Normal as a Fox

ROBERT FONTAIXE is the author of hooks, a play, and many fight articles for the ATLANTIC and other magazines.

Twenty-five members of the American Psychiatric Association have agreed on what the normal American is like. The astonishing feature of this news, at first glance, is that twenty-five psychiatrists agreed about anything. When you figure we have Freudians, Jungians, Adlerians, Horneyans, and so on, all divided into lesser groups and so on. like the draw for Forest Park Junior Championship at lawn tennis, it is remarkable that a large group of authorities on emotional problems have been able to agree on anything but their fees.

What is less remarkable but more mystifying at an immediate look is what the psychiatrists found to be the normal American male. (Nothing was done about the female, none of whom are normal, and very few of whom are average.)

After following a group of American males lor some years, they decided, naively enough, that the American male is dull, compatible with his wife, honest, and a sound citizen. He is also unimaginative, uncreative, and probably scared.

The hasty conclusion would be that America is loaded with dimwits who hide in the suburban shrubbery and who when they come home from work every night, kiss their wives on the backs of their necks. The one trouble with this picture is that I doubt it.

I think the average American male is two-faced, unfaithful, an embezzler when the opportunity presents itself, a bad citizen who is too lazy to vote and doesn’t know what the voting is about anyway, a highly imaginative individual when left alone, and quite creative in his own way.

Before I produce the evidence, 1 should like to examine the basis on which the psychiatrists base their findings. Let us assume a psychiatrist observed John Lump and asked him questions about his wife and his home life. It is obvious that John is not going to say a darn word about the blonde secretary or the girl in the choir or the one with the red bathing suit that showed up at the convention in Atlantic City. He is going to say with great creativeness and imagination that his wife is the dearest thing on earth, that he worships the ground she walks on, and that lie has never looked at another woman. He would be an idiot not to say so.

Now the psychiatrist will fish around to find out how John feels about citizenship, voting, public service, and all that. Well, naturally John is inventive enough and imaginative enough to know that if lie is going to get away with anything, he has to make himself a pillar of the community, establish excellent credit, become a deacon of the church, vote regularly, and serve as vice president of all sorts of charity drives. He, furthermore, is wise enough to understand that by joining all sorts of civic organizations and offering his services to the community he is getting in on the ground floor of those cement contracts or the subcontract for the new three-lane highway.

Then the subject of happiness comes up. John knows darn well that if the story gets around that he’s unhappy, people are going to think he drinks or that he is neurotic, and so he is not going to be able to swing those deals or get those executive positions. It would be suicide for John J. Lump to admit even to himself that he is unhappy, let alone to strangers. Unhappiness in America is considered an affront to capitalism and falls just short of branding a man as either subversive or sick.

As for compatibility with spouse, no man in his right mind ever admitted he did not get along with the little woman, except to a few choice bar companions to whom it was fairly patent anyway.

On the other hand, only a complete idiot would let out that his wife was a fairly big bore and getting tiresomely shapeless, because it would arouse the suspicion in his neighbors and his wife that when he went off on those fishing and hunting trips, he was not just hunting and fishing.

The average American is too smart for that. He is also too good an actor. What it really amounts to is that the normal American male is giving the psychiatrists precisely what they are looking for: a picture of a steady, loving, faithful, trustworthy, contented sap who wouldn’t think of price fixing or market rigging or anything of that sort, and as for light ladies on the side — perish the ugly thought!

I submit that only an entire nation of men waiting for their chance to pick up a big bundle of the firm’s dough and scoot with the boodle and a blonde to Brazil would attempt to put over this incredible picture of themselves. Thus, what I see is not an enormous group of honest, wifeloving, dependable citizens sitting around without dreams and without hopes, but rather a crowd of perfectly foxy characters just waiting patiently.

As for the psychiatrists, I wonder a lot about them.