North Texas Daily

The fatal flaw in family-focused media

The fatal flaw in family-focused media

The fatal flaw in family-focused media
February 14
16:35 2020

The term “moral” as it applies to literature and media refers to a lesson the material is intended to impart. While the methods a body of work employs to convey its morals are often inspected for consistency and subtlety by critics, the moral itself rarely garners any backlash, even when it should.

I’m not referring to an over-hyped piece of classical literature, though this critique undoubtedly applies to Lolita. Over the holidays, I began to burn out on a certain superficial stance many Christmas-themed B-movies adopt in order to create the illusion of depth. Painfully sub-par films like “A Bad Moms Christmas” and “Fred Claus” both portray their main characters as immature pot-stirrers for denouncing their emotionally abusive mothers, and depict said mothers as oblivious but well-intentioned old biddies whose repugnant behavior should be tolerated lest they crumble in the face of criticism. Both of these movies end with their respective protagonists resigning themselves to a fate of emotionally taxing holidays for the rest of the foreseeable future, having somehow concluded that they themselves were in the wrong for failing to perceive their mother’s relentless bullying as quirky.

This simplistic yet problematic trope might be somewhat easier to digest if it only ever cropped up in holiday B-movies, but unfortunately, it seems to have transcended the concept of genre and leached into a variety of mainstream material. The unnamed protagonist of award-winning tragicomedy Fleabag acts inexcusably selfish at times, but the frustration she feels at her father’s refusal to stand up to his vindictive wife on her behalf is, confoundingly enough, depicted as indicative of that selfishness, even though it is warranted.

The hypocrisy perpetuated by this trope concerning familial obligation is so pronounced that the fact it’s almost never addressed seems like an oversight on the part of every writer that has ever utilized it. Usually, the child is guilted into tamping down on their emotions for the sake of preserving familial unity, while the parent and perpetrator continues to verbally assault the protagonist without ever being held to that same thematically established standard. That is because the concept of familial obligation is only there to sugarcoat a more sobering message for the audience which is that children are always in their parent’s debt regardless of circumstance, and should act accordingly.

This is an incredibly dangerous societal precedent to set, as I personally know child abuse victims and members of the LGBTQ community whose parents have gas-lit them into enduring further maltreatment using this exact tactic. LGBTQ people are already expected to lavish gratitude onto family members who do the bare minimum of not disowning them, even when said family members regularly engage in disparaging commentary regarding the person’s orientation. To see their frustrations invalidated onscreen could prove immensely disheartening.

Cutting off toxic family members without accounting for familial hierarchy should be normalized for the sake of those who were not fortunate enough to grow up in a supportive environment. No one should have to suffer the indignity of acquiescing to fat-shaming mothers or emotionally bereft fathers in real life, and therefore, no one should have to watch their fictional counterparts endure victim blaming onscreen.

Featured Illustration: Kylie Phillips

About Author

Rachel Card

Rachel Card

I am a junior majoring in public relations and minoring in sociology. I was born in Austin, Texas, and currently live in Denton with my roommate and starter cat, Gen.

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