Screens

As an Eriksonian participant observer, my approach (after a long analysis and continuous self-analysis) is to be very personal, psychoanalytic, and psychohistorical in my analysis of how objects of all sorts and media reflect my emotions. At times, I am slightly embarrassed in publishing what I find, but that is a price I’m willing to pay to expand my self-knowledge and perhaps set an example to others of why, as Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

My normal television viewing usually involves the early morning CBS News* (I call it entertainment news); CNN*; Newshour* with Judy Woodward at six o’clock; C-SPAN 109-111; Jeopardy*; MeTV (reruns of Gunsmoke* and MASH*); and sometimes the cowboy channels. The asterisks* stand for what my wife normally watches with me. Geri, who loves television and has extremely restricted mobility due to her Parkinson’s disease, watches some programs with me mostly because she wants to be with me and/or she knows they relax me. While she has been more intuitive, observant, and in some ways smarter than I, our tastes vary—she often hates C-SPAN talking heads who don’t have a rapid delivery, which can be very boring to her. The television I watch with her includes murder mysteries in every language imaginable, Hallmark programs, cooking shows, and many other programs. I am embarrassed to say that when I’m cooking our Saturday morning special breakfast and while we’re eating it, I turn on MeTV’s cartoons. They take me back to my mostly pre-TV boyhood (we were latecomers and did not watch much TV after we bought a set) when I went down the block from my parents’ store on Saturdays to the movie

Page 43

theater to see the newsreels, cartoons, and double features for 75 cents. Mentioning Gunsmoke and cowboys also embarrasses me because I don’t even like to say the word “bullet points”!  While accepting the reality of some wars (I’m a U.S. Army veteran and an anti-war protester), I hate bullets and guns for the killing they do; yet certain cowboy movies with lots of shooting relax me while others disgust me. In its 20-year TV run, the marshal on Gunsmoke killed over 300 evildoers and was wounded about 56 times, yet he usually relaxes me.

Our Projections and Media as Objects Relations

As a child and without being conscious of it initially, I projected my feelings onto inanimate objects. As an adult and a scholar, I continue to do this while investigating the process for myself and others. While examining my own projections and identifications, I search for what emotional needs I am fulfilling. When I wanted to feel like the other kids as a boy, I asked my Uncle Louie which baseball team to root for. Thus, I became a frustrated Red Sox fan in Bridgeport, Connecticut, when the Yankees were winning lots of pennants and the World Series. All the other kids rooted for the Yanks and, as an adult, I became a Yankee fan!  I think about what emotional needs we fulfilled when my first wife and I gave feminine names to the first two cars we owned. It also seemed natural at the time for storms to be named after women, but in 1979, initially, I thought it strange but only fair when feminist complaints shamed the National Weather Service into alternating male and female names for hurricanes.

We humans like to think of ourselves as quite rational, but we are dominated by our emotions far more than we’d like to acknowledge. Our emotions give us the energy to live our lives. We project these emotions onto each other and art, books, cartoons, media, music, physical objects, podcasts, TV, and so many other things. The expression of these emotions is both directly connected to our incredible creativity and our confusion between fantasy and reality. Of course, humans have controlled the world to the point of turning our fantasies into reality, for better and worse.

An aspect of this that I have long been interested in is media as object relations, starting with TV where we emotionally connect to particular programs and the characters within them. We then organize part of our lives around particular interests and media outlets. Many decades ago, the majority of serious-minded, educated Americans would get the view of the news from Edward R. Murrow,

Page 44

Walter Cronkite, or one of a very few respected commentators. Now we have a fragmentation of the audience in so many different ways. It is not simply a matter of Trump supporters watching Fox News during the election and Clinton and Biden supporters watching CNN or CNBC. In politics, the tendency is to be in separate echo chambers. Most Americans are not interested in politics most of the time, but they are geared to their favorite children’s programs; Facebook posts, pages, and videos; game shows; music stations; podcasts; TikToks; TV programs; YouTube videos; and innumerable other specialized forms of media. In national crises such as 9/11, the January 6th forced entry of Congress, or a disputed presidential election, people overwhelmingly and temporarily may leave their separate media chambers. But not for long!  

Plants and Flower Images as Transitional Objects

Like virtually all humans, I use objects as a way of staying attached to loved ones, especially if there was not any strong ambivalence at the time of their deaths. For example, I have a wooden case with a glass front in which there are six pipes that my Dad so loved to smoke. Along with the pipes is a picture of me as a small boy glowing with my father’s arms around me. If my sometimes difficult immigrant father had died many years earlier, before I had the significant psychoanalysis that enabled me to get past the critical aspects of his personality, I doubt that I would keep this prized possession, especially in such a visible spot in my office. In another example, a friend who helped me plant some of the multitudes of pachysandra around my house was not surprised to learn the origin of this attachment. One of the most positive, unambivalent relationships I ever had was with the dreamwork innovator, Montague “Monte” Ullman. After attending a number of dreamwork training sessions at his home in Ardsley, which had some pachysandra by the walkway, I associated this groundcover with him and planted lots of it. When I moved to a home with more ground around it, I put enormous effort into planting and propagating it. After his death at age 92 (he’s one of those people I would have liked to have lived forever), I knew to ask for something that he touched every day, which is a small cup with “I love Sweden” on it (in Sweden, they had greatly prized Monte’s dreamwork).

Another example of associating a lost loved one with an object was a few years back when I found myself focusing on some cheap plastic throwaway bags available at the Farmer’s Market. They had a red rose design, which I didn’t think much about at the

Page 45

time. Later, I realized that it had everything to do with my mother, whose name was Rose and who died young. Thinking about the pleasure that I felt in keeping these bags and the disappointment when they were discontinued, it came to me that I was working through my feelings about my previously ignored close identification with my Mom and my many feelings about her, which had been buried in the busyness of my life as a very young man about to be married.

For longer than my other children, my eldest son, who like me was a premature baby and unlike me had colic for nine of his first post uterine months, held onto his “blankie” as a transitional object. Similarly, I’m rarely without a book or paper to read when in a situation where I may have to wait. While I have no memory of having a transitional object, and my mother, who would have remembered, died before I had children and was even aware of such things, I wonder if this habit of mine isn’t simply an issue of not wasting time but of identification with my mother. My first memory of writing is her telling me to write a letter to her father, who was off in Minnesota. I knew my father didn’t like this man and I didn’t really know him, so I drew a blank and had to be told what to write by my mother. Now, at a time when I have about 400 publications, I’ve realized that the writer’s block that plagued me for the first third of my life as a student and college professor was an issue of identification with my father, who could barely write anything in English. My 400 publications are partly a reflection of my identification of doing what my mother most wanted, which was for me to be an intellectual college professor, something I had rebelled against as a young man and would not even promise to more than consider doing on her death bed. In using these books and papers as transitional objects, perhaps I am holding on to some aspect of my long-dead Mom as well as paying homage to the education she so wished she could have had and so wanted for her children.

Just as transitional objects can be restorative, nature and its creatures can also be quite healing. In the course of being glued to my PC, especially in this homebound era of COVID, I find every excuse to go outside to experience nature. Even inside, as I wash the dishes and cook meals, I gaze at the outdoors and focus on the bird feeder that I have positioned by the kitchen window. For me, it is a treat to go out and walk up to the mailbox. Nature is curative, except for allergies, hurricanes, ice storms, tsunamis, viruses,

Page 46

and other natural disasters.

Music and poetry, which get to our emotional cores so much faster than the long essays I write, are also wonderfully relaxing and curative. This has much to do with why I can’t discard the old 45 RPM records that I inherited from my parents, to say nothing of the compact discs that I no longer use. If I move from our present home, perhaps I’ll see if the records can be sold on eBay. In life, I’ve reached the point where I give away books that I know I’m not the least bit likely to read or use in research because I want them to be read by others.

What You Can’t Leave Behind and the Power of Fantasy

In moving, people often have to make difficult choices as to what they can and can’t leave behind. When 120,000 people were airlifted from Afghanistan in August 2021, they had to make last-minute decisions regarding what to take with them. The results varied from a butterfly pin, knapsack, Quran, ring, and a particular person. As I write this, about four million people have already fled Ukraine, leaving me to wonder what they are taking with them. Upon their return, they may very well find rubble as Putin’s military hammers away at Ukrainian resolve to have a free and independent nation.

Fantasy is so important in our individual and group lives. Ukrainians, feeling humiliated under Russian domination, the annexation of Crimea in 2014, and the de facto annexation of two Eastern provinces (which have many Russian speakers), enjoyed watching a small Jewish comedian acting as their anti-corruption president in the Servant of the People (2015-2019) in which they stood up for themselves. In frustration over the deplorable nature of their politics that allowed for massive corruption and Russian domination, they voted him in as president. This is in a country with an incredible history of murderous anti-Semitism, and now they are following his lead in heroically, and some fear hopelessly, fighting to preserve their independence against Russian might. This is an outstanding example of what I always tell my students: “If we can think it or dream it, we can make it happen, or give it a darn good try.” I am cheering for the Ukrainians and hope that this fellow Jew and a very large number of Christian Ukrainians will not die in this heroic national effort. Time will tell.

This quite personal discussion of the emotions that we humans project onto TV, movies, screens generally, objects, nature,

Page 47

and everything else in life started as a Call for Papers in which I wanted to set an example of being self-revealing, despite the embarrassment that some writing of what I do causes me. This discomfiture is a small price to pay for sharing my struggle for self-knowledge and self-acceptance with others as a way of encouraging them to do the same. It was not my childhood cowboy and cartoon fantasies that were most impactful in my life but rather my mother’s raising and delegating me to become a scholar in a secular tradition related to the religious tradition that her father had first served in. The intergenerational transmission of a family’s history, including trauma and resilience, is incredibly important and inadequately studied.

I’m interested in the extent to which my childhood fantasies remain a part of my life, especially in the form of entertainment. My search for my Mom, Rose Pechenek Roast Elovitz, who died when I rebelliously wanted to lead a life based on my Dad’s adventurous one, leads me to search for her even in the images of roses on cheap plastic throwaway bags, and more importantly, within myself. The fantasy and tradition of education of this young immigrant Jewish girl, who at best seems to have had only a few years of night school as she worked as a teenager to help support her family, is carried on in her children, of whom I am the sole survivor.

Page 48

Authors:

Paul H Elovitz

Dr. Paul H. Elovitz, PhD, began organizing scholarly meetings when he started as a faculty member at Ramapo College and then as convener of the Institute for Psychohistory Saturday Workshops (1975-1982). In 1982 he founded the Psychohistory Forum to nurture psychohistorical research and continues to lead its Executive Council. In 1994 he created Clio’s Psyche (cliospsyche.org) to publish its scholarship, of which he is Editor-in-Chief. Prof. Elovitz is a historian, psychoanalytic researcher, and author of about 400 publications, covering presidential psychobiography, teaching, documenting the field of psychohistory, and much more. After taking his doctoral degree in history, he trained and practiced as a psychoanalyst, and in 2019 was made the first Research Psychoanalyst by the New Jersey Institute for Psychoanalysis. Elovitz is the author of The Making of Psychohistory, editor of The Many Roads of the Builders of Psychohistory, and edited or wrote eight other books. He is a founding member and past president of the International Psychohistorical Association (1978-) who serves on its leadership council and presents at all meetings. Prof. Elovitz is a founding faculty member at Ramapo College who previously taught at Temple, Rutgers, and Fairleigh Dickinson universities. He may be contacted at cliospsycheeditor@gmail.com.

How to Cite This:

Elovitz, P. H. (2022). Probing some of my emotional connections. Clio’s Psyche, 29(1), 43-48.

PDF downloads:

Download this Article PDF
Download full Issue PDF

keyboard_arrow_up