My nephews recently had a remote-controlled car purchased for them each following the Boxing Day sales. Today, they were both playing with them at the same time and they discovered, much to the dismay of one and the delight of the other, that the two different remotes could be used to operate the same car.
M., aged 5, on discovering this fact, manipulated it to form his own game. Instead of playing with his own remote-controlled car, he decided to disrupt his brother’s operation of his own car. He decided to interfere with his brother’s control of his own remote-controlled car. This provoked tears on the part of his older brother.
Now, this invented game of M. – to interfere with his brother’s control of his car – was clearly more pleasurable than controlling his own car. The question is why this was the case. At a general level, the disruptive strategy can be seen to interrupt the control or mastery of his older brother over the car. Yet, why would this be pleasurable? Firstly, one may assume that there is joy in frustrating the brother’s attempt at mastery over the car. M. clearly relished the pain he was causing his brother and the tears he was provoking. He was enjoying the frustration at the loss of control that his brother was experiencing. Yet, there remains the further question – why was the observation of this frustration at loss of control and mastery giving rise to pleasure? What is so pleasurable in observing the suffering of someone else? Was M.’s game based in the outpouring of resentment at his brother’s status in the family as eldest son? Or was the game completely sadistic?
I believe there is a strong element of sadism in the game and I believe it is related to the negotiation of power among the two brothers, or based in a strong element of sibling rivalry. For, in M.’s game, when he takes over control of the car from the brother, he is moving into his position. There is an implicit identification with the position of the older brother who is in control of the car. Here, it is worth pointing out that the older brother presumably operates the car with more skill than the younger M.
If this interpretation is correct, then the sadism at the heart of the game becomes clearer. In frustrating the older brother and making him suffer, M. is directing hostility at a version of himself that he sees in him. He is making himself an object in the mirror of his older brother: an object upon which he can inflict suffering. That object of the self, that version, deserves suffering because it is weaker and inferior, more clumsy in controlling the car – it doesn’t compare with an idealised position of strength and skill.
A final comment may be made about the object over which M. is attempting to exert his power and influence. It is a car. The immediate interpretation would be the most obvious: that the car represents the phallus. However, it is worthwhile mentioning that it is not only this that it represents – as Freud points out, everything is over-determined and carries many connotations all at once. The car is also a key symbol of power and individuality in the west. It may also be added that a car is an adult thing, which only adults can drive – it also represents maturity. What other associations the child is making around the idea of the car remain his own – I have not attempted to unlock the flow of free associations.