American icon Dr. Phil takes on the country’s big issues

DO YOU HAVE a problem that you’re just itching to know the answer to?

How to discipline your children when they draw on your newly-painted walls with permanent marker?

How to settle a long-standing dispute with neighbors about who should pay for the length of fence that used to keep his dog out of your yard?

On what occasions you can justify pairing brown garments with black ones?

Don’t worry — Dr. Phil can help.

Maybe you’re not aware, but Dr. Phil, born Phillip Calvin McGraw, functions as the “brain� of America — that is to say, he can answer virtually any questions we have and defuse any threat to our national identity.

He is to the American psyche what Roger Ebert is to America’s awareness and appreciation of film — but he has pretty good taste in movies as well, whereas Ebert’s capabilities in the realm of behavioral psychology are considerably limited.

He can even solve all polynomial equations up to degree 15 in his head without breaking a sweat, if you give him a minute or two.
Okay — maybe not.

But the United States certainly seems to think he can. Either that or all the American media would like to perpetuate the myth of Dr. Phil’s analytical infallibility.

You may have heard about his show — it runs pretty much every day. The show is about an hour long, (38 minutes of content, once we eliminate commercials, credits and standing ovations) which, coincidentally, happens to be just enough time to solve exactly one major world problem.

Several weeks ago, Dr. Phil tackled one of the majorest of the major problems the United States has had to face in the last several years — the death of Anna Nicole Smith. Maybe you’ve forgotten about it since the last time you watched the news, but this was a big story — so big, that a month later, Dr. Phil had to do follow-up show detailing the controversy surrounding Anna Nicole’s young daughter, Danielynn.

During the first show, he implored viewers to show compassion, because at the end of the day, celebrities “are people with feelings; they are people with families, they are people with needs like everybody else.�

Except I’m not entirely certain the public ever forgot it.

And then several days ago, Dr. Phil appeared as part of a panel on Larry King Live, discussing the potential motivations that drove 23-year-old Seung-Hui Cho to wake up last Monday and kill 32 of his schoolmates, including peers and professors. Dr. Phil, following the lead of co-panelist Jack Thompson, says violent video games are at the heart of the massacre.

One more problem solved, one more win to add to Dr. Phil’s largely impeccable record.

Except, I don’t think anybody really takes that assessment seriously.

Consider the following headlines in response to Dr. Phil’s solution: “Virginia shooting restarts media blame game� (Reuters) and “Dr. Phil Also Blames Games for VaTech� (Wired News).

The headlines, of course, are not openly antagonistic to the idea of video games being the catalyst that can make a regular boy want to create an entire media kit detailing his motivations for destroying a college campus and then mail it off to NBC, but they do minimize the notion by referring to the debate as a “blame game� and to violent entertainment as merely “games.�

I’m not about to censure entertainment either, so I don’t really have a problem with their tendency to marginalize the potential of video games to warp our minds and break our souls.

I also don’t have a problem with Phillip McGraw personally — he didn’t run over my cat, or steal a patent from me or put rotting food in my gym locker.

I am, however, against what he represents for our culture — an icon that is supposed to tell us, in 60 minutes or less, everything we need to know to fix ourselves. And even more than that, I am against the idea that we can reduce our cultural ailments to such small proportions that we can solve those problems in the time it takes to make a bowl of Instant Noodles.

Because from the sounds of it, all we need to do is ban video games, or ban gun ownership, or require mandatory gun ownership, or tighten the regulations on buying a gun, or tighten security on college campuses, or lock up every person who’s ever demonstrated potentially psychotic behavior, or punish bullying more severely, and that will ensure that the carnage at Virginia Tech on Monday will never happen again.

Of course, these measures probably won’t ever go into effect, because realistically, the public-at-large understands they won’t really save us when several years down the line, somebody else snaps and decides to take a couple dozen of his colleagues with him.

For an hour each day, Dr. Phil reminds us of the fantasy that saves us from the scary, albeit more realistic alternative: that we did the best we knew how to do, that there might not have been a thing more we could’ve done, and we might not be able to prevent it in the future either.

He is the public face of the myth we like to perpetuate: that for every catastrophe, there is a single, easy answer — a switch we might have flipped and saved the lives of 32 people.

In the words of the man himself: get real.

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