Here are some things that I’ve watched recently that opened my eyes to some cultural training that I had apparently undergone without realizing it…
Spanglish – Adam Sandler plays a good father and husband who’s married to a cruddy wife (Tea Leoni). Seriously cruddy. They hire a beautiful spanish-speaking woman to help around the house. Then the cruddy wife takes a bigger interest in the spanish lady’s gorgeous daughter than in her own chubby daughter. More and more unsatisfied with his marriage, the guy realizes that he’s falling in love with the maid, and she with him. After finding out that his wife has been cheating on him, the guy and the maid share an evening together (nothing untoward) at the guy’s restaurant, realize that they love each other, and are forced to make a decision. The maid decides to move out, and the guy decides to stay with his wife and work out their problems.
Glee – One of the central characters in the Fox Network tv show ‘Glee’ is a high school spanish teacher (Mr. Shuester) who is madly in love with and devoted to his wife, and they are expecting a baby. As it turns out, she had a ‘hysterical pregnancy’, but instead of telling her husband that she is not in fact pregnant, she has decided to fake her pregnancy and has arranged to take a pregnant student’s baby when it is born. The husband is strongly attracted to his school’s guidance counselor (Emma), but they agree that their relationship should not go anywhere since he is married. The scene finally comes when the teacher finds out that his wife has been lying to him about her pregnancy. The next day at school, he talks to the counselor, who mentions that divorce is regrettable, but understandable in his situation. His response is a simple, “Who said anything about divorce?”
Once – Once features two characters (simply called “Guy” and “Girl” in the credits) who meet at low points in each of their lives. Guy has just been left by his girlfriend, whom he loves madly. Girl has just moved to the country with her daughter to get away from her husband. They begin a friendship through music, and there is a good bit of relationship-tension. Ultimately, they don’t get together. Guy flies off to London to get back together with his girlfriend. And the movie ends with Girl and her husband happily playing with their daughter.
What do all these things have in common, at least for me? I was disappointed and dissatisfied with them at first. Three stories where the cute couple, the star-crossed lovers, the ones who are perfect for each other, the couple you’re really rooting for don’t get together. My first response to all of these situations was, “What?! Really? What a poor ending!”
Then I thought about it a bit more… I realized that by rooting for the traditional, typical, expected “guy and girl get together and all the good people are happy”, I was rooting against marriage. Let that sink in… By wishing that Adam Sandler’s character would leave his wife to be with the maid, that Mr. Shuester and Emma would get together, and that Girl would leave her husband to start a relationship with Guy, I was wishing that these characters would cast away their marriages in the hopes of something better.
And then it hit me… This was not how I would want things to go in real life. If I were part of a similar situation in real life, or I were counseling a friend who was, I would make every effort humanly possible to save the marriage. So why should my response to a form of media be any different? Why would I root for these marriages to end so that “the right couple” could be together? The answer is that our culture spends a massive amount of time and effort and resources trying to convince us that love is something you can fall into and out of, and that each person has a ‘soul mate’, and that whatever steps we take to be with our soul mate are justified. It’s cultural training. And by and large I’d say it’s pretty effective.
Kudos to the people who made ‘Spanglish’ and ‘Once’, and who are making ‘Glee’. The simple fact that you shocked me by writing characters who want to save their marriages has opened my eyes just a little bit more to the effects of my media consumption.
To the rest of you who, like me, probably consume media quite a bit each day, let’s strive to keep our eyes open and our heads on straight a little better. Let’s be shocked by the marriages that do end instead of the ones that don’t.