Thursday, January 20, 2011

Boys and Their Friends.

c. David Grim (taken 5/11/08)

The relationships between boys can be fraught with barely restrained tensions, even when the individuals involved claim to be "best friends". While girls grow up without the need to fully separate emotionally from their mothers, boys are expected to put a rather quick end to any close symbiotic ties they have with their parents. It's simply not acceptable for young males to continue honoring "emotional interdependency", even if the reality is that no one can ever be truly free of those around themselves. Naturally this attitude of resistance extends beyond immediate family members to others that surround the boy.

What happens when an adolescent has difficulty negotiating the separation that's demanded of him in this society? Often he ends up acting out in strange ways, in lieu of finding healthy ways to express his attachment. That's just the way it works, and provides a ready explanation for much of what ails us. Extreme examples of this phenomenon are often unsightly. A lot of folks tend to shy away from engaging in this sort of emotional psychological analysis, but they do so at their own risk. Ignorance of these forces can result in tragic consequences.

Certainly the medium of film has several distinct examples of what I'm referring to. One of my favorite movies, Larry Clark's "Bully", is a great case-in-point. Brad Renfro's character is perpetually being abused by his better-looking and more confident friend, played by Nick Stahl. Still, Stahl's sense of self-assurance is predicated in being the alpha male and abusing Renfro at will. This is often how the need for connection among young adolescent males is articulated. The seeming homoeroticism that is implied by such behavior is explored in detail in "Bully". Because it presents such an extreme example of dysfunction, it is no surprise when the story escalates to the point of tragedy.

"Best Friends" (directed by Noel Nosseck, and released in 1975) follows a different trajectory. When young Pat comes back from Vietnam and reunites with his long-time best friend Jesse (played by Richard Hatch), he is increasingly chagrinned by Jesse's plans to settle down and get married to his girlfriend. The idea of losing his partner-in-crime, who he looks up to and relies on for his social identity, is too much for him to handle. He decides to pull out all the stops to end his pal's relationship. Although he commits some absolutely hateful acts, he comes off as crazy and desperately pathetic. That the viewer ends up feeling sorry for Pat is a tribute to the insight of the filmmakers.

While taking the time to understand this issue can be helpful in dealing with young folks, it's extraordinarily difficult to do anything to ameliorate it. The emphasis on competition in our society will continue to exacerbate the situation, and people will continue to display twisted strategies while working through what should be recognized as very difficult emotional manoeuvres without the training, expectation or language to do so.

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