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Postmodern Village
est. 1999
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Superego, Ego, Id, and Al Bundy
By E.W. Wilder

Contemporary sitcoms reveal an American male stripped of both superego and id, a male forever trapped in the effaced being of ego, never able to fully interact socially nor to channel his primal urges. His very being is fragmented and incomplete. This ego-only male on American sitcoms is a manifestation of that which we know to be true of ourselves as American males: we drive to reclaim the id through the purchase of such items as the Hummer H1, and we strive toward the superego-chasing that manifests itself in the overwork of the corporate world and the recent creation of the “metrosexual” look.

Al Bundy of Married . . . with Children is a case in point. His frustrated id is actually played out by his son Bud and his dog Buck, the sexual conquests of both of whom are more frequent, successful, and satisfying than his own. Even his wife, Peg, generally a symbol of the superego in the American sitcom, takes over his id’s need to eat and sleep; Peg is frequently depicted lazing about on the couch, smoking and eating bonbons all day instead of performing her duties as mother and homemaker. Al, stripped only to his ego, presents as an effaced non-being, able scarcely to bowl, forced into the subjugated position of kneeling all day before customers at a shoe store in a shopping mall.

The mall setting seems to reinforce his subjugation and privation from his id and superego: Al Bundy must toil against the backdrop of both crass commercial consumption and the sort of social posing that public spaces generally require. Al Bundy’s job is synecdoche for his overall situation, that of a Freudian half-being, or rather, one third of a being, trapped by circumstance and social position into playing out only one aspect of the three to which a complete human being is entitled.

His neighbor Marcy has taken over for Al Bundy's superego, her anal-retentive preening and socioeconomic success only serving to reify in Al's mind his complete lack of any order in his life and his lack of a place in society. Al wishes nothing more than to humiliate Marcy, but this also demonstrates the desperation of his fractured self: unable to "play the game," he gives up. There is no place for an ego stripped bare in a world that demands constant propriety. Al Bundy therefore rejects society as a coping mechanism, having neither the superego to mask his naked ego-ness nor the id to indulge his urges and needs.

Al Bundy's fractured personality is a reflection and continuation of the classic cartoon dad, Fred Flintstone. Outwardly modeled on The Honeymooners, The Flintstones actually more closely presages the contemporary sitcom in its themes and concerns. In the case of Fred Flintstone, the superego role is taken on by the socially conscious wife, Wilma and, to a degree, by Barney and Betty Rubble. These characters gather, converse, and even disagree in a civilized manner. Unlike their ego-only counterparts, the superego sophistication of Betty and Wilma enable them to completely master the use of their "modern" conveniences, such as the baby-dragon toaster and the bird-beak phonograph. Unsophisticated Fred, on the other hand, is inevitably set fire by the toaster or angers the bird on the phonograph, causing it to walk off the job in protest.

Fred Flintstone's id, though, has been relegated to Barney and Betty Rubble's son, Bam-Bam. Bam-Bam is the epitome of id both in his unbridled want and his brute strength. Lacking in all reason, he takes what he wants when he wants it and kills what he wishes with neither guilt nor admonition. How can anyone blame the innocent child, after all, for following his instincts? Guarded closely by Wilma, however, Fred can do nothing but admire the boy. Thus contained, Fred's desire to kill Bam-Bam and thereby protect his own daughter, Pebbles, goes unfulfilled. Bam-Bam is the proxy son, the Oedipal rival, but also clearly Fred's physical superior, even though Fred is the adult. Fred's admiration of Bam-Bam, therefore, is sublimation: he is both unable to destroy him nor to protect his daughter. Stripped of both id force and superego sophistication, Fred is in a classical Freudian double-bind, trapped in the rock-quarry of his own cloven personality.

Even more trapped, though, is the character Ray Barone of Everybody Loves Raymond. Like Fred Flintstone, Ray's superego has been subsumed into the character of his wife, Debra, but unlike Fred, Ray's father and mother comprise his collective id. Ray's brother, Robert, appears as a wounded "second self," a doppelganger-cum-Dorian Gray from whom all of Ray's elided feelings bubble up. Ray's children are extensions of Debra's superegosity and are rarely presented; their virtual characterlessness indicates an atrophied ego's myopic view of society and one's place in it. Hidden behind the occluding and opaque superego of Debra, all that society properly is becomes obscured. On those few occasions Ray is allowed to interact with that society, such as at school fundraising meetings, his actions are always awkward and embarrassing.

Debra is, of course, ultra-sensitive to Ray's inability to function, as is fitting a superego. Because of this, her ability to easily manipulate Ray is quickly vanquished by the inevitable appearance of the uber-id couple, Ray's parents, Frank and Marie. Frank shows all of the consumptive aspects of the id, continually eating and drinking, completely unconcerned with the social norms and mores surrounding these activities. He is even unaware of the appropriateness of his own nakedness, threatening to "drop trou" at every opportunity and under any circumstance that presents itself. Frank cannot even be relied upon to edit his own speech, his tagline "Holy crap!" cleaned up only by the threat of network censorship for what is billed as a family comedy.

Marie represents the selfish aspects of the id. She acts always as if the world revolves around her, and with good reason, as the world of her husband and her sons does, in fact revolve around Marie. She has actually created that world for herself and is unable to see past it. Her selfishness supplies her own need, and, literally, she feeds it to make it so: the only time there is peace or contentment in the Barone household is when it is enjoying Marie's cooking. Of course, that household was created with that cooking in mind.

Frank and Marie are cantankerous with each other in the same way that any infant is at war with itself. When the need (Marie) is confronted with, say, a lack of food (Frank), it cries. Ray, unable to counterbalance these two aspects of the id because his superego has