It’s a Disaster: Child Psychology, Reactance Theory, and Our Relationships in Scarcity Mode

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Its a Disaster

Director: Todd Berger

Writer: Todd Berger

Stars: Rachel Boston, Julia Stiles, David Cross, America Ferrera

Genre: Comedy, Drama

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Eight friends have gathered at the Los Angeles home of Pete (Blaise Miller) and Emma (Erinn Hayes) for their habitual Sunday brunch. The hosts, considered the ideal couple by their friends, are about to disclose that they are actually splitting up. However, Pete and Emma’s news gets put on the backburner to all the attention given to Tracy’s (Julia Stiles) latest boyfriend Glen (David Cross), a teacher. Buck (Kevin M. Brennan) doesn’t quite know what to make of this outsider to the group while his sexy wife Lexi (Rachel Boston) tries to turn him on. Meanwhile, Shane (Jeff Grace) who has been engaged to Hedy (America Ferrera) for five years is interested in learning more about what has drawn Tracy and Glen together.

All the talk about relationships, loyalty, commitment, and sex is up-staged when a toxic device set off in downtown Los Angeles knocks out the power and sends these eight young commitment types into various stages of panic and bouts of resentment. As a nerve-gas cloud moves toward them, they take makeshift measures to extend their lives by taping all the doors and windows. But after Hedy describes in gruesome detail as to what will happen once the toxins enter their bodies they all understand that they are going to die, and die horrifically.

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It’s A Disaster is written and directed by Todd Berger. He has essentially concocted a character-driven drama with this film that mixes both humor and seriousness as these eight people are forced to take down a manifest of their options in the face of imminent death.

In the recent films Melancholia, and Seeking a Friend for the End of The World, the characters are challenged to decide what to do while waiting for the end. And watching them, we find ourselves asking what we would do during our last moments on earth. In the film Last Night those facing death in six hours choose the following activities: spend it with the ones you love, attend a prayer circle, have “panic sex”, riot and pillage the streets, or watch home movies. Others contemplate the idea of committing suicide. The characters in It’s a Disaster ponder some of the same options.

Beyond all of these natural impulses and truths about how people react in these types of situations, this film also brings to light something that we always tend to look over when watching these moments of hopelessness. The film was most definitely a critique on human behavior in times of “doom,” however; I think the film was more obvious in making the point of what happens to our relationships when they enter what is called the scarcity zone, regardless of whether or not the apocalypse is happening. Let me explain further.

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When something becomes unavailable to us, we lose our freedom to choose that “something.” And, we hate it when we can’t chose something we think we might want, especially if it’s something we already had. So, when something is taken away from us after having it, we react against it by wanting it even more; this is called Reactance Theory. Child psychologists say that we learn to react when something is taken away from us around two or three years old because this is when we start to see ourselves as individuals. As individuals, we like to be able to make our own choices. So, when we’re two and we can’t make our own decisions, we essentially lose our sh*t. Most people never escape this state, and even though we grow up into “Adulthood”(whatever the F that means..) we still see this “childlike” behavior play out every day in many relationships. Adults to me are just children who have bigger toys, bigger bodies, and even larger egos.

Two psychologists (Brehm and Weintraub) once did a study with two young boys to see if a Plexiglas barrier shielding them from playing with certain toys would make them want to play with the toys even more. They gave the little boys the toys to play with a little while, then put some behind the barrier and left some sitting next to them. The little boys had no interest in the toys next to them, even though they were the exact same toys that were behind the barrier. All they cared about were the toys on the other side of the barrier. Shocker.

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There’s also a famous cookie study that was done on adults of both genders, which shows adults are equally insane when it comes to having something taken away from us that we already had. The study showed that cookies taste better when we’re offered two of them instead of ten, and they taste even better when we’re offered ten cookies, but then some are taken away and we now only have two cookies to eat.

This is why most people have little interest in their personal finances or managing their money unless it is given to us in a very digestible way where it’s easy for the brain to manage. Generally speaking, there’s too much info, no sense of urgency, no deadline for action, the info is too boring, too confusing, so the result is “I’ll deal with it next year,” since it’ll always be here. No scarcity, no deadlines, too many available choices = no action.

“Just remember, people tend to see things as more valuable and desirable when it becomes less available than when it was scarce all along”- The Psychology of Persuasion

The above quote is illustrated well through some of the characters in It’s a Disaster. The only time scarcity works is if the two people in the relationship have a solid and grounded connection with one another. If one of the persons did not see the other as valuable or desirable to begin with (or their relationship has been in existence for a brief moment or period) then having the other taken away from them isn’t going to matter much. Scarcity does not work in that case and you can see this towards the end in the movie with some of the characters which is brilliant.

So, if you are tired of watching the same old pattern play out in disaster films, take a look at what It’s a Disaster is all about. It will make you think beyond how to survive a terrorist attack or a Red Dawn type scenario (We all know by now what to do in those types of situations…)

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