Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Thoughts on 'The United States of Tara'

So, not only do I get recommendations for books to read, I often get recommendations on shows to watch.  After quite a few readers asked me to check out The United States of Tara, I finally had enough time to do a little marathon.  I suppose now that I have had a chance to watch two full seasons, plus all of the episodes in season three -- I should have a coherent opinion on the show, but I don't.

First, I will say that having another show with an all White cast does not enthuse me in the least.  I know that with White flight, much of suburbia is White, but Tara's neighborhood is an all White utopia in which the one gay MOC that attempted to blend in, quickly had to escape from to preserve his youth. The one WOC to make an appearance in this series was Viola Davis, who played Lyndia P. Frazier.  She lasted long enough to inspire Tara to focus on her art again, and for Kate to be inspired enough to pretend to be a cartoon heroine for pay. Whenever I see White people wonder about where their White Entertainment channel is, I cannot help but think about the shows that have all White casts or the token person of colour, and the way that this trend is so completely normalized, that no one stops to question its harmful effects.


I will say that The United States of Tara has quite a few significant gay characters.  As I watched Marshall, Tara's son figure out what it means to be gay, I found myself unable to comment.  As a straight woman, no matter how much I read and attempt to educate my mind, I have no idea what this is like.  I will however say that I was uncomfortable with the policing that Lionel does of Marshall's behaviour.  Even though I know that he is hurting from what I can tell is parental rejection, the idea that you have to be an activist, or behave in a specific manner  to be gay kind of disturbs me.  For Lionel, being gay seems to only be about sex and outside of this, his identity is never expanded upon.  He constantly wants to know how far people went sexually and is extremely graphic in his questions.  

There is also the issue of spunky agency that is normalized by Charmaine Tara's sister and Kate, Tara's daughter.  It's been two seasons, and neither of these women has yet to make a reasonable decision.  Kate in particular is one of those ironic hipster people that is truly irritating.  When she is being sexually harassed by her boss, she decides to sue because she wants a payday and not because she felt violated.  Keep in mind that her boss invaded her home, and stole a picture of her to do God knows what.  Kate gets pregnant by one man, but is too shallow to get into a relationship with him, and instead attempts to marry another man because he will look better in the wedding photos.  I understand that she has always felt like she has lived in the shadow of her sister, but at the same time, she continually questions whether or not Tara is truly neurologically atypical.

I suppose that leaves Tara herself.  Tara has dissociative identity disorder.  As a neurologically typical woman, I have difficulty commenting on this.  To be honest, I have no experience with DID and therefore cannot tell how realistic this portrayal is.  I do know that while her experiences are often played for laughs, the series goes to great lengths to show Tara's struggle attempting to integrate her personalities. I believe Tara's pain.  I also like the fact that the show points out how difficult it can be for families who are in the position of caretaker.  I have often struggled with how much my disability effects my family.

I don't know what to think of The United States of Tara.  I know that I like it, and that it makes me laugh, and it makes me think.  Some of the problems are readily evident to me, but others are a little bit unclear to me because of my privilege.  There is a huge part of me that is happy to see a disabled character at the center of the show, and another part of me that worries about whether or not the portrayal is realistic.  So have you seen The United State of Tara and what are your thoughts?