This blog is part of my series on the media.
Some stories live through the ages. Some characters become the center of a franchise. Indiana Jones, the fictional adventurer does both. Henry Walton “Indiana” Jones Jr. lacks a proper father figure because of his strained relationship with his father, Henry Senior. Because of Indiana’s strained relationship with his father Indiana spent much of his youth searching for the Holy Grail.
In his role as a college professor of archeology, Henry Jones Jr is scholarly and learned in a tweed suit, lecturing on ancient civilizations. At the opportunity to recover important artifacts, he transforms into “Indiana,” a near superhero image he has concocted for himself. Mr. Jones is a fallible character. He makes mistakes and he gets hurt. Steven Spielberg said that “Indiana Jones is not a perfect hero, and his imperfections, I think, make the audience feel that, with a little more exercise and a little more courage, they could be just like him.”
Alan Zients MD, wrote a paper entitled The Psychoanalytic Treatment of a Child with Deviational Development (1999) where he presents the treatment of a little boy he has named Peter. Peter was a nine year old boy who was very excited by “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” At the same time, Peter’s father, having suffered the loss of his first child, dedicated himself to his work thereby having little face time with Peter. The search for the Holy Grail paralleled Peter’s search for his father. The hopeful obyssey in the Indiana Jones’ movies contributed to Peter’s hope in himself.
The Holy Grail is what I call the “if only,” meaning that so many people in pain come to the conclusion that if only one thing did or did not happen in their life, everything else would be better. A 55 year old man I saw last week, said if “only I did not get a diagnosis of prostate cancer” everything else would be fine. His prostate cancer was cured with surgery. His prognosis is excellent. He is likely to die from another problem. Yet, he believes that this one event in his life was pivotal. By his account, the diagnosis changed him from a happy person to a scared person.
The human brain tries to simplify a complicated life. This effort at simplification leads to spurious conclusions. Yet, one often holds on to these summations as if they are facts. Psychologists call this a false attribution. Dr. Robert Stolorow called it an organizing principle. By that he means that people try to organize their lives around a center. For some, this center is religion. For others, it is a traumatic event in their lives. Peter’s organizing principle was around the wish that if he could just find the Holy Grail, his difficult life would transform into a contented life.
Many movies, comic books, graphic novels, cartoons and fiction allow us to escape to a world where an organizing principle is a superhero, an individual who can beat the odds. Peter had a difficult relationship with his father and he wanted to make that better. Indiana Jones gave him hope.
Indiana Jones became a franchise. George Lucas created the character in homage to the action heroes of the 1930s film serials. The character first appeared in the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark, to be followed by Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in 1984, The Last Crusade in 1989, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles from 1992 to 1996, and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008. Alongside the more widely known films and television programs, novels, comics, video games, and other media also feature the character.
Identification is a psychological process whereby the subject assimilates an aspect or attribute of the other and is transformed, wholly or partially, after the model the other provides. Multiple identifications create personality. Superheroes, such as Indiana Jones provide an opportunity for identification and personal growth. If Peter can feel that he can be like Indiana Jones then Peter can feel hope in the face of a disappointing father who Peter feels does not protect him. In this case, the media is a tool promoting development. If Indiana Jones can survive not having a proper father figure, so can Peter. The franchise works.