Reaction Formation and Two and a Half Men
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Reaction formation is one of “seven defense mechanisms that Freud described and that have been relevant and influential to subsequent work” (Baumeister et al, 1998). This defense mechanism is prevalent in popular culture. Reaction Formation is when a person seeks to cover up something unacceptable by adopting an opposite stance. It reduces anxiety by taking up the opposite feeling, impulse or behavior.
It is very common for humans to exhibit reaction formation, even on a daily basis. An example of reaction formation is treating someone you strongly dislike in an excessively friendly manner in order to hide your true feelings. Another case of this Freudian defense mechanism is a man being unconsciously attracted to the same sex, but outwardly exhibits an extreme hatred homosexuality. The need to fit into what society deems appropriate cause humans to mold themselves into something that is opposite of what is truly felt.
“Nearly all adults hold preferred views of themselves” (Baumeister et al, 1998) and strive to have others share that same view. Humans want their perceived self (what they show the world) and their real self (who they truly are, “the actual self”) to be congruent and ultimately forming the ideal self. Not everyone has found their ideal self; actually a lot of people are far from it. What society labels as good and what is bad can create anxiety and inner turmoil. Many people lead lives in the opposite direction of what they really want.
The Two and a Half Men episode, “Yay, No Polyps!” illustrates reaction formation and how (in a cheesy pop culture way) that defense mechanism can unravel. The episode, “Yay, No Polyps!” started off with Charlie making up an excuse of getting a colonoscopy to avoid visiting Chelseas parents. However, when he returns home from his procedure, he finds her parents at his house.
Chelseas parents were initially presented as old fashioned bigots, but her fathers obsession with homosexuals made it obvious that something was coming of it. Her father, Tom, outwardly disapproved of Alans metrosexual nature, Charlies weak handshake and apricot conditioner, and the two gay men at a bar (at first). His wife, Martha, said that he “is always on guard against the homosexual agenda.”
Tom, Charlie, and Alan later go to a bar for some “male bonding” and Tom reveals (after a few drinks) that he is (still) in love with one of his old army buddies. Before Tom reveals his actual self, he targets two gay men near the jukebox, saying that “you dont see that where I come from” and that he believed in the sanctimony of the family. After seeing that the two men look happy, the truth comes out. The episode ends with Tom leaving his wife for his old army buddy (who just so happened to live near Charlie).
Personally, I did not like this episode