Families: Hollywood vs. America, Again
by L. Brent Bozell III
On Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, when tens of millions were
preparing to gather with their loved ones, the U.S. Census Bureau issued its
annual "Household and Family Characteristics" report. The study's
bottom line: the devastating anti-family downtrends of the past fifty years -
especially within the last two decades -- continue. In 1970, 87 percent of
American families were headed by a married couple, but by 1995, that number
had decreased to 78 percent, or roughly three in four households.
Ironic, isn't it, that in the world of Hollywood, which
purports to be but a reflection of society, the presentation of the family is
just the opposite? A statistical juxtaposition illustrates this discrepancy.
The study found that 22 percent of American families are not headed by a
husband and wife. On the major TV networks, only 19 percent of shows feature a
positive portrayal of marriage.
There are sixty-seven prime time series presently running on
ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC. To determine how they treat the institution of
matrimony, they are categorized in four ways. If the primary couple or couples
on a show are married and the institution is depicted favorably, the show is
categorized as positive. If the series features a married couple or couples,
but derides the institution of marriage, it is listed as mixed. If the show
deals primarily with the unmarried, be they sexually active singles, couples
cohabitating, or individuals with broken marriages, it is classified as
negative. Finally, if there is an absence of couples as primary characters, a
program falls into the "not applicable" category. Here's a
ABC: The best of the bunch, with five positive, three
negative, six mixed, and four "not applicable." Among the positives,
the superb "Home Improvement" is a role model for the way a
family-centered sitcom should be presented. On the other hand, the
increasingly bizarre "Roseanne" is a trendsetter for the
dysfunctional-family theme that has become so prevalent on television. It
falls into the "mixed" category because Roseanne and Dan are married
and do raise a family - but in Roseanne fashion, which is to say: by tearing
down every traditional family value in sight. (Ironically, the latest
"Roseanne" outrage took place the same day the Census Bureau study
was released. On that night's episode, Roseanne's mother announced her
lesbianism at the family's Thanksgiving dinner.)
Among the negatives are the libidinous "Spin City"
and "The Drew Carey Show," but the worst offender in this category
is "Ellen." The producers, and presumably Ellen DeGeneres, continue
to revel in the avalanche of publicity this show is receiving because both the
star and her character, Ellen Morgan, are set to declare publicly
their lesbian proclivities. And, for good measure, and in keeping with
Hollywood's priorities these days, Ellen Morgan's parents became regular
characters -- only after they decided to divorce.
CBS: Five positive, five negative, four mixed, three N/A.
Positive portrayals can be found on "Dave's World" and
"Everybody Loves Raymond." The new "Promised Land" is a
spinoff of the extraordinary "Touched By an Angel" and centers on a
close-knit family. And then there's the new "Cosby," which has
become synonymous with positive family values.
Negatives include the raunchy "Cybill," on which
the divorced title character and her divorced best friend consistently
belittle marriage, and "Nash Bridges," whose main character has had
two busted marriages. "Murphy Brown" technically is mixed because
two main characters are married, but as Dan Quayle pointed out, the series
dismisses the very nucleus of family, mother and father.
Fox: Two positive, five negative, three mixed, two N/A. Only
Fox could come up with this gem: its only positive depictions of marriage can
be found on a cartoon ("The Simpsons") and the most violent program
on broadcast television ("Millennium"). Negatives are led by
"Melrose Place" and "Beverly Hills, 90210," wherein
permissiveness is the rule, not the exception.
NBC: One positive, thirteen negative, five mixed, one N/A.
Think about it: out of twenty series, only one ("Mad About
You") deals positively with matrimony. "Something So Right" is
mixed; it features a married couple, but one with a total of three previous
marriages. Among the negatives: "Seinfeld," whose characters are
phobic about marital commitment, and "Caroline in the City," "NewsRadio,"
and "Friends," all of which feature sexually active young singles
for whom marriage is, at best, something to consider in the future.
Totals: Thirteen (19 percent) positive, twenty-six (39
percent) negative, eighteen (27 percent) mixed, ten (15 percent) not
applicable. Twice as many programs have negative portrayals as have positive
ones. Less than two out of ten promote a positive picture of marriage. Just
another indication that Hollywood doesn't reflect reality, as its defenders so
often maintain. Hollywood reflects Hollywood.
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