Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Tragedy of Low Expectations, Part 2

It's easy to blame the growing disregard for commitment on popular culture.

I can still remember a moviegoing season when every time I went to the theater I had to put up with a trailer for "Road Trip." The film's basic premise is this: a college boy has loveless sex with a vulnerable girl; he's so proud of the deed that he videotapes it; the tape gets mailed accidentally to his girlfriend at a college across the country; he and his friends must race to retrieve the tape before it falls into her hands. We're supposed to root for them, but every time I saw the trailer, all I could think was, "If he never meant to be faithful to his girlfriend once they went to separate colleges, why didn't he just break up with her?" But then, commitment is not meant to be taken seriously in the world of "Road Trip," where one of the friends will tell a plus-size gal that he loves her just so he can claim her tiger-skin underwear as a trophy. Follow your Lower Halves, boys and girls.

It's not just "Road Trip," or even movies like it. Think for a moment of your favorite TV shows. Try to think of at least five shows in which an important character is happily, or at least stably, married.

Tough, isn't it? Yet single and divorced characters abound. If we had only television as our basis for judgment, we'd believe that in the U.S. population, married people are a distinct minority.

Oscar Wilde points out that those who say art imitates life are wrong; it is, in fact, life that imitates art. So it's easy to throw stones at popular culture and its highly questionable depictions of love, sex, and marriage. Too easy.

Pop culture may influence our choices, but it does not determine them. As I said in Part 1, and firmly believe, at the end of the day we are responsible for the choices we make. We can try to get rid of God's pesky gift of free will, but we'll fail. Our excuses are a sham. If we want to look for people to blame for the apparent disregard for monogamy and commitment, the cornerstone of the marriage vows, we may have to look in the mirror.

I once had a conversation with a young man who firmly believed that divorce was a natural progression from marriage. If you get married, you would inevitably get divorced; it was only a question of when. Such was his theory. I know where it came from: the example of his father, who had divorced his mother and soon divorced his stepmother, trading old spouse for new (and younger) every few years. In an easy-divorce culture, this example is not isolated.

A great part of a generation of young people has grown to adulthood without ever having seen a happily or stably married couple. Is it any wonder that they have more faith in divorce than in marriage?

Sure, we could blame pop culture. but we'd only be casting onto someone else the responsibility for fixing the problem.

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