Reviewed Books & Films

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Are The Obese Negatively Portrayed in TV and Film?


In her review of The Weight of Images: Affect, Body Image and Fat in the Media by Katariina Kyrölä, Marianne LaFrance discusses the images of obese persons in different types of media and the emotions that they elicit from the audience including fear, disgust, shame, pride, and laughter. The review made me consider some of  the images in current television programs—programs such as Mike and Molly (a comedy about a  married couple, both of whom are large) and (as mentioned in the review) The Biggest Loser (a weight loss competition). In films, I was recently reminded of the (negative) character Dudley in the Harry Potter films (Harry's mortal, nonwizard cousin—portrayed as a not-very-bright bully). 

How prevalent are media images of obese individuals that elicit negative emotions? To what extent is it a problem? The issue seems even more complicated since not all aspects of obese characters are negative. The title characters of Mike and Molly are humorous, but so are the non-obese characters  in the show (e.g., Mike's mother and police officer partner, Molly's mother and sister) and the non-obese characters in other situation comedies. And Mike and Molly are portrayed as a nice, loving couple. Although the book and the review note the negative emotions elicited by The Biggest Loser, others have argued the program's good points including that persons are working hard attempting to improve their health. On the other hand, as with weight, the negative stereotypes of various minority ethnic groups also have contained positive as well as negative aspects to their images—the noble savage, the brave African American character who always seems to die by the end of the show or film, and the ethnic minority character who rarely has the leading role in an ensemble cast. 

Similar to ethnic minority characters, the obese person is rarely the lead in an ensemble cast even though he or she may be an important part of the group—the new show Scorpion, about a group of crime solving geniuses, is a good example). So, again, how prevalent and to what extent are these negative images of obese persons a problem?

Read the Review
ReviewWeighty Matters; Heavy Going
By Marianne LaFrance
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(41)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Perspectives on the Power Friendships


In her review of Women Psychotherapists’ Reflections on Female Friendships: Sisters of the Heart, Harriette Kaley notes how well the book makes a case for the “power of sisterhood” (para. 6). The chapters describe the transformative effect of friendships on the lives of women and their ability to heal, empower, and inspire; but, as Kaley notes, the authors do not neglect the other factors that are important to women’s lives. The additional factors include “feminist therapy, education, cultural sensitivity, alternative therapies,  self-care, and so on” (para. 3), with a significant emphasis on spirituality.

The reviewer notes how touching and personal each author’s narrative is and the value of this act of witnessing. However, I found myself wondering about the emphasis on the development of feminist therapists. Is the impact of women’s friendships different for women therapists who are not feminists? How much would narratives of male therapists who espouse a feminist perspective vary with respect to the importance of women’s friendships or in the other factors affecting women’s lives?

Given the importance of relationships to human well-being, perhaps the emphasis should be on the capacity of women to acknowledge and seek what we all need—nurturance, guidance, and good friends.

Read the Review
ReviewHow Your Women Friends Save Your Life: Personal Stories, Major Implications
By Harriette Kaley
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(38)

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Virtue and Balance: Personal, Interpersonal, and Societal Implications


The action-drama film Divergent, based on the best-selling book series by Veronica Roth, depicts a dystopian society divided by virtues and explores important questions on individual, interpersonal, and societal levels, such as the following.

  • Individual level: Are we all divergent? In other words, do we all express a strong constellation of many virtues and character strengths, or do we mostly tend to express one in particular? In what situations do we commonly overuse these strengths?
  • Interpersonal level: How do we relate to people who strongly express a virtue different from our own (e.g., wisdom versus courage; temperance versus justice)? Can the expression of one virtue collide with the expression of another?
  • Societal level: What is the role of virtue in society? What are the limits of virtue? Can society have too much courage, too much justice, too much knowledge? Are virtues the key element of a utopian society?

Whether you’ve seen the film or not, consider these questions and offer your observations and opinions on whichever cluster strikes you most.

In my PsycCRITIQUES review of the film, I chose to focus on the first cluster of questions and delve into the concept of "overuse" of virtue or character strengths. Hearkening back to ideas first opined by Aristotle, all of us are vulnerable to bringing forth our strengths and virtues too strongly (e.g., being too honest, attempting to offer too much wise advice, being too curious, and so on). The science of positive psychology is investigating these areas more closely and is finding that great importance might be placed on finding balance with our virtue and character strength expression. What do you think?


Read the Review
ReviewThe Overuse of Strengths: 10 Principles
By Ryan M. Niemiec
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(33)

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Do Clinicians Need to Call Out Character Issues?


In their recent review of Len Sperry and Jon Carlson’s book How Master Therapists Work: Effecting Change From the First Through the Last Session and Beyond, Jay Efran and Jonah Cohen raise an interesting point about Carlson’s therapy with a client named Aimee:

Carlson posits that Aimee's character structure is marked by dependency traits and a strong need to please. Nevertheless, he keeps asking Aimee if she is willing to do a number of tasks (e.g.,  meditate, confess her resentment to her mother, and so on). Not surprisingly, she always  agrees. In our opinion, this sort of therapeutic exchange elicits and then promptly ignores precisely what Carlson cites as being at the root of the client’s difficulties. In other words, the therapeutic interaction replicates Aimee’s interpersonal style but then reinforces it rather than calling attention to it—an almost textbook example of what both family and psychodynamic therapists call enactment. (para. 10)

When working with dependent clients, do you think it is crucial for the therapist to call attention to the client’s dependent tendencies, or should therapists simply be glad that the client is so willing to go along with important therapeutic assignments?

Read the Review
ReviewIn Search of Therapeutic Mastery
By Jay S. Efran and Jonah N. Cohen
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(35)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Challenging Master Narratives in Battling Women’s Oppression


In her review of Women Voicing Resistance: Discursive and Narrative Explorations, Janice Yoder explores how well the counternarratives offered in the book function in contrast to accepted master narratives of women’s lives. Yoder notes that master narratives, which reflect dominant understandings and descriptions of behavior and social phenomena, are frequently implicitly understood and invisible. Counternarratives are important, in part, because of their ability to make these master narratives more visible so that they are examined and challenged. Women Voicing Resistance highlights several master narratives and the emergence of counternarratives to explain women’s functioning and response to oppressive conditions and expectations.

The social context affects the value of constructions that give rise to counternarratives. Some constructions useful during transitions in social attitudes do not hold beyond the specified period of change; lesbian coming-out narratives in postapartheid South Africa are offered as an example in the book. Yoder is also careful to note that counternarratives are not perfect, and like master narratives, they can fall short in efforts to foster social justice and empowerment at individual and collective levels. Yoder calls for more analysis of master and counternarratives alike, and I concur.

It seems fundamental to discuss women’s internalization of oppression and their role in their own oppression. For example, it seems that men’s oppression of women is an accepted master narrative. Is it time to counter the traditional narrative of male oppression to examine women’s engagement in victim blaming in response to rape and intimate partner violence and their role in efforts to limit women’s reproductive rights, to name a few?

Read the Review
ReviewDismantling Resistances to Hearing Women’s Voices
By Janice D. Yoder
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(37)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Does Variability in Skin Tone Among European Americans Matter?


Martha E. Banks reviews Color Matters:  Skin Tone Bias and the Myth of a Post-Racial America edited by Kimberly Jade Norwood.  The book discusses the issue of colorism in the United States. I discuss the issues related to colorism and skin tone in my classes and inform students that it is not just an issue in the perception African Americans (usually lighter skin tone is preferred, related to more favorable outcomes compared with darker skin tone), but I also note that skin tone and colorism issues are relevant to other minority ethnic groups in the United States, and for people in other countries as well (e.g., India).

However, few, if any, researchers study skin tone and colorism issues in the perception of European Americans. Some European Americans have a very light or milky skin tone, some a more reddish tone, some a darker skin tone (who may be mistaken for Latino or African American).  If skin tone has implications for minority groups such as African Americans, could it not also have negative implications for European Americans who are perceived as too light or too dark in skin tone?

Read the Review
ReviewColorism: (Still) Getting Away With Racism
By Martha E. Banks
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(36)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Is Universal Screening Worth the Investment for Schools?


Universal Screening in Educational Settings: Evidence-Based Decision Making for Schools, edited by Ryan J. Kettler, Todd A. Glover, Craig A. Albers, and Kelly A. Feeney-Kettler, addresses the utility of universal screenings in schools for assessing academic competencies and the socioemotional and behavioral needs of students. The book provides guidance for implementing universal screening in educational settings and framing the approach within a Response to Intervention (RTI) model, and it heralds the use of screening as an important strategy for improving school performance.

According to reviewer Oscar Barbarin, the book makes a convincing case for universal screenings in educational settings, as it “highlights the relevance and applicability of psychological science to many of the most pressing and worrisome issues facing schools” (para. 8). Barbarin also points out lingering issues that need further consideration:

• Although schools are likely to see the value in screening for academic competencies given the current climate of “high-stakes” testing, the same cannot be said for allocating resources to universal socioemotional and behavioral screening. Do you agree with this assumption? Can a convincing case be made that socialemotional/behavioral screening is worth the investment given schools’ limited resources?

• Barbarin believes there is “the danger of reifying children's status on a screening tool in a way that transforms individual differences on a screening tool into a category such as deficient, at risk, or failing” (para. 9). Do you agree that this is cause for concern? How can schools minimize the risk of labeling on the basis of results from screening?

Read the Review
ReviewDo More Data Make for Better School Outcomes?
By Oscar Barbarin
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(32)

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Strong Health Policy or the Nanny State?


In their review of A Big Fat Crisis, Mary Ellen Olbrisch and Lauren King question how realistic author Deborah Cohen’s policy recommendations are with respect to supermarket, restaurant, and food industry products and advertising. Whereas Cohen focuses on the failure of individuals’ approaches to control obesity, the reviewers provide insight into how the public health approach to the obesity problem has been received and suggest some reasons for negative reactions and responses. Public health approaches to issues typically focus on system-wide, population-level interventions, which in the case of obesity challenge the individual effort/personal responsibility ideology frequently encountered in the political discourse of the United States. It is perhaps this deeply ingrained ideology that leads to the public’s resistance to a broad range of policy efforts, such as school lunch standards and the recent effort to regulate the size of soft drinks sold in New York City, designed to protect the public health.  

Olbrisch and King call for a “balanced message that counterweighs a public health approach with education about effective individual actions that do not blame but do empower” (last para.). However, as a reader, I was struck by the need to think through a balanced approach to American ideology; the increased complexity of living in a society strongly influenced by corporate interests and economic influence may increase the need for government, as the publicly elected social institution, to protect the population in a way that individual action cannot. Finally, can psychology help to move the public discourse away from blame and stigma directed toward those who are obese to business and industry accountability for the food environment that has been created? 

Read the Review
ReviewPie in the Sky? Another Run at a Public Health Approach to the Obesity Epidemic
By Mary Ellen Olbrisch and Lauren A. King
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(32)

Editor of PsycCRITIQUES

Danny Wedding, PhD

Chair of Behavioral Sciences,
College of Medicine,
American University of Antigua

Associate Editors of PsycCRITIQUES

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