Sunday, July 15, 2012

Nature Vs. Nurture Revisited: The Young and the Potentially Murderous

There's a story currently playing out on The Young and the Restless that's totally sucking me in to the otherwise barely watchable daytime soap. It revolves around private investigator Paul Williams (played by Doug Davidson, who should have a shiny new Daytime Emmy Award on his mantle by this time next year), and his now-late son Ricky (played by Peter Porte, who should be regularly popping up in prime time or feature films any month now).

Paul recently shot Ricky in the arm to stop him from killing another character, Eden (unconscious at the time), with one of the scariest-looking knives I've ever seen. Falling backwards, Ricky tumbled through the bathroom window of his hotel room to his death three stories below. I'll spare you the gruesome details and the gaping plot holes, because there are quite a few of both, but for me, the storyline has resurrected an interesting theme -- nature vs. nurture -- one that kept popping up onscreen last year, in moves like We Need to Talk About Kevin and Beautiful Boy.

In the last few Y&R episodes, Paul has been blaming himself not only for his son's death but also for his every misdeed, which includes up to three murders. He's been telling anyone who will listen, including his ex-fiancee and attorney (the same person), that he's a terrible man who probably belongs in prison. He might actually end up there permanently if that scary knife isn't found, or if Eden, now suffering from amnesia following a blackout after hitting her head on the tub in Ricky's bathroom during a tussle with him, doesn't gain back her memory to corroborate Paul's story.

Why is Paul accepting so much blame? Because he was a rotten father. While Ricky was being raised by his maternal grandparents in California (his mother has been in an insane asylum ever since she went after one of Paul's girlfriends -- the ex-fiancee/attorney -- in the bathtub with another scary knife), Paul was in Genoa City, Wisconsin, never seeing his son because he was too busy doing whatever Y&R story dictated.

Thanks to the dictates of his current story, Paul has enough to deal with, almost too much (not to mention, a perfect excuse, should he ever need one, for not making any weekend trips to the West Coast). The prospect of going to prison for first-degree murder -- with which he was formally charged on Friday's episode before being denied bail -- is scary on its own. I can't imagine having that horror compounded by so much grief and guilt. I wouldn't wish the grief-guilt combo of losing a child and feeling responsible for it on the worst father in the world, whom I certainly wouldn't kick when he's down by assigning him responsibility for everything his late child ever did wrong.

Those who contend that we're all a product of our environment, and that our collective experiences make us who we are, would no doubt say that even if Paul is cleared of the murder charge, he's still guilty because he was a crappy father. Guilty of being a crappy father, yes -- there's simply no excuse for being an absentee dad when you've got all the means not to be one -- but not because of it. With a murderous mother (who was played by Eva Longoria, before she became a desperate housewife) and a murderous paternal aunt, both of whom are currently in mental institutions, what hope did poor Ricky have? The odds were pretty much stacked against him from the moment of conception.

Sure he could have turned out to be a model citizen with Paul's guiding light, but who can say for certain? It still may have come down to that messy confrontation in a hotel bathroom. Having children can be like Russian Roulette -- you simply never know what you're getting, or with whom you'll end up. Kids with excellent parental role models sometimes turn out to be criminals, and criminals sometimes produce productive, law-abiding children. In hindsight, most of us had pretty fucked-up childhoods. That's between you and your therapist. But at some point, the actions of grown women and men, which Ricky most certainly was (for proof, Google search or YouTube search "Peter Porte shirtless"), are all on them.

I don't mean to downplay the influence of one's environment, but neither should the influence of nature be underestimated. We're all born with our unique predispositions. Some of them can be effected by our surroundings, others are stronger than the world around us. Siblings raised in the same household with the same parents don't grow up to have the same personalities, or even the same moral fiber. The sons of a man who beats his wife don't all grow up to do the same any more than do Olympian athletes spawn only the same. On Y&R, Paul's sister is locked up, and his brother is a priest!

Hopefully, Paul will eventually stop blaming himself -- for Ricky's murderous activities, not for being a terrible father. But I hope he doesn't get over it too soon. Thanks to his committed performances, I'm enjoying his guilt trip as much as I enjoyed Tilda Swinton's in We Need to Talk About Kevin, and I haven't been so impressed by snot pouring out of an actor's nose since Viola Davis became famous in less than 15 minutes of screen time in Doubt. Come to think of it, she was dealing with a troubled son, too, and totally screwing up cause and effect.

Let this be a lesson to all the parents out there who are taking on too much, including the actions of their kids. The applicable idea is not so much nature vs. nurture as it is nature working with nurture to determine who we are and how we act. Sometimes the best that you can do as a mom or dad is nurture your kids as much as you can, set an excellent example, and then sit back and let nature do her thing.

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