May 13th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Since it’s Mother’s Day, we’re not surprised to see the many tributes to mothers in both the broadcast and print media. Indeed, we’ve seen much of that sort of thing in the days leading up to Mother’s Day, and rightly so. That’s what the day is all about. As with every intimate relationship, the one with our mother is ambivalent and conflicted, but usually suffused with a deep love and emotional bonding. But Mother’s Day is the one day in the year on which we set aside the questions, the conflict, the uncertainties and simply honor mothers generally and our mother particularly. Good for us.
Except for this article which I’m disappointed, thrilled and let down to see (Houston Chronicle, 5/13/12). It’s entitled “Worst Moms Ever” and it’s less of an article than it is a slide show with captions. The “writer” picked out a few mothers who were less than saintly and put a pictorial piece together about them. There’s not much there, but it struck me because the paper chose to celebrate Mother’s Day by slamming bad mothers. Strange.
That’s why I was disappointed by the piece, so why am I thrilled about it? I’m thrilled about it because mothers are finally getting some of the same treatment on their day that fathers are routinely accorded on theirs. It’s long been one of the salient features of Father’s Day that many, many media outlets seize on the event as an apt moment to heap abuse on dads. It happens every year. Father’s Day is the time when those who are largely ignorant of issues surrounding fatherhood crawl out of the woodwork to register their opinions on the – according to them – deficient nature of males with children.
So, disappointed as I am that we can’t manage to make one day of the year unambiguously a celebration of mothers and motherhood, I’m also glad to see a nod toward gender equality. What’s sauce for the goose…
But then, why am I let down by the piece? After all, doesn’t it point out that mothers often aren’t the walking vessels of virtue and goodness they’re often made out to be? And isn’t that a good thing? Well, it would be, except the slide show of worst mothers consists, almost exclusively of fictional characters. There’s Carrie’s mom for example, the crazy religious zealot obsessed with sex. There’s Angela Lansbury in “The Manchurian Candidate,” Jessica Lange in “American Horror Story” and the like.
All of which raises an obvious question: could the Chronicle blogger really not locate any lousy moms from real life? The answer is that she could have done so easily; the news is full of them every day and an effective search term is all it takes to find them. So why didn’t she? Her piece eschews the hearts-and-flowers approach to Mother’s Day, presumably because she wants to skewer the notion that mothers are, in some way, morally superior to the rest of us.
Needless to say, her almost exclusive use of fictional characters undercuts the message. It’s as if her real message is that bad mothers are fictional, the product solely of someone’s imagination. As such, the piece that pretends to the truth actually contradicts it. Bad mothers are all too real; ask any CPS caseworker. But to the Chronicle blogger they’re made-up.
Even the non-fictional mothers she includes, like Joan Crawford or Sybil’s evil mother, appear, not in their real selves but in fictionalized accounts of them. The blogger includes a photo, not of Joan Crawford, but of Faye Dunaway playing her. From the article’s point of view, even the real is fictional when it comes to bad moms.
What I thought was a step toward gender equality turned out to be less than I expected. Far from giving mothers the same disrespectful treatment fathers get every year, the piece pulls its punches. According to it, there are no actual bad mothers, only those brought to us by Hollywood where real children aren’t hurt, sexually abused or killed.
Every time I think we’re about to step out from the cloud of mythology surrounding mothers and fathers, and embrace the facts, I have to think again.
So let’s stop with the snarky pieces dissing dads and moms on their special days. Let’s just play nice for a change. Hey, there are 364 other days every year.