Michael Patkin's

  Games the Flintstones play

Publication history, Reflections & comments



Surgery & ergonomics


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A WEARY BREADWINNER flopping next to the children at 6 p.m. may see on his television screen another episode in the continuing saga of Bedrock, home of Fred and Wilma Flintstone, and of their good friends and neighbours, Barney and Betty Rubble. Before dismissing a children's programme out of hand it might just be worth a momentary closer look, because the four characters and their fellow-residents in this make-believe city of the Stone Age are a cast which provides the nourishment for young minds today.

In a recent episode, Wilma Flintstone decided to develop symptoms of "hemopoopalosis" to enlist her husband's sympathy to employing a housemaid, a luxury which had just taken her fancy. In a Home Doctor book she soon found the symptoms to show-lassitude, dark circles under the eyes, brittle hair and nails. This was an adult model for situations played out in real life to involve the family doctor who may read these paragraphs, often extending to involve also the specialists, ancillary services and Medical Fund benefits which form so large a part of public discussion in our time.

The interest was not in an isolated medical allusion, but in yet another exercise in the portrayal of human relationships using the medium of comedy, as Molière had done two centuries earlier in such ageless works as "Le médecin malgré lui", or as an example of the more general portrayal of the world as a stage, whether by Shakespeare or by Samuel Becket. In more formal terms, if with technique rather than artistic genius, the same types of question have been probed by Eric Berne, a psychiatrist, in "Games People Play".' The significance of the Flintstones is that they represent aspects of real people rather than the cardboard stereotypes in what is so much a larger part of "entertainment" being fed to literate societies today.

If aficionados is too grand a term to cover those who follow the adventures of the Flintstones, then devotees of this series may still feel an intimate acquaintance with these shadows of the television screen. Fred has human warmth, failings and responses. Fred has a spirit of fun, an incomplete grasp of the world about him as we all do, and moments of elation mixed up with his troubles. Unlike what happens in real life, he always seems to find a happy ending, apart from the little epilogue which has him locked out in the night air from his own house. Heavy tragedy is not good nourishment for young minds.

But the interactions between Fred and his fellow characters are rich in the stuff of everyday life. He is concerned with his ego, which is susceptible to massage, as is that of the highest and mightiest in the land subject to Press comment. Fred is ambitious, at times, to better himself, but lacks the inner resources to pursue this aim consistently or with any success. Wilma seeks assertion, domestic comforts and emotional security from her mate. While child viewers roar at the comedy, they are also subjected to the personal interactions of the Flintstones and the Rubbles.

There are no stereotypes of hero in white hat, unshaven badmen or token Negro playing the near-perfect personality. In Bedrock there are many of the inconsistencies, bewilderments and frustrations of adult life, however kindly they are portrayed. If the jam of entertainment is spread heavily on the bread and butter of real life seen by the writers, it does not deceive, but merely adds sweetness to the substance in a generous children's measure. In place of the instructive psychiatric analysis by Berne, with the algebra and algorithms of human coexistence, there is half an hour's fun on television before children's bed-time. If the proper study of mankind is man, then Fred Flintstone may be a better paradigm than many textbooks.

1 "Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships", by Eric Berne, Andre Deutch, London, 1964.


The Medical Journal of Australia July 25, 1970 p.164

Games the Flintstones play

Unusual for a surgeon especially then, I had completed a year of psychology as part of my first year at University. This interested grew in several different directions, including personal psychology, organisations, and cognitive ergonomics.

I feel I was lucky with my reading and my interests, though less successful later on in professional advancement.in some ways. Failing to get an appointment in an academic department of surgery allowed me to follow my own star in developing the application of ergonomics to surgery.