Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Oh Brother

As everyone looks to heal and have justice delivered, people are also feeling the need to find closure through understanding the unthinkable of why the Tsarnaev brothers bombed the Boston Marathon.
19 year old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has reportedly told the FBI that his 26 year old brother, Tamerlan, was the driving force behind the planning and execution of the attacks as he had become increasingly militant in his interpretation of Islam.
But what made this younger brother follow his older brother's lead so blindly and willingly?
I have a younger brother and when we were kids, I made him do lots of things.
Here is me making my brother dig a hole to China.
I made my brother play with Barbies, I made him keep secrets, I made him dress up and wear make up, I made him do ballet with me, and I made him take the fall out for games gone wrong. But by the time we were teenagers, those days of sibling manipulation were gone. He still loved, respected, and admired me, but he wasn't going to be made my fool. He was his own man-a man that was not wearing a feather boa and pink Tinker Bell lipgloss.
But is it a different sibling dynamic when it is brothers?
Brothers joining forces in terrorism seems to be a theme. There were three pairs of brothers involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and in 2008, three brothers were convicted for planning to attack soldiers at Fort Dick.
James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Boston's Northeastern University explained that "There are a lot of criminal enterprises where you have brothers involved. It is almost always the older brother who is the leader.....Typically the younger brother looks up to the older brother in many ways."
I am not an expert in criminology or familial relationships, but when I think of brothers whose behavior is directly derived from their need to gain attention and acceptance from one another and their father, I think "Arrested Development," which is making it's triumphant return with new episodes on Netflix next month. (If for some reason you are not familiar with this brilliantly written show-go quickly and find a device to watch it on.)
Those Bluth boys may hold the key to understanding the deep bonds of fraternity.

Just think of awkward baby brother Buster, so desperate to be with and accepted by Michael and GOB.

And older brother GOB, wanting to be the first choice of his father and believing himself to be entitled to take over as heir of The Bluth Company, despite middle brother Michael being the more obvious and reliable choice.

The actions of the Bluth brothers when they collaborate on "Arrested Development" are often misguided and cause disaster because of their constant bickering, battling egos, and inability to ultimately trust one another. They all want to be the man that leads their failing family, with a patriarch accused of many things including treason for building houses in Iraq for Sadaam Hussein, but instead they just manage to bring the family down further.
To see an example of the dynamic of brothers in action, we can look at the episode "Making a Stand." In this episode, Michael tries to follow his father's wish that Gob be included in the business. Gob tries to introduce his new business idea accompanied by his usual magic trick fanfare, but his idea for selling the Bluth Company blueprints to "our Mexican friends from Columbia" is shot down by Michael for not making financial sense, and for being illegal. Their sister points out their father's ongoing scheme of goading Michael and Gob into fighting each other, which George Sr. believed would make his sons tougher. And then Michael finds out that Gob's whole Colombian plan had been instigated by their father, and feels that his father is still trying to create tension between Michael and his brother. Meanwhile George Sr. had arranged a job for baby brother Buster at an Iraqi toy shop, but upon finding out that the toy shop owner wanted to employ him to use his lack of a hand to scare off shoplifters, Buster quits. Michael meets up with Gob to try to create a new start for them working together away from their father's influence, and suggests that Gob opens a banana stand of his own, but Gob's competitiveness leads him to set up his new banana stand across from the original family banana stand, and is going about winning business in an aggressive fashion. Upon hearing from his father that Gob's banana stand had been making a lot of money, Michael and Gob become embroiled in competition using increasingly desperate tactics, including scantily clad women and fireballs. As events disintegrate into yet another fight between Michael and Gob, Michael finds out that George Sr. was behind the banana stand idea as a way of laundering money for the Colombian deal, and formulates a plan for the two brothers to get their own back on their father.
As Gob and Michael discuss their plan, which uses J. Walter Weatherman-an amputee man that their father used when they were children to scare them into learning lessons, they find out that Buster disapproves of their use of a one-armed man, but they ignore their whiny baby brother. Michael and Gob go to tell their father that they had put a stop to the Colombian deal and warn him that the Colombians may have reason for revenge. Michael asks the Guatemalan painters working in his parent's apartment to help out with the plan by posing as kidnappers while Gob tells his father that Michael is planning to fake a kidnapping to scare him.
George Sr. calmly waits for the fake kidnapping, but after the kidnappers arrive, is felled into a metal trunk by one of his disgruntled disguised employees. While he is trapped in there, Michael and Gob set about re-building Gob's banana stand, to stand in as a South American hut, inside the apartment. Once George Sr. is released from the trunk inside the fake hut, he is greeted by Gob, Michael and the disguised painters, who then attempt to threaten and frighten him. Just as Michael is about to reveal his identity, George Sr. grabs a gun and starts shooting. Just after a man's arm flies off, Michael realizes that the man must be J. Walter Weatherman, and that his father has turned the tables in a plan of his own.
As Gob and Michael start to fight, ostensibly because Gob had spoiled Michael's plan, they roll out of the hut and Michael appears to have fallen over the balcony. After George Sr. panics, Michael reappears, unhurt, having directed his own lesson towards his father. Meanwhile Buster has picked up a gun, and he is targeted by policemen wielding guns themselves. The policemen shoot when Buster does not drop the weapon as ordered and his hand flies off, spurting blood, causing Gob, Michael and George Sr. to panic. Michael quickly realises that it was Buster's fake hand that was shot off. Buster had a lesson of his own to teach: that they should not use a one-armed man to scare someone.
Now, while I in no way intend to make light of the actions of the Tsarnaev brothers, I do seek to understand how one brother could get the other to become involved in such an unsavory plot. And looking at the dynamic and actions of the Bluth brothers, especially in the episode detailed above, "Arrested Development," does seem to offer a key to understanding the psychology behind it all. (There is also this great article by Helen Rittelmeyer which compares the "Arrested Development brothers to the characters of Dostoevsky's 19th century novel "The Brothers Karamazov.)
It will be interesting to follow how people react to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's allegations that he was following his brother's lead. It doesn't make him any less guilty or any more sympathetic, but it does bring to light how society, in all cultures and throughout time, have clearly done to boys what George Bluth, Sr. did with his boys, which is to put them in constant competition with each other, making them feel that they must win the respect of the patriarch and be the dominant one. And while there is no evidence that the father of the Tsarnaev boys is at all involved, the relationship and interaction among this family undoubtedly played a part in what would lead someone who is being described as a well-like, laid back teenager to join forces with his brooding brother in a horrifying terrorist attack and then say "my brother made me do it."

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