• Rosy Fingers

    You’re spot on about the weird prevalance of widowed parents in movies, and the lack of otherwise non-nuclear families. 20th Century Women was a good recent movie that involved not only a divorced parent but a family that is restructuring itself along non-biological criteria, as in, strays gathering together to form a family. I think that concept, where “outsiders” of a kind form a family of strays, is the operating narrative in the series Angel. It’s definitely one of the ideas I most appreciated about that show.

    I remember at the time being really struck by how much the background of divorce informed the Bill & Ted movies, with those two hapless boys trying to figure out how seriously to take a life without maternal guidance. It’s not super up front in the script, but the story is propelled by the boys’ implicit disregard for their fathers and the absence of mothers. Escaping the dictates of Ted’s military dad is the reason they need to go on the adventure, and Bill’s dealing with confusion about his feckless dad and the new, very young step-mother. (“Thanks, Missy… I mean Mom.”) So they wind up gathering a family of sorts in their historical adventures.

    • Though in Bill & Ted, the biological mothers might as well be dead, since we never hear about them.

      • Rosy Fingers

        Very true. Although, in 20th Century Women you never hear about the biological dad, I don’t think. Sometimes the story might just be about adjusting to this new living arrangement with one parent. Bill & Ted though, I think it’s more about it being story about growing into manhood. The reasons why the film thinks women are superfluous to this growth are myriad and not great, but I imagine that’s why these choices were made.

        One question I have, which seems related, is why there seems to be so many more films and TV shows where a child lives with a single dad (whether through divorce or widowerhood) than children living with their mums? Statistically, that is way off…

        The answer to that question is probably similar to the reason why Bill & Ted basically elide the presence of women in the characters’ lives: men have daddy issues.

        • I haven’t actually seen 20th Century Women, I must admit.

          But, yeah, a lot of modern storytelling runs on daddy issues, and you’re right that it’s probably the answer to your question.

        • That is interesting, how most films about divorce focus on one parent or the other, and have the absent parent just be absentee by default. Both of my parents were super-involved in my life growing up while also rarely appearing to interact with each other, which is a dynamic you don’t tend to see that often.

    • Plus, there’s the added issue of “what if your dad marries someone who’s like 2 years older than you are” with Missy, which…ew.

  • DJ JD

    Great article and great point. It seems a pretty glaring omission when you look at it, if only because the tension and drama that the process of blending (or dividing!) a family creates is just grist for the mill for any drama or comedy.

  • Me remember hearing creator of Phineas and Ferb say he wanted to portray healthy stepsibling relationship because he was very close to own stepbrother, and there almost no positive portrayals, and only handful of negative ones (ie. Cinderella).

    And big part of only showing “traditional” families certainly heteronormative agenda that still pretty well baked into cookie when it come to movies and TV. But me suspect it also narrative convenience. Me spent several years writing novel (which me about ready to put out on Amazon), and it have two lead characters, and alternate their POV. One is dealing with death of her parents, so her being orphan is central to story. But other one is basically well-adjusted teenager thrust into extraordinary situation, so he was going to have stable home life for contrast. And then me rewrote story so his mother died when he was young. Because Mom would have been one more character me had to write, and me had nothing for her to do in story. It just one more person you have to account for and work into storyline, and that problem multiplied if it TV show or movie and you have to hire actor to play that character. So me can imagine that family of 4 easier to write for than family with step-parents, half-siblings, etc. Not that that not should be part of stories, and not that it not have lot of story potential. But me can see how writers/producers would choose simpler story path.

  • Also, me know this is nitpick, but it thing me see constantly and it bug me when everyone assumes something is true when it not true:

    Half of all marriages not end in divorce. Divorce rate was 50% for few years in ’70s when divorce laws were liberalized and lot of people got out of bad marriages. Then it dropped down to about 30% and has stayed around there. And take into account significant number of those divorces people who got married very young and thought better of it, which not uncommon among people who have “no sex until marriage” drilled into them from early age.

    So it not like two 30-year-olds walking down aisle have 50/50 chance. Probably more like 80/20.

    • I just saw this; thank you for the correction. You notice how people never talk about the fact that eighty percent of all marriages end in death?