right but I just looked it up – both crave Johnson but for different aspects of her liberation. Hauss himself is repressed due-to his inability to confess his Atheism, instead saying simply, “I’m nothing.” Masters however holds religion with a level of contempt that is excusable without him being fired for blaspheming in public. Masters in-general represents Freud’s anal-retentive man and Freud’s thought in various aspects.
The most obvious explicitly is the scene in the first episode where he describes the greatest works of art, literature and music being sexually inspired – if you don’t think of Freud when you see that scene then I have doubts you think much at-all, or have knowledge of major historical figures at-the-very-least. The most direct example asides from his anal behavior overall not stated as bluntly being his low sperm count being a metaphor for his repressed sexual urges due-to his childhood, or at-least that’s very-likely to be the Freudian analysis. I realize that this show is based on real events, so very-likely is his infertile semen is factual, but that does not remove it from the realm of making analogies of just because the show did not explicitly intend it. Freud would argue that redirecting his sexual impulses on his work – which ironically is of a sexual nature – is the healthy form of coping with it rather than repression which causes psychological maladies. It is not until he has sex with Johnson that he is acting on his sex-drive in a direct way and begins to show various aspects of his personality seen in his writing of Johnson’s performance review (of her work, not how she is in the sack for those who haven’t seen the show) and in other scenes.
Dr. Hauss’ Id in the beginning of the show is repressed and his Super Ego of being professional and the archetype Man of His Age is representing himself. It is only until he acknowledges that he is an Atheist and he should “believe in something” that is follow his own ideals, nature and interest rather than merely blindly doing what his parents or society expected of him that he is capable of being the man to Johnson that he needed to be to be with her. To quote Nietzsche he “becomes who he is.”
Master on the other-hand gives in to the need for Professionalism and sense of duty to his wife when he gives Johnson the money for their sessions of sex under the guise of study; showing that he wishes to make it merely a business-esque transaction of mutual self-interest and gain rather than an act of eroticism and love that he clearly experiences it as. Johnson even states it for us so the guess-work doesn’t need to be done. I usually don’t like it when the work speaks of the characters motivation for us, especially when it is something at-least somewhat opaque and should be dissected by the audience; but Johnson is in a position of distress and expresses her understanding of his hurtful action in a way that is realistic and furthers the plot in revealing her understanding of Masters’ feelings.
His feelings and sexual desire for Johnson shows that Masters sexuality is one not of purely sexual characteristics (though I suppose you could try to argue that Masters just doesn’t like blondes, but I’d like to meet the Sophist who would make that argument while looking at the actress playing Mrs. Masters) but of psychological aspects of attributes that Johnson possesses; this I feel is a proper representation of a more nuanced view of Freud’s idea. Yes sexual release is pivotal to healthy human functioning both mentally and in-terms of biological purpose, but sex is not only a form of lust but more importantly it is to many an expression of love. Those who would want us to never have sex with those who are nearest and dearest to us out of religious commandment are the most thickskulled primitive “people” who are in effect the most anti-intellectual, anti-joy, anti-human flourishing goons lacking an understanding of morality and humanity I wouldn’t otherwise believe possible.
Johnson shares with him the love of Science and discovery; of knowing new things and reaching new heights not yet traversed. Libby on the other hand sincerely questions his motivation (not what they are but how and why they are) and constant yearning for knowledge, seen as a potential analogy of Camus’ description of science as a never-ending quest which can be seen as a type of religious devotion to know the fundamental nature of things not possible. This is seen in Libby’s minor form of anti-Intellectualism in her agreeing that sometimes it’s easier if you “think less.” To her life is a matter of living to others’ expectations and rearing children out of her need to be a parent due-to her scarred childhood and motherly nature. She views science only in its Utilitarian role of servicing human needs and is incapable of understanding the joys of deeper and more profound levels and forms of understanding; seeing it with a type of alien bewilderment and frustration the way the more tolerant religious might see the Non-believer: not with hatred or contempt but with confusion and irritation.
Masters choosing to end his sexual relations could also be interpreted as cowardice – though it happens after he discoveries Libby is pregnant so the main motivation whether its conscious or not is most-likely out of a sense of duty to his wife – as Freud speaks of the dangers of loving something external to the self. Love and passion is in-a-sense the most risky business on the planet for with it comes the possibility of rejection and failure as Freud mentions. This is one reason why most shun greatness of spirit and action and instead stick to the “creature comforts” of Hedonism and mediocrity that Nietzsche and a minor extent Freud despise.
On the question of whether or not Masters is Narcissistic is an interesting one. He easily lies and exploits all those around them to get what he wants and has no feelings of remorse firing countless secretaries for what to most would be minor errors to be expected in new employees. He comes to blows with Hauss when he has been lied to even when this lie benefits – if he truly wants a child which it seems he does not especially considering he has fallen in love with Johnson and has fallen out of love with his wife if he ever truly did love her; he could have been using her as the perfect trophy wife, evidenced by the scene where his mentor (the homosexual character, can’t remember name) tells him he’ll need a wife to gain the respect and reputation needed to get the free-room to perform his Sex Study – him and his wife and it is his wife that asked for him to do it. However, Freud’s understanding of Narcissism is someone whose Ego is overactive in their perception of themselves without attaining this esteem through valuable work, and Masters would not fit this description. He is a genius; and he is someone who assigns his value to his work which is groundbreaking and does deserve all the approbation possible rather than being put on indefinite probation which essentially is what happens at the end of the season. He also does not wish to hurt the feelings of Libby or Johnson and weeps when his child dies showing that he is capable of adequate amounts of empathy. It could be argued that he simply wishes to continue using Libby and Johnson in whatever way they suit him, and while this certainly is true I don’t think this excludes him from handling things in a way that shows he cares for these people and legitamately and sincerely wants them to do well and be happy. Masters is a good example of distinguishing the Egotistical from the Narcissistic. The Narcissist will do whatever it takes to achieve his rather narrow goals aimed usually only at the increase of his own sense of power whether it’s through the outlet of money, political power, sex, reputation, rank, etc. The Egoist however is someone who wishes to attain his goals for other motivations – the desire to achieve in the fields of science and the feeling of discovering the new and revolutionary for example – other than mere self-aggrandizement but is self-centered and will do whatever it takes with the exception of doing serious harm to the innocent to achieve his or her goals. Egoists also state their views without the fear of being frowned upon for having an unpopular opinion, seen in the irreligious aspects of the show; Narcissists however will disguise their views in a Machievellian way to achieve the esteem of others. We need Egotistical people in the world, we have enough Narcissists.
That desire to achieve the new and unconventional is the Nietzschean aspect of the show which also deserves to be mentioned to the unfamiliar and commended by those who have witnesses it; whether in-regards to the show or in this life. Those who would side with the standard-quo and possess the “Slave Morality” Nietzsche speaks of are those who are villainous and will do any misdeed and crime to continue the ignorance, repression (both psychological and political, the latter being one cause of the former) and suffering of those while proclaiming to be altruistic, they being the ones “under attack” for simply allowing distinctions and diversity of opinion and mentality to foster, needing to take the immoral steps that they perform to demonize the “other” and having only the best moral intentions in-mind. It is either the essence of pure creation and discovery or at-least a respect for it for its own sake that all the “good characters” possess and what is quintessential to the nature of greatness. Though they at-times give in to cowardice and fear (seen in the blonde not wanting the doctors to see her body or her being mean to Lester but ultimately fostering a love interest with him) they will overall express this love of Nietzschean sentiment I’ve described.
All the major characters of the show suffer in one form or another due-to their nature and its relation to society, expressing a fictional representation of Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents. Masters due-to his ambition to discover of that which Christian Puritanism says is better left unknown as well-as telling him it would be morally reprehensible to leave his wife to be with the woman he loves. Johnson in her being a woman wishing to take on a “man’s role,” having multiple lovers despite societies Conservative notions of proper sexual conduct especially in-regards to women as well-as sharing in Masters form of condemnation. The character with cancer sharing in Johnson’s form of societal conflict though in a different fashion. Hauss in his Atheism and sexual desires. Burton – who I felt fondly for and quite liked that he began as the archetype establishment figure but was given depth and humanity as the show progressed – with his homosexuality and conflicts with his wife whom he feels deep Platonic love for. And the lesbian character – she’s early on in the show so I can’t remember her name – for her, well, Lesbianism. Hmm, Lesbianism is actually a word.
This expresses the more accurate Freudian rather than Hobbsian method of curtailing free expression and archetypes of character and mentality not parallel to the current Epoch. Hobbsian control is simple and overall in-effective, seen in America’s increased drug use despite old Conservatives giving harsher penalties for conviction of the offenses which are not even proper crimes asides from to the Self which the Government cannot effectively penalize. Fate Herself will punish those who waste their time with these substances, the same with alcohol and legal drugs – i.e. prescription drug use – and it is the petty child, the envious school brat and tattle tale who wishes to punish those for enjoying themselves with substances one has not tried for good reason or not. Instead societies going back to very-likely the beginning of humanity have used psychological rather than judicial forms of control and legislation of behavior. Ostracizing those who do not conform to the hegemony of the group has always been one of society’s worst aspects and methods of destroying individuality and creativity. Though not physically destructive, this form of policing can destroy as many masterpieces from being created just as easily as judges throwing the book (or books?) at creative youths for doing LSD.
This distinction between the Hobbsian and the Freudian is seen most-clearly in Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. In the beginning Alex fears, avoids and ultimately fails to avoid capture from the Police and their threat to lock him in jail for all the heinous actions he’s committed – the conventional model of punishment even in the world today. However, it switches from the obviously barbaric and simplistic to the ingenious form of barbarity and punishing methodology when it switches from laws and prisons (the Hobbsian) to punishing through painful nausea and difficulty to breathe (a metaphor for the intense anxiety and panic attacks some feel when they experience the fear of being ostracized which is commonly experienced in a much smaller degree of course but still feeling quite significant and being decision-altering for the common person) being the Freudian. Not that Freud advocated this as Hobbes did his solution to crime in his “State of Nature.” The author foolishly believes that this is an argument for Free Will when nothing could be further from the truth. It is instead a depiction of one form of punishment and then another; Alex is still living out his sentence through punishment, only through psychological and neurochemical tortures rather than merely the agonies of boredom, deprivation from sex, good food, freedom and so on. The tragic error of the book is some simple-minded audience may actually interpret it as a valid argument of the Kantian mentality or rather the argument against rehabilitation and for the “sovereign” responsibility of the individual as a thing who must suffer rather than be helped; that because we have this thing called “Free Will” all who do wrong must be primarily punished not rehabilitated, when of course a Consequentialist model is the only one for a truly healthy society both in the functionative and psychological sense. And of course focus on true rehabilitation which all Civilized Governments (that is, not the United States of America) are currently practicing prove themselves to be incredibly effective and not the Utopian “Hippy-Dippy Commie” measure of the impossible and “too loving of the underdog” that Conservatives depict it as.
Ultimately, though there are many Freudian aspects of the show, it is the unstated and unlegislated prohibitions of society that curtail the achievements and instincts of Great Men (and Women) that the show gets across as its main message or essence. This is seen in the works of The Cynics (though with some distinction), Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Freud and arguably Marx though again in a different “unNietzschean” light. Societies perception of ethics curtails and demonizes what the legal code will not, this is one of the greatest breakthroughs of Freud, that and the psychological effects it will have for those who aren’t the standard archetype of the society they live within. The show also serves as an Aristotelian, Nietzschean, Freudian argument against the Christian notion of “love for its own sake” being a benefit to anyone. No one in the show is expected to love everyone, in-fact this absurd Christian virtue has never even tried to be implemented by any society due-to its sheer impossibility. But the show does show and is a potential critique of love being a good thing just because it is love. Much of the time love can be a destructive thing, and not because of society forbidding it like in some grand drama such-as Romeo and Juliet. Some people are simply incompatible and when together create violent – in the physical or psychological sense – reactions and consequences to the other or themselves the way two chemicals may create combustion. Love can be foolhardy and short-sided, the way Dr. Hauss is with Johnson before he begins to be far more patient and less overtly emotional in dealings with her. Love, like even joy, can when acted out poorly or derived from a poor source can foster the destruction of its host whether it be psychological, Existential (“spiritual”) or physical death.
And of course the show has a historical element of the realization of Freud’s dream of a less strict, religious and Puritan society. Freud knew that a certain level of psychological conditioning to produce a limited degree of behavior modification, alteration of behavior necessary to not have people stab each other over petty indifferences or squabbles, was necessary; in a sense he agrees with Plato – though is a more complex and nuanced version of him who may be more aligned with Hobbes. That if people are allowed to do whatever they wish then they will perform immoral acts that society must forbid and prevent – how it will prevent such deeds however decides on the thinker and mentality of them. But Freud also saw in his society a form and degree of religious sentiment and control namely prohibition on natural and healthy human instincts which were producing many – if not most – of the maladies he was writing on. This show functions as a precursor to the sixties and the sexual liberation Freud should have been reanimated to witness – and take part in. A Revolution of sentiment, thinking, ethics, relations of individuals and ultimate being in some way more radical and freeing than the American Revolution and seen in its utmost realization in the slow inevitable death of Puritanism and Religious Authority today.