The decay in the American family is, by now, well-recognized. Birth rates are all-time lows and dropping. The children that are born are increasingly raised by single parents (US leads the world in children raised by only 1 caretaker) and in prison-like public institutions.
At the same time, entertainment for families and children has become increasingly hostile to families. It is true that this may not be causal. It is likely that entertainment is reflecting the society that created it, although that may feed a self-perpetuating downward spiral.
If you want to evaluate whether a show, movie, book, etc is anti-family consider how many of these anti-family tropes it relies on:
- An unhappy marriage
- A harpy wife
- A licentious husband
- Terrible in-laws
- Parent characters who never mention kids
- A dumb dad
- A Mom who’s WAY better than the dad
- A pointlessly authoritarian dad
- A mom who needs a break from the kids (especially for a glass of wine)
- Parents who can’t wait for kids to be away (e.g. going back to school)
- A comment about how terrible having kids is
- A character promising never to have kids
- Kids who wreak unchecked havoc
- Kids who disobey parents to positive effect
- Siblings portrayed only as antagonists
- Friends and family with successful families portrayed as odd ducks
- Life ending at marriage/having kids
If there are more than 3 or 4 of these tropes in a show for your kids, it may be anti-family. Consider what lessons your kids are taking from the show and how it may be impacting your own relationships.
It would be one thing if these were simple portrayals of the dynamics and inhabitants of an imperfect world, but I find it difficult to convince myself that is the case. The tropes above are tropes for a reason - they are now so deeply ingrained in our expectations that they have become defaults.
Positive, countervailing portrayals of family life exist, but they are no longer mainstream. Happy nuclear families simply aren’t cool. The balance of the portrayals is so heavily negative that it amounts to narrative fatalism; “I guess we can’t do better.”
But I believe we can do better.
Copper Jungle produces - and will continue to produce - stories that hold successful families up as a worthy aspiration.
Does this mean we will never portray families or family relationships negatively? No. But it does mean that we believe in nuclear families, happy marriages, children who are cherished by their parents, and siblings who make enjoyable company. Further, we believe we can tell great stories that feature or even highlight these relationships.
Marva Collins with her father
To some degree, this is aspirational. Family life is never perfect - for some it is even terrifying and dangerous - but it can be wonderful. Families can be a source of incredible support, stability, and even fun. That is worth aspiring to, even if reality doesn’t always live up. In the words of scholar Richard M. Weaver, “Gentlemen did not always live up to their ideal, but existence of an ideal is a matter of supreme importance.”
There are few places in American society that need such an ideal more critically than family. I hope we can be part of rebuilding it.