FRONT PAGE / POSTS
by Joshua Glenn| Boston, USA
Monday, 4 October 2010
tags: americas, contributions from, culture, disciplines, emergence, header navigation
Last month, here in the United States, Fox TV premiered Raising Hope, a comedy series about Jimmy, a 23-year-old slacker who, with the unwilling assistance of his flawed family, must raise an infant daughter whom he previously didn't know existed. And today saw the release of the movie Life as We Know It, a romantic comedy about two single adults (Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel) who reluctantly become caregivers to an orphaned girl when their best friends die in an accident. Out of what US cultural trend does this Hollywood meme — call it Accidental Parenting — spring?
We've seen variations on this plot before: Dwayne Johnson, in The Game Plan, is a playboy athlete who discovers that he has a young daughter; in Big Daddy, Adam Sandler is a slacker tollbooth collector who ends up parenting a friend's illegitimate child; in The Kid, Charlie Chaplin is a tramp who raises a child he finds abandoned in a trashcan. In these earlier movies, however, there is a certain amount of drama attending the accidental parent's decision whether or not to raise the child. In these new entertainments, the choice is a fait accompli. Now, the choosers find themselves chosen — by Fate, perhaps, or some other invisible hand.
This development is closely paralleled by the Keeping-My-Baby meme in US movies and TV shows. In the early 1970s, shortly after Roe v. Wade was decided, Mariel Hemingway played an accidentally pregnant teen who exercises her right to choose… and her choice was the one articulated by the made-for-TV movie's title: I Want to Keep My Baby. For the next 20 years, the decision whether or not to bring an unplanned and inconvenient child into the world was mined for dramatic effect in everything from the TV shows Murphy Brown, Beverly Hills 90210, and Party of Five to the movie Citizen Ruth to the 1986 Madonna hit "Papa Don't Preach."
A couple of years ago, without fanfare, the Keeping-My-Baby meme ended — and a new meme took its place. In recent movies like Juno and Knocked Up, accidentally pregnant young women keep their babies without deciding to — they just keep them. (In Knocked Up, Katherine Heigl's character won't allow the baby's father to say the word "abortion.") For whatever reason or reasons, as far as Hollywood is concerned, the American habitus — to use Bourdieu's term for that system of "dispositions" which influences our ability to make decisions at a pre-critical level — no longer permits any decision-making about abortion. Not even for dramatic purposes.
As Raising Hope and Life as We Know It would appear to indicate, we're witnessing a parallel shift, this year, when it comes to the Accidental Parenting meme. No matter how a child comes into your life, our mainstream entertainments would have us believe, you can not decide whether or not you will parent that child. Like death and taxes, in the US parenting is inevitable.