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“NCIS,” “Bones,” and Group Dynamics

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on November 22, 2013 | Comments (0)

“NCIS” has been on the TV for ten years. Most series are lucky to last half as long. Not only has NCIS survived, it’s currently the most watched TV show in America. “Bones,” like NCIS, is a police procedural show. It’s been on the air for eight years and its popularity ranks below the 40th most popular show. Personally, I like them both. They have quirky characters, aspects to the stories that go on over many episodes and even across seasons, twisting plots, and reasonable acting. Both usually have a killing or death in the first few minutes and spend the rest of their hour-long shows solving the crime. If they were on at the same time I’d have a difficult time choosing which to watch. As of this writing, Bones has just been switched to appear on Friday nights, traditionally a death knell for network TV shows.

So with these similarities, why is NCIS so popular while Bones languishes, banished to Friday nights? I think the answer may be rather simple.

Fiction, including the stories on TV, is not about events. Rather, it is about the characters, their conflicts, and how they change during the story’s events. The best stories are about the experience of the characters. We learn about who they are and identify with them. When they go through trying events, we go with them. When it’s resolved positively (the original concept of comedy, not laughs) or negatively (the original concept of drama) for the protagonist, we feel a sense of release known as catharsis. So how do we relate to the characters on a personal level?

NCIS: There is a clear family structure. There is a father (Gibbs), two sons (DiNozzo and McGee), and a daughter (Todd, then David, and now Bishop). The sons bicker as they, along with the daughter (in her own way), try to obtain the desired favor of the father. This is very clear. There is also an imperious grandfather (the Director) who occasionally makes an appearance, as well as the weird but delightful uncle (Mallard) and two cousins (Palmer and Sciuto). We can understand the interrelationships of this family.

Bones: This extended family is more difficult to figure out. The heads of the family seem to be Brennan and Booth, but at times it is her boss, Saroyan. Then there are the secondary characters, Hodgins and Montenegro (now married). They’re constantly trying to get the approval of Brennan and, to a lesser extent, Booth, but treat Saroyan as their boss. Next comes Dr. Sweets who can approve or disapprove Brennan and Bones working together, while at the same time he wants to get their love and approval. Mix that with a long list of interns who appear and disappear with no reason (although one is killed and another seemed to have gone a bit crazy and aided a cannibalistic murderer).

One show the audience loves and exhibits clear familial interrelationships. The other similar show is nowhere near as popular and has unclear familial interrelationships. Is this the key to the difference in the number of people who watch those shows? I can’t say if it’s the only key, but it may be one of the reasons for the difference in popularity.

Group Dynamics

Whether it is spelled out or not, all groups have structures and hierarchies. Some occult groups have claimed not to have any hierarchy (usually for philosophical reasons), but in my experience they simply ignore the reality of the hierarchies that actually exist. Some people are good leaders. Others are good followers. Some people do well in both roles. Those who are good at leading will naturally fall into that role, taking on more and more responsibility. Those who are good at following will naturally fall into that role, waiting for instructions on what to do. Those people good at both will fill in where help is needed. I refer to this as an “open hierarchy.”

Some people have condemned hierarchies, but I do not. Rather, I condemn fixed hierarchies where members cannot move from one level to another as their needs and desires and abilities dictate. In those cases, fixed hierarchies become more like negative caste systems, rather than fluid structures that allow people to fulfill and challenge their unique abilities.

When I was first initiated into a coven, I was told that the coven members should have perfect love and perfect trust for each other and be closer than a family. And that is one of the difficulties with many covens: members of a family have issues with each other. They may love each other, but they can also be deceitful, power-hungry, and may be willing to betray another member’s trust. Most of the covens I’ve been a part of that did not last long had an extended family similar to that of Bones. Most of the covens I’ve been a part of that continue for many years and are still around have a structure similar to that of NCIS, a clear family structure with parents and loving (if squabbling) siblings/members, as well as an open hierarchy that allows for people to challenge themselves and move beyond their current positions.

Most ceremonial magick groups I’ve participated with have a clear hierarchy. And that is where there can be difficulties. Most often there is a leader (or a small set of leaders) of the group. They follow what I call “Kraig’s First Law of Politics”: No matter how good a person is, when that person achieves a position of power, soon his or her main purpose is to maintain that power.

As a result, leaders of some groups end up seeing anyone who has, or develops, greater knowledge, ability, or popularity, as a threat. To prevent being overthrown, they give themselves fancy titles, claim they are the only ones who can provide the ultimate secrets, and eventually kick out of the order those considered threats (i.e., in any way disagree with them or refuse to bow to the leader’s authority). Time and again, people who are near the top of orders are forced out. Small cabals of members become “traitors” and are kicked out.

The father figure (who may be a woman) will have his or her way, and none may oppose them. Even if it’s a misperception on the part of the father figure, the belief that there are plots of opposition will result in a person being dismissed from the order.

I’ve seen such actions work the other way, too. One of the people near the top of a group I was in, and who had much popularity among some members, worked with their followers to topple the current leader. Even though the order had clear directions as to how any other person could become the leader, this person and their conspirators—who didn’t want to earn the position of leader—tried political moves to oust the leader. The Olympians overthrow the Titans. Sons get enough strength to overthrow their fathers. Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother. This is a very old and oft’ repeated story.

Your Group Dynamics

It’s nice to think that the coven or magickal order you’re entering will be entirely based on spiritual concepts, on perfect love and perfect trust, and on being closer than a family. The truth, however, is that it will also have people pushing and struggling to get closer to the daddy or mommy figure. Therefore, when you join a group, become aware of the group’s dynamics. Is it Bones, NCIS, or something else?

While I do believe that groups with fixed hierarchies (usually led and micro-managed by someone with a high-falutin’ title) are not the best, when you understand a group for what it is, you can still gain benefits from it. If the group you join is like Bones or NCIS, by understanding the group dynamics you can discover how to get along, learn, and spiritually progress with the group or coven peacefully and successfully.

In short, by understanding how families and groups work, you can improve your relationships and advance spiritually in within all such groups, no matter how much familial squabbling is present. Learning to stay out of the squabbling within your new family may also reveal how to stay out of squabbling within your birth family. This makes joining an occult group more than just a place to go to learn and do ritual, it makes your membership a true, life-changing event, one that can make family life, work life, and virtually any group situation easier, happier, and more successful (however you define “success”).

If you find this topic interesting you will also find the book Coven Craft, by Amber K, a great resource.

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