Tuesday, October 17th 2017

Addiction, the HBO version

HBO called on documentary stars Barbara Koppel, D.A. Pennebaker and Albert Maysles to create the most ambitious series ever about addiction. But the slant is more science than spiritual

hbo-addictionBY PAUL KAIHLA — Our friends at Entertainment Weekly invited us to the premiere of the HBO documentary mega-project, Addiction. It’s anchored by a 90-minute feature, which kicked off the series on HBO on March 15, followed by 13 half-hour episodes. HBO recruited some of the top documentary talent in American history for this effort:

Albert Maysles, who made the concert tour documentary about the Rolling Stones, Gimme Shelter, which captured the fatal stabbing of a fan at a San Francisco Bay Area race track in 1969.

D. A. Pennebaker, who made The War Room, about Clinton’s 1992 run for president.

And Barbara Koppel, whose claim to fame is Harlan County U.S.A.

But all of the top-drawer talent fails to turn Addiction into a profound journey. The focus is on the physiology and medical treatment of addiction. There are lots of victim stories, PET scans and brochure-ware for new drugs like Topiramate that can ostensibly “re-set the brain.”

Talking heads also editorialize about the problem of denial. If addicts are the first to know what their afflictions are doing to their lives and loved ones, would this give an incentive to maintain the addiction? It leads to a self-bashing loop inside their heads that simply adds a whole new layer of stress — and secondary tier of pain that they’re compelled to medicate even further. So the addiction becomes reinforced by the story they tell themselves about it and their negative self-image. It’s actually the opposite of denial.

One school in transpersonal psychology, first popularized by Dr. Peck, claims addicts are inherently spiritual people and their addictions reflect a deeper yearning to achieve a higher state of consciousness. Is it a surprise that so many writers and artists who have channeled incredible creative power — from Coleridge to Coltrane — were also addicts?

The connection points to why mind-body therapies developed after WWII have been able to resolve thousands of cases of addiction. And how post-modern mystics have drilled down even deeper into the root psychic dis-ease that is addiction.


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  5. [...] is essentially a re-packaging and re-telling of an exhaustive 2007 HBO documentary series called Addiction. It consists of a 90-minute feature, followed by 13 half-hour episodes, that focus on the [...]

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