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The Strange Case of Gregory House

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For those of you who never watch television, I understand–I rarely watch it either, and until very recently, I hadn’t had a show I checked in on regularly since grade school.

The show that brought me back was a Fox production called House, starring Hugh Laurie, about this absolutely off the wall out of control diagnostic genius who is everything you wouldn’t expect in the hero of a doctor show–addicted to pain pills (he has real pain, but still), arrogant, rude, sneaky and with an absolutely unbudgeable core of integry.  I’m with Joan Baez–a saint is a nuissance to live with at home, but I also think the real saints were probably more like Gregory House than the sugar-coated stuff they handed out in Catholic schools.

At the end of last season, a couple of things happened–House was inadvertantly the cause of the death of his best friend’s girlfriend; one of his diagnostic team committed suicide–that resulted in an even more elevated level of drug abuse that resulted in a series of auditory and visual hallucinations that resulted in his nearly killing somebody on purpose.

So, in response to this, he checked himself into a psychiatric facility to find somebody to help him go cold turkey off the pain pills and therefore end the hallucinations.

So far, so good–long term drug abuse, even if you’re not getting high, is going to have consequences.  And over the course of the last five seasons, the show has managed to make the point that “drug addict’ is not necessarily the same thing as “waste of space rotting on a street corner.”

I’m all for whatever challenges the conventional psych wisdom about the human personality.

But last night, there was a two-hour season premier episode, and I find that I’m left completed baffled about what is going on here and why.

And in case you think this is just about the television show, think again.

Because it fits in with all the rest of what I see, the relentless straitjacketing of everything and everybody according to the latest psychological “wisdom” on offer.

Or, to make it clearer, it runs into something my father used to tell me:  happiness is a tenth rate ambition.

Here’s how it went.  House spent his time in the psych facility until he was clean and no longer hallucinating, and then, as was his right by law, since he was there voluntarily, he wanted to leave.  His doctor agreed that he had that right, but said that if he took it, the doctor would not write the necessary letter to the state medical licensing board to have House’s medical license reinstated.

Now, right there I got a little confused.  There was nothing in the last episode to indicate that House’s license had been revoked, and I find it hard to understand on what grounds it could have been revoked.  House is a diagnostician, not a surgeon.  He rarely even sees the patients, never mind does anything physical to them that could hurt them. 

But, okay, willing suspension of disbelief, at least until the disbelief got too impossible to handle.  House moves on to the long term program, at which point…well, what?  I’m not sure, exactly.  He does a lot of his usual confrontational things, interferes in a case in a way that gets somebody hurt, finally Gets With The Program, and is finally released as  New Man, who admits that he Wants To Be Happy.


I mean, what?

There’s absolutely nothing–and I mean nothing–in all the therapy you see that indicates that anything was ever “wrong” with house (no admissions of abuse, for instance, no traumas) except the obvious:  meaning that if your IQ is twice as high as anybody around you most of the time, you get a little warped. 

But surely, you can’t “cure” that, and you wouldn’t want to.

And it isn’t as if the sight of House doing nice things for other people is really all that new.  Even the Old Man did quite a lot of nice things for quite a lot of people, he just didn’t suffer fools gladly (or at all). 

But the other thing he did–the thing that has made this show as popular as it is–was to insist on his right to be himself.

As far as I can figure out, this is what House is now supposed to be cured of.

I object, really, to this idea that ifyou don’t have one of the Accepted Goals, then there must be something “wrong” with you, that you must  be in need of “help.”

I object to the idea that the only “normal” option is to “want to be happy”–not to want to succeed, not to want to make an historically significant contribution, not to want to perfect yourself.

I think that’s why I get so incredibly antagonistic to the calls, in a lot of the Humanist publications I read, for a stepped-up program of mood alterning drugs that will help us all to avoid depression or sadness or even inefficient functioning.

A lot that gets done in the world get done because some people have other goals than personal happiness, or personal contentment.  Hell, nothing ever gets done when we’re content. 

The goal of life is not, at least for me, to feel good as much as possible, or to feel satisfied, or to die thinking I’m fulfilled.

Besides, people who reject that trajectory are valuable and rare.

The Dr. House who told a mother who wasn’t vaccinating her children because that was all just a scam perpetrted by pharmaceutical companies that “You know what they make a lot of?  Little tiny coffins.  They come in all colors…”

did more for the children of that mother, and children everywhere, than a thousand carbon copies of his oh-so-empathetic best friend.

If the character of House is now “cured” and into being happy, I’ll find something else to watch.

Or maybe I’ll have to learn to be rude myself.

Written by janeh

September 22nd, 2009 at 12:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses to 'The Strange Case of Gregory House'

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  1. I never saw ‘House’ – but I’ve encountered the You Must Be Happy This Way mindset all my life. I think a lot of people really like simple and nice, and they don’t really get the idea that this isn’t always the case for everyone’s life at all times. If they did get it, they’d still think there had to be something wrong and with typical Western Can-Do spirit would try to fix it. Some of these people are among the devotes of ‘inclusion’ who have made me almost allergic to the term, because they mean inclusion into their own neat and tidy view of humanity and can’t see that they are in their own way excluding people. Only the bad ones, of course, who don’t accept the principle of inclusiveness!

    I’m about 3 hours into (so far) 6 hour travel delay, and about to run out of minutes and change. I do realize it’s much better to find out about mechanical problems before the plane takes off, and that they can’t keep spare planes everywhere, especially at places that aren’t on the way to anywhere else, but it’s still annoying. At least they’ve fed us, and promised to get us on connnecting flights. Eventually.


    22 Sep 09 at 2:25 pm

  2. Hubby & I watched the House episode last night, we’ve been big fans since the beginning. Along about 10 minutes into the second hour, I thought “Uh oh, the powers that be have gotten to the writers at last. They’re trying to make House “nice.”

    Nice is the last thing House is or needs to be. When I’m in the hospital at death’s door, I don’t want a nice guy to hold my hand. That’s what nurses are for. I need a doctor, no matter how curmudgeonly, who *knows what’s wrong and knows what to do* or knows at least that there’s nothing left to do, and isn’t afraid to say it. I want the doctor who screwed up every relationship in his life because he was so wound up in medicine.

    (We’ll leave aside the standard “test everything, then try 3 different wrong treatments that almost kill the patient before we get it right and cure them in 10 minutes flat” plot device of every show. No hospital in the world would put up with that)

    We’ll have to see how the series goes on. I’ve enjoyed it for too long to give up after one deviation toward Niceness.

    I’d far rather the conclusion of the show had been that House wanted to be functional, rather than happy. Clearly his drug use had finally interfered with his functioning in a big way. He could no longer diagnose, which was the basis of his self-identity. Getting that back should have been his primary need. The ‘happy’ crap is just that. Crap.

    Happiness must necessarily be fleeting, it’s not a state that can be sustained, and must always be contrasted with unhappiness in order to be identifiable. Serenity can persist, maybe. A sense of achievement, perhaps. Not happiness.

    So, Jane, my thought on seeing that was “what is this? House, or Little Mary Sunshine?” Gah.


    22 Sep 09 at 3:01 pm

  3. I’ve seen “House.” (I was in a motel room during a marathon last Thanksgiving.) Not a bad show and an interesting lead character. It IS very difficult to maintain an abrasive character on series TV. Does anyone else remember Raymond Burr in “Ironside?” In the pilot, he was brutal to the edge of sadistic–and exactly the man you wanted to catch criminals. By Season Three, he was a loveable curmudgeon. “The Six Million Dollar Man” didn’t last even that long, but the first three or four episodes were written for grown-ups.
    That said, give it a few episodes before you despair. There are on television more life-changing experiences than there are changed lives. Failing that, there’s “Bones.”

    Quite agree about saints. Wilberforce, Beecher, Booth and Baden-Powell, not to mention “Chinese” Gordon would none of them get their own TV series.

    [I do not recommend the “1632” series as a whole, but I did enjoy translating a modern Catholic Church (St Vincent’s) into the middle of the Thirty Years War. This creates certain theological difficulties–one of which is that Vincent de Paul hadn’t been canonized yet. The Priest changes the name of the church, and EVERYONE agrees not to tell Vincent, who is hard enough to live with as it is.]

    But I must disagree with this comment:

    (We’ll leave aside the standard “test everything, then try 3 different wrong treatments that almost kill the patient before we get it right and cure them in 10 minutes flat” plot device of every show. No hospital in the world would put up with that)

    They ALL put up with that, except for the actually curing the patient bit. If you want to see how a hospital actually functions, forget “House.” Rent George C. Scott in “The Hospital” or read Eileen Dreyer’s NOTHING PERSONAL.


    22 Sep 09 at 4:34 pm

  4. I’m guessing they won’t keep it up. If they do, the show is dead. Surely they know that?


    22 Sep 09 at 9:38 pm

  5. The “new” season of House hasn’t started down here. But I lost interest when they switched the focus from medical problems to the personal problems of the characters.


    22 Sep 09 at 10:24 pm

  6. I got addicted to House while in the US and just finished watching the dvd version of Season Five, via amazon.com. I can’t really believe House will turn into Mr Nice or Mr Happy. Maybe Mr not so self-destructive or Mr not so destructive?

    As for happiness — I (small voice) aspire to happy. Maybe I’m using the term differently than you are. But I’m trying to more things that I enjoy than things that I don’t enjoy and spend more time with people who are nice to me than who are horrible to me. Things that I enjoy doing are very challenging, and I have the notion of contributing to, well, something other than myself. But doing it in a way that is as enjoyable as possible — as opposed to a dreadful as possible — seems okay to me.

    Yes, yes. This gets distorted to the point where I maintain I’m the last living American who has never tried so much as valium. But I think you are jumping a bit with House. The writers pushed the show to its darkest incarnation in the last season, and if they want to explore House trying to not piss off everyone he cares about, I don’t think that’s necessarily a reflection of the Happy Culture.


    23 Sep 09 at 8:56 am

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