Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Role of Authority and Charisma - with Thoughts about the Penn State Scandal

As I have worked with character development, the personalities of the characters have changed little; but in thinking about how they look through the lens of a child - they have.

As children, our parents are infallible. This likely accounts for why it takes so long for severely abused children to be recognized, and removed from their dismal environment. If you add charm and charisma to the mix, the child sees the abuser through the lens of how he interacts with others as well as how they view him. Unfortunately, the end result in the mind of a child is the belief that there must something wrong with them.

If I take this out of the family circle, and broaden this hypothesis to other important figures in a child's life, the same rule applies. I'm thinking of all the victims at Penn State. It must have been confusing to see a renowned and charismatic figure in the realm of heightened authority, and wonder why this well-respected person picked him to abuse.

The abuser is not always the boogie man waiting in the bushes. If he was, "telling" would be so much easier. When the abuser is an elevated figure, a person in authority and an admired person - it compounds the confusion and the damage digs deeper into the child's psyche. This is the situation in Pages in the Wind. Emily's father is a dynamic figure, admired and respected by many, and his attributes are outwardly apparent. Emily is always in the audience, seeing his charismatic behavior in action.

Growing up in that house, no one told Emily that her father was anything but righteous. He was a tall, handsome man with hazel eyes, dark wavy hair, and an infectious grin. His hazel eyes were set off by his tanned skin, which he never allowed to fade. His features were masculine and rugged with high cheekbones, an angular nose, and a square and prominent jaw. He had a style that attracted both men and women. Men were drawn to him, for he enjoyed the camaraderie of other men, and he sought a large audience of men as much as women. Men made him feel important and envied, while women made him feel desirable and sexual. He was comfortable in both large and small gatherings, and moved around the room with an ease and demeanor that would catch the eye of everyone in the room.

He was gregarious and always the first one invited to a party, for his quick wit and engaging presence. An officer in the navy, Captain Jacob Taylor was often called to serve as master of ceremonies at naval functions. Captain Taylor was never hindered by inhibitions, and reveled at being the center of attention without looking foolish or self-serving. His co-workers admired him for his intelligence and imposing demeanor, and his friends gravitated to him for his outgoing personality. It was readily apparent that women found him wildly attractive. He filled up every room that he walked into. His stride was confident, and in his presence you knew that you were with a man that could accomplish whatever he set his mind to do. He had that certain charisma that is hard to explain, but you know it when you see it. It was the way he laughed with his eyes, the way he exuded confidence in every step he took, the way he seasoned his conversation with interesting anecdotes.

I wonder if you have known people in similar environments, or if you relate to the "pull" that charismatic people have in dragging in their prey. Does it, in fact, even reach beyond our childhood and follow us into adulthood? If we witnessed a child being abused by a nameless person, wouldn't we drag them to the nearest cop, after we did our own damage? Would we even have to think about it? Would we wait and go through the proper chain of command, and consider damage control in terms of the abuser?

What are your feelings about it?


  1. Interesting post, and very true. These abusers groom their victims and go years without their due. It would be nice to have quick judgment that is for sure. You always give great thought, keep up the good work.

  2. Beautiful and very true. the bullies in our world have made in so hard to raise our children with all the pressures that are already on them. Add bully to the list and it makes us parents overburdened to give the needed self esteem to our children. Thank you for the post

  3. Ive been watching your blog; its so well weritten and you bring up points that are very insightful. It's on my favorite list.

    Bullies are always going to be around but hopefully the new awareness will make a difference.

    Great writing.

  4. I live in PA, and the shock of this crisis is cataclysmic. It is a horrible indictment of institutions that prefer to ignore horrors in the hope that they may either go away or that someone else will deal with them--later. Penn State sports is a huge cash cow and I truly believe that was one of the key factors in the hush up, plus it turned out that the predator was threatening families. How many people will believe a poor person struggling in the community over a so-called pillar? The guy was a sociopath and our institutions support such a mentality.

  5. Great posting, I agree with the bully aspect and your take. Your writing is interesting, I am following your blog with great interest - looking very forward to the book.

  6. Hi, Sally! Two things. First, from what I've heard about child abuse, this rings true. Victims end up blaming themselves. I tis also very valuable to stress that the great majority of such abuse occurs in the family and most of the rest in institutions.

    Secondly, unless you're over-egging the description of Jacob Taylor a bit, I suspect my own reaction, if I met him in real life, would be cautious. The people I've met who had the most charm exploited it to exploit other people. Such people get used to being admired and to getting their way, so when they don't, they can get quite nasty, especially if only one person in a group of ten or so is not starry-eyed.

    I don't want people to be sad and cry, but if it seems someone CAN'T be sad and cry, I disbelieve in their smiles! Many religious fundamentalist groups are classic examples. Is Jacob Taylor so pleasant and positive on the surface because something else is going on beneath the surface?

  7. We have been studying this at great length in my class which leads to some very lively and hotly debated discussions. I shared your piece in class yesterday, and it was very well received and opened up a new chapter of discussion, to explore the Penn State scandal as it relates to charisma and authority. Your work always opens up my students' thinking, and I appreciate your posts.

    I see from the previous comments, that this is a hot topic which is good. It opens this topic up in new ways that people have not thought of in terms of the big picture.

    My class follows your developing characters with interest and debate. This subject and your exploration of it is definitely deserving of screenplay status, I believe that it would open the subject up to a large audience given the power of film. I see that you have switched your presentation to first-person; while I know this is a tedious task, it does provide more impact.

    Thank you for your posts, your book continues to be a good source of discussion in my course and I appreciate your willingness to let me use it as a teaching tool.

    Dr. Goldschlag


I would love your input on this work-in-progress. I thank you for your opinion.