Friday, June 26, 2009

"It was after our fifth child that I turned to her and said, 'Baby, is it just me? Or are we getting serious...?' "

I don't know how you feel about marriage nowadays. Hell, I don't know how I feel about marriage nowadays. I do know that stories like this, which emanate from Hollywood on a daily basis, increasingly make marriage seem like a superfluous vestige of a bygone era: The dude and his "girlfriend," who "began dating" last year, are "expecting their first child." No problem. No mention of any plans to wed or some other reasonably permanent arrangement between them. They're just expecting a child. Not only are such developments not scandals, but they're Authentic Gala Events, especially if the parents are A-list celebs. And then there's the occasional story like this one, which...well, one is at a loss for words.

There's even a web site dedicated to celebrating this latter-day phenomenon...though some of the "tributes" sound very tongue-in-cheek indeed. (It's really hard to tell: Barack's mom in the same sidebar with Britney Spears?) And I don't know why the site focuses so determinedly on moms, anyway, since it obviously takes two.

I'm no puritan or prude
trust me on that onebut when I'm confronted with this kind of news I feel very, very old. How well I recall my wife's stories about her one-time best friend and eventual maid of honor, who had to quit school and basically disappear from public view for a time because she got pregnant in her senior year of high school. (Today she'd probably upload her sonogram, maybe even her latest pelvic exam, to YouTube.) Then I think of movies like Splendor in the Grass, which I've blogged about...and I don't quite know how to capture the sense of dislocation that sweeps over me.

I guess my real concern here is the impact that these stories have on the rest of us regular people
like the teenagers down the street. This stuff might fly in Hollywood, where there's plenty of money to go around and (leaving aside questions of whether kids belong with their mothers/fathers) everybody can bring in nannies and other help as necessary to make it work. It's highly unlikely that anyone will end up on welfare or in a shelter. I'm just not sure it's a program for successful living for some guy who strings cable for Verizon and his girlfriend-of-the-week who works part-time at Target. I worry that we've legitimized behavior that we really don't want to legitimize on a culture-wide basis.

In the inner cities especially, stories like the one I cite here would seem to undercut, in one cheery birth announcement, everything about the message of responsibility that people like Bill Cosby, Barack Obama and other voices in the wilderness are working so hard to sell.

NOTE: Once again, if you think you already read this somewhere the other day, you're right. You read it here. But it was combined with another item, and the whole thing just struck me after a while as too much reading.


Anonymous said...

"I worry that we've legitimized behavior that we really don't want to legitimize on a culture-wide basis."

I agree. I'm pretty darn open-minded (being a recovering liberal)but I can't stomach some of what I see being glorified in reality television nowadays. (16 and Pregnant on MTV! is particularly freakish.)

I'm also usually quite the optimist - I read your recent post on that with relish - but my mantra for awhile has been:
We are Rome, people! We are Rome.


RockitQueen said...

Interesting post, Steve. I certainly agree with you that people should always take responsibility for their choices...and really *think* about the choices before they make them (which most people seem to rarely do).

Here's my perspective: things have changed immensely in the last 25-35 years. A lot of that has involved a huge shakeup in normal gender roles. Women want to work outside the home (and now they pretty much have to, to stay afloat). Men are no longer referred to as "head of household." Also, there have been big changes in technology--people can be on the go all the time thanks to cell phones, BlackBerrys, etc. Living on the go is now the norm.

Things have changed so quickly that the traditional way of life just didn't have time to catch up and, frankly, isn't realistic for many. People can now actually live their lives any way they want because it's convenient and acceptable. Being pregnant and unwed isn't something to be ashamed of and hidden away from the world, as you said. But I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing...don't forget that many of those single moms were abandoned by their partners or left abusive situations. So I don't think there's anything wrong with trying to empower single parents.

The other issue is that education hasn't caught up to the new norm either. Schools are pressured to offer abstinence education and terrible, unrealistic sex ed classes. Curriculums are so dumbed down to "standards" that they don't give kids good critical thinking and real-world your-choices-have-consequences decision-making skills.

Lastly, technology has also given us shows like Bridezillas and websites like Rather than being a happy event to celebrate love and life together, weddings can also seem very wasteful and stressful events that turn everybody into annoying lunatics.

I'm rambling a bit...hope this all makes sense. Great topic, Steve...will be interested to hear others' perspectives!

Steve Salerno said...

Kim: Thanks for joining us.

RQ: Thanks for rejoining us. You always bring such an engaging blend of hipness and common sense to the discussion.

RockitQueen said...

Thanks, Steve...glad to finally get a chance to catch up on your posts!

Elizabeth said...

Love the title, Steve. Sounds like an invitation to a larger story (and, well, it is :).

Somehow I cannot think of anything important to say here. Yes, kids are best raised in happy and stable families with mommies and daddies, who are responsible and loving. But procreation (and sex!) are so messy and unpredictable that if we were to adhere to strict regulations in those matters, our human race would go extinct. People mate and produce offspring in any savory -- or not -- coupling combinations. It's been this way for, oh, eons, no?

And, not to (again) offend anyone's religious sentiments, there was once that teen unmarried virgin, named Mary... :)

Anonymous said...

Hi all,

I love the comments here, thought I'd add a bit more to the pot: I don't think it's about adhering to outworn traditional modes, or shaming single parents, or attempting to over-regulate sexuality: I think we've just started glorifying things that aren't worthy of it (the real question is: why?). It seems that more and more, the lowest common denominator is presented as desirable, even profitable.

We can be sympathetic and supportive, say, to a teenage mother without making it seem cool or *expected* behavior. We can support and honor single parents without implying that it is easy or a spectacular way to be raised. (Says the daughter of a single mom -- my parents divorced when I was born. I knew nothing else, and let me just say that it SUCKED.)

I don't see a lot of inspiration in pop culture nowadays, but a whole heckuva a lot of 'infantile' behavior and fantasy versions of what real life is like, being presented as "reality".

I was a latch-key kid, grew up 'fast and hard', and now I struggle as an 'older' mother (I'm 41, I have a 2 yo and 5 yo -- I don't feel old but keep getting referred to that way) I am faced with this surreal sense that my childhood was somewhat desirable when compared to the culture/childhood I see developing for my own children. (er, hope that makes sense...)

Rant over! Thanks for the thought food, ;D