This week, if you are a diligent Internet news site reader (as I am), it was impossible not to hear about the “bombshell” revelation that former TV star Mackenzie Phillips suffered incest with her father, John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, starting when she was in her late teens.
I will not go into further detail than that – if you want more, you know where to find it – but this story made me think about the value of revealing horrible secrets, secrets that when exposed explode with the force of an A-bomb.
Revealing the secret was perhaps therapeutic for Mackenzie, who had been hiding it for nearly thirty years (including eight years after her father’s death). But was it good for the rest of us?
Some folks say that revelations of incest, rape, abuse, addiction, etc. are good because they help raise awareness of these issues. But do you know anyone over the age of twelve who is not already aware of these issues? The play Oedipus the King– perhaps the oldest, and certainly the most famous depiction of incest – is over 2,000 years old.
Awareness has a dubious link to prevention. Does anyone remember the TV movie A Case of Rape starring Elizabeth Montgomerystarring Elizabeth Montgomery, back in 1974? It was a daring and necessary movie – but how many rapes have occurred since then? A famous person’s story of personal trauma, too, will titillate some and traumatize others, but if only it were true that talking about problems actually solved them.
Of course, any victim has the right to tell his or her story. And the rest of us – whether it’s to avoid yanking up old scabs, or the desire to avoid unnecessary ugliness – have a right not to hear it. That doesn’t mean a lack of empathy toward the victim, but once you read or hear about another’s abuse, it never completely leaves your memory files. It’s okay to protect your mental space. Keep that in mind when (not if) the next confession goes off.