And *Sometimes* It’s Just Wrong

I call what I’m doing here ghostbusting, because a lot of this stuff is so subtle, and so minor taken *in isolation*, that I’ve been accused of jumping at ghosts. The whole Mrs. Doubtfire thing is a good example of that.

Consider Robin Williams’ speech at the end of the film:

Oh, my dear Katie. You know, some parents, when they’re angry, they get along much better when they don’t live together. They don’t fight all the time, and they can become better people, and much better mummies and daddies for you. And sometimes they get back together. And sometimes they don’t, dear. And if they don’t, don’t blame yourself. Just because they don’t love each other anymore, doesn’t mean that they don’t love you. There are all sorts of different families, Katie. Some families have one mommy, some families have one daddy, or two families. And some children live with their uncle or aunt. Some live with their grandparents, and some children live with foster parents. And some live in separate homes, in separate neighborhoods, in different areas of the country – and they may not see each other for days, or weeks, months… even years at a time. But if there’s love, dear… those are the ties that bind, and you’ll have a family in your heart, forever. All my love to you, poppet, you’re going to be all right… bye-bye.

There are other problems in the speech – particularly the part about different kinds of families – but what I’m focusing on is the bolded section.

You know, some parents, when they’re angry, they get along much better when they don’t live together. They don’t fight all the time, and they can become better people, and much better mummies and daddies for you.

Obviously this is going to be the case sometimes. Most things are the case sometimes. But the reason I refer to the movie as a “ghost” is because it fits my philosophy of ghostbusting: This is just another contributor to a culture that normalizes divorce. Not technically incorrect or harmful when this specific point is taken in isolation, but looked at in the context of the larger world it all feeds into very dangerous and destructive societal views about marriage.

The key to that sentence is that the divorce was a good thing. Its point is that when the parents divorced, they were becoming better mommies and daddies.

Now taken in isolation, you can probably stretch that in a way that makes it acceptable. But it’s a product, all part and parcel, with divorce propaganda. Like the “Mom is the boss” commercial. Sure, on its own, its funny and kind of cute, but its part and parcel of a culture dedicated to tearing down the father.

This might all seem trivial and rather petty, but we’ve reached a point where there are so many ghosts that the overall picture is starting to look rather solid. It’s high time to bust – and I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.

[Taken partially from a response to James, but this is a point worth making generally.]

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16 Responses to And *Sometimes* It’s Just Wrong

  1. Crude says:

    I notice that divorce, like everything else, starts out as ‘Show tolerance. Sure, it’s bad, everyone knows it’s bad, you don’t need to judge. Just be supportive!’ and quickly becomes ‘It’s not bad at all. It’s necessary, even important. Disapproval is what’s really harmful. That’s hatred.’

    • Crude says:

      I’ll add – tell me divorce is necessary sometimes. At least for separation, I can see that at times. Most people can.

      But one problem is that people say divorce is necessary sometimes… and then when time comes to ask when it’s necessary, things start getting vague (‘we’re just incompatible’) or just assume that a given situation (‘we’ve fallen out of love’) suffices, end of story, let’s not talk about this anymore. ‘Necessary sometimes’ gets turned into ‘necessary in absolutely every situation where people actually want to get divorced, in practice’.

      • Mike T says:

        I’ve often wondered if most people wouldn’t in fact be happier if they had a less romantic and rather more pragmatic view of what marriage is and should offer. Say what you will about the “marital debt,” but it lays out boundaries and expectations quite nicely that allow society to say to one or both parties that they are objectively failing basic metrics on their role in the marriage.

      • Crude says:

        I’m not familiar with the term ‘marital debt’, but a pragmatic view of marriage does seem key. I notice that the modern world in general seems to think in terms of happiness and satisfaction, with ‘duty’ and ‘responsibility’ being viewed with a lot more suspicion. Marriage is fundamentally based on an oath. By now it seems like people think that’s just some cutesy thing that’s said, not something that means anything.

        I wonder if it would be helped by the priest saying, right on the altar, ‘You realize this is serious, correct? This is a vow you both are swearing to?’

      • Mike T says:

        The marital debt is roughly about gender roles AND that there are certain things those must necessarily entail. The man must fight and provide for his family. The woman must be willing to provide sex and children to her husband and be a helpmeet. It more or less corresponds to the expectations men and women had, until modern times, about what the husband and wife bring to the table and must do for one another.

      • Andrew says:

        I find myself in substantial agreement. Over the last couple of centuries, society has embraced the idea that marriage is about love, by which we mean a combination of infatuation and affection.

        (1) There is a connection between marriage and love. But historically, it has mostly been “You’re married, now love”, not “you love, so marry”. This is not to deny that romantic love / attraction has featured prominently in fiction throughout the ages, but historical fiction portrays it as a force that can be both destructive and constructive. Yes, “love never fails” (1 Cor 13:8), but Paul is speaking of goodwill and humble service, not romance and passion.

        (2) Structurally speaking, marriage is for the good of society, not the couple. While there are evils lurking when society is structured around “knowing your place”, you at least have a society, rather than a collection of self-defined and self-gratifying individuals. We on longer understand laws around marriage and sex, because we view marriage as primarily a contract between individuals and not between individuals, families and societies.

        This is why either the state must be involved in marriages, or they must be governed by social conventions that are stronger than the state. Marriage and family is the building block of most societies, and all stable ones. This does NOT mean that there is no place in society for the unmarried, the divorced, or the orphaned, but if we cannot hold up and honour marriage as normative and aspirational then either our society will inevitably dissolve. Marriage and childbearing grounds society in history and makes a statement about its future.

        (There is an alternative – a totalitarianism that replaces procreation with a political ideal. Sparta tried this, but it is Christianised Rome that left its legacy for two millennia. The USSR tried it, but it is in the process of re-establishing more lasting cultural identify. The enlightened west still yearns for a society where “me, now” is the defining cultural centre, but we are losing our cultural coherence. Inheritance, power, or dissolution – choose one, but choose wisely).

      • Mike T says:


        One ironic thing about losing the marital debt and gender roles in large parts of Christendom is that it shows plenty of signs that these things were part of what probably helped make spouses more attractive to one another in the past. In general, they forced men to be more masculine and women to be more feminine. Neurotypical men and women tend to find the more their spouse fits the ideal of their gender, the more attractive they are. “Equality” is just another word for androgyny. So in the awful, primitive past it’s far more likely that the average couple, despite forming pragmatically, probably actually found each other more attractive on a variety of levels than the typical couple today based on “wuv, twooo wuv.”

      • Hrodgar says:

        Tolkien’s Letters #43 and #49 cover a lot of this territory. In the first he is writing to his second son on sexual relations in general, and among other things he claims “It is notorious that in fact happy marriages are more common where the ‘choosing’ by the young persons is even more limited, by parental or family authority, as long as there is a social ethic of plain unromantic responsibility and conjugal fidelity. ”

        In #49 he is arguing against the idea of C.S. Lewis that the state should simply maintain an entirely separate system of marriage and divorce from the Church (which, as Tolkien mentioned, was in fact already the case for Catholics).

  2. Zippy says:

    Divorce (that is, legal separation) is sometimes necessary in the same way that prison is sometimes necessary: that is, it is necessary when (and only when) someone has done a terrible moral wrong.

    “Remarriage”, on the other hand, is neither possible nor “necessary”, ever.

  3. Zippy says:

    One of my less popular (even for me) suggestions about how the civil law should treat divorce:

    People are always trying to make marriage and divorce into purely private matters between individuals. This has always stuck me as bizarre, since few things have a greater effect on the survival of communities and whole civilizations.

  4. Andrew says:

    On James: I agree that the children should not be condemned for the failings of their parents. But if we cannot honestly tell them “Your parents failed, but you can do better” then we leave them no hope.

    • Mike T says:

      James seems to believe his grandson hasn’t probably already figured out on some level that his parents failed one of their most important obligations in life. How James approaches that is a matter of knowing the age and the audience, but he seemed to be willing to risk insulting grandson’s intelligence. Kids aren’t stupid. They know divorce is not some freak force of nature that strikes good couples like something out of a Greek tragedy.

      • I think James is a good guy and a smart guy, and I’m sympathetic to him here. But really, if he wants to show up to tell me how his family is an exception, that’s not very helpful. I’m not talking about exceptions, I’m talking about the norm.

        How he deals with things in his own family is his own business. Maybe the way he’s doing it is the right thing to do; without being there, I really don’t know. But once you bring it up as a talking point it’s hardly fair to expect us not to respond, or to respond only in a chorus of approval. If you don’t want it talked about, don’t bring it up.

  5. Jill says:

    I’m just going to be the conspiracy theorist and say that it’s a concerted effort by evil people to produce gender-bending, divorce-happy, family-wrecking films. Most art that is any good doesn’t just reflect. It also creates and perpetuates ideas. However, there are images more powerful than art. I still remember from childhood our family going to a double-feature at the theater. I don’t remember either film at all, except that the second one was a comedy with a divorce theme, and my dad got up after about 30 min, pulled us all out of our seats, and we left the theater. Come to think of it, it might have been Mr. Mom, which I don’t think is a divorce film primarily. Nevertheless, my dad didn’t approve of it. That left way more impression on me than the films themselves.

    • Crude says:

      Most art that is any good doesn’t just reflect. It also creates and perpetuates ideas.

      That really is a key, and I notice that the same people who used to say ‘It’s just a story, it’s fiction! You’re upset over -fiction-, for goodness sake!’ now are the champions of fighting microaggressions in fiction and reality, viewing any deviation from their norms as an implicit attack on them.

  6. Marleen says:

    Another way that Mom as “the” boss “funny” commercials are problematic is the idea a mom can’t have authority unless it’s in the context of needing or wanting to rebel. If a man is in authority, the idea is the purpose involves providing order and safety. This should also be so for Mom. Further, there’s another commercial (I don’t remember what is being advertised in terms of product) where the dad says, “Don’t tell Mom.” That’s just a wrong direction to go into.

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