Al Jazeera America showed this documentary recently and it bugged me so much that I had to post some comments. The open secret is really nothing that isn't a (sadly) fairly common occurrence all across America. It's so common, in fact, that it was a recent plot line on ABC's Scandal. Steve Lickteig discovers that his oldest sister is actually his mother. And that the whole family of parents and eight siblings raised him while telling him he was adopted. In fact, the entire town kept the truth away from him. But it's what follows that is so disturbing.
Steve Lickteig is in public radio. He is the writer, director and star of this film. One would think that he would bring a more objective eye to it and try to see the events from many perspectives. Certainly to make an attempt to see it through the eyes of every major player. But he doesn't. Rather he seems to be in the throws of a decades long self centered tantrum with childish bursts of anger and completely inappropriate and misdirected cruelty towards his birth mother.
It is apparent to viewers that Lickteig's family is pretty messed up. But it stems from Steve's grandparents, specifically his grandfather, who Lickteig lets off virtually unchallenged. And his grandmother, owing to her husband's insistence that they remain in a place she not only hated but never agreed to and which ultimately destroyed her. She is the focus of some attention as it is revealed that she was emotionally and physically abusive to her children, most specifically to Lickteig's birth mother whom she singled out for extra "control" because she was a free spirit who reminded her mother of all the things that would never be possible in her own life. She, in fact, spent some time in a mental institution and had electroshock therapy. So when Joanie became pregnant with Steve and her mother laid out the plan for "adoption" she was already so accustomed to being terrorized by her mother that she did not and could not protest. All of this is corroborated by other family members who were equally cowed into silence.
Lickteig's rant about being lied to and his narcissistic me, me, me focus means that his perfectly lovely, open & engaging birth mother is once again the object of misguided family cruelty. Lickteig searches for clues as to his birth father and discovers that he was 20 years older than his mother, knocked her up and was never seen or heard from again after he learned of the pregnancy. Lickteig then tracks down this man's only child, who is actually Lickteig's half sister, who didn't know anything about anything but with complete clarity noted that she was sorry for Lickteig's mother who was so clearly a hapless, harmless victim in all this. And this is the big problem with Lickteig's story. Viewers and a complete stranger half sister can see it so plainly but he cannot.
Now, since Lickteig wrote, directed and presumably oversaw the editing of this film as well one would think that he got exactly the edit he wanted. But the film makes him look like a real big jerk. So that says to me that his self awareness is probably seriously skewed. There is a very revealing exchange between Steve and his mother in which it is acknowledged that her mother gave him a happy childhood. Precisely because she gave her such a miserable one. I get that. Most viewers would get that. Lickteig showed no ability for reflection where he could ever understand that. Rather he seems to take the position that since he had a happy childhood it isn't possible that perhaps this is not true for all others in the family. The perspective of the filmmaker is very shallow indeed.
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