Monday, 29 August 2016

Alan Alda (IEE): Personality Type Analysis

Alan Alda is an American actor, screenwriter, director and science communicator, probably most famous for his role as Captain "Hawkeye" Pierce in the TV series M*A*S*H  (henceforth referred to as MASH).

What first tipped me off on Alda's type was precisely his impact on MASH. At first just one of many actors in the original cast, with several characters supposed to have more or less equal focus, gradually Alda's character Hawkeye moved to become the clear main focus of the show. At the same time, Alda himself evolved from just an actor hired to play a role to the person chiefly responsible for the the show's creative direction, by writing and directing increasingly more episodes and using his star power to steer the show in the direction he preferred. The impact of Alda's priorities is very obvious when comparing the show's seasons 1-3 to seasons 9-11, that is, from the period when his creative influence was small or negligible to the period when it was strongest (the "middle"seasons showing that trend more gradually). The first three seasons have a clear Alpha character (reflecting that of the motion picture on which the series was based), while the last three have an obvious Delta character. The Alpha period was marked by zany humour, as an anarchic comedy played clearly for laughs, where I would argue that the Beta characters and  institutions (the army itself and professional career military officers) were portrayed as ridiculous or downright insane (Col. Flagg), while the Gamma characters (Frank Burns and Margaret Houlihan, caricatures of a LIE-ESI couple) were portrayed as humourless, selfish, stand-offish, overly ambitious careerists and unconcerned with anyone else. As Alda's influence made the Delta perspective wax, the show became a more "mature" one that focused on less obviously comedic characters (such as Klinger in his original conception) and situations; dealing more seriously with the war's impact on the psychology of the characters; looking far more sympathetically at the sole remaining Gamma character (Margaret Houlihan, an obvious ESI) and even introducing a sympathetic career army man as commanding officer  (Col. Potter), while retaining its skepticism (or lack of understanding) for the more obviously Beta traits of the army and characters. The character Hawkeye Pierce himself, I would argue, likewise shifted from being closest to an ILE to becoming more like an IEE. As this shift away from an Alpha perspective and towards a Delta one can be attributed almost entirely to the influence of Alda himself, that is already a good indicator of his quadra as Delta.

Looking more closely at Alan Alda as a person. MASH was set in the Korean War, but it was conceived, and initially aired, in the final years of the Vietnam War. It was often widely assumed at the time that despite  the Korean War setting, the series was actually meant as a thinly-veiled comment on the Vietnam War - which was indeed intended by the series's creators. Remarkably, Alan Alda has consistently claimed to have never been even aware of that interpretation, nor did he ever see the series as being "about" the Vietnam War in its goals. As far as he was concerned, the whole point was to make the audience empathize with the characters in that  difficult situation, imagining themselves there, rather than having any broader message, least of all one aimed at the political situation of the time, however subliminally. In fact, Alan Alda has stated in interviews that he deeply dislikes movies or TV shows that try to convey to the audience any kind of political message through the medium of entertainment or through a story. His preference is for productions that focus on the characters themselves and allow  the audience to experience other aspects of the human condition through those characters.

I would argue that the above points more clearly to Alan Alda having the Beta elements of E+T as well  as L  in subdued positions, while having the Delta elements of I + R in a stronger, even ego position. This is reinforced by Alda's press conference during the shooting of the very last MASH episode, where he talked easily of the complexity of his own mixed feelings about the end of the series, while saying that the most important thing for him had been the opportunity to explore his creativity in the context of personal relationships (I +R again) while retaining a matter-of-fact, rather unemotional manner throughout (consistent with P6). The same subjects and traits can be observed in Alda's other interviews done much more recently.

Finally, Alan Alda has become very interested in acting in a completely different area from his original one, as a science communicator, going into subjects with which he was totally unfamiliar for most of his life, like quantum mechanics. He has said that what motivated him, at first, was that he felt bad about himself whenever he noticed that he was making use of technology, even at a very simple level, yet had no idea of how any of that worked; claiming that he felt that he should know a bit about how things work. I see that as strongly pointing to mobilizing P, especially blocked with S (i.e. not so much broader knowledge but specifically about "small-scale", practical knowledge).

Although the above in itself would not rule out EII as Alda's type, his apparent functional ordering seems to fit the IEE's more; he has more of the restless energy when talking. more typical of energizers, and finally, during the whole 11 seasons of MASH, he commuted (i.e. flew) every week from his New Jersey home to Los Angeles. This seems to me to point away from the S6 of EIIs.

I think that the overall Delta perspective on other quadras and approach to storytelling, plus I+R in ego, subdued T+E, and P6 all fit Alan Alda very well, so his type is likely IEE.

Sources: besides the overall information on his life and my own observation of MASH's development, I have looked mainly at this interview and this one, and some others.

To learn more about IEE, click here.

If you are confused by our use of Socionics shorthand, click here.

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