Were we ever expected to take the Oedipus complex seriously? I think most of us realize a lot of Freud’s ideas were flawed and his pop-psychology really only penetrated (ha) the early 20th century’s zeitgeist because it was racy to talk about psychosexual stuff, especially in a day when people couldn’t rely on the Jersey Shore for entertainment.
We can’t take the Oedipus complex seriously because (1) I don’t think anyone has ever been able to successfully explain everyday urges, like the desire to take 50 napkins when you’ve only ordered one slice of pizza, as a result of a latent power struggle you must have had with your father, (2) that point about the wanting-your-mom shit is gross and (3) the Oedipus complex really isn’t something that is relevant to the lives of people in today’s society.
I’ll use my own high school memory of reading Oedipus Rex to illustrate the third point, although really my memory should not be regarded as the most trustworthy of sources as it is horribly spotted with blundering recollections of having to hide random and uncontrollable, hormone-induced boners beneath notebooks in English class (Note: boners were not related to thinking about the Oedipus complex, god damn you Freud! In fact, I think almost any high school male of the internet porn generation can relate to the phantom “no reason” boner).
This is what I remember: some guy named Oedipus, who we should trust is a believable character because Sophocles was the intellectual equivalent of Google, is the King of Thebes and there is some prophecy that he is going to kill his father and have horizontal mambo dancing lessons with his mother. This is incidentally just what happens. My memory fades out during the part where my English teacher must have dived into the many layers of metaphor and meaning (I was undoubtedly busy hiding my “no reason” boner), but my memory comes back pointedly when my English teacher then tried to bring relevancy to Oedipus Rex’s themes by trying to interpret and explain away our decisions today through the framework of the yesterday’s Oedipus complex (thank god nobody saw my boner, thank god, thank god, thank god, thank god).
You see, this now-dated concept is memorable because it is taboo. This exhausted concept is talked about because it is farcical. But why is this obsolete concept taught in school? Why do we have to pretend we can use the Oedipus complex as the skeleton on which we should build an ideology? The skeleton is mired with a nonsensical backbone—it’s no wonder we end up with a stunted body of an argument when we try to use the Oedipus complex as a weapon for explanation.
The problem is we take the Oedipus complex out of context. It is not an instrument for understanding human nature. Rather, it is entertainment. Oedipus Rex is the equivalent of today’s Jersey Shore. Trying to explain life through the guise of Freud’s psychoanalytical interpretation of Oedipus is like trying to explain life through the guise of The Situation’s take on life: lift lots, drinks lots, babes babes babes.
Actually, that kind of makes sense.