Exploring the Social Imagination

Thursday, July 27, 2017

What about Bob? Expectation and Reciprocation in the Social Imagination!

The film - What about Bob...has been called a 'black' comedy. Why? Because, the humor has an underlying social comment about the darker side of people in society. There are some people that are only takers and some that are givers.

As one can read any online summary of the film, we learn (or are reminded for those that have seen this film 10 times) that in this comedy about a doctor-patient relationship pushed way beyond the office. Well known comedic actor Bill Murray plays Bob Wiley, a neurotic New Yorker struggling with a whirlwind of paralyzing phobias. When an exasperated colleague pawns the handful off on Dr. Leo Marvin (played by Richard Dreyfuss), the psychologist has no idea his last appointment will follow him north to New Hampshire on a month's vacation.

Bob takes to Dr. Marvin's latest book like no therapy before it, so the well-meaning pest tracks Marvin down at his lakeside summer home to further discuss his problems. But Marvin, preparing for an interview on Good Morning America and a few weeks of R and R, views Bob's stalking as highly inappropriate, and demands he return to New York.

But Bob can't take even the strongest hint, and sets up camp with a neighbor to indulge in his own "vacation" -- from his problems. Meanwhile, Marvin's son Sigmund (Charlie Korsmo), daughter Anna (Catherine Erbe), and wife Fay (Julie Hagerty) take to Bob's loopy charm, which Marvin views as an irritating threat.

Marvin's temperature rises as Bob insinuates his way into the family, helping Sigmund learn to dive and counseling the previously ignored Anna. As Bob's stock continues to rise, and his to plummet, Marvin becomes increasingly unhinged as the minutes tick down to the interview.

I have talked to a number of people that see the character Bob as either a taker or giver and Dr. Marvin most often as a taker. Let's look first Dr. Leo Marvin who is obviously portrayed as a taker, an egotistical self absorbed intellectual.  Dr. Marvin does seem to genuinely love his wife and kids but at the same time he treats them as 'his' intellectual property. Really, yes really.

Dr. Marvin we are led to believe is where he is 'successful' because of the 'right' choices he has made in his life and his family (for him) is also testimony to that. So, when one of the family is not up to par in his book, he sees it as his own failure. But, that is like many people in and or in men/women especially as heads of families. His book, "Baby Steps" is also a testimony that if you just start out even gradual... baby steps, you too can learn to master the world, make the right choices.

As for Bob, for some people he is just an innocent giver with some weird quirks and its is sad that people just can't appreciate him for who he is... Dr. Marvin's family however do see Bob that way and fall in love with him. Dr. Marvin sees Bob first as a patient in need of his expertise and then later as a monstrous taker who has inappropriately invaded Dr. Marvin's life.

For sure, Bob does step over the line in many instances regarding the patient/doctor relationship and his 'taker' side is full blown but when he is with the family and the kids especially he is a great giver of friendship and innocent fun.

The point of looking and using this film is to illustrate 'expectation and reciprocation' in the social imagination. Some of us are both a little of each, giver and taker. Some are takers and don't even know it. Others are conscious 'knowingly' takers and some are too good to be true - conscious givers.

We expect a certain behavior from people in public. We expect a certain amount of reciprocation when we do something nice/kind or generous. Even a thank you and we teach our children to say- thank you as it is expected. We fail most often to be good givers at the right moment right time and in the expected amount. We can never really know how much is really enough when it comes to reciprocation. Some people expect a lot in return and others nothing. But those social dynamics keep us alive as in keep us going... at least somewhere rather than nowhere.

By the end of the film, that is exactly what we learn. Life is kept going as Bob marries Dr. Marvin's sister and out of his 'coma' he pipes up only to realize that its too late but is it really? We can only imagine what happens next. The givers will say Dr. Marvin learns how to take what he can from Bob and enjoy it. Some will say that Bob learns how to give and take what is only his to take.