Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Isn't the "family" in "family values" mostly imaginary? And the "values," for the most part, don't rise to even that level

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It may seem at first to smack of schadenfreude to chortle at the marital problems of zillionaire ultra-right sugar-superdaddy Richard Mellon Scaife.

Yet somehow, that benevolent-sounding phrase "family values" has enabled the right to preempt serious discussion of family-related social values. It seems such an obvious point, and lots of people have made it, but apparently not forcefully or often enough: Although "family values" have become a pulverizing weapon of right-wing oppression, the "family" at their heart is mostly an imaginary one.

Oh, sure, there are lots of families doing their honest best to keep body and soul together and send the kiddies out into the cruel world with a fighting chance to live as decent adults. But there are an awful lot of families not doing very well at it, and a way larger number that aren't even trying--families in which quite different dynamics are at work. In the extreme case, it has become almost a cliché for the loudest brayers about "family values"--'specially them fire-and-brimstone preachers--to turn out to be emotionally or physically abusive, all too often wife-beaters or child molesters or both.

Even the notion accepted by a growing number of appeals-court judges that the official legal definition of marriage is sacrosanct is bullshit. Until all too recently the official legal definition of marriage treated wives and children as the property of the male head of household. (Perhaps our friend Mags--who's been there and done that--might be inspired to talk more about this.)

Who could disagree that the institution of marriage is in terrible shape? I'm all in favor of a wholesale upgrading of marriage: considering what human values should be built into it and fostered by it, and figuring out how to approach the mammoth job of bringing that about. Of course, that isn't at all what the right-wing "family values" propagandists have in mind. Although in reality they have hardly a clue as to what any of the real questions might be, they imagine that they have all the answers. And so their "family" agenda calls for treating as sacred an institution that, as currently practiced, is at least as sociopathic as it is wholesomely nurturing.

In the fantasy world of "family values," it seems no big deal, for example, to require parental notification for an under-age girl to have an abortion. In the real world, what is that girl to do when such notification is likely to produce a new round of parental abuse? Or when, as is tragically common, the girl was impregnated by one of those parents (or another male relative or family friend)? How many children, boys as well as girls, have been abused sexually under the very banner of "family values"?

It all comes down to this: Having religious doctrine or dogma isn't remotely the same thing as having moral "values." For a lot of sincerely religious folk, the struggle to find one's own moral center and to deal with others in a moral way is a central part of the faith. Unfortunately, for the followers of what I think of as modern-day "junk" religions--the ones that have been at the heart of the explosion of religiosity in the U.S.--parroting dogma is mostly a convenient way to avoid grappling with real issues, including all those related to morality.

While I'm not a Christian--though come to think of it, Jesus wasn't either--I have to say that as rules go, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" seems to me pretty darned golden. It also seems to me nearly absent from the thinking and practice of the junk religionists, the tyrants of fake family values. What do you suppose Jesus would make of them?


When I tried to think what kind of art I might use to "lighten" this screed a bit, the first thing I thought of was the wonderful image of Homer and Marge Simpson I just used to illustrate that classic Homeric expression of indignation at being judged (horror!) on the basis of things he's done. Then, naurally enough, I thought of the Bundy family from Married . . . With Children.

And then, when the pictures were in place, it occurred to me that these shows have something in common besides being indescribably brilliant and staggeringly successful--they're both Fox shows! And I don't think that's a coincidence.

It's not particularly a tribute to the Fox programmers, who have over the years seemed to me singularly unknowing about their audience, but they also haven't been afraid to air shows like these that resonate so powerfully with so many viewers precisely because those viewers recognize them as being closer to real life, to real families, than the usual TV version--or than the mythical "family values" version.

Isn't it ironic that two shows that paint such shabby pictures of the American family have been on the TV network of Rupert Murdoch (pictured above)? Is there any more ardent proponent of all values right-wing? In fact, The Simpsons frequently makes savage fun of both the Fox Network and its proprietor. The fact is, though, that both of these shows have made our Rupert a fucking fortune. And for our Rupert, there's no family value higher than one with a dollar sign--and lots of zeroes.


At 9:07 PM, Blogger FaulknA said...

You make a good point about these shows that are closer to reality than anyone from the right would admit. I remember arguing with my folks about them when they first appeared. They were clueless as to why they were popular as they viewed their own parenting to be 180 degrees from what these program indicated. I didn't laugh in their faces (I waited until I got home) but I should have. They couldn't see themselves in either of these programs but I was there too and they served as inspiration for them. It just went to prove that folks believe their own lies rather than face reality, much like our current criminals in charge.

At 12:23 AM, Blogger keninny said...

What an interesting response! I guess neither show was designed for parents to identify with, though I suspect a fair number of grown-ups DID identify with one or more of the adults on Married . . . with Children, because among them Al and Peg Bundy and Marcy and her two husbands presented such a rich assortment of marital disappointment, a veritable catalog.

If you want to talk about the sanctity of marriage (an idea that both of these shows clearly found hilarious, which is one of the things that made them at once so subversive and so successful), you can argue questions like:

• Who has a better right to his/her disappointment, Al or Peg?

• Do you suppose the "family values" crowd would side more with Al or with Peg on their attitude toward "marital relations"?

• Which of Marcy's marriages, to Steve or Jefferson, embodied more wholesome family values?

I doubt that many parents would want to talk to their kids about THAT! But especially if you get a couple of drinks in 'em, I'll bet you'll find a lot of them talking to close friends about it.

Thanks for the interesting thoughts.



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