Arts & Culture

This American Life Ira Glass Man-Fautation Post: Nobody’s Family Is Going To Change

At its core, this week’s episode is about people accepting the things they cannot change, courageously changing the things that they can, and wisely identifying the difference between those two things. Read More

By / November 30, 2011
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This week TAL serves up a pretty old school re-run entitled ”Nobody’s Family Is Going To Change,” a theme that, in a sense, this is one of the most universal themes that TAL has toyed with.  All of us have gone through familial change and probably, all of us have resisted it in one way or another.  At its core, this week’s episode is about people accepting the things they cannot change, courageously changing the things that they can, and wisely identifying the difference between those two things.  In act I we meet a young woman whose beloved brother is going through a change far more harrowing that crack addiction.

Sister: Sometimes it seems like you worked out your issues through religion and I worked out my issues through therapy.”

Brother: Right.

It’s important to have some sense of the intonation in Brother’s voice when he says, “Right.”  Probably the best way to do so is to imagine an invisible (sha) next to it.

Act One is a story of a brother and sister who grew up constantly on the move from place to place and thus faced with change from as early as they can remember.  As a result the bond between brother and sister was especially strong, particularly during their most alien of times, like when they lived in France and were picked on in school by “Jean” the French bully.  However, the strength of that relationship was challenged when brother went off to college to, of all places, Berkeley and became a born-again Christian!  Now, what’s worse than having your brother suddenly become a born again Christian?  Having your brother suddenly become a born again Christian who speaks in tongues while living in isolation on a farm in Alaska.  What could make the whole, “my born again brother is now a crazy Alaskan” situation worse?  If your family is Jewish, thereby making him a, by-default, Jew for Jesus.  Also the sister is a lesbian.  That complicates things further.

Parents, this is a perfect example of why it’s extremely important to send your kids to Hebrew School only up until their Bar Mitzvah, but under no circumstances, after.

Apparently, during his days at Berkeley, the brother in this story started to feel like he couldn’t hack it at college.  This brought him to the point where he decided to bash himself in the head with a rock and throw himself off a cliff, after which he began speaking in tongues.  One time in little league I forgot to wear my cup and caught missed a groundball that bounced right above my glove into the place where the cup should have been and I’m pretty sure that I too spoke in tongues.  Take heed, throwing yourself off a cliff is a poor way to try and keep up with your studies.  It would irresponsible to endorse Ritalin here, but when weighed against parachute-less base jumping, Ritalin seems a better solution.

At the end of this story, we are supposed to feel a neutrality toward the situation, as well as a certain acceptance, but do we?  This guy refuses to accept his sister for being a lesbian even though she tries her best to accept his drastic lifestyle change.  When the two of them hearken back to his high school days we learn that Brother was always the type of guy that felt most comfortable looking down on others.  As an added surprise at the end of this episode it’s announced that Sister is now straight and married to a rabbi, which leads us to wonder whether, to brother, if this is worse than the sister being a lesbian?

In act two we become acquainted with a co-dependent relationship between elderly sisters that seems a strange cross between Grey Gardens and one those of eating disorder documentaries.  These two wear the same outfits, and will not eat anything without the other.  As disturbing as this may sound, it’s practically cute compared to Act I.  Besides, I don’t think you can really call it a cult if there are only two people in it.

In Act III a father suffers and accident that changes his behavior, altering it toward a somewhat autistic direction, eventually causing even his young daughters to become frustrated with him.  This seems particularly interesting in the wake of a recent story about a man who, after suffering vehicular accident, became a homosexual.  Having lived his whole life attracted to women, the man is now settled down with his lover having totally embraced the gay lifestyle.  Part of the frustration of the man in Act III’s family stems from a dwindling suspicion that perhaps he’s exaggerating his condition in the name of some kind of laziness or fear.  I think this most recent story validates the possibility that behavioral change resulting from trauma is legitimate phenomenon.

Change, especially when abrupt, can be extremely difficult to deal with.  All I know is that if they cancel Community, I’m going to become a Jew for Jesus that writes only in palindromes and only eats when Ira Glass does.