TelevIsm: Ableism, Appropriation, and United States of Tara

Rachel McCarthy-James
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Image description: Toni Collette as Tara, a blond white woman wearing casual clothing, smiles at the camera. Around her face are masks with the faces of her alters Buck, Alice, and T.

United States of Tara, a show about a woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), recently wrapped up its second season. I haven't yet seen it, but I thoroughly enjoyed the first season—I love Toni Collette and Diablo Cody, and there are not a ton of shows about women by women. There are even less shows set in my home state of Kansas. It's a funny, well-written, and on some levels well-executed show.

But, after rewatching and researching the show's origins and authorship in a critical context, I was perturbed to realize that the show's portrayal of disability was not only sensationalistic, but inherently based on appropriation. In United States of Tara, DID is used as a metaphor, an analogy, a plot point—part of the human experience, yes, but also an opportunity to speculate, crack jokes, and make grand statements about Life (normal life: that is, with able privilege) and Being A Woman (an everyday woman: that is, one who is not crazy).

There are a lot of things that USOT does with its conceptual portrayal of disability that I like as a woman with disabilities. The producers did a lot of research—they consulted and worked with a DID specialist. In my [subjective] reading, main character Tara's disability is not framed as a tragedy or particularly pitiable. It's something that she lives with, and in my reading of the first season it's explicitly used as a tool to cope with the repercussions of trauma. It's something that she and her family work with and through on a day-to-day basis. She rejects medication that would "cure" her, reflecting the complexity of making decisions about medical care and pills. She experiences discrimination, and often argues against it.

But the show's depiction of disability is inherently problematic because while it's somewhat relatable, it's not normalized. The point of the show is "look at this woman with multiple extra-wacky personae! Isn't that hilarious and crazy and weird?" Furthermore, Tara's form of DID is representative of only about 5% of all DID cases—instead of normalizing DID, the producers have chosen the most sensational form of the disorder.

It's a show about DID for the fame, profit, and gain of able-privileged people. Cody and Spielberg explicitly identify their choice of a hook as a metaphor they're using to express their own artistic goals. From an article tellingly subtitled "How To Make A Personality Disorder into a Comedy" in the New York Times:

Ultimately the creators and Showtime executives hope that the obvious metaphor in "United States of Tara" — that we all struggle with our fragmented selves — will be easy for viewers to relate to. (The show's genesis was a conversation between Steven Spielberg, an executive producer on the show, and his wife, the actress Kate Capshaw, about the ways in which we compartmentalize our lives.)

I understand the need to show the different personae that women put on to do what we gotta do. This is an admirable (though not radical) goal, because the patriarchy puts a lot of pressure on even class, race, cis privileged women like me, like Cody, like Tara Gregson. But there are other ways to do that. We take on personae all the time, signaling them internally and externally. I dress and act very differently at my job outside the home than I do alone with my cats than I do at a party than I do with family. Using disability to communicate these multiple points of view is not necessary.

What's wrong with just making a show about a woman who uses different parts of her personality to get through the day? Why can't we write about the compartmentalization of suburbia? Why can't creators be more, well, creative in telling these stories? Why is using DID necessary and integral to the story?

Static Nonsense's post "Your Plot Device", which is about USOT and DID, was essential to my analysis here, and I highly recommend it. They write:

I am not your plot device. I am not your idea to further develop your "character", or your character's "affliction" or "struggle". Using me as your way to advance your story line doesn't make your story interesting or unique. It makes it harmful. It contributes to society's perception of us as dangerous, crazy or even nonexistent. It is what makes people stare at us with disbelief or shy away when a system tells them they are plural. It is what makes us afraid to come out, because of the sheer amounts of psychophobia in our culture and the emphasis on mental health and the schism between the neurotypical and neuroatypical. It is what gets us locked up, forced into treatment or integration in attempts to "cure" us of our "afflictions". It is what makes my heart race as I type this.

United States of Tara tries. It tries to go beyond DID as a marginalizing side show. The creators have done research, and make an attempt to be accurate and not ableist. But this underscores the fundamental folly of able-privileged people using disability as their main point to accomplish an artistic goal, when it should be the province and privilege of people with disabilities to authoritatively create works about their disability.

If people with DID had been involved with the show from the beginning (which they have not, to the best of my knowledge)*, it might have made for a more nuanced depiction. But it's still being used as a metaphor for able-privileged experiences. "[The creators] see themselves and how the subject relates to them without seeing the effects on the people around them. And in turn, they typically defend that—their perspective is what matters," wrote Static Nonsense in an e-mail conversation. "Having people around with DID would only help matters if the people they're working with are willing to listen." It's hard to say whether Spielberg and Cody would have.

Spielberg and Cody are not showing DID as a part of the wide range of human experiences. This is not about a woman who happens to have DID. This is about DID as a sensitive freak show, and it contributes to the fraught perception of DID. Using disability to communicate these multiple personae, when no one prominently involved in the production of the show has actually experienced DID, is appropriation.

*Correction 7/15: United States of Tara does have a consultant with DID, Leah Peah Peterson.

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37 Comments Have Been Posted

Don't Call Me Tara

<i>This is not about a woman who happens to have DID. This is about DID as a sensitive freak show, and it contributes to the fraught perception of DID. Using disability to communicate these multiple personae, when no one prominently involved in the production of the show has actually experienced DID, is appropriation.</i>

Yes. As someone with Dissociative Identity Disorder I cannot help but appreciate The United States of Tara for helping to bring greater awareness to DID. And not just to DID, but to the reality that those of us with DID are actual people with actual lives. I am grateful that the extent of the general public's exposure to DID is no longer limited to Sybil and various crime dramas.

Even so, ultimately what I'd like to see is a lessening of the mythology surrounding DID. I'd like to see DID humanized and demystified. I don't believe USOT has done much to that end. The larger the dramatic cloud hovering over DID, the more isolating and lonely it is to live with it. I wholeheartedly agree with Static Nonsense's suggestion that this mythology, this public perception of us as " ... dangerous, crazy or even nonexistent" is in large part what keeps us in the closet.

We (those of us with DID) are the experts on our experience. We are the ones to communicate what living with DID is like. We are the ones who know. And we are terrified to tell you. Because in so many ways, the public has already made up its mind: they think we are fascinating, violent, unstable, unpredictable, crazy. Who wants to stand up and say, "I have DID and I'd like to tell you what that's like, if you want to know" when we know firsthand how we will be rejected, dismissed, not believed? Or worse, in my opinion, stared at, collected and examined as if we are not real human beings but alien curiosities.

I respect the effort the producers of USOT have made to be honest about DID. But they've fallen short of their goal. I have had to explain to a handful of people in my life since being diagnosed that I am not Sybil. Now I also have to say I am not Tara either.

Thank you

I don't have a lot to add to your excellent comment, but thank you for bringing your perspective to the conversation. I just added your very good blog to my reader and I look forward to reading more from you. :)

You technically already know

You technically already know this but I just wanted to thank you again for your willingness to talk to me about something that, to me, is a really important subject. It's not one that gets a lot of publicity and I'm glad someone was interested.

Not Raised By Tara

I agree that USOT falls very short of truly depicting a woman with DID as having a "normal" life or being relatable to an "average" person. Tara's alters are wildly conspicuous and over-dramatized. She's most certainly a freak show, something in conflict with the purpose of having alters in the first place. My mother had DID when I was growing up, and while I was aware that sometimes there was someone else wearing my mother's face, her alters were there to help her function when she couldn't, to step in and keep the body living life with as little drama as possible. They weren't wild animals or outrageous individuals with bizarre agendas that kept my mother from being a part of the world, they were regular adults (or every so often, a small child) that wanted to fit in just like any other person. Yes, individuals with DID can have scary or angry alters, but most people don't need those alters very often, so they stay under the surface. My mother's alters were for the most part helpful and protective, understanding that even if they didn't give birth to me, that it was in everybody's best interest that I was taken care of and that my mother's life was, on the outside, undisrupted as much as possible by what was going on inside. Her alters were friends when my mother couldn't be there for me. Certainly none of them ever ruined my life in any catastrophic way. When my mother finally integrated, she kept the best from each of them, and even some of their bad habits. She wasn't the person she had been before, because the person she had been before she had "split off" hadn't worked, either. She hadn't been in a constant struggle for dominance with her alters that led to embarrassing mishaps or near-disasters, she'd just been living life the best she could in a manner that allowed that to happen. That's what alters are for, not for ratings.

Thanks for sharing.

Thanks for sharing. Since this is a show that's largely about Tara's family and children, yours is a particularly valuable perspective.

To defend the show slightly, I think that it does make an attempt to show how the alters care for Tara and her children when Tara cannot - T is a friend to Katie, Alice protects and encourages Marshall, Buck takes care of Tara's sister - and I think they even explicitly explain that in the show. But then again, they also do outlandish and abusive things to her children - very harmful. "Wildly conspicuous" is a good description.

I think the show also

I think the show also becomes a little better at both normalizing Tara's life in the second season, and showing her alters as having distinct roles (there are some different alters as she finds out more and assimilates others, so I'm not going to name - it'd be spoilery).
That said, it can't really accurately depict a RL experience, just as most depictions of mental illness on TV (or for that matter, any illness) can't.

I feel like for the most part the kids have weirder hijinks going on with them than Tara does in second season - I think the first season was a lot more development and getting people hooked and the second season is about them all.

I really don't think that USOT is trying to depict her as a least at heart. ESPECIALLY second season, but even first, I think it's almost trying to depict everyone as pretty equally fucked up; her DID is almost just a parallel sublot to the many faces everyone puts on and the secrets they're keeping. Now, THAT may not be cool - to use a condition as a metaphor - but it's a little less freakshow.

This isn't all a reply to one comment, sorry, haha.

"To defend the show

"To defend the show slightly, I think that it does make an attempt to show how the alters care for Tara and her children when Tara cannot - T is a friend to Katie, Alice protects and encourages Marshall, Buck takes care of Tara's sister - and I think they even explicitly explain that in the show."

They do -- but Tara's alters also inflict genuine trauma on the children, like Buck fag-bashing Marshall and Alice trying to stick soap down Katie's throat.

If that kind of thing is blatantly misrepresentative of the actual lived experiences of folks w/ DID, I think that's a big issue, given those scenes have a pretty significant emotional impact on the viewer (or this viewer), anyway.

...I apologize if my use of

...I apologize if my use of the f-word upsets anyone -- I should have thought of that before posting. I claim it a lot in my own queer politics and writing but I should've probably been more sensitive in this space.

As a parent with DID, I find

As a parent with DID, I find your comment illuminating and insightful.

My son knows I have DID and we occasionally talk about it and how it impacts his life. He never seems uncomfortable or ill at ease with DID. But sometimes I wonder if that's because he truly grasps the reality of DID, or if it's because he doesn't and his confusion cushions him from any discomfort. Ignorance is bliss and all that.

Your comment renews my faith that it is possible for those of us with DID to raise our children honestly and with an openness that brings clarity to their life experience.

I wonder if you would mind me quoting some of what you've said here in a blog post I'm planning to publish? You can contact me directly if you prefer at and I will happily send you a draft to review.


It seems really difficult to draw a balance between appropriation and normalization in this case. The use of metaphor is most certainly appropriation, almost saying, "Look, everyone goes through what a woman with DID goes through." And yet the metaphor is also normalizing the DID experience to say that it is not as foreign to the rest of the population as one might think, "Look as a woman with DID lives what others might consider a 'normal' life, interacting with people and family members in both funny and dramatic ways." Have to say, I haven't actually seen the show aside from a few clips, but I really wish Cody and other writers/producers would work with people who actually have DID and not just someone who is an 'expert' on it. Like h.g. said above, no one is an expert on DID except those with DID. I would also like to see them treat DID less as a gimmick and a plot device. Great blog post and comments, btw! :)

great show for special needs families

Dont Call me Tara, in your comment you said you didn't believe they had consulted any people with DID for the show; RMJ's article above states they took the measure of working with a DID expert, which would probably give them a better understanding of the disease than one individual's personal experience. as you said, it has at the very least brought a level of awareness for the disease. i know i for one after watching the 1st season, ended up doing some light research & watched a couple DID documentaries on the health channel because my interest was peaked. & not in any morbid way, on a very human, very 'woman to woman' level from watching the show. i wanted to know more.

as a non-DID viewer, i'm not watching it as RMJ puts it, in a matter of “look at this woman with multiple extra-wacky personae! Isn’t that hilarious and crazy and weird?”
because i don't imagine that for the most part loyal USOT viewers have the mentality of elementary school children, where your goal is to tease & make a mockery of those who are 'different'; i believe many viewers CAN differentiate between what is the probable course of a real world disease & the worse case scenarios/exaggerations/metaphors of a television show. i don't believe USOT is promoting DID ignorance or even a freak show vibe.
speaking for myself, i personally watch it more to see the family dynamic ebb & flow in accordance to her disease. i admiree how her family's characters adapt, sucks it up (many times at the expense of their own short term happiness) & put her health first. they're not perfect, they're just like anyone, just like us; they're JUST a family. i think that is an important message in the show & one that many can relate to.

like i said, i do not have DID. however my child is technologically dependent & medically fragile. we are a tight knit, special needs family & there is a survival mode mentality as well as an isolation that goes along with that. this show made me feel like someone is shining a spotlight on what it is to fight daily with something that a large percent of the population has zero experience with... yet communicates it in a way that still resonates with the average viewer. it's a whole different set of rules for us as a family, as i can imagine it would be for a person living with DID. i see a lot of the same despair, hope, strength, anger & joy in USOT.
while the specifics & entertainment-based development of Tara's character's DID may bother someone with DID (just as watching any medical drama bothers my family) when you look at it on an emotional level, i believe the show is right on; maybe even promoting a sensitivity towards DID, those with the disease & the challenging lives all special needs patients/families struggle with.

RMJ's article above states

<i>RMJ's article above states they took the measure of working with a DID expert, which would probably give them a better understanding of the disease than one individual's personal experience.</i>

I strenuously disagree with this. It's always, always better to consult/talk to people who have actually experienced the disorder - particularly considering the amount of harm and abuse often done by doctors and other experts to people with mental disabilities. Part of my argument here is that it's problematic because it's not by someone who has DID, and no one who has DID was involved.

Dont Call me Tara, in your

<blockquote>Dont Call me Tara, in your comment you said you didn't believe they had consulted any people with DID for the show; RMJ's article above states they took the measure of working with a DID expert, which would probably give them a better understanding of the disease than one individual's personal experience.</blockquote>

Except, unfortunately, it doesn't. Try as we might, professionals in <em>any</em> medical field, let alone psychology, cannot get into the heads of their patients or clients. They go by what we can tell them, what we can show them, and that goes through a filter of their own understanding so that our experiences in turn make sense to them.

The problem with that is that dissociation is something that is very, very difficult to articulate, let alone in any way that someone without having experienced it first hand would understand. It's not uncommon to hear a description about seeing life through a fish bowl, or feeling like you're made of paper, when you're dealing with describing dissociation. These are descriptions that are very abstract and difficult to grasp, largely because what we are trying to explain is incredibly abstract in itself. Our most powerful tool is metaphor, and metaphor is interpreted in many different ways.

The same thing goes with DID. An expert will be able to give you a general idea of how they <em>think</em> it works (which, in the field of psychology, is about as close as you're going to get - it's not how it <em>does</em> work, it's how we gather it works as we best understand it now). But a DID system will be able to tell you (or at least try) how it <em>feels</em> when it works. The explanations, and thus the understanding and portrayal that comes from them, are drastically different.

<blockquote>while the specifics & entertainment-based development of Tara's character's DID may bother someone with DID (just as watching any medical drama bothers my family) when you look at it on an emotional level, i believe the show is right on; maybe even promoting a sensitivity towards DID, those with the disease & the challenging lives all special needs patients/families struggle with.</blockquote>
First, if I may ask that you do not refer to it as a disease. It is not. The terms disease and disorder are not synonymous, and calling it one attaches a lot of negative stigma to the concept for a word that doesn't even apply.

Second, on an emotional level it's still pretty off. It may make sense to people outside of a DID system, but that's a large part of the problem. The show appeals to the masses, those that do not have to deal with this disorder on their own or sometimes even directly (though experiences and thus relating to the show will vary), doing what it can to connect emotionally to those that haven't the slightest clue and thus can only assume. Or those that appropriate the experiences for their own, like RMJ mentioned. To accomplish this, it cuts out accuracy for sensationalism. Why? Because that's television. That's viewings. That's ratings.

It's not meant to reach out to those with DID or personal experience with it. It's meant to reach out to strangers. And that's part of the reason why it's a problem. It alienates us by appealing to these strangers through emotion, through sensationalism, that may not even be there in real life. Drama TV at its finest.

Maybe not even a disorder

I agree with you about the use of the term "disease." In fact, I think that it is true for many multiples that their systems are so well organized and highly functional that "Dissociative Identity Syndrome" might be a better term. My friend and I refer to his condition as "enhanced."

That's touching into identity

Whether or not the person or system considers it to be a disorder is up to them. Some people don't identify with the term and accept themselves as a functional system without focusing on the cause. But some of us do identify with it as a disorder, as the diagnostic criteria is currently laid out, because of the effects it has on our lives. I simply wished to point out that the term disease does not apply to the clinical classification of DID, whereas it is clinically classified as a disorder.

...that is one thing I

...that is one thing I wondered about while watching. In all of the DID-related dramatic narratives I'm familiar with (most on daytime soaps), integration seems to be everyone's goal, and that goes relatively unquestioned or unproblematized. (Im only partway through Tara's 1st season, but so far, this seems to be the case here as well, altho some potentially interesting tension has developed btwn Tara and her husband over his mission to "fix" her). Given the disability movement's critique of cure-based narratives, I have wondered whether integration is always desirable and whether a broader range of experiences and opinions exists within the disability community.

It's not. Integration tries

It's not. Integration tries to revert the mind to the state before it began to fragment identity and severely dissociate. Problem is, dissociation is a subconscious coping method - one that someone or a system with DID becomes so used to using, it often comes into play on an almost daily basis. The psyche becomes so used to using dissociation in hyperdrive that trying to reverse that as if it never happened is very, very hard. And often doesn't work. Even if the alters integrated are no longer present or do not return, often others develop again later in the person's life. It becomes an integral part of how they function.

It's meant to be used as a treatment to help pull the fragments together to increase functionality through collaborated memory, behaviors, etc. But often it's pushed, even if the system doesn't want it to be, because of society's perception of the individual and plurality. It's "odd", "freakish", "unhealthy", etc etc etc....

Integration is up to the system. Some find it easier to function as a single individual. Others may choose a path of acceptance and work together as a functional system. And for many the latter can be very effective, whether the field of psychology and society like it or not.

In terms of how it's perceived by many plural and DID systems - it's not uncommon to perceive it as murder or suicide. It destroys identity and individuality among the alters or headmates. Even if that's not how integration works, that is how many interpret it and feel about it.

The thing is ...

USOT is not about a DID expert. It is about a woman with DID. No amount of consulting with mental health professionals, even those who have the experience and education to qualify them as an expert, can illuminate what it is like to live with DID. Only those of us that live with it can do that.

In my personal life, I rely on my psychologist's knowledge of and experience treating DID to help me make sense of and understand my experience. But she relies on me to communicate that experience. She does not know what it is like to live with DID. I do.

In other words, yes I believe expert knowledge is immensely valuable. But the choice to create a fictional portrayal of what it is like to live with DID without bothering to seek input and continuing feedback from people who do exactly that baffles and frustrates me. And I fail to understand how one DID expert's experience is any less limited than one multiple's is.

I in no way expect there to ever be an accurate dramatic representation of my specific experience with DID. My experience is my own and not necessarily representative of the entire DID population, and vice versa. Even so, I know that USOT could be <i>more</i> accurate, <i>more</i> representative. But in order to accomplish that, they're going to have to talk to those of us with DID.

Ultimately it's a choice between using DID as a metaphor for the compartmentalization and multi-faceted identity that we all experience and creating a genuine portrayal of life with DID. If it's the former, then many of us with DID are going to feel misrepresented, used and marginalized. If it's the latter, talk to us - our voices are valuable too.

As someone with a

As someone with a personality disorder, though not DID, I can appreciate RMJ's point, but I think this post neglects the difference between appropriate behavioral changes coinciding with a particular situation and the destructive and painful nature of identity fragmentation. Yes, we all must vary our personae somewhat depending upon the circumstances. Of course we behave differently when in a business meeting than we do when we're at home watching TV with a friend or loved one. These changes are not the same thing as identity fragmentation. For most people, appropriate change in personae is a change in mannerisms, speech, dress, and decorum, to suit the situation (as RMJ elucidates) all while still maintaining a basic sense of core identity. I myself suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder, which is fraught with close to as much stigma as DID (though perhaps more so amoungst mental health professionals than in the general public) and the fragmentation between Work Self, Spousal Self, Specific Friend Self is incredibly confusing, painful, and causes strain on all of my relationships. I think it is the difficulty of a fragmented identity that is worth exploring, and that's what USOT does albeit in a simplified and camped up expression of the disorder.

I think there are probably many people who have not been diagnosed with a personality disorder who experience problematic splitting and I wonder how much these people are able to relate to Tara and her family, even if they experience a much less extreme version. If they do, then I think the producers and writers of USOT are shedding light (or at least harvesting interest) in the difficulty of living without a cohesive identity, the struggle to recover, and the general difficulties people experience in our society in trying to figure out who they are. The show isn't perfect's television and I think all television should be taken with a grain of salt.

My hope is that USOT creates enough interest in DID and other personality disorders that viewers will become readers and will educate themselves about the myths and realities of these and other mental health problems. If nothing else, USOT is bringing mental health topics, specifically personality disorders, into the light of day so we can engage in discussions like this one.

DID is not a personality disorder.

It might sound nitpicky, but because DID is often wrongly identified as a personality disorder I feel the need to point out that it is not one. I realize that DID's former label of Multiple Personality Disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is misleading. After all, the words personality disorder are right there in the name. Even so, DID is not, and has never been, classified as a personality disorder.

Now that that's out of the way...

I like what you said about the show “... harvesting interest in the difficulty of living without a cohesive identity ...." However, it's not as if DID is only now interesting. USOT hasn't broken ground here. People have been fascinated with DID since Sybil was first published in 1973. And that fascination hasn't exactly done those of us with DID any favors. Entertainment media has answered that interest with sensationalistic portrayals of DID that only serve to increase the mythology surrounding DID, thereby further alienating and isolating those who live with it. USOT is, in many ways, more of the same. And if it piques the masses' curiosity, it does so in a misleading fashion.

I don’t know anyone with DID who has make-up artists and costume designers waiting in the wings to highlight switches between self-states. The concept is laughable and, as Lisa commented below, cartoonish. This is just one issue I have with USOT but it’s an important one. Because one of the single most frustrating myths about DID is that it’s obvious, that it’s visible to the naked eye. When in fact, one of the things DID does best is conceal itself. And the misconception that it manifests in such an obvious, dramatic way is quite a hurdle for those who are trying to come to terms with this diagnosis; for those who have come to terms with it and are trying to educate their friends and family about DID.

It’s just an example, but it highlights well the essential frustration I have with USOT – that nowhere in the show do I see the stamp of someone who lives with DID. If those of us with DID are constantly having to disclaim media portrayals of DID, including Tara, that suggests more than simply not telling the whole story. That suggests telling, in many ways, the wrong story. Sure that might harvest some interest. But if it’s interest in a sensationalistic, mythological version of DID, that doesn't do much but perpetuate the cycle of misinformation, misconception and isolation.

The thing is...

I have a personality disorder too. But they're entirely different. The effects of the disorder is not on my ability to develop a stable identity, but rather behaviors and mentalities that are so ingrained into my everyday functioning that it has become a core component of my personality. To the point where they cannot be separated even in diagnostics.

As pointed out by h.g., DID is not a personality disorder. It's a dissociative disorder. That is the core behind it - the concept of a fragmented identity or individual is a <em>result</em> of it, but that is not the entirety of its essence. The parallels you try to draw are interesting, but they don't apply to the concept of all personality disorders like you're trying to establish it does. Because that's not really what personality disorders are. There's way too much difference between them all to try to claim as such.

"Tara" Was My Best Friend

For years, one of my best friends was someone with DID who had managed through very hard work to become integrated. However, she eventually became dissociated again by choice and I lost contact with her. From what I know about the show, I think it definitely tries to capture a certain reality about the condition, especially for moms raising kids (which was also my friend's situation). What I don't know and what I hope that they try to reflect is the emotional reality. The darkness of the trauma that created her condition was anything but funny, and the chill I felt when I saw her for the first time when she began to dissociate was intense. And I was even one of the few people who was later totally comfortable with her personalities, including the children. (It's worth mentioning that my friend chose to become dissociated again because of loneliness. She missed her inner gathering of "aunties," as she called them.)

Like any form of mental illness, we need awareness. I just have mixed feelings about a comedy -- no matter how good -- giving an accurate portrayal of what it is. Is this show kind of M.A.S.H.-like? Does it have moments where it deals with the really serious situations and extreme pain that created the illness? I'm sure Cody's created a wildly funny show. But given what makes a person dissociate like this, I'd hope it's balanced with sensitive and accurate glimpses into the deep inner life of a person with DID. The book WHEN RABBIT HOWLS has funny moments for sure, but because it was written by the person with DID, it strikes the exact right balance.

I'd advise you to look at the title of h.g.'s comment above...

<i>Does it have moments where it deals with the really serious situations and extreme pain that created the illness?</i>

It's definitely a dark show in many ways, and it directly addresses Tara's trauma and the difficulty of managing her disorder, both for her and her family.

My problem isn't with the lack of nuance in their portrayal - it's a well-written, well-acted show, and the characters are quite interesting and well developed. It's more with the contribution to stereotyping (particularly considering that this is a rare variation of the disorder) and the use of DID as a metaphor.

I have a quick question.

I have a quick question. What is this rare form that has been mentioned.

I was first told I had MPD in 1988 but it's been forgotten until this past year. It's the first time I've gotten therapy specifically for it. Because I wanted to know my thoughts and behaviors haven't been influenced by anything I read, I don't know a lot about it except my experience and 6 weeks inpatient

Tara is just a comedic rehashing of what we have seen before

I watched the first 2 episodes of Tara because I was excited that the show was going to be depicting a woman with DID, focusing not on her treatment, but showing her living her life. I hoped that it would show how the personalities work together as a team in the systems of DID people who are high-functioning. I was curious to see how the show would depict the subleties of blending and the shifts from alter to alter.

I was so disappointed to see how erratic her system was depicted and could not imagine a very stable family life with the behaviors that I was seeing. The reliance on costumery to depict the shifts in consciousness were cartoonish and I stopped watching because it seemed to me to be a comedic rehashing of what we already have heard about DID.

I wanted to see someone who was truly and highly functional with DID. It my belief that there are many such folks who we encounter every day, some of whom do not even know they are plural themselves. My dear friend is one of these people and did not know he was more than one until he was 55. Now, whenever I meet someone who has mastered more skills than seems humanly possible, speaks a phenomenal number of languages, or plays an astonishing number of musical instruments, I wonder, Do they get a little help from their "friends"?

not overly surprised

I haven't watched USOT because I thought it might be triggering. You see, I have DID/MPD. I have advanced degrees, and take care of my life just fine. My husband has a good-paying job, and we suspect he has DID/MPD also. Our kids are just fine, well-adjusted, popular, make good grades, participate in activities at the high school. One is happily married.

Of course, we can't tell anyone of our illness, for fear of being labeled, losing our jobs, our children being shunned (we had a neighbor refuse to send her kids to our house anymore when she found out) or even taken away. Because we're all like some crazy bitch on the TV, and besides we're all faking anyway.

I'm actually glad I haven't watched this show now that I hear what it's like. I don't need any more shaming, my pedophile narcissistic parents gave me more than enough for a lifetime.

The series does have a

The series does have a consultant with DID, who has been working with the show since it began. Her name is Leah Peterson, and she talks about it on her website, here:

The link includes a video, which is also available on Showtime's official USoT site.

I am aware of that, which is

I am aware of that, which is why I specifically mentioned the consultant's participation in the article. The problem is that they did not involve anyone who has actually experienced DID, as was discussed in the article and comments.

I don't know how much more

I don't know how much more clearly I can say this. Leah Peterson <em>has</em> experienced DID. Leah Peterson currently has multiple personalities. In the video at the page I linked to, Leah Peterson discusses the origins of her DID, gives the names of some of her alters, and tells us which two personalities are co-fronting to do the interview.

The show has a couple of different consultants. At least one of them, Dr. Richard Kluft, has only studied DID from the outside. Leah Peterson, however, has lived it.

Which brings us back to the

Which brings us back to the beginning, to the point of appropriation - at the end of the article both RMJ and I address whether or not consulting someone with DID would make a difference. Which, as I said, depends on the perspectives of the author/director. And, lo and behold, even with this consultation they are directing the show toward those that have no connection to the disorder, no real connection to even the basic <em>concept</em> of the disorder, instead focusing on how this could possibly relate to their lives as "normal women". This is appropriation. This is centering on one's own experiences and/or perspectives. And they don't care.

If the article had been

If the article had been factually correct and gone on to make that point, I wouldn't have spoken up.

My complaint is not that having a consultant with DID makes the show immune to criticism. My complaint is that her very existence is denied and erased by this article.

The article has been changed

The article has been changed to reflect this information; apologies for misreading your original comment and the erasure. Thank you for your correction.

Having said that, I stand by my argument, particularly after reading the comments here.

I appreciate the edit,

I appreciate the edit, although it's still not complete: the consultant's name, as I said several times, is Leah Peterson. "Leahpeah" is just the title of her website.

I posted a critique of this article on a USoT fan community, and got a very different response, including commentary from several multiples who enjoy the show and appreciate its handling of their condition. <a href="">The discussion is here</a>, if you're interested in some dissenting views.

(Note that I'm not asking you to change your opinion, just to respect the fact that not everyone with DID supports it, this article's comments notwithstanding.)

Interesting critique and

Interesting critique and ensuing discussion. Thanks for the link!


That's valuable information. Thank you so much for pointing that out. It doesn't resolve the specific problems I have with the show, but it pleases me that the producers have done and continue to do their homework.

I've been thinking too about the wardrobe and make-up changes that highlight the switches between Tara's alters; and, as much as that annoys me, I understand that those changes serve a valuable purpose: they notify the audience that a switch has taken place. My issue with it is that very few people know enough about DID to understand that it's often far more subtle than that. They don't know to take those more theatrical aspects with a grain of salt. But I have to admit that if Tara were more realistic, viewers would likely not realize switches had taken place at all.

Thanks again for pointing out Leah's involvement with the show. Even if I have issues with the end product, I'm glad there's at least one person with DID contributing to USOT.

Regarding outfit changes

I actually know a lot of plural systems that will purposefully change their clothes when someone else is out. Sometimes (though not usually) it's to help others differentiate between them and thus address them properly, but other times it's because it's how they're most comfortable. It's what we do. Some of us hate wearing the clothes of the others because we don't identify with it, or in more extreme cases, it can actually cause gender dysphoria. So I didn't have as much issue with that, though it still plays into the stereotypes pretty massively because the clothing is used to emphasize them further. To me? The expression that T makes when she's taking off Tara's clothes makes sense. We make it too.

<i>However</i>, we also know that this is a relatively extreme example and does not apply to DID systems as a whole. For us it's part of how we deal with it but other times you're right, it is way more subtle than that. Portrayals like this give the impression to people that all DID systems do this, which isn't the case and further dramatizes it.

We're asking too much

Its too much to ask a television show or even a movie to adequately address a mental issue that affects many people. All representations deal to some degree with stereotypes. If the show had represented a more subtle form of DID and therefore 'normalized' the behaviour then viewers may not pick up on the disorder at all; this is why the more extreme version of DID helps from a dramatic point of view.

Imagine a movie about an educated functional heroin addict that goes to work every day to a white collar job, has children, pays their bills on time and lives in an upper-middle class neighborhood? Sure they exist and they are not on the streets living in misery but that isn't what would ultimately grab a viewer who didn't know anything at all about the addiction outside of the stereotypical myths. Same goes for representations of Borderline Personality disorder, Schizophrenia and a whole host of other disorders.

No one can tell 'our' stories adequately if the attempt is a generalization meant to inform as well as entertain. We're lucky that there is something else other than Sybil and that the subject is being addressed at all in a fashion that leads others to empathize with the disorder.

There is so much we can ask art to do in the favor of reality. Its a great show even if its not a text book case of the disorder nor the family 100% typical but neither were 'The Crosby's'.

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