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Pop pabulum: We’re so sorry, Doctor Albert

Ellis' offers up views on entertainment's effects on the public's psychological health

While Dr. Albert Ellis has been around 92 of Variety‘s 100 years, the iconoclastic psychologist’s influence hasn’t waned, but only grown, and his salty celebrations of “Sex Without Guilt,” as one of his classic tomes is titled, continue to shock.

When Joe Mantegna bows at Garry Marshall’s Falcon Theatre in Burbank later this month in the one-man show “Trumbo,” audiences will hear the words of legendary scribe Dalton Trumbo not just celebrating Ellis as “a man who will take his place in history as the greatest humanitarian since Mahatma Gandhi,” but will also hear at length Ellis’s own celebration of, to put it delicately, “self-love.”

Deemed by the American Psychological Assn. as “the second-most influential psychotherapist of the 20th century,” the pioneering creator of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy and its derivative, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, is the author of such books as “The Case for Promiscuity” and “How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything — Yes, Anything!”

In 2003, when Ellis turned 90, the New Yorker profiled him, the Albert Ellis Institute in New York, his work and his big birthday party. Among the 200 guests who paid their respects were Nicole Kidman and her father, Antony, a Sydney-based clinical psychologist and Ellis disciple.

“You look wonderful,” the actress reportedly told Ellis. “Thanks — you look OK, too,” replied Ellis.

At 92, he goes steadily marching on, shaking up his patients and the public at large with his pithy pronouncements on our collective misconceptions about reality.

Variety asked Ellis his views on how the entertainment industry has either healed or harmed the psychological health of the public. Here’s his doctor’s report:

Some of the important ways entertainment has psychologically screwed us up have been by presenting an unrealistic view of:

1) marriage;
2) sex relations;
3) love relationships;
4) how arrogantly self-centered we are;
5) how other people absolutely should behave better;
6) how our country and other countries should perfectly act.

Some important misconceptions promoted by popular entertainment are:

1) We believe that other people cause our troubles instead of understanding that we take other people’s actions too seriously.
2) We blame ourselves and make ourselves guilty for our human mistakes instead of unconditionally accepting ourselves for our human fallibility.
3) We damn others for their unfairness instead of unconditionally accepting and forgiving them for their human fallibility.
4) We whine and scream at unfair worldly conditions instead of gracefully accepting them when they are inevitable.
5) We have great illusions about how good social conditions have to be.
6) We paranoically find other people at fault when we don’t like their particular behavior and we insist that they absolutely must not act the way they do.
7) We take our legitimate preferences for our and other’s nice behavior and foolishly turn them into musts, shoulds and oughts. We end up with what Karen Horney called “The tyranny of the shoulds” in entertainment and in life.

Entertainment has given us some things that are good for humanity, such as:

1) an optimistic view of life;
2) diversions and fun that distract us from bad conditions;
3) a humorous look at many grim realities;
4) the promulgation of many fine ideals that sometimes — but not often enough — lead to constructive achievements.

Entertainment includes some harmful ideas and actions such as:

1) overdramatic TV news reports and dramas;
2) teen films that ignore the grim realities of widespread poverty and authoritarian rules imposed by parents;
3) dramas that ignore life’s realities or overdramatize them;
4) cartoons that have totally unrealistic accomplishments and that usually turn out very well for the beleaguered characters in them;
5) comedies that miraculously turn out beautifully in spite of the idiotic behaviors of the central characters.

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