The Mamas and the (Sick, Twisted) Papas

27 09 2009


The Mamas and the Papas (John Phillips, far right)

The Mamas and the Papas (John Phillips, far right)



I’m sure you all have come across this story in the news: Mackenzie Phillips, the heroin-addicted daughter of Mamas and the Papas band member John Phillips, has written a tell-all account of her life that details a 10-year sexual affair with her father.  Apparently, he raped her at the age of 18 while she was in a drug-induced haze, and she continued to shoot heroin and sleep with him on and off for years until she became pregnant and was forced to abort the baby.   Story here:   

Phillips Confesses to 10-Year Consensual Sexual Relationship with Father

Mackenzie’s mother and stepmother are furious about the book and have both tried to discredit her story on the basis of her lifelong heroin addiction, but her sister admits that it’s most likely true.  It’s natural, of course, to want to sweep a taboo subject such as incest under the rug, lock it away in a vault.  After all, incest is thought to be something that those people do, the “white trash,” country bumpkin types from West Virginia that don’t know better.

But there’s a reason why the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) has reported an 83% jump in its website traffic and a 26% jump in its hotline calls since Mackenzie talked about her experience on Oprah.  People feel safe reaching out for help as long as they’re not the only ones that have had to deal with incestuous abuse, especially since the woman who came forward was not a “white trash” bumpkin.  She was the daughter of a wealthy rock star in California and an actress on a once-popular TV show.  

People seem at once fascinated and disgusted by the lurid details of Mackenzie’s abuse and her willingness to exploit that abuse for money and fame.  And honestly, I don’t care if she did a tap dance on the roof of the White House holding pictures of her naked Dad with a needle in his arm, because however sick her motivations are, she is opening a public dialogue about a topic that was previously unspeakable.  She is paving the way for millions of people to come forward and get help, and she is personally debunking the stereotype that incest only happens within a certain “class” of people.   

And on that topic, I strongly recommend that you read Bastard out of Carolina, by Dorothy Allison, one of my absolute favorite books of all time (so good I wrote my graduate thesis on it).  It is a semi-fictional novel dealing with class, sexuality, incest and abuse, and you won’t be able to put it down. I would love to hear what Dorothy Allison has to say about Mackenzie Phillips…




4 responses

28 09 2009
Geof Boyle

Oprah herself spoke of being an incest survivor a few years ago, but I suspect that it will be a long time before sex, in general let alone incest, is a topic that all Americans can speak freely about. I think the legal and cultural obsession with privacy is one huge factor. It is only a penumbral right in the Constitution, relatively recently interpreted by the Court, but we talk about it as if it is as fundamental as food and water. It is not, I would argue. A little embarrassment on occasion would go a long way towards avoiding the crushing shame many of the abused feel when they can’t talk about what feels very important.
Privacy creates a space for secrets, secrets create a power dynamic like no other. [See Roy Wagner]
Research project: go explore the world of pornography, and see if there aren’t some really intriguing topics being explored (unwittingtly?). How might researchers account for what is there, being consumed by general American audiences in private, and how people behave in the public sphere? I’d love to read that book.

28 09 2009

Thanks for the comment, Geof– very interesting point about privacy. I think the cultural obsession with privacy is part of the problem, and the other part is the way in which the media has portray incest and sexual pathology in general as class or racial issue. People see it as a minority problem, not a majority problem, and as a result, it becomes something that’s even more shameful to admit. Porn, privacy, shame- you’re onto something.

29 09 2009

I absolutely loved “Bastard Out of Carolina”. I recommend it also.

4 10 2009

Awesome post. So grateful I found it today. I wrote about the subject on my blog, today, too. Thank you.

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