Home Movies: The American Family in Contemporary Hollywood 9780755693788, 9781780761824

The American family has long been at the centre of the typical Hollywood narrative. But the depiction of the nuclear fam

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For my parents, Barbara and David, with all my love

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Illustrations 1 2 3 4 5

6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Annie’s entrance seen from George’s point of view in Father of the Bride (1991). Jack and the ‘mannary’ gland from Meet the Fockers (2004). The idealized family home in Father of the Bride 2 (1995). Francesca is objectified through her introduction in a photograph, The Bridges of Madison County (1995). Miranda’s masquerade is broken down as she appears with no make-up, displaying her maternal emotions in The Devil Wears Prada (2006). The action mother is sexualized by her figure-hugging wetsuit in The River Wild (1994). The Commander’s superhero costume juxtaposes with the domestic space in Sky High (2005). Carmen chooses a mature outfit in Spy Kids (2001). The Commander’s ‘disguise’ in Sky High visually references Superman’s disguise as Clark Kent. The superhero family of The Incredibles (2004) frequently pose, ready for action, with the dominating figure of the father at the centre. Jetstream has to transport her husband, The Commander, in an undignified fashion in Sky High. The final shot of Deep Impact (1998) is of the devastated White House. Armageddon (1998) is peppered with nostalgic images of America. Grace is frequently framed in front of the American flag in Armageddon. The Hinton’s impressive family home in Daddy Day Care (2003). Angelica Huston as Mrs Harridan, the militaristic matriarch of Daddy Day Care’s Chapman Academy.

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The grand and imposing Jones house in Guess Who (2005). Armand is masculine while Albert is feminized, allowing the homosexual family of The Birdcage (1996) to echo its heteronormative counterpart. Nic, the butch mother, is separated from the rest of the family in The Kids Are All Right (2010). Wally makes breakfast with his son in a scene from The Switch (2010) that visually references Kramer vs. Kramer (1979).

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Acknowledgements I am eternally grateful to Stella Bruzzi for her support and guidance throughout the writing of this book. I am also grateful to my editors at I.B.Tauris: Philippa Brewster for initially seeing the promise in this project, and Anna Coatman for patiently guiding me through it. In addition, I would like to thank Nick James for his diligent copy-editing of this manuscript. On a personal note I want to extend my thanks to those friends and family members who have supported me and encouraged me. In particular my late friend Corinne Durnin, who listened to ideas, read through chapters and provided distractions when needed, she is sorely missed and I wish I could share this finished book with her. My parents have had faith in me throughout the long process of writing this book; without them none of this would be possible and I cannot thank them enough. Finally, I would like to thank Kev, his unerring patience, support and encouragement have led me to the end of this book, as have his immortal words ‘crack on’.

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Introduction The American family is in a period of change, or so public opinion would have us believe: the traditional nuclear family is no longer the dominant model it once was. Although it is dangerous to argue that political and social values are necessarily reflected in the narratives of Hollywood cinema, it is clear that mainstream film has also had to deal with shifting family forms and the public discourse that surrounds these. This book, then, asks how Hollywood has dealt with the changes and tensions in the American family since the 1990s. As Stella Bruzzi argues, Hollywood is a patriarchal institution,1 and as such would appear to uphold the values of the traditional family model. Challenges to the nuclear family thus become challenges to Hollywood’s ideology. Right-wing commentators such as William J. Bennett proclaim that ‘the family has suffered a blow that has no historical precedent – and one that has enormous ramifications for American society’.2 This ‘blow’ is defined by Bennett as shifting attitudes towards divorce, parenting out of wedlock, cohabiting and homosexuality. While such conservative outbursts are dangerously reactionary, there is no doubt that family forms have changed. Barack Obama cites figures that suggest: ‘we’re . . . far more likely to be raising children in non-traditional households; 60 per cent of all divorces involve children, 33 per cent of all children are born out of wedlock and 34 per cent of children don’t live with their biological fathers’.3 In addition, there is a rise in homosexual families that similarly differ from ‘traditional households’. Although more liberal voices have begun to place emphasis on supporting the diverse range of contemporary American families, there has long been a precedent of ‘mythologizing about past family life’,4 recognized by family historian Stephanie Coontz and evident in the politics of Bill Clinton who, upon election to office in 1992, supported a new ‘bipartisan consensus’ that exalted the traditional family model of married mother and father plus children.5 The same attitude towards family values is evident more recently in the words of 1

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Obama, who claims that ‘children who live with both their biological mother and father do better than those who live in stepfamilies or with cohabiting partners’.6 Although Coontz argues that the past models of the nuclear family upon which this notion of ‘values’ are based were neither traditional nor idealized,7 these comments and surrounding debates are themselves evidence that the American family and ‘family values’ have taken on a mythic status in cultural discourse. This is fuelled by popular cultural representations, with Coontz, Deborah Chambers and Bennett8 (amongst others) making reference to the idealized families of The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriett (1952–66), Leave it to Beaver (1957–63) and The Cosby Show (1984–92). These programmes provided versions of what the family should be like. Indeed, Murray Pomerance sees the cinematic family perform the same function: Whether it is played for sentiment or for catharsis, for laughter or for mystification, the screen family is inevitably drawn as a glowing paragon to behold, an image to which we can in some way aspire . . . Screen families, then, are relentlessly pedagogical, teaching us how to pose, think, behave, acquire, imagine, remember, fear and anticipate as members of families in real life.9

Although the suburban post-war model of the middle-class family behind the white-picket fence, perpetuated by films such as It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) or Father of the Bride (1950), has prevailed as an image of the idealized American family, in recent years films such as Fun with Dick and Jane (2005) or The Joneses (2009) have tried to depict the fragility and artifice of such a model, with both seeing the middle-class, suburban family crumble under the pressure of capitalist values. Although set in the present, the home of Fun with Dick and Jane, in particular, is nostalgic in its style and setting, evoking idealized screen families. Both families reside in an affluent suburbia, where worth and family status are recognized through consumption: for Dick ( Jim Carrey) and Jane (T´ea Leoni) it is the BMW car and the landscaping of their garden. The Joneses is more critical of consumption; the Jones family are a unit constructed by a stealth advertising agency to encourage their friends and neighbours to purchase various goods by integrating them into their perfect family lifestyle. In both cases the fragility of capitalist values are played out: Dick loses a corporate job and as a result he and Jane are sent into a spiral of debt from which they emerge only by resorting to crime. The Joneses is bleaker: in an attempt to keep up with the lifestyle of his neighbours, Larry (Gary Cole) sends himself and his wife into debt, and as a result commits suicide. While these films are heavily critical of capitalist values, they both resolve with a celebration of an American family that is more honest and open, but upholds the same model of a heterosexual, middle-class family: Dick regains his job by humbling the corporate bosses, and the family retain their original lifestyle, while the fauxfamily of The Joneses becomes an actual family, as Steve (David Duchovny) and Kate 2

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(Demi Moore) are romantically paired, reflecting a concern for the dominant model of the American family that Chambers suggests is middle-class and white.10 Hollywood’s relationship to the family has been tested in recent years as the definition of family is changing. Chambers argues that the fluidity and diversity of contemporary family relationships means the very notion of ‘the family’ as an institution is being tested and that ‘family practices’ provides a more useful term.11 Indeed, since 1990 there has been, broadly speaking, a continuing diversification of American families, both on-screen and off. The biggest shift is the breakdown of the two parent model: as Coontz notes ‘50 per cent of American children [are] living in something other than a married-couple family with both biological parents present’.12 Although this is seen by family values advocates as proof of societal decline, it is symptomatic, primarily, of changes in family form that need to be more widely acknowledged. Yet, beyond family form, the dominant model of the American family is being contested in terms of gender roles, race and class position, and sexual orientation. The model of the white, middle-class nuclear unit, borne out of an idealized version of the 1950s family, is led by the father as breadwinner, but shifts in family form have come hand-in-hand with moves towards gender equality that challenge this. Such a shift is visible in the integration of women and mothers into the workforce, and this is echoed on the national stage of American politics through the visibility of women in the presidential campaigns of 2008. Hilary Clinton became the first female candidate to run for president and, even within the Republican Party, Sarah Palin was chosen to be John McCain’s running mate. Although not the first female vice-presidential candidate, she would have become the first female vice-president had McCain been elected. On-screen, the presence of women in more diverse and substantial roles is demonstrated, in particular in the action genre, in which films such as Terminator 2 (1991), The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and the Kill Bill films (2003, 2004) broke the precedent of male-led action narratives. Furthermore, there is a clear transformation in masculinity and fatherhood from the 1990s onwards. As Robet Bly, Bruzzi and Susan Faludi have all noted, the 1990s represents a decade of crisis for masculinity (whether real or assumed)13 that has caused a ‘softening’ of masculine roles.14 It is not just in terms of accepting more diverse gender roles that the family is changing. The dominant, nuclear, model of the American family is one that Chambers argues is ‘culture-bound’,15 in that it is specifically white. The election of Barack Obama as the first Black president in 2008 has allowed this notion of the American family to be challenged, placing a stable Black family firmly in the mainstream and questioning the strength of the ‘interconnection between whiteness, nuclearity and middle classness’.16 This is repeated in journalist Gary Younge’s question ‘Is Obama Black enough?’.17 Younge’s provocative article suggests that because of Obama’s upbringing in a largely white, middle-class home, his mixed-race heritage and his Ivy League education, he is not really ‘Black’,

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so his middle-class, nuclear family are not necessarily symptomatic of a wider acceptance of racial difference, but instead Younge sees race as necessarily classed. This complicated understanding of race and class is echoed in Hollywood narratives such as Daddy Day Care (2003) that represents the middle-class African-American family without making any reference to their race or ethnic heritage. While problematic, this also highlights that the middle-class family is no longer reserved just for white Americans. In much the same way as the contemporary American family is not exclusively white, it is also not exclusively heterosexual. As Harry M. Benshoff notes, gay men and women are increasingly keen to start families: ‘According to one recent survey of over five thousand lesbians and gay men aged 18–24, “two thirds of women and a third of men plan to have or adopt children in the next three years”.’18 These changes are accompanied by a growth in reproductive technologies, as Liza Mundy observes: [A]ssisted reproduction has gone from being an oddball, fringe technology to being perhaps the most socially influential reproductive technology of the twenty-first century . . . In the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 130,000 rounds or ‘cycles’ of IVF were conducted in 2004 . . . Close to 50,000 children were born from IVF in the United States in 2004 . . . At least 30,000 more were born from donor sperm.19

There is not just a development in the number of families created using reproductive assistance, but also the types of families. Mundy explains it is no longer just infertility that is now leading to families created through reproductive technologies, but lack of a ‘willing partner, or the presence of a willing partner who happens to be the same sex’.20 There is a shift, then, in the form of the contemporary American family, and the way in which it is created. All of this begins to challenge the staid notion of the American family: it is no longer perceived as the two-parent suburban ideal holed up behind the white picket fence, where the mother stays at home while the father provides for his brood. In the face of such changes, this book considers whether contemporary Hollywood has created its own mythic, institutional family, that upholds the dominant model of post-war America, or whether the diverse nature of the real American family is reflected. As Coontz argues, the perpetuation of false models of the American family is problematic: ‘We cannot help contemporary families if we . . . insist there is only one blueprint for how all families should look and act’,21 yet, as Pomerance notes, the cinematic family is one its audiences are encouraged to emulate.22 Hollywood’s family, then, is an influential model for its audiences, recognized by Peter Kr¨amer, who discusses ‘family-adventure’ films in terms of their abilities to act out a family’s problems on screen and to work as ‘therapy’ for 4

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the family group watching the filmic reconciliation.23 Consequently, it is necessary to interrogate the values and structures of Hollywood’s American family. The aims of this book are twofold: firstly it outlines the tropes of the contemporary Hollywood family; the dominant genres, representations and dynamics. Secondly, these archetypes of the contemporary family are used as case studies through which to assess the ‘family values’ of contemporary Hollywood. Although the book contributes to discourses about the changing nature of the family, it is the nuclear model that is at its core. The first four chapters focus on the way in which the nuclear family has been perceived and represented by contemporary Hollywood films. The final two chapters respond to this by analysing the depiction of alternative family forms – in terms of their race and class status, and through the depiction of single or homosexual parents. It is through the exploration of the nontraditional that a clear sense of Hollywood’s family values emerges, as the alternative family is consistently conceived in a manner that complements the dominant model, usually by emulating either the class position or the two parent status of the nuclear ideal. Therefore this book’s over-arching argument is that Hollywood’s family values are torn between more liberal and diverse ideals based on the actual nature of changing families, and a traditional familial structure. However, its findings are more complex than this, as there is not one overriding model of the family. This is particularly evident when analysing the contemporary global disaster film, a trend that emerged in the 1990s and continued in the 2000s, encompassing films such as Independence Day (1996), War of the Worlds (2005) and 2012 (2009). These films display considerably more conservative and reactionary politics than other genres, focusing on the paternal hero and ignoring mothers, or punishing those that transgress their natural role. Elsewhere in action cinema the superhero family of films such as Spy Kids (2001), The Incredibles (2004) and Sky High (2005) is more liberal, celebrating parental fulfilment outside of the home and depicting this as crucial to the success of the contemporary family. The focus on fulfilment away from the home is a theme that runs through other family narratives, evident in the roles afforded to contemporary Hollywood’s mothers. It is taken for granted that mothers work outside of the home, something that is particularly marked in those films in which the mother’s chosen career or level of professional success seems at odds with her maternal role, such as Courage Under Fire (1996), Kill Bill or The Devil Wears Prada (2006). The drawback here, though, is the inevitability that Hollywood’s women will desire to be mothers. Parental fulfilment is expressed through more than just professional pursuits. Hollywood affords its parents more sexual freedom than they have had in the past. Although retrospective melodramas such as The Bridges of Madison County (1995) situate narratives of sexual desire away from the family, sexually active parents are depicted as emotionally open, albeit comic, in Meet the Fockers (2004). Furthermore sexual desire and romance are crucial to the repair of the family in

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single-parent narratives such as Sleepless in Seattle (1993), One Fine Day (1996) or Mamma Mia! (2008), and in those films such as The Next Best Thing (2000) or Friends with Kids (2011) in which the platonic family fails and must be superseded by one built on a sexual relationship. This does, however, also prove symptomatic of the need to instate recognized family forms; platonic families challenge the norm and therefore must be replaced by those with two romantically involved parents. These can be of the same sex, but in same sex relationships middle-class status and gendered parental roles are a necessity, seen in the coding of gay and lesbian parents as butch and femme in both The Birdcage (1996) and The Kids Are All Right (2010). The homosexual family, as long as it conforms to these norms, is easily assimilated into contemporary Hollywood trends. However, it is gay fathers that predominate, while lesbian mothers remain almost invisible. This is symptomatic of the continued concern for paternity that dominates contemporary Hollywood’s family. The father is certainly a refigured character who must embody both feminine and masculine traits, yet rather than adopt a clearly liberal version of the patriarch, Hollywood uses concerns about the role of this refigured man to usurp women’s interests. Indeed, a common trait of contemporary mom-coms – those women’s films that deal with motherhood ahead of romance, such as The Back-Up Plan (2010), The Switch (2010) and Friends with Kids – is the focus on male paternal anxieties, and the difficulty for contemporary fathers in juggling work and parenting. Although family structures remain central to the analysis of Hollywood’s family values, contemporary films have also begun to provide a discourse on parenting styles, particularly evident in films such as The Birdcage, Meet the Fockers and Cheaper by the Dozen 2 (2005) in which softer parenting is favourably compared to a more authoritarian model. The contemporary version of the family, then, oscillates between traditional structures and liberal values, which are explored in a variety of ways. This book is primarily a close analysis of Hollywood films, but the family is analysed within a wider context. It is impossible to discuss the family without drawing upon feminism and gender studies, particularly as discourses about the contemporary family often centre on the changing role of women in society. The debates concerning women’s rights, and specifically women’s roles as mothers and domestic carers, continue to dominate American politics, with Mary Eberstadt blaming society’s ills on the ‘maternal exodus from the home’ and into the workforce.24 Moreover, Sarah Palin made a vice-presidential campaign out of her opposition to the pivotal Roe vs. Wade ruling. Feminism has fought for women’s rights, and specifically, in recent years, women’s rights concerning reproduction. As Faludi writes: ‘reproductive freedom has always been the most popular item in each of the successive feminist agendas – and the most heavily assaulted target of each backlash’.25 Betty Friedan’s seminal feminist text The Feminine Mystique (1963) recognized that it was the pressure of a specific familial set-up that was causing female discontentment. Furthermore, contemporary gender discourse recognizes

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the pressure on men to be good patriarchs, an increasingly fragile position as men no longer occupy the role of sole family protector or provider.26 Alongside gender studies, this book also employs a wider range of theoretical frameworks, discussing Hollywood’s representations within the context of American family history, in order to demonstrate how Hollywood converges from, or echoes, family realities. Family representations are also interrogated alongside those Freudian frameworks that have infiltrated popular culture since the 1950s. While Sigmund Freud’s theories have been contested by many in the years since they were published, they are important to cultural understandings of gender roles and family relationships. This book does not psychoanalyse texts, but rather recognizes that psychoanalytic frameworks have infiltrated popular culture and as such have affected the way in which family relationships are perceived. As Rachel Devlin explains, Freudian psychoanalytic discourse was: ‘Embraced simultaneously by the psychiatric profession and by a post-war public eager for explanations of “war neuroses”.’27 Resultantly Freudian paradigms, such as the Oedipus complex, frequently appeared in books, plays and films of the 1950s.28 The combination of these approaches provides an ideological analysis of Hollywood’s values concerning family form and familial roles, setting this study apart from existing scholarship in the field. Academic scholarship has not examined how Hollywood’s family values have shifted in the more loosely liberal years since 1990. Existing studies have focused predominantly on gender roles; for example, Susan Jeffords recognizes a change in perceptions of gender within this period, noting that the move towards a softer masculinity in 1990s action films, and in the ‘good’ fathers of the decade, is symptomatic of Hollywood’s acceptance of societal and political change.29 The 1980s, both in American politics and in American filmmaking, were conservative; as Andrew Britton notes, ‘patriarchy’ is the word best used to describe the ideologies of this era.30 This has been documented by film scholars in works such as Elizabeth Traube’s Dreaming Identities (1992), Jeffords’ Hard Bodies (1994) and Sarah Harwood’s Family Fictions (1997),31 all of which focus on the family and masculinity in this era, drawing the conclusion that: ‘Many of the films that came out of Hollywood during these years portrayed the anxieties of . . . what Robert Bly would later identify as the key issue for manhood in the 1980s – the relationship between fathers and sons.’32 Britton and Robin Wood33 place this focus on fathers and sons within a wider social context, demonstrating a link between Ronald Reagan’s politics and 1980s family narratives. Jeffords draws the most pertinent link between politics and family narratives, suggesting that the prominence of father–son narratives in the 1980s was a manifestation of the relationship between Reagan and his vice-president George Bush Sr., which was like that of a father and son.34 More recent work analysing Hollywood’s families by Bruzzi and Yvonne Tasker35 similarly focuses on the father. Bruzzi’s historical analysis of Hollywood’s

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fathers moves away from the model perpetuated by scholars of the 1980s, recognizing that beyond the 1990s Hollywood ‘offers a diversity of representations of the father that, consequently, suggests the fragmentations – or at least the dissipation – of the traditional paternal role model’.36 While Tasker argues that contemporary films such as Cheaper by the Dozen (2003) and Daddy Day Care provide postfeminist responses to ‘feminist calls for equity in childrearing’,37 she notes that attempts to diversify paternal characters through the figure of the gay father in films such as The Object of My Affection (1998) and The Next Best Thing are complicated by a reliance in ‘postfeminist media culture’ on a notion of male parenting that is necessarily heterosexual.38 The emphasis here, nevertheless, remains on patriarchy and the role of the father. Analysis of the maternal role in Hollywood stalled slightly in the mid-1990s, with E. Ann Kaplan’s Motherhood and Representation (1992) and Lucy Fischer’s Cinematernity (1996) providing some of the last texts to focus solely on the mother. Kaplan’s work explored filmic representations within a historical and psychoanalytical context, arguing that Hollywood has represented the mother ‘as an (unquestioned) patriarchally constructed social function’.39 This text is not able to acknowledge the more diverse maternal archetypes that have appeared since the early 1990s, changes that have been recognized in work by Tasker and Linda Ruth Williams,40 though the primary concern in both cases was not the mother, but gender roles more broadly. Scholarship concerning the family has largely focused on gender roles and representations, rather than family dynamics and values. Harwood begins to move beyond this, arguing that the families of the 1980s ‘fell squarely between those discourses which posit the family as problem and family as solution’.41 This is also noted by Chambers, who explores a range of contemporary media, not just Hollywood film, but similarly argues that ‘the family is identified both as the source and the potential saviour of society’s ills’,42 though again no sense of the values that drive the representation of the family emerges. The focus on family values and family forms in this book thus contributes valuable scholarship to a field that has been dominated by gender studies approaches. The book outlines the central archetypes that have emerged since the 1990s in Hollywood, beginning with parental roles, then exploring those films that deal with the family as a unit, before analysing the representation of nontraditional families. The first chapter focuses on the father, a natural start-place for any analysis of the American family, as it has long been a patriarchal institution. Hollywood narratives, and resultant scholarship which focused on the Hollywood father, have been primarily concerned with the father–son bond, a relationship through which masculinity has been explored. This chapter, however, is concerned with the father–daughter narratives of recent years. The relationship is crucial to the understanding and analysis of Hollywood’s family narratives since 1990, as it is during this decade that the relationship re-emerged, having been absent since the 1950s, enabling me to analyse how the father functions in a changing society. The

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re-emergence of the father–daughter narrative is symptomatic of societal changes that have seen women take on greater roles in public life. The visibility of women in the public sphere is echoed by the visibility of a more diverse range of women in Hollywood narratives. The daughter is able to challenge traditional roles in a way that the, necessarily nurturing, mother is not. She offers change for a new generation, and she has grown up in a period of supposed emancipation. As such it is impossible to discuss this relationship without drawing attention to gender binaries and the challenges that daughters might pose to masculinity. The chapter initially outlines Hollywood’s archetypes of the father–daughter bond; these are the eroticized relationship, the tomboy figure and the adored little girl. It is necessary to introduce a framework in which this book, and subsequent studies, can discuss this relationship, as very little scholarship has broached the subject. What becomes evident through these archetypes is the way in which the father–daughter bond differs from the father–son relationship by placing emphasis on the development of the parent rather than the child, yet in so doing the films still allow masculinity to be a central concern. Father–daughter films employ a variety of strategies and themes through which to explore masculinity and comment upon masculinity as being in crisis. These are the extension of the family through the grandchild, a trope generally seen in sequels and series – the focus of this chapter – such as, the Lethal Weapon films (1987, 1989, 1992, 1998), Father of the Bride (1991) and Father of the Bride 2 (1995), and the Meet the Parents franchise (2000, 2004, 2010). The continuation of the family causes a crisis for the father, involving the themes of nostalgia and a fight against ageing. The chapter argues that these challenges to the family have led to a refiguring of what Hollywood perceives the ‘good’ father to be. Traditional values remain imperative to family structures, but what these films offer is a celebration of parenting that is liberal and ‘soft’. It is emotional openness and a resultant feminization that now characterizes the ‘good’ father. That said, the refigured father comes at the expense of the mother, who remains on the side-lines in these films, and even the central daughters function as little more than a plot device to instigate the father’s crisis. It is for this reason that the second chapter of this book focuses on the maternal role and how Hollywood has negotiated this in a postfeminist climate. Interest in the Hollywood mother has waned in recent years, at the same time as Hollywood’s representations of motherhood are becoming more diverse, and therefore the mother deserves reconsideration. As such, this chapter recognizes the central archetypes of the contemporary Hollywood mother; the domestic mother, the working mother and the action mother. These are the dominant versions of motherhood within the nuclear family – the central focus of the first part of this book. Chapters 5 and 6 explore those maternal archetypes that exist outside the heteronormative nuclear family – the single-mother, the lesbian mother and the non-traditional mother who uses reproductive technologies to help create her family. What is apparent in all instances of motherhood is that the majority of

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women of childbearing age in Hollywood films will be, or desire to be, mothers. This points to a central issue in Hollywood’s representation of women: the reliance on traditional gender roles. The chapter explores these mothers through the films of Meryl Streep, paying close attention to The Bridges of Madison County, The Devil Wears Prada and The River Wild (1994) as demonstrative of the maternal archetypes. Although Hollywood continues to see motherhood as an important role for women, contemporary representations offer a more nuanced portrait and evoke feminist discourses about the plight of the modern mother. Hollywood recognizes the challenges that the respective archetypes face and therefore appears to voice a feminist critique of women’s roles. For example, the frustrations of the domestic mother in The Bridges of Madison County clearly reflect the frustrations at the core of Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. In The Devil Wears Prada Miranda Priestly must keep up a masquerade of toughness in order to succeed in the masculine public sphere, and The River Wild sees Gail’s marriage suffer because she is physically and emotionally more capable than her husband. The films explore these issues and allow the struggles mothers face to be played out, moving forward from the models outlined by Kaplan43 and Harwood44 in which mothers who transgressed their natural role were necessarily punished. Although the mother is given greater freedom than she has had in previous decades, in both The Bridges of Madison County and The Devil Wears Prada her story is told, at least in part, from someone else’s perspective. She is not given full subjectivity, instead the mother’s story is appropriated by a younger woman. The same is true of another Streep film, One True Thing (1998), in which the daughter narrates the story of her mother’s death. Although The River Wild is less restrictive in telling the mother’s story, it privileges paternal development, and thus the mother functions as a plot device in a story about paternal transformation – in much the same way as the daughter functions in the majority of father–daughter narratives. This chapter, therefore, argues that while Hollywood is representing motherhood as diverse, and recognizes the pressures felt by contemporary mothers, its narratives are also limiting. There is no satisfactory conclusion to the films that offer – within the confines of the nuclear family – female freedoms and subjectivity. The continuing tension between more contemporary, liberal imaginings of the family and traditional structures remains apparent in the superhero family films: a small group of films, including the Spy Kids franchise (2001, 2002, 2003, 2011), The Incredibles and Sky High, in which ‘super’ families all take part in the action together. These films, discussed in Chapter 3, challenge norms because they allow mothers, fathers, sons and daughters to take part in the action narrative, with relatively equal roles. Furthermore, parents who are over-invested in their children and who have given up their careers to focus on parenting actually fuel family dysfunction; it is only once they are actively pursuing their own interests that families can be repaired.

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INTRODUCTION

Although the superhero family films are liberal in their attitude towards working parents, their narratives still rely on well-worn tropes, involving the fixing of family dysfunction and the reliance on the nuclear family as the ideal model. In this respect the superhero family films have much in common with the disaster films discussed in Chapter 4, in which family dysfunction is aligned with a disaster of global proportions and must be rectified in order for both the family and the world to survive. Where the superhero films differ is that, rather than celebrating the father-as-hero, equal weight is given to male and female characters. This is echoed in the imagining of the good parent of the superhero family, who has both masculine and feminine traits. Whereas the action narratives of the superhero family films offer progressive versions of the American family, contemporary global disaster films are considerably more regressive. These films, such as Independence Day (1996), Armageddon (1998), The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and 2012, discussed in Chapter 4, align the destruction of the planet with the destruction of the nuclear family, reiterating the concerns of right-wing campaigners that ‘the nuclear family . . . is vital to civilization’s success’.45 The father is the family’s saviour while the mother is afforded roles carved out by classical Hollywood melodramas, meaning she is either punished for transgressing her natural role, or returned to a more placid position within the family.46 The traits of the classical melodrama are also evident in narratives of parental sacrifice, although here the focus is on the father sacrificing his life for the good of the family, rather than mothers making sacrifices for their children. While paternity is the central concern of these films, there is a recognition that the ideals of masculinity are shifting. Heroes such as Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) in The Day After Tomorrow and Jackson Curtis ( John Cusack) in 2012 are cerebral men rather than action heroes, and it is their knowledge and compassion that are required to save the family. While patriarchy is refigured into something softer, it is promoted as a central concern both through narratives that include the President in the action and celebrate him as the father-in-chief, as in Independence Day, and those that evoke nostalgia for a golden age of the American family. Nostalgic tropes are particularly evident in Armageddon and Deep Impact (1998) through their reference to the space race. Narratively and visually they celebrate nostalgia for 1950s America, the decade of the assumed model of the traditional family, and as such uphold its values. Traditional values regarding patriarchy are similarly evident in those ‘alternative’ families discussed in the first part of Chapter 5. This chapter is concerned with families that challenge the dominant model of the middle-class white norm, and thus focuses on working-class families and African-American families. As Chambers argues, the ‘nuclear version of the family was exposed as . . . Anglo-American, white and middle-class’.47 Working-class families, and in particular working-class Black families, complicate this model. Hollywood deals with its working-class

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families by sanitizing poverty and championing the middle-class as the ideal site. Working-class families are predominantly damaged, as seen in As Good as It Gets (1997) or Pay it Forward (2000), and can be fixed through the intervention of a middle-class paternal figure. The focus on fathers in narratives of both workingclass and African-American families allows the non-traditional to conform to the values of the dominant model. This is particularly evident in the representation of middle-class Black families in films such as Lethal Weapon and Daddy Day Care, in which ethnic heritage is largely ignored, albeit implicitly evident in the coding of white and Black as somehow different. Made in America (1993) goes some way to challenging this (although there remains a focus on paternity) as here proud African-American mother Sarah (Whoopi Goldberg) celebrates her ethnicity. The final chapter is concerned with those families that challenge the nuclear norm in terms of its form: single-parents and divorcing families, homosexual families and families created through the use of reproductive technologies. It is through the alternative families that the clearest sense of Hollywood’s family values emerges. There is no one family model that fits all these arrangements, testament to the diversity of the actual American family. Indeed, whereas single-parent romcoms and homosexual families recognize that ideal or mythic parenting is not necessarily biological, those films that focus on reproductive technologies challenge this, in particular The Switch, that concludes by instating the sperm-donor father into the family. The emphasis in this film is on the son’s need for the father, and the theme of fatherhood is once again a central concern for the alternative family. This is most pertinent in The Kids Are All Right, in which Hollywood’s first depiction of the lesbian family becomes a narrative about fatherhood, as two children wish to get to know their biological – sperm-donor – father, although the film does offer a model in which children inherit traits from their mothers rather than their fathers. Although The Kids Are All Right does begin to depict maternity in a new way, the majority of alternative families are concerned with male parenting. This is particularly evident through the concern for male parental anxiety that dominates The Back-Up Plan, The Switch and Friends with Kids. In all three instances families are formed in non-traditional ways, with The Back-Up Plan and The Switch focusing on the use of reproductive technologies. This should depict a concern for female experience, but it is undercut by male anxieties. The alternative families discussed in Chapter 6 are never punished for being different, but where they must conform is in terms of structure, with the two-parent ideal being emulated in almost all instances, reiterating the tension between liberal ideals and traditional values. The varied case studies that make up this and the preceding chapters, however, do depict the diverse archetypes that are symptomatic of Hollywood’s contemporary American family. It is a unit that wants to move forward, but is often held back by the ideologies that dominate Hollywood as an institution.

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1 Hollywood’s New Generation: Fathers and Daughters; Sequels and Series The logical place to begin any discussion of the American family is with the father. As Bruzzi explains, Hollywood, as a patriarchal institution, has always favoured the patriarch.1 Fatherhood has been played out in narratives concerned with masculinity and it is for this reason that the father–son relationship has dominated Hollywood film. At the core of this relationship is a concern for inheritance and the continuation of a suitably masculine lineage, seen in films such as Rebel Without a Cause (1955), the Star Wars series (1977, 1980, 1981), Back to the Future (1985), Catch Me if You Can (2002) and A Good Day to Die Hard (2013) amongst a plethora of others. Not only do these films centre on the necessary inheritance of the father’s traits but they also tell their stories from the viewpoint of the son, whose masculinity could be compromised by a weak father. This ideology is heavily influenced by Freudian psychoanalysis, backlash politics and the claims of the mytho-poetic men’s movement, all of which see the need for masculine figures of authority. However, in recent years the growing visibility of women in the public sphere has begun to challenge such politics, and has affected Hollywood’s family narratives. Since the 1990s there has been an explosion of father–daughter narratives, not necessarily replacing, but certainly adding to, the father–son stories. The increased visibility of the daughter signals a shift in the way in which the father is perceived by Hollywood and the way in which issues of generation and inheritance are understood. The daughter offers challenges to traditional gender roles that her mother – the domestic nurturer – cannot: she is the product of an (allegedly) emancipated generation and her lack of maternal ties allows her to more easily break gender conventions. 13

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This chapter focuses on the father–daughter narratives that have emerged since 1990. On the surface these films appear to challenge expectations: such films as Father of the Bride (1991), Twister (1996), Contact (1997), Meet the Parents (2000) and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), albeit very different in tone, demonstrate an acceptance of women’s changing roles inside and outside the home, and posit daughters as equal inheritors of the father’s traits. Hollywood’s father–daughter narratives have garnered very little academic attention, and therefore it is necessary to begin by outlining the key archetypes of these films. Although the films promise gender diversity, the majority of father/daughter films in which the father is present (rather than the absent fathers of Twister, Contact or Tomb Raider, for example) remain steadfastly concerned with masculinity and the role of the father, shifting the focus from the child (and in particular the son) – the central character of 1980s narratives such as Star Wars, The Karate Kid (1984), Back to the Future and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) – to the father. This allows concerns about masculinity to remain prevalent, while, on the surface, providing more varied family, and gender, dynamics. Masculinity and inheritance remain foremost in contemporary father–daughter narratives, through the continuation of the father’s family that is played out in sequels and series such as the Lethal Weapon, Father of the Bride and Meet the Parents franchises. Although this expansion of the family allows the father’s role as patriarch to flourish, the relationship between father and daughter is frequently complicated due to the eroticization of the bond. Such an eroticization evokes Freudian understandings of familial relationships. This chapter theorizes the relationship between father and daughter in terms of inheritance, a theme that has been prevalent in Hollywood narratives of father and son but has never been fully explored as a central trope of the Hollywood family. The daughter functions as a symbol of threat to masculinity and masculine lineage, in narratives that often focus on ageing (another threat to masculinity) and the continuation of the family. Ageing and nostalgia – both linked to a ‘crisis’ the father suffers as his beloved daughter ages in films such as Father of the Bride, Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers (2004) – symbolize wider threats to masculinity. A crisis, whether real or assumed, has been noted by authors as diverse as Robert Bly, in his masculinist text Iron John (1991), and feminist Susan Faludi in Stiffed: The Betrayal of the Modern Man (1999). What these two very different texts have in common is an understanding that men are unsure of their position in contemporary society. In the father–daughter films the tropes of ageing and particularly nostalgia function both as evidence of a crisis in masculinity, and as a way in which to evoke traditional versions of the patriarch. Films as different as Father of the Bride and Armageddon (1998) have embraced the father–daughter relationship, depicting the father’s attachment to his daughter as near-obsessive. For both George Banks (Steve Martin, Father of the Bride) and Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis, Armageddon) their daughter is at the centre of their life. Indeed, as Harry faces death at the close of Armageddon,

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it is his daughter’s life, not his own, that flashes before his eyes. The father– daughter relationship in this respect also plays out a nostalgic attachment to the past, and the father’s acceptance, or lack of acceptance, of the fact that he is ageing. Fatherhood has yet to be explored in these terms in any real detail. What is presented by the father–daughter narratives, then, is a renewed and refigured discourse about the way in which masculinity functions in the contemporary American family. Patriarchal structures remain prominent in the narratives of these films and the constructions of their families, and it is for this reason that the chapter focuses predominantly on sequels and series of films. Father of the Bride exemplifies this, and a similar extension of the family can be seen in the Meet the Parents franchise, in which, in both the first sequel (Meet the Fockers) and the second (Little Fockers (2010)), the next generation of the Byrnes/Focker family are introduced, and narratives about inheritance and family are self-consciously played out. Generation and inheritance are not new concerns for Hollywood sequels: a number of 1980s series focused on the father–son narrative, such as the Star Wars trilogy, that epitomized the franchise film built around a family drama. Films including Back to the Future and the Indiana Jones sequels capitalized on this success, so much so that William J. Palmer declared the 1980s to be a decade of sequels.2 Both Palmer and Jeffords discuss sequels of the 1980s as closely related to the political ideology of the era, Palmer in terms of the decade itself being a remake of, or sequel to, the 1950s – evidenced in Reaganite politics that sought a return to ‘family values’. Jeffords similarly experiences an echo of 1950s ideals in the familybased sequels of the 1980s. She believes the father–son relationship was emblematic of the relationship between Reagan and his vice-president (and also notes that the return to buddy films in the 1990s echoed the more buddy-like relationship between Clinton and his vice-president).3 Bruzzi extends this discussion of fathers in 1980s sequels, suggesting that the ‘serial nature of these films proposes and exalts the immortal father’,4 allowing these sequels to create a symbolic father-figure who embodies a traditional masculinity. However, where the father–daughter sequels challenge existing structures is through their focus on the father as a figure in crisis rather than as a symbolic site of masculinity. This challenges the way in which inheritance is perceived. In the father–daughter films it is significant to the father as a way of asserting masculinity, whereas in the 1980s action films it was the concern of the son who, inevitably, would be like the father. The interest in family heritage (exploited by the Meet the Parents franchise, and in particular Little Fockers, in which Jack (Robert De Niro) has traced his ancestry and is now overtly concerned with who will be the next male patriarch of the Byrnes family) is a clear feature of American films, imbuing in the family a sense of history that is lacking in a relatively ‘young’ nation. The family, then, becomes the marker of American history, heritage and pride, and the very nature of sequels/series supports this. These series begin with marriage and then, as they develop, focus

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on childbirth and the continuation of the family, with the father/grandfather as patriarch. They are bound by heteronormative structures. However, these films offer a renewed focus on the father within the domestic sphere, and as such they offer a clear discourse about parenting and what it is to be a ‘good’ father. Whereas the structures underlying the films are conservative, good fathering is perceived as soft, emotional and liberal, and thus there is a tension between masculine and feminine traits that the good father must possess.

The Father–Daughter Relationship Although the 1990s mark a clear shift towards more father–daughter narratives, Hollywood had embraced the relationship in the past. During the first part of the twentieth century the centralized father–daughter relationship was common in Hollywood films such as Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and Cheaper by the Dozen (1950), in which daughters occupied a privileged role within the family. In Meet Me in St Louis the four daughters of the Smith family are given more narrative time than their inconsequential brother, and even the family’s patriarch Alonzo (Leon Ames). Indeed it is his daughters’ desire to stay in New York after Alonzo is relocated with work that eventually changes his mind about a move, demonstrating softness and sentimentality in the strong bond between father and daughters. The women of both this film and Cheaper by the Dozen are feisty characters, daughters and mothers alike. While the father is head of the household, they manage to exert power over him through charm and gentle manipulation. Such narratives were superseded in the 1950s by father–son films that viewed ‘fathering as a vehicle for examining masculinity’.5 However, the father–daughter relationship declined in films of the 1950s and 1960s for numerous reasons, not just the increased interest in masculinity. This shift came at the same time as a wider recognition of the sexual tensions at play in the represented father–daughter relationship. Whereas father–daughter narratives of the 1940s had presented reasonably positive relationships, those father–daughter narratives that did exist in the 1950s raised ‘the notion of incestuous desire’.6 The subtle differences between the relationship of Meet Me in St. Louis, made in 1944, and Cheaper by the Dozen, made in 1950, support this claim. While incestuous desire is not explicit in either, the father of Cheaper by the Dozen is more concerned with his daughter’s romantic relationships and chastity, positing himself as her sexual protector. Devlin suggests that the disappearance of the father–daughter relationship in popular culture coincided with a shift in psychoanalytical ideology that led to the model of father as sexual protector becoming an increasingly uneasy one.7 It cannot be ignored, though, that the women’s rights movement ignited around the same time, and the problem of father–daughter incest was recognized. There is not just a dearth of father–daughter films from the 1950s to the 1990s, but the relationship also remains conspicuously absent in literature theorizing family relationships. Victoria Secunda notes that: 16

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Consequently, Hollywood’s father–daughter relationships have not been theorized, yet it is clear that the relationship tends to fall into three broad categories: the eroticized relationship, that is treated as a dilemma; the tomboy – a daughter who inherits the seemingly masculine traits of her father, but who usually exists in a narrative in which the father is deceased; and the adored little girl and doting father, a relationship in which the father’s development is intrinsically linked to his daughter’s, but is privileged over her experience.

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Of all the pairings in the family, father–daughter is the least understood, least studied by social scientists, and lowest on the agendas even of ‘sensitive’ American fathers who are struggling to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past – especially with their sons.8

Eroticizing the Father–Daughter Bond The eroticized representation, and reading, of the father–daughter bond in Hollywood films is linked to notions of sexual difference, and symptomatic of the influence of Freudian psychoanalysis on Hollywood’s family narratives. Yet, even in Freud’s work the relationship between father and daughter appears to be little more than incidental. To the son, the father is a figure of power and authority, and also, in Freudian terms, a rival. The father, in psychoanalytical discourses, leads or initiates the son into masculinity. In his brief discussion of fathers and daughters, Freud sets up a relationship between the two that has a basis in sexual desire, believing that the daughter’s attachment to the father is a result of attempts to distance herself from the mother, positing the father–daughter bond as an incidental, rather than crucial, relationship.9 As Devlin outlines, Freudian psychoanalysis became ensconced in American popular culture in the 1940s, when the father was encouraged to take a role in the daughter’s sexual development. During the post-war period fathers were encouraged to help daughters choose new lipsticks and dresses as a way of being involved in their lives: ‘A father’s love and devotion could be expressed through shared consumerism’,10 a consumerism that sexualized the daughter, and as a result of paternal approval such sexualization was celebrated. The relationship between father and daughter, and the eroticization of this relationship, was certainly acknowledged in popular culture of the time; plays, novels and films all explored the subject.11 These texts assumed it was the father’s role to offer sexual approval to his daughter.12 This eroticized relationship also played a part in Hollywood representations of fathers and daughters in films such as Rebel Without a Cause, Father of the Bride and Cheaper by the Dozen. In the last of these the father takes on the role of (sexual) protector of his daughter. Such frameworks have become integrated into popular culture (in much the same way as Oedipal structures and Freud’s model of the primal father have affected 17

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Hollywood’s father–son narratives13 ). The eroticized and over-protective father has remained a well-worn trope of Hollywood’s father–daughter relationships. Indeed, when the father–daughter relationship re-emerged in the 1990s – largely due to the acceptance of women’s achievements in society – the focus on the father as sexual protector remained uncomfortably present, particularly in those contemporary teen films that focus on the adolescent daughter, including My Girl (1991), My Father the Hero (1994), 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), She’s All That (1999), A Walk to Remember (2002), Hannah Montana (2006) and The Last Song (2010), all of which contain narratives of daughters and single or separated fathers. The films focus on this relationship as the daughter is embarking on her first romantic or sexual experiences. The father’s investment in his daughter’s life differs across the films, but he is always confidante and protector, a role played for laughs in 10 Things I Hate About You, in which obstetrician and single-father Walter Stratford (Larry Miller) is constantly in fear of his daughters becoming impregnated, to such an extent that he forces his youngest, Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), to wear a pregnancy simulation suit before heading out on her first date. Kathleen Rowe Karlyn characterizes this overinvestment as being symptomatic of an incestuous desire that is barely restrained within conventional behaviour.14 In this instance, the father’s investment in his daughter’s chastity is bordering on hysterical. The same obsessive and irrational concern is evidenced in the remake of Father of the Bride, and in the Lethal Weapon films. In Lethal Weapon 2 (1989), ageing policeman Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover)’s teenage daughter Rianne (Traci Wolfe), an aspiring actress, appears in her first commercial: promoting condoms. Initially proud of his family’s success, Murtaugh, who has encouraged co-workers to tune in and watch the debut, is mortified by its content. His reaction is overblown; he gets angry both with his daughter and her boyfriend. When he returns to work, he is the butt of many jokes and is thus publicly emasculated by his teenaged daughter announcing her sexuality. The father’s reaction to the adolescent or adult daughter’s sexuality is a motif that is so ingrained in perceptions of the father–daughter relationship that it is often played for laughs. In Bad Boys 2 (2003), policeman Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence)’s daughter goes out on her first date. While the boy taking her out looks to be in no way a threat to the girl or her chastity – he is a gangly teenager with braces and spectacles – Marcus and his partner Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) question the young man about his intentions and threaten him, putting on an act as angry Black policemen. The outcome of this is not that Marcus fears his daughter’s sexuality, but the scene is over-played to comic effect because this is expected of the Hollywood father.

Tomboys and Absent Fathers Daughters do not just function as objects to be protected by their fathers: unlike Freud, who focuses on the attachment of the daughter, Secunda draws attention to 18

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the father’s position, suggesting that the relationship between father and daughter is less harmful to the father than that with his son. She believes that a son’s masculinity and sexuality directly reflect upon that of his father in a way that the daughter’s does not. If a son plays against his gender and shows traits that are typically feminine he reflects badly upon the father’s ability to instil in him the traits of masculinity, but if a daughter plays against her femininity and adopts masculine behaviour or dresses in a masculine way it shows she dotes upon the father and is keen to imitate him.15 This framework is exploited by Hollywood, particularly in the figure of the sporty tomboy who appears in films such as Father of the Bride, Cheaper by the Dozen or A Cinderella Story (2004). Such daughters, who clearly echo the characteristics of the father, have also emerged in action-based narratives including Contact, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Twister, in which the adult daughter follows in her deceased father’s career footsteps. These films display a direct inheritance by the daughter of active ‘masculine’ traits. Lara Croft exemplifies this; her tomb-raiding antics complete work her father began. The skills needed for this are typically those of an action hero: physical strength and agility, a pre-disposition to violence, and the ability to work alone. In these action films the daughter is the central character, depicted as a son-like figure. This aligns her with the 1980s narratives of paternal reconciliation. In all three films the daughter is like the father, and their relationship evokes Freud’s model of the Primal Father who, after death (although not one caused by the daughter), becomes an idealized figure the daughter aspires to be like.16 In Contact, the father dies while he and his daughter are listening to a radio to try and hear extra-terrestrial activity. As a result, the daughter takes this up as a career and obsession, allowing her career to become a totemic reincarnation of her desire for the father – indeed she is eventually led into space to meet an ‘alien’ who is in fact the reincarnation of her father.17 These narratives show Hollywood’s ability to embrace the daughter in a more diverse role as an action hero, and are therefore symptomatic of the acceptance of women’s changing roles. In allowing the daughter to inherit the father’s traits, the women of these films effectively function as sons; other than their gender they display and inherit typically masculine behaviour as action heroines. Furthermore, the absence of the father prevents any of the erotic complications of the father–daughter relationship being exposed.

The ‘Adored Little Girl’ in Hollywood Narratives Outside the absent father action narratives, daughters tend to take on more traditionally feminine roles, and the emphasis is placed upon the father’s development. In films including Father of the Bride, Meet the Parents, and even the Lethal Weapon and Cheaper by the Dozen series, the father’s masculinity is explored through his relationship with the daughter: one of the first interactions of Lethal Weapon is between Roger Murtaugh and his daughter. The film opens as the family surprise the father in the bath with a 50th birthday cake. As he worries about his age the 19

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Figure 1. Annie’s entrance seen from George’s point of view in Father of the Bride (1991).

daughter, Rianne, says to him ‘Your beard’s going grey, it makes you look old, but that’s OK ’cos I still love you.’ In the next scene he has shaved off his beard. The daughter’s words influence his actions, immediately foregrounding theirs as a special relationship: it is the whole family that wish him happy birthday in the bath but only the adolescent daughter who lingers. Secunda discusses the father–daughter relationship as imbued with sentimentality: ‘daughters, more than sons, are often their fathers’ particular delight; if a man is to yield to sentiment, it will be likely when describing his adored little girl’.18 The manifestation of this relationship drives the narrative of the 1991 Father of the Bride. The film comically explores the overreaction of George Banks to his daughter Annie (Kimberly Williams)’s wedding, highlighting not only emotional overinvestment in the daughter, but also the eroticized father–daughter relationship. Annie’s entrance into the film, seen from the point of view of her father, is more like that of the romantic heroine than the daughter. She stands at the top of the stairs and pauses in a shot that is emblematic of the arrival, or transformation, of a female star; usually the love interest. The erotic tension in the father–daughter relationship is particularly transparent when George is introduced to Annie’s fianc´e Brian (George Newbern): George takes an immediate dislike, glowering as Brian caresses Annie’s knee. When the young couple go for a drive George shouts out ‘don’t forget to fasten your condoms’ rather than seatbelts. This uncomfortable interest in the daughter’s sex life, played for laughs, is rife in father–daughter narratives: Jack Byrnes, in Meet the Parents, insists his daughter Pam (Teri Polo) and her boyfriend Greg (Ben Stiller) sleep in different bedrooms on different floors of the house, in an attempt to protect her chastity; he also submits the son to intense interrogation, and a lie detector test. 20

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As both the Father of the Bride and Meet the Parents series progress this interest in the daughter’s chastity becomes an interest in the daughter’s offspring, reversing Freudian paradigms. Freud recognized that the daughter’s desire for the phallus is transferred to a desire for a child – something that will make up for the genital lack – and the girl’s father is the desired object of paternity for this child.19 In these films the eroticization of the father–daughter relationship is linked to the father’s desire to be parent to the daughter’s child. Both marriage and childbirth present rites of passage into womanhood that, in these films, directly affect the father, evidenced in the Father of the Bride and Meet the Parents series, forcing women’s experiences to be overtaken by male anxieties. Both Meet the Fockers and Father of the Bride 2 display this reversal of the female Oedipal relationship. Instead of the father being presented as the ideal object of paternity for the daughter’s child, the father tries to assert himself as father to the daughter’s child. In Father of the Bride 2 both mother and daughter fall pregnant simultaneously. This is a notable diversion from the original sequel Father’s Little Dividend (1951) where only the daughter is expecting. The dual pregnancy again illustrates that the father is directly affected by his daughter’s sexuality. Devlin suggests the father experiences a crisis point when the daughter passes through rites of passage. Referring to the original Father of the Bride, she explains: ‘Once again, an event of defining sexual import to a young woman is understood in terms of its effect on the sexual identity of a father who is acting as spectator.’20 Although Devlin discusses the daughter’s marriage, the same is undoubtedly true of the daughter’s pregnancy in the contemporary sequel. George is thrown into a crisis about his age when he discovers he is to become a grandfather. This causes him to try to prove his youthfulness and potency by seducing his wife, an event that leads to his own impending fatherhood. It is not just the parallel between the pregnancies of Nina (Diane Keaton), George’s wife, and Annie that places George as ‘father’ to Annie’s child. As Brian, Annie’s husband, is away in Japan on business just before the baby is due she moves back home. George becomes a universal husband – to both Annie and Nina – and thus a prospective father to both their children. The two women are clearly aligned in their pregnancy, when at home together they wear matching outfits, and are sharing the same experience; they even give birth on the same day. In Meet the Fockers, Jack Byrnes shares a close relationship with his daughter’s child that similarly posits him in a paternal role. His younger daughter Debbie (whose marriage took place in the first film) has left her son, Little Jack, with his grandparents while she and her husband are abroad. While Debbie is away, Jack takes on the role of father, and mother, to his grandson. His behaviour towards the baby is obsessive. He does not allow anyone else to spend much time with the child in case they affect his chosen method of upbringing: the ‘Ferber’ method. There is a distinct difference between this parenting style – Little Jack is left to ‘self-soothe’ rather than being kissed and cuddled – and the way in which Jack parents his daughters, which involves more physical affection. Jack seems desperate

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Figure 2. Jack and the ‘mannary’ gland from Meet the Fockers (2004).

to assert his masculinity onto Little Jack, named after him, and whom he hopes to bring up in his own image.21 Jack’s need to assert masculinity onto the next generation of his family causes gender confusion as he insists on ‘breast feeding’ Little Jack. The ‘mannary gland’ is a fake breast Jack has constructed, moulded from a cast of his daughter Debbie’s breast. Jack wears the device to feed the baby with Debbie’s expressed breast milk, under the guise that it ‘avoids nipple confusion’. Jack’s attachment to both the breast and to Little Jack demonstrates his attempt to be a father to the child. His interest in the breast, a symbol of his daughter’s womanhood and fertility, further highlights an attachment to her sexuality. George’s attachment to his daughter in Father of the Bride – and his need to protect her chastity – is symptomatic of a nostalgic desire for the past, and a time when he was more clearly the protector of his family, made clear through various ‘flashback’ sequences, in which George remembers or imagines Annie as a little girl. These moments are directly linked to the marriage, which is evidenced, as Annie announces her engagement, by a cut to George’s point of view, in which he imagines her as a young girl with pigtails proclaiming her betrothal. He further reminisces about his young daughter the night before Annie’s wedding. Neither George nor Annie can sleep, and so they play a late night game of basketball, a sport that, within the film, symbolizes the bond between father and daughter.22 When George returns to bed, an emotional flashback sequence begins as he remembers Annie growing up in the house; as a young child, graduating, and ending with the image of Annie on the staircase that introduced her into the film. The lyrics that accompany this scene: ‘today I met the man I’m gonna marry’ provide uplifting words set to a slightly melancholic melody. The music is a curious choice as the flashback is from George’s point of view, not Annie’s. There is an attempt to align 22

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[S]ome fathers have a hard time letting their children – especially their daughters – go . . . the father who does not want to see his daughter grow up – defying him, making her own rules, having a sex life – longs to recapture the oasis period of her early childhood when she saw him as perfect. And when she shatters his fantasy by becoming more adult, he may be devastated.23

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himself with the daughter, and a clear suggestion, in one of the more emotional and serious sequences of the film, that losing the adored little girl is indeed devastating to the father. As Secunda recognizes:

Nostalgia and the Father–Daughter Relationship Nostalgia in these films functions as both a symptom of and response to masculinity in crisis. It occurs as the father’s role is changing, literally, within the developing family, and this becomes a metaphor for broader changes in society. However, nostalgia extends beyond that played out in the diegesis, and references to the past also function as references to a time of patriarchal family values. The re-emergence of the (eroticized) father–daughter relationship in Hollywood films of the 1990s implicitly reminds us of the similar narratives of the 1940s and 1950s, not least because films such as Father of the Bride and Cheaper by the Dozen are remakes of movies from 1950, made originally in a decade supposed to be the epitome of traditional family values. The fifties are clearly referenced in the visuals of the films – particularly the family home, which functions as an emblem of both non-diegetic and diegetic nostalgia. The former is demonstrated by the 1950s style suburban home that signifies the happy nuclear family, but the home also plays a nostalgic role within the narrative, as a symbol of the family’s own past happiness. In the opening dialogue of Father of the Bride, George romanticizes about family memories that are tied to the house. He and his daughter have carved their names in a tree in the garden, a typically romantic gesture that draws further attention to eroticization of the father–daughter relationship, alongside nostalgia. Nostalgic desire for the house is repeated in Father of the Bride 2 when the Banks family sell their house. George, a man previously adverse to change, makes the decision to sell quickly and recklessly. The loss of the home and the memories that inhabit it causes family upset. Although, as the family vacate, George describes it as a ‘dump’, the house is lit as if shimmering in the daylight; an idealized symbol of traditional family life. The importance of the nostalgic home to the family’s status is overt, family tensions run high until George is able to re-purchase the house and return his soon-to-beexpanded family to their rightful place. Cheaper by the Dozen 2 shares the theme of nostalgia for a family home. Tom Baker (Steve Martin) has to admit that his 12 children are beginning to grow up and move away. In this film the family similarly unite around a house, this time a holiday home that also functions as a symbol of nostalgia. Nostalgia, in these two 23

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Figure 3. The idealized family home in Father of the Bride 2 (1995).

instances, is specifically for the family’s past; the Bakers holidayed at the house every year when the children were younger, and the two youngest twins were conceived there. Both sets of sequels resolve themselves by somehow returning to the idealized past. George and Nina Banks (reinstated in their family home) have another daughter as Annie moves away from home, allowing them to repeat their family, and Tom Baker’s son-in-law buys the holiday home so they can return to it, and their memories, every year. However, the house functions as more than a symbol of nostalgia. The houses of Father of the Bride, Cheaper by the Dozen 2, Meet the Parents and Lethal Weapon are of considerable size, also denoting the family’s class. The comfortable middle-class home signifies not only class, but also family status. In Lethal Weapon, the Murtaugh family are introduced following an establishing shot of their home. The cut inside the house to the bathroom sees the family crowding around the father, so the image of the large home is quickly followed by that of a close-knit family, led by the patriarch. This relationship between home and family status is further signalled as the film then moves to the rundown trailer in which Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) lives. The trailer is similarly established before revealing its inhabitant. Here the interior is untidy and cramped, a contrast to the Murtaugh residence, and symptomatic of the broken family of widower Riggs. Although family status is signalled by the home, the Leave it to Beaver style of George Banks’s home speaks primarily of nostalgic family values. The film, and George’s ideals, hark back to the past through the small-town setting and George’s own success as a self-made man; he is owner of a sports shoe manufacturing business. This is symptomatic of the romanticized version of the American family and community that Coontz recognizes to be associated with the economic 24

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prosperity of the 1950s.24 Nostalgia is doubly present, with the flashbacks from the father’s point of view also demonstrating his longing for the family’s past. Changing family structure causes anxiety and a crisis point for George, an anxiety that is manifest in nostalgia more widely. Postmodernist Frederic Jameson believes that ‘the use of pastiche, as the imitation of past styles without parody’s derision or laughter, is of such insistence in our society that it actually signals an impeded ability to represent our own time and to locate our own place in history’.25 It is the last part that resonates, the inability to locate one’s own place in history. George’s anxieties fit into a wider concern in contemporary Hollywood representations of the father, whereby uncertainty around the changing role of the patriarch is foregrounded. In this instance the changing shape of George’s family becomes symbolic of such shifts.

Nostalgia and Remakes The depiction of the father as the figure most affected by family change is also present in the remake of Cheaper by the Dozen, and more prominently in its sequel. The latter evokes nostalgia in a similar way to Father of the Bride, as Tom’s reminiscing about his family’s past occurs at a point of significant family change – as one of his eldest daughters is about to leave home and the other have a baby. The remake of Cheaper by the Dozen and its sequel differ greatly from the original films; they are much less nuanced and progressive in their treatment of gender roles. The 1950 version was based on a true story and a book by Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, and is told by the eldest daughter of the family. It is the story of a father, an efficiency expert, who has 12 children. The film is set over a few years, following the family as they move home, and charting the years that follow, up until the father’s sudden death of a heart condition. The film, made in 1950, is set in the 1920s, marking a point of change, not just for the family in general, but in particular for the eldest daughter, and for the role and behaviour of young women in society. Despite the vast narrative differences between the original and the remake, there is some common ground in the father–daughter relationship, certainly when comparing the original with the contemporary sequel Cheaper by the Dozen 2. In the original movie, patriarch Frank Gilbreth (Clifton Webb) is over-protective of his eldest daughter and her sexuality, stipulating that when at the beach she must wear an old-fashioned, modest swimming costume, and in a delightful sequence insists upon chaperoning her and a date to the school prom. Here the father is accepted as great fun by Ernestine (Barbara Bates)’s school friends, and the relationship between father and daughter is actually strengthened. This is a comical sequence, but it becomes uncomfortable as Frank becomes the object of doting attention and flirtation from a schoolgirl at the dance, who appears seductive in her exchanges with the father. Here Frank proves himself to be easily bought by the flattery of a young woman. The film typifies the relationship of sexual protector that is evident 25

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in the more contemporary films, however there is a notable difference in the way this is portrayed across the different eras. While the original Cheaper by the Dozen and Father of the Bride provide subtle and unspoken sexual tension between father and daughter, the contemporary father–daughter narrative is more overt in this respect, certainly in Father of the Bride, in which George not only glowers at Brian every time he touches Annie, but at the wedding is desperate for one last kiss from his daughter, an act that Bruzzi suggests ‘acquires lurid connotations’.26 The emphasis of the 1950 Cheaper by the Dozen is on the role of the daughter, the narrator of the film. The remake inverts this, as it is now the father who provides voice-over narration and therefore takes the central role. For the most part the remake is a slapstick family comedy concerned with a father who cannot control his children. Bruzzi notes that, unlike many father narratives (such as Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) or more recently Catch Me if You Can), Cheaper by the Dozen does not create a discourse about fatherhood, rather it just happens to have a father in it.27 However, the shift from daughter to father as central character reveals a concern with the role of the father, and the father’s need to have a voice and be in control – which is exactly what he fails to do within the narrative. Tom is left to look after his 12 children as his newly employed wife embarks on a book tour. What follows is carnage. Tom, unlike his wife, struggles to combine parenting with a new and demanding job. Comedy ensues as the father cannot manage his raucous brood, but the film portrays him as a man who, despite good intentions, has little control in the home. The sequel to this film, Cheaper by the Dozen 2, provides a more considered exploration of family relationships. The 1950 film spawned a sequel itself, Belles on Their Toes (1952), which continued the story of the Gilbreth family, again told by the eldest daughter. Following the death of Frank, his wife Lillian (Myrna Loy) decided to continue his work as an efficiency expert. The film explores how a woman in the first part of the century struggled to be accepted professionally, and combined her work and domestic duties. The 2005 sequel is vastly different; Tom Baker, alive and well, decides to take his family to a lake house where they had holidayed when his children were younger. On vacation an old rivalry ignites between Tom and his lakeside neighbour Jimmy Murtaugh (Eugene Levy), also the father of a large family. The narrative capers that ensue actually provide a thoughtful discourse about parenting by contrasting Tom’s disorganized attempt to control his family with Jimmy’s regimented patriarchy. This is played out within the narrative as Tom’s rather hopeless, but heartfelt, attempts at leading his family are directly criticized by Jimmy. As Jimmy plays Tom a show reel of his children’s successes and boasts a room of trophies as testament to his children’s achievements, Tom doubts his own parenting abilities and his paternal authority. Yet while the children of the more traditional patriarch are high achievers, the Banks family is a happier one. Tom’s concerns about paternal control tie into wider social concerns, recognized by Faludi, about the changing nature of the patriarchal family. Following

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the post-war industrial boom, and the subsequent decline, leading to increased job losses since the 1970s, Faludi argues that men have been left in a weaker financial position and can no longer uphold the role of sole breadwinner. This has caused a feeling of castration and loss of authority for men who, in the immediately post-war years, were told that male authority, power and patriarchal control were central to the American Dream.28 Although Tom’s worries are not financial, they are symptomatic of shifting attitudes towards the role of the patriarch in the American family. While in Cheaper by the Dozen 2 the less authoritative father is considered the better dad, there is still a reliance on the father-as-breadwinner. Furthermore, as a remake of a film from 1950, there is implicit reference to the idealized post-war family. The perception of the fifties as a site of nostalgic romanticism is discussed by Vera Dika, who believes nostalgia films privilege that decade.29 This privileging is evident elsewhere. Coontz notes that ‘In a 1996 poll by the Knight-Ridder news agency, more Americans chose the 1950s than any other single decade as the best time for children to grow up’,30 and Jameson suggested that ‘one tends to feel that for Americans at least, the 1950s remain the privileged lost object of desire . . . the stability and prosperity of a Pax Americana’.31 Hollywood seems to agree; the 1950s is a place of stability and somewhere the family can be repaired. This is exemplified by the 1985 film Back to the Future in which Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) returns to the fifties to put right problems of the present – he meets his adolescent father and instils in him a sense of self-worth that affects the entire family’s future. Of course, this film references a media-generated ideal of the 1950s, one that discounts gender imbalance and fails to recognize the truth of teen pregnancies, incest and abuse, all of which are ignored in sentimentalized versions of the 1950s family.32 The 1950s was undoubtedly a time of financial prosperity and upward mobility,33 but families were not as idyllic as the media re-enactments of the era might suggest: Nostalgia for the 1950s is real and deserves to be taken seriously, but it shouldn’t be taken literally. Even people who do pick the 1950s as the best decade generally end up saying . . . it’s not the family arrangements in and of themselves they want to revive. They don’t miss the way women used to be treated, they sure wouldn’t want to live with most of the fathers they knew.34

Nostalgia for the 1980s Hollywood’s nostalgia is not just for an imagined 1950s; contemporary Hollywood displays nostalgia for a more recent past – the 1980s. There has, of late, been a spate of sequels that have continued series from the 1980s some years after the previous instalment, such as Lethal Weapon 4 (1998), Die Hard 4.0 (2007), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) and A Good Day to Die Hard (2013). These films are nostalgic for a decade when hard-bodied masculinity and patriarchal 27

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authority reigned. The values that were perpetuated by Reaganite entertainment and politics saw the restoration of the father to a position of patriarchal power as crucial. Referring to the eighties, Britton suggests that ‘“patriarchy” is very much the term to describe what gets reaffirmed in Reaganite entertainment: . . . it is the status and function of the father and their inheritance by the son that are at stake’.35 Although Jeffords notes underlying patriarchal narratives in the hard-bodied action films of the period (in particular Rambo: First Blood (1982)), as Bruzzi argues there is a clear tension between paternity and action heroics.36 John McClane (Bruce Willis), the hero of the Die Hard franchise, is a character who embodies this tension between active male and more emotional nurturer: he is not a suburban breadwinner, rather he is a self-serving action hero whose family has suffered as a result. However, Bruzzi notes that in the first of the Die Hard films, McClane’s action hero status is circumspect (particularly in comparison to the more hardbodied action stars of the decade such as Schwarzenegger or Stallone) due to his paternity, as he can only really thrive in one role, and by the film’s close he is restored to the position of husband/father.37 However, as the series progresses and Willis/McClane’s action status becomes more fully ingrained, his role as father suffers: by the third film, John and his wife Holly appear to be completely separated and, although he does call her, action gets in the way of the reconciliation. The fourth film sees the family completely damaged; John is now estranged from his daughter as well as his wife, although his relationship with his daughter is repaired during the course of the fourth film, and his relationship with his son similarly fixed in the fifth instalment which ends with a final tableau of John McClane embracing his children. Notably, though, the mother still remains absent. The re-emergence of heroes such as John McClane, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), and even Riggs in the fourth Lethal Weapon film, suggests a continued fascination with brash, immature masculinity. Bruzzi suggests that the action of the first Die Hard film provides an arena in which John McClane, emasculated by his wife choosing ‘a career over marital solidarity’,38 can regain his masculinity. This is evident across the ‘action-father’ narratives. In Lethal Weapon, Murtaugh’s inability to fire his gun until the end of the first film suggests he has been emasculated. That both these characters need to prove themselves suggests that ‘tough’ masculinity is inherently separated from fathering. While John McClane has always had a family, it is not until the most recent instalments of their respective series that Indiana Jones and Martin Riggs become fathers. The necessity of perpetuating these narratives with the inclusion of paternity is a symptom of Hollywood’s concerns surrounding fatherhood, and in particular ageing masculinity as a site readily linked to fatherhood. The fourth Indiana Jones instalment moves the action up, conveniently, to the 1950s. Indy has aged, and comments are made about this throughout. There is also a clear suggestion that he has fought in the War, cementing an ideal of American masculinity. When trying to escape a military base, Indiana Jones stumbles across

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a ‘fake’ housing estate, part of a weapons test area. This housing estate visually embodies an idealized image of fifties suburbia that is based on false reality; the families are plastic, the homes pristine. The dishevelled Indiana Jones looks out of place as he moves through a family home, providing further proof that the action man and fatherhood do not mix. Unlike most of the fathers discussed in this chapter, Indiana Jones has fathered a son, but notably the son is feminized to represent less of a threat to the father, whose masculinity is waning – in this case as a result of age. In both the fourth Indiana Jones film and A Good Day to Die Hard, the father–son relationship is played out. Although John McClane’s son has clearly inherited the father’s actionman characteristics (signalled by his bulging biceps), his role as a CIA agent rather than a cop allows him to be more cerebral, and less capable as an action hero, than the father – eventually the two work together, but it is the father’s brash masculinity that leads the action sequences, and whose intuition frequently allows him to sense danger. Nevertheless, John McClane’s ability to act before he thinks causes numerous problems for him and his son, initially upsetting John McClane Jnr ( Jai Courtney)’s attempts to free a political prisoner, highlighting again the tensions between action man and thoughtful, caring father. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull sees the son more clearly feminized and weaker than the father. In this film Indy meets his estranged son, a young man who models himself on Marlon Brando (his initial entrance on a motorcycle paying homage to Brando in The Wild One (1953)). Mutt/Henry Jones 3rd (Shia LeBeouf ) frequently combs his hair, at the most inappropriate moments of action. He also never finished school, and has given up education to repair motorcycles. Both these elements of his character contrast with the welleducated and strong active persona of his father, and he therefore presents no threat to the father’s dominant masculinity. However, there is clear emphasis on male lineage/masculine inheritance here. Indy took his name from the dog, and his son is nicknamed ‘Mutt’ – surely an in-joke for fans, but one that recognizes the inevitability of the son inheriting from the father, even when the father’s identity has not been revealed.39 The similarities between father and son extend beyond their nicknames. Mutt quickly learns from his father, showing initiative during action sequences: when Indy and his band of followers find themselves trapped in a flooding temple, it is Mutt who leads them out. At the very close of the film Indiana Jones finally submits to a form of ‘domestic’ masculinity and fatherhood by marrying his lover, and Mutt’s mother, Marian (Karen Allen), forming a nuclear family and placing Indy firmly in the role of patriarch. During this sequence, Indy’s trademark hat is blown by a gust of wind to Mutt’s feet. This symbol of masculinity is almost passed down to the son, although it is snatched back by the father before Mutt can take on the mantle. The action hero thus refuses to relinquish his role, allowing the hat to serve as a fetish object, symbolizing masculine potency, something the ageing, active father still clings to.40

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The fetish object is an important symbol in contemporary father narratives. When the father faces a crisis of masculinity (whether real or imagined) the object in which his masculinity is invested becomes significant. Whereas for Indy it is a symbol of his ‘active’ masculinity, for the more domesticated fathers of the father–daughter films, the grandchild acts as fetish object, symbolizing the father’s increased control and virility through the extension of his family. In Father of the Bride 2, the debate over the baby’s surname (the grandparents argue over whether it should be Banks or Mackenzie, essentially questioning whose family line is continued) is diffused as the baby is named George, after the maternal grandfather. This pattern is repeated in other father–daughter sequels; Little Jack in Meet the Fockers and Tom in Cheaper by the Dozen 2 are both named after their maternal grandfathers. The baby represents a perpetuation of the (grand)father’s masculinity, thus serving as an effective fetish object. This is most pronounced in Meet the Fockers as Jack attempts to mould his grandson in his own image, allowing the child to explicitly become an object in which his masculinity is invested.

Ageing and Masculinity It is not surprise that the ageing father should appear in father–daughter narratives, as both the daughter and the ageing process represent a threat to patriarchal lineage and the father’s place at the head of the family. In both instances masculinity needs to be re-asserted in the face of threat. When facing the ageing process, the father re-asserts this masculinity by investing in a fetish object, whether it be a child, or Indy’s hat. Ageing is inherently tied up in sequels – necessarily so, given the timescales of contemporary Hollywood sequel-making. The final Lethal Weapon film, made six years after instalment three, has to acknowledge the age of its stars (in part because the first film saw Murtaugh turn 50 and the third film saw him ready to retire). Sight and Sound’s review of Lethal Weapon 4 recognizes the issue of age, noting: ‘the star duo of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover must face a villainous force even more indefatigable than the nefarious martial arts master . . . the ageing process’.41 For these men ageing is not embraced, it must be battled. The film consciously recognizes its ageing stars in this final instalment, yet the relationship between age and masculinity has been apparent throughout the series. Murtaugh has been ageing since the first film. He turned 50 as the series opened,42 and has since been claiming he is ‘too old for this shit’. This originally allowed the issue of ageing to be explored in the differences between the film’s two stars rather than as part of their shared discourse. Christopher Ames notes that the contrast between the two leads is shown in terms of their bodies; Murtaugh is first pictured in the bath, his lower half obscured by bubbles, while his daughter comments on his visibly greying beard. The cut to Riggs sees him stumble out of bed completely naked, with a young, toned body that is more readily associated with physical masculinity.43 The nakedness associated with masculinity here also aligns 30

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masculinity with youthfulness and virility. Murtaugh’s virility becomes a point of fun for his colleagues; his gun is an old, small service revolver, his colleagues mock its age and size. In the third Lethal Weapon film, Murtaugh’s (physical) masculinity is undermined yet further – in terms of his age – when he has to wear a girdle to fit into his old patrol uniform. This dynamic changes through the series, and by the fourth film Riggs begins to mirror some of Murtaugh’s traits, in particular as he becomes more domesticated, and fatherhood looms, repeating Murtaugh’s catch phrase ‘I’m getting too old for this shit.’ While Riggs never succumbs to the shirt and tie, the costume of choice for the ageing father,44 he does end up walking with a cane at the close of Lethal Weapon 4, notably as he becomes a father, drawing a link between paternity, domesticity and ageing. The physicality which has become Riggs’s trademark as the action hero is now threatened, as Andrew O’Heir writes: ‘The portrait of fin de si`ecle masculinity drawn here is a somewhat chastened one. Riggs may be as insouciant as ever, but he absorbs a pounding in almost every scene.’45 The ageing process is necessarily linked to the family in films outside the action genre. In Father of the Bride 2, it is the extension of George Banks’s family with (initially) a grandchild, which throws him into a crisis about his age. George tries to make himself younger with a make-over and by dyeing his hair, changing the ageing body, but the climax of this scene is when he has unplanned sex with Nina in the kitchen. The implication is not that George fears growing old (on the contrary, his opening monologue states that he cannot wait for retirement and the freedom this will bring), but that ageing is undermining his masculinity and his virility – and thus he proves his youthfulness with his sexual abilities, as Stephen M. Whitehead writes: ‘if masculinity is about occupation, vigour, activity, mastery and overcoming space, then ageing is the inevitable process that puts under question such dominant representations of maleness’.46 The ‘crisis’ of ageing is something that, while evident in Hollywood cinema, is rarely brought to the surface of films. Chris Holmlund suggests that it was not until after the 1890s that old age, rather than youth, became a negative state, further explaining that ageing males, trying to erase the process, are the fastest growing customer group for plastic surgery.47 Discussions of ageing masculinity are infrequent with regard to Hollywood cinema. Peter Lehman is one of the few writers who have explored the topic, focusing on the loss of masculinity in an ostensibly masculine genre: the Western. Lehman explores Rio Bravo (1959) and Rio Lobo (1970), both of which feature ageing characters. He observes that in Rio Lobo, John Wayne’s character, McNally, as a result of age, is excluded from the spheres of both action and romance.48 Lehman also draws a link between age and the domestic, in a discussion of the character of Stumpy (Walter Brennan) in Rio Bravo he notes: ‘Stumpy’s age has eroded his masculinity. In many ways, he fulfils the traditionally feminine function within the group; he cleans, cooks, and keeps house.’49

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Ageing and Fatherhood By placing ‘older’ men as the typical fathers of Hollywood, there is a suggestion that fatherhood is wise and authoritative. Indeed the fathers of the father–daughter sequels have jobs that require, or did require, such qualities: Jack Byrnes is a former CIA agent; Riggs and Murtaugh are policemen, as is John McClane. Tom Baker coaches a football team; George Banks owns a factory, even Indiana Jones is a professor. While their age allows these fathers to have some authority, in the Meet the Parents franchise it is also associated with a fear of losing control. Ill health, the reason Jack had to leave the CIA, becomes a metaphor for his ageing and thus his diminishing hold on masculinity. This is explicit in Little Fockers as Jack hides a heart attack from his close family – remaining in control to the last as he successfully defibrillates himself. Peter Coleman notes that it is health problems that threaten the (ageing) physical body: ‘people continue active participation in all aspects of living well into old age. Ill-health is the indicator for withdrawal from activity, not through a person’s choice, but through reduced energy.’50 Whitehead believes awareness of ageing allows ill health and thoughts of mortality to create a crisis over sexuality and relationships.51 The sub-plot of Little Fockers echoes this. Jack’s use of impotence medication provides fodder for numerous jokes, often at the expense of his sexuality – for example, when Jack’s erection fails to subside after several hours it is up to his son-in-law Greg to administer adrenaline to his penis, a scene accidentally witnessed by Greg’s young son, that culminates in an almost orgasmic outburst from Jack, undercutting his heterosexuality. Jack’s heterosexuality is questioned elsewhere, through his relationship with his son-inlaw Greg/Gaylord (Greg’s given name). The two are mistaken for a couple on a school tour, as Jack takes the place of his daughter when she is too ill to accompany her husband. Although the mistake is played for laughs – and exacerbated by the revelation of Greg’s real forename – there remains a sexual tension between the two that is particularly prevalent in the third instalment of the franchise. Jack’s over-investment in Greg’s sex-life (narratively explained because he fears Greg is having an affair) allows their relationship to become erotically charged, and this is heightened by the increased physical contact – as Greg administers the adrenaline – and through frequent physical tussles. Jack’s impotence, and lack of sex drive, seen in both Meet the Fockers and Little Fockers, similarly questions his sexuality. The father’s (hetero) sexual potency is thus under threat from both the eroticized relationship with his son-in-law and from the ageing process. In Meet the Parents/Fockers Jack’s attempts to assert control are seen in various ‘masculine’ pursuits which function as a defence against ageing and serve as fetish objects, representing masculine or phallic control. In Meet the Parents, Jack’s new, post-retirement, business of making ‘nanny-cameras’ (hidden motion activated cameras to spy on children and babysitters) is significant for two reasons: firstly, ageing (signified by retirement) is associated with the family/home, and secondly

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it shows Jack’s unwillingness to relinquish the skills of his ‘masculine’ job in the CIA. His den, filled with surveillance equipment, reflects this. The polygraph test to which he submits Greg is symptomatic of an attempt to assert such authority in the face of a threat to his masculinity – in this instance as Greg is a rival for his daughter’s affections. To Jack Byrnes, technology and gadgets thus serve as fetish objects. His motor home in Meet the Fockers is a manifestation of this. The overly large vehicle is a phallic representation that is imposed on both the Byrnes and Focker families as Jack attempts to assert his authority. The bullet-proof vehicle also contains a ‘control room’ full of gadgets from his CIA days, providing a further reminder that his masculinity is bound up in his profession. Yet it is notable that while Jack tries to cling to his CIA past, his ex-CIA badge provides no power to prevent his, or Bernie (Dustin Hoffman) and Greg’s, arrest. Bernie and Greg are stopped by the police for speeding; when Jack tries to free them by showing his CIA badge that reads ‘retiree’ he too is arrested. In Little Fockers, Jack’s CIA ID is not sufficient to gain him security access when, suspecting an affair, he tries to find information about Greg’s new female colleague – instead it is recommended he ‘Google’ the subject. His lack of security clearance and lack of web-savvy, reinforce the fact that, as he is ageing, Jack is losing control and knowledge. Although his gadgets demonstrate an attempt to cling on to his profession as part of his masculinity, the powers associated with this have been lost. Jack’s masculinity is threatened by the loss of his career, whereas for a father such as George Banks it is the loss of his daughter that plunges him into crisis. Devlin believes the father’s crisis – in losing the daughter – is directly related to sexuality,52 echoing Whitehead’s claims about ageing, once again aligning the daughter’s development and the ageing process, and perceiving both as a threat to masculinity. Both George Banks and Jack Byrnes have difficulty literally letting go of their daughters on their respective wedding days. Jack grasps onto Pam’s arm, holding her back when he should give her away. George gives Annie away without a physical tussle, although he announces, in the voice-over, that it is the moment he had been dreading for the past 22 years. His difficulty is with emotionally letting Annie go and accepting her as a grown-up. The first part of the wedding ceremony is concerned with George’s point of view, there is no attention paid to the perspectives of bride or groom, rather the camera watches George’s reaction, and the voice-over allows him to narrate his feelings. As George steps down from the altar to his pew the camera follows him. This moment within the daughter’s life is directly depicted in terms of how it affects the father. Dr Marianne Goodman writes: ‘The problem with fathers and adolescent daughters is that the father feels a natural attraction to a young woman who is adoring in a way that his wife no longer is.’53 As a result, it is possible that the fathers reach a sexual crisis; their masculinity is undermined as they are effectively cuckolded by their new son-in-law.

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‘Good’ Fathering The focus on both the ageing process and the daughter as the ‘problems’ of the contemporary Hollywood father, and the resultant crisis of masculine/phallic power, draws attention to an underlying uncertainty about how the modern father should negotiate such challenges. This is symptomatic of Hollywood’s reconceptualizing of the American family into a ‘modern’ form in which the father needs to be both more caring and nurturing but still retain patriarchal authority. Indeed, in the 1990s’ literature concerned with masculinity, the articulate, caring father was found to emerge ‘as the most valued male archetype’.54 However, by placing men in a position where they should be involved with their children, a need for male role models was cemented, creating a tension between men in touch with their feelings and a regression towards a need for essentialist masculinity that could be passed down from father to son.55 This is reiterated by Bly and Faludi, who have, separately, noted that ‘bad’ fathering can have a negative effect on the next generation.56 As such, what it is to be a ‘good’ American father is not fixed, as contemporary pressures require him to be a contradiction. Hollywood has responded to challenges to traditional family structures and roles by creating an archetype of the father who embodies a tension between liberal and traditional parenting. This is demonstrated in Father of the Bride through attempts to allude to both a softer, new-age masculinity, and to traditional values. The film embraces feminism, on a basic level, suggesting that George Banks embodies a modern masculinity. As Annie announces her engagement, she claims, ‘I’m not going to lose my identity with him because he’s not some over-powering macho guy’ (in fact Annie tells her father that Brian is just like him, aligning the father with this idea of ‘liberal’ masculinity). It is notable that in order to be supportive of an independent wife, the modern husband cannot be macho. Throughout both this film and the sequel Annie’s professional status is crucial to her character, as is her insistence that she will not become a housewife (exploited when Brian gives her a blender as a gift; so horrified is Annie by this symbol of 1950s oppression that she nearly calls off the wedding). Narratively it is explicit that Annie is a successful architect and that her family, including her father, support this. In both the first film and its sequel Annie has an argument with Brian about her desire to remain independent, over the blender and, in the sequel, over whether she should move away for a promotion straight after her baby is born. Her father notably encourages her to follow her career aspirations, insisting that in a reversed situation she would move for Brian’s career. Indeed, George’s wife Nina is similarly independent, running her own company. However, while the narrative outwardly presents the father as supportive of his feminist daughter, there are various moments in the films when this is undermined, restating an attachment to traditional values. When Annie becomes pregnant she swaps her power suits for feminine florals; on the day she eventually goes into labour she is wearing a childish floral dress

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twinned with a baby pink cardigan that, despite her pregnancy, code Annie as a young girl. Thus, Annie may have oozed ‘businesswoman’ before her pregnancy, but she quickly returns to a more traditional femininity. Furthermore it seems inevitable that despite professional success both Annie and Nina must end the sequel as mothers. Furthermore, the father’s need to ‘hang-on’ to the daughter positions her as object, a notion that underpins feminist critiques of marriage; as Jessica Valenti outlines, the traditions of marriage, such as taking on the husband’s last name, represent ‘an exchange of ownership’ from father to husband.57 Therefore what is depicted in Hollywood’s father–daughter narratives is a family built on patriarchal structures that celebrates a more liberal form of parenting whereby paternal authority and discipline are not given the same recognition they received in earlier decades. The interest in ‘soft’ liberal parenting is explicit in Meet the Fockers and Cheaper by the Dozen 2, films that mark a brief but noticeable trend of exploring competing methods of parenting. Hollywood seems at pains to suggest that good fathering is more ‘soft’ than regimented. While Cheaper by the Dozen 2 presents a traditional set-up, with an apparently stay-at-home mother and a breadwinner father, the film’s attitudes towards discipline and childrearing are more liberal. For Helen Baker (Bonnie Hunt), being a stay-at-home mother is a necessity, for she has such a large family. ‘Liberal’ parenting is, then, linked to the way in which the family is disciplined rather than to its structure. In both this film and Meet the Fockers, the home becomes symbolic of the parenting style. The Focker house is unorthodox, much like the family. The Murtaugh family of Cheaper by the Dozen 2, who live in an imposing and stylish house, are strictly policed by their father. They are made to study during their school holidays and pushed to achieve greatness. The difference between the Murtaugh and Baker families is not seen just in the contrast between the Murtaugh mansion and the Baker’s decrepit holiday home, but is manifest in their costuming, as they compete for the Labor Day cup. The absurd family competition held at the lake provides an arena in which the two families can directly compete. The tournament sees the regimented Murtaugh family clad in matching sportswear that bears the family name. The Bakers are more casual in their appearance, wearing their own clothes and linked only by a hand-drawn number pinned to their outfit, and a blue scarf. Each family member has customized their number and wears the scarf differently, allowing their individuality to be embraced. The competition between the two families is a close one, although notably Tom loses his headto-head ‘battle’ with Jimmy Murtaugh: the two men have to balance on a log in the lake, as Tom falls he impales his genitals on the log, both his loss in the competition and his injury imply a lesser or damaged masculinity. That said, the film clearly posits Tom as the better father. This marks the films as significant by drawing a contrast to the preceding few decades in which Hollywood’s sons were desperately in need of disciplined fathering, as Jon Lewis writes of ‘teenpics’:

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One of the most fascinating undertones of teenpics since the 1960s is their palpable desire for parental control and authority . . . The post-boomer teenagers seek out aged mentors, preferring the instruction, discipline and obedience of Star Wars . . . and The Karate Kid.58

The ‘good’ fathers of this generation were thus strong and masculine, and this continued into the early 1990s with the Terminator franchise. In Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is trying to find the ideal father for her son, and decides on the Terminator himself, explaining: Watching John with the machine it was suddenly so clear, the Terminator would never stop, it would never leave him and it would never hurt him. Never shout at him or get drunk and hit him, or say it was too busy to spend time with him, it would always be there and it would die to protect him. Of all the would-be fathers who came and went over the years this thing, this machine, was the only one who measured up.

The picture of ideal fatherhood Sarah Connor gives is a rather grim one. Her choice is made because the son requires a father who will not only be there for him but will also initiate him into physical masculinity. Since the early 1990s, there has clearly been a shift in Hollywood’s understanding of good fatherhood. This is particularly clear in Meet the Fockers. The clash between ex-CIA operative Jack Byrnes and ex-hippy Bernie Focker is explicitly concerned with what it is to be a good father. The Focker and Byrnes families meet for the first time in anticipation of their offspring’s wedding. In the course of this meeting it transpires that Greg and Pam are to have a baby, thus necessitating the question of how Greg will fare as a father. Greg’s own father, Bernie, celebrates his son’s every achievement. He has constructed the ‘wall of Gaylord’, a shrine to his son’s accomplishments, no matter how small. This contrasts with Jack Byrnes, who announces ‘a competitive drive is what makes America the last great superpower’ and chastises Bernie for ‘celebrating mediocrity’. The American dream has long been fuelled by Hollywood’s representation of the family, and this film appears to mark a significant point of change from competition and success as markers of the good family to love and support, implying a reconfiguring of (domestic) masculinity. The most ‘successful’, or perhaps secure, of the fathers discussed in this chapter is the most feminized – Bernie Focker. He was a stay-at-home dad who now enjoys dance-fighting and raucous sex with his wife. Although he suffers a brief mid-life crisis in Little Fockers, or, as the film describes it, ‘manopause’, which further feminizes him (but also breaks down barriers between male and female experiences of ageing), Bernie is the most contented character. Unlike Jack, or the action fathers, he does not need to prove his masculinity. Although he is not overtly 36

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masculine, Bernie and his son are both secure in themselves and their masculinity – it is those around Greg who make fun of him being a nurse. Furthermore it is not only Bernie’s ‘femininity’ but also his sexuality that is linked to his untroubled paternity, in contrast to Jack’s sexual anxieties. The expression of sexuality in these films suggests a further reconfiguring of the paternal role. In Father of the Bride 2, George Banks’ expression of his sexuality marks an attempt to feel youthful – a nostalgic grasp for the past that only emerges once he is thrown into crisis by his impending grand-paternity. For the Fockers there is no such fear of age; indeed Roz Focker (Barbra Streisand) is a sex therapist for the elderly. Age is, then, something to be enjoyed not feared. The issue of sexually active parents is dealt with warily in Hollywood. For example in Three Men and a Baby (1987) three bachelors lose interest in dating and sex once baby Mary is left on their doorstep, and their interactions with women are confined to activities that relate to Mary, in the park or swimming pool. The fathers of Three Men and a Baby are young bachelors, and sexual activity, when combined with ageing, sits even more uncomfortably as a theme. The unease related to sexually active ‘older’ parents is recognized in Meet the Fockers. Although Bernie and Roz are settled characters, their sex life provides fodder for numerous jokes, as they loudly role-play, or instigate a conversation about virginity loss over dinner. Sexually active parents, then, are portrayed as sex obsessed. Roz’s career again creates comedy out of unease with older people having sex; it is seen as a joke, and something that Greg is ashamed of. Roz and Bernie’s openness about sex leads to uncomfortable situations within the family; as Roz discusses Greg’s sex life with him, Oedipal connotations cannot be ignored. This is enhanced when it is announced that Greg lost his virginity to his childhood housekeeper, Isabel (Alanna Ubach). Not only does his sexual relationship with a maternal figure create unease, but this is heightened when it transpires that his parents encouraged their union. Yet, despite these criticisms, sexual freedom within Meet the Fockers is symptomatic of emotional openness, signified by the change in Jack’s demeanour at the close of the film. Having been ‘Fockerized’, or taught to deal with his emotions, Jack is given sex-tips by Roz and becomes a more relaxed character. He greets Bernie with a rigid handshake when the two first meet but, by the close of the film, Jack is able to warmly embrace his counterpart. ‘Emotional’ fathering, in this instance, is aligned with good fathering. However, there is a balance that needs to be struck between emotional openness and emotional over-investment. Secunda introduces the ‘doting’ father as a concept,59 a figure who is overly involved in his daughter’s life, similar to George Banks or Jack Byrnes, causing tensions because he is too attached. While contemporary Hollywood is at pains to recognize the changing roles of fatherhood, there is still a need for men to be in control. Thus the families of these father-driven narratives conform to a traditional nuclear family, and the wives and mothers are depicted as being of little consequence. This is exemplified

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by the first three Lethal Weapon films and Meet the Parents/Fockers, in which Trish Murtaugh (Darlene Love) and Dina Burns (Blythe Danner), respectively, do not appear to work. Trish Murtaugh gains employment in Lethal Weapon 4, yet this is kept secret; she is a successful author of saucy romance novels, writing under a pseudonym. In this film, and Father of the Bride 2, in which Nina’s unspecified business seems to involve selling foodstuffs, the mother’s role is linked to sex or cooking. This is repeated in Father of the Bride 2, as George Banks returns home to find Nina cooking in the kitchen. She is dressed fairly conservatively in a skirt and blouse, but she is wearing high heels and lifts up her skirt to scratch her leg. This image immediately precedes George’s attempts to seduce his wife. Nina is presented here solely as an object of sexual desire, and her ‘professional’ attire, the suit and high heels, are manipulated to link the working woman to the sexual woman. That this scene takes place while she is cooking only heightens the belief that women’s roles involve either sex or cooking. The representation of mothers in these films is thus linked to an ideology that allows their husbands to remain in control. Trish Murtaugh is only once seen outside the house, and is rarely seen outside the kitchen (and yet she is a terrible cook). In Lethal Weapon 4 it is hinted that Trish’s job is kept secret to avoid embarrassment caused by the content of her novels, but there is an underlying implication that her husband is emasculated by his wife’s professional success. Certainly the fathers/husbands with more typically ‘masculine’ jobs – Jack Burns who was in the CIA and Roger Murtaugh who is a police sergeant – have stay-athome wives. Furthermore, Trish Murtaugh and Dina Burns are both consciously made out to be terrible cooks. This joke continues through the Lethal Weapon films; shortly after Murtaugh introduces his wife to Riggs, he comments on how terrible her cooking is, and the two men joke about this after dinner. In Meet the Parents, during the polygraph test Jack gives Greg, he asks if that evening’s dinner was undercooked (it was), repeating the joke of the wife’s bad cooking. Such humour demonstrates an attempt to undermine women’s authority within the home. These families uphold relatively traditional values, but the Focker family provide a contrast to this. Roz Focker works, whereas Bernie was a stay-at-home father. This creates a role reversal, but it still fits the mould of affluent middle-class family in which one parent works and the other stays at home as carer. Roz specializes in sex therapy, but she is still a doctor, and Bernie, before he gave up work, was a lawyer – the epitome of middle-class professions, yet this is the one family where the father is not threatened or grasping for more control. There is a definite tension in contemporary Hollywood’s representation of the father between a more contemporary, ‘softer’ masculinity and a more traditional ideal. As Bruzzi notes, Hollywood’s representation of fatherhood in the 1990s is not homogenous,60 yet there remains an overriding concern with masculinity and inheritance, even in those films that include a daughter. What is demonstrated by these films is the continual perpetuation of the father’s role as head of the

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household, and as family provider and protector, albeit under a more emotional guise. This is indicative of the nostalgic nature of many father narratives, drawing upon an idealized past image of the patriarch that is manipulated to fit into a more contemporary family unit. Within father-based narratives, mothers, while often the more capable parent (for example in Cheaper by the Dozen), remain on the edge of the family. Although the representation of mothers as marginalized characters is still widespread, it does not apply to all of Hollywood’s family narratives. In recent years mothers have been afforded more agency and a diverse range of roles, drawing further attention to the tension between traditional and modern family values and forms.

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2 Meryl Streep and Hollywood’s Maternal Archetypes While Hollywood’s families have long been patriarchal, the mother, despite her often marginal narrative position, has historically been the focus of more criticism and analysis than the father. Although this balance is shifting slightly, the integration of feminism into film studies in the 1970s, and specifically its engagement with issues of female representation, allowed the mother to be the focal point for a number of feminist film scholars.1 Interest in this character has waned in recent years, giving credence to (postfeminist) arguments that feminism is no longer relevant and that Hollywood now depicts its women and mothers as well-rounded characters with equal status and opportunity. This chapter aims to reassess the representation of mothers in light of such assumptions. As with the previous chapter, it does so by outlining the archetypes of the contemporary Hollywood mother, through which one can see that the mother, like the father, is caught up in tensions between traditional structures and more liberal ideals. With the mother, it is through themes of maternal freedom and female empowerment that this is evident. While women are now depicted in more diverse roles, in particular as working mothers or within action films where their roles as leaders are celebrated, there is a continued reliance on ‘traditional’ gender roles and family set-ups. Furthermore, Hollywood’s women are inevitably mothers. Hollywood’s mothers can be loosely divided into three archetypes: the domestic mother, the working mother and the action mother. The domestic mother marks the ‘traditional’ incarnation of maternity, but is a dying trend in Hollywood and arguably in contemporary Western society. In acknowledgement of this, Hollywood often deals with the traditional mother in retrospective, nostalgic narratives such as The Bridges of Madison County (1995) or Far From Heaven (2002), or in narratives in which the mother herself dies, symbolically reiterating the death of this character, including One True Thing (1998) or Stepmom (1998). The working 41

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mother is the dominant model of contemporary Hollywood, though old tensions between work and motherhood remain. Professional work is frequently depicted as detrimental to family life, and in many cases female characters are forced to sacrifice their careers, or at least change their priorities, for the good of the family, as occurs in One Fine Day, Raising Helen (2004) and No Reservations (2007). The final category, that of the action mother, breaks most conclusively from the maternal mould by displaying ‘masculine’ characteristics such as physical strength, as in The River Wild (1994), The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) and the Kill Bill films (2003, 2004). Having said this, active mothers exist in narratives in which their ‘action’ is for the benefit of the family, and it is still assumed that women of childbearing age will be, or will desire to become, mothers. Although these different incarnations of the mother allow different concerns to be explored, there are pervasive similarities that are central to Hollywood’s representation of maternity, in particular the tension between personal fulfilment and family duty. These archetypes will be explored through the films of Meryl Streep and, in particular, The Bridges of Madison County, The River Wild and The Devil Wears Prada (2006). Streep has played many and diverse maternal roles, making her body of work ideal for a case study of motherhood in Hollywood. Deborah Mellamphy draws attention to the ‘recurrent significance of the maternal in Streep’s roles and her personal life’.2 Many of the films in which she stars are marked by a sympathetic portrayal of often complex maternal characters, for instance: Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), Sophie’s Choice (1982), The River Wild, The Bridges of Madison County, Marvin’s Room (1996), One True Thing, Music of the Heart (1999), The Devil Wears Prada and Mamma Mia! (2008). However, as Mellamphy notes, ‘many of her roles abandon the traditional Hollywood image of the mother as nurturer and caregiver’,3 and this is particularly evident in The Manchurian Candidate (2004), The Devil Wears Prada, and the British film The Iron Lady (2011). Streep has been outspoken about these complex female characters, explaining that society reserves ‘special venom’ for powerful women who are often cast ‘as cold, as if somehow they’ve lost their maternal bearings’.4 Streep’s understanding of the critique, and pressures, women face when they transgress traditionally feminine roles is clear in both her on- and off-screen personae, and is particularly evident in her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. The longevity of Streep’s celebrated career spans the changing generations of Hollywood family narratives, allowing her portrayals of the maternal to chart shifting attitudes and concerns. Perhaps her most iconic character is Joanna Kramer in Kramer vs. Kramer, a role that defined Streep as an Oscar-winning actress (although she was granted little more than ten minutes screen time) but that also marked a seminal moment in Hollywood’s representations of the mother and the family. The film attempted to sympathize with feminist ideals while essentially embracing a patriarchal, regressive ideology. Joanna is a stay-at-home mother with a young son and a husband (Dustin Hoffman) who works long hours. At the

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beginning of the film she leaves her stifling domestic life in order to ‘find herself’. Her husband has to learn how to raise his son and put family before work. After some time Joanna reappears, now with her own successful career, to seek custody of her son. An acrimonious court battle follows in which the mother is actually awarded custody of the son, but by the film’s close she relents and allows her husband to bring up their child. The tensions evident in Kramer vs. Kramer are symptomatic of Hollywood’s ambivalence when dealing with mothers and the combination of personal fulfilment and domestic duty. Joanna Kramer is frequently viewed critically; the character was described by right-wing activist Connie Marshner as ‘the archetypal macho feminist’ and a ‘bad mother’,5 a position upheld by the film’s conclusion that celebrates the single-father. However, it is Streep’s performance that draws sympathy for Joanna. Streep’s role in this film is significant – she re-wrote the speech in which Joanna explains her decision to leave the family and the reasons why she still deserves custody of her son. In Streep’s words: I rewrote it because they were not happy with it. I think [director] Bob Benton and Dustin [Hoffman] came to the story with a very strong understanding of where the man stood . . . What they didn’t really know or care about was what her situation was. They thought of it later, and then they didn’t know what she would say to defend herself or why she would even have any claim to the child. I felt very strongly why she would have a very good claim.6

It is Streep’s continued dedication to exploring strong women and complex maternal characters that allows her films to provide such rich texts to study. Furthermore, since the 1990s Streep’s roles have been predominantly mothers, a move that has become more pronounced since her role as Donna Sheridan in the hugely successful Mamma Mia!. Streep’s varying maternal roles are indicative of patterns of representation in contemporary Hollywood, encompassing the three archetypes identified: since 1990 she has played the domestic mother in, for example, The Bridges of Madison County, One True Thing and The Hours (2002), the working mother in a diverse range of films such as Music of the Heart, The Manchurian Candidate, Prime (2005), The Devil Wears Prada and Mamma Mia!, and the action mother in The River Wild. Streep’s longevity and the range of her performances as a leading actress have enabled her to become one of few to transcend the boundaries of melodrama, romantic comedy, thriller and even the action film. In addition, some of the most memorable of these (the mothers in The Bridges of Madison County, The Devil Wears Prada and The River Wild, for example) also transcend boundaries of the Hollywood patriarchal norm: Francesca finds fulfilment away from her family in a passionate, sexual affair with another man; Miranda Priestly is an unsympathetic career woman, whose professional success is seemingly more important than her family, and Gail leads three men on a river expedition, proving 43

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herself to be physically stronger and more capable, taking on the mantle of action heroine when her family is threatened. Despite these seemingly diverse maternal roles, the films have an underlying concern with traditional values and gender roles.

Representing Motherhood Although society is growing increasingly more accepting of a diverse range of maternal models, it is not just in Hollywood that tensions appear between traditional and liberal beliefs about the maternal: these are also evident in American culture more broadly. It is necessary to outline the pressures contemporary motherhood is under before exploring Hollywood’s appropriation of the role. These pressures largely concern a mother’s right to work outside the home, and the way in which motherhood is perceived as a site of power – but also blame. Public debates about the role of the mother continually centre on whether mothers should work outside the home. The historical perception of ‘traditional’ family life is that mothers raised children and men worked outside the home as the sole breadwinners. Coontz suggests this is a common misconception, noting that it was not until the Industrial Revolution, when one family member was required to leave the home for work, that the husband/father, as the main wage earner, started to work away from home. Even in the nineteenth century the idea of one family member as sole wage earner was not economically feasible, so wives and mothers typically worked on farms or at family businesses, and child labour was not uncommon.7 The sole earner family of the 1950s is similarly problematic as a basis for contemporary representations of the family. This post-war model is often invoked as a symbol of how the family should be and of an economic set-up that contemporary families should attempt to follow. However, the ability of many families to exist with a sole wage earner in the 1950s was a result of economic factors and policies that are not present in contemporary America. Various false beliefs about this period are perpetuated, most notably that the 1950s model of the family was itself an experiment, not indicative of models in the preceding decades. Furthermore, the 1950s was a decade of huge economic gain for the average family. Not only were more job programmes and family subsidies provided by the US government in the 1950s, but wages increased by a greater percentage in one year of that decade than they did through the entire 1980s, and, although working hours were shorter, wages increased with employee productivity.8 Furthermore, Coontz notes that: ‘By 1991, more than 58 percent of all married women, and nearly two-thirds of all married women with children were in the labor force’,9 and explains that in contemporary America it has become financially necessary for mothers as well as fathers to go out to work. Despite this, public discourse about mothers rarely focuses on the struggles of combining work and 44

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parenthood or the changes necessary to support America’s adapting families. Instead debates continue to focus on whether women should work if they have children, ignoring the fact that many must. Right-wing family values activist Mary Eberstadt blames working mothers for the various ills facing their children, such as obesity, mental health problems, teenage pregnancy or violence. It is on the topic of youth obesity that Eberstadt clearly states it is the mother ‘more than any other’ who does – or rather should – take interest in, and therefore police, a child’s eating habits and behaviour.10 Eberstadt believes maternal care and supervision to be what American children lack, and places the blame for youth problems on the shoulders of mothers who are ‘absent’ due to work.11 This model of maternal responsibility is linked to the ideology of patriarchy rather than to actual social models. Insistence that women are mothers and mothers are domestic figures has helped to create a myth of motherhood. Indeed, Adrienne Rich believes that there is a ‘disjunction between the “institution of motherhood” and her own experience of mothering’.12 A myth of motherhood based on an idealized institution, in which maternity is equated with femininity and wholesomeness, is propagated by Hollywood, where this romanticized image has become dominant. Take, for example, recent films concerned with motherhood, such as Knocked Up (2007), a comedy in which a young woman, Alison (Katherine Heigl), finds out she has fallen pregnant after a drunken one night stand with an unsuitable young man, Ben (Seth Rogen). The film only follows Alison’s pregnancy, not her experiences as a mother, and the trials the expectant mother faces seem to be her relationship to the unsuitable father and concern over whether or not he has read ‘the baby books’. She is presented, as many expectant mothers are in Hollywood, as radiant and glowing in pastels and feminine clothing. The idealization of motherhood takes into account the ‘act’ of becoming a mother – of pro-creation – much more than it does the practicalities of mothering – of feeding and changing, of being kept up at night, of teaching and playing with children. Until recently actual ‘mothering’ has rarely been the focus of Hollywood films, certainly not in terms of the struggles of motherhood. There has undoubtedly been a shift towards films that recognize the pressure of child-rearing, such as Marley & Me (2008), The Switch (2010), The Back-Up Plan (2010), Friends with Kids (2011) and What to Expect When You’re Expecting (2012), yet even here there is little focus on the day-to-day elements of parenting. Hollywood has historically explored motherhood in films such as Baby Boom (1987) and Raising Helen in which women learn to mother in a comedy that makes it both fun and fulfilling. Similar narratives are applied to male protagonists, in Kramer vs. Kramer, Three Men and a Baby, The Pacifier (2005) and The Game Plan (2007). These films depict an idealized version of parenting which only takes into account the unpleasantness (including dirty nappies) when making light of it, and makes it look like such fun that it is hard

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to understand why anyone would not want to become a mother – so much so that even men are happily taking on the role.13 Mainstream Hollywood has continually failed to tackle the tougher side of motherhood, from post-natal depression to the practicalities and emotional issues that come with having to leave children for work. Furthermore, the belief that women and mothers are first and foremost domestic figures provides no choice for women who wish to work. Alongside an ignorance of real maternal concerns, there is an inevitability that women (but, notably, never teenagers) will almost always be, or desire to be, mothers, even if it seems at odds with their careers. Specific examples of this include Courage Under Fire (1996), in which the female lead is a soldier, and The Devil Wears Prada, in which Streep plays a hard-hearted magazine editor. Hollywood leaves very little room for women who wish to opt out of motherhood, a choice that represents a denial of feminine ‘instinct’.

Feminism and Motherhood As Faludi argues, second-wave feminism was concerned with women’s reproductive rights,14 and this continues to be an important arena for feminist campaigners, particularly in American society, where they remain contentious.15 Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism (2007) draws attention to both the lack of sex education in American schools, and to so-called ‘foetal protection’ laws.16 Foetal protection guidelines suggest every female body should be viewed as a potential babymaking machine. They involve a clear attempt to deny women choice and control over their sexuality and the decision whether or not to reproduce. While the, predominantly ‘abstinence-only’, sex education of American high schools is designed to persuade teenagers not to experiment with pre-marital sex, it creates a mixed message by arguing that sex, and resulting pregnancy, are central to marriage – that motherhood (which is what sex is for) is the end goal for women. Debates around sex, reproduction and abstinence further reduce motherhood to a symbolic, reproductive act. The focus on the act of reproduction as central to motherhood evokes psychoanalytic discourses that render female reproductivity a powerful act, and imagine the womb as the site of power. Freudian psychoanalysis believes that the desire to be a mother, and the desire for a child, is borne of castration anxiety, whereby the child becomes a substitute for the phallus. Thus the womb is rendered symbolically weaker than the phallus. More recently feminism has overturned such theories, and the womb has begun to be read as a site of power, and of threat to masculinity. Lucy Fischer believes this ‘threat’ was at the core of early ‘trick’ films where women were conjured up, or ‘given life’, by men who wished to own the reproductive power themselves.17 Both Fischer and Jessica Benjamin believe male attempts to subordinate women are reciprocally borne out of fear and envy of the female reproductive ability.18 With specific 46

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The most striking aspect of Three Men and a Baby . . . is the explicitness with which the film reveals men’s desire to usurp women’s procreative function. In the scene where the three men . . . attempt to capture the criminals for the police, the baby’s father, Jack . . . disguises himself as a pregnant woman . . . Later, after Mary has been taken away by her mother . . . Jack puts a pillow under his sweater and poses in front of a mirror . . . It would appear that ‘womb envy’ and male hysteria are no longer latent thematics to be teased out by the psychoanalytically-oriented feminist critic; such envy is the manifest content of the film.19

In more recent cinema, a similar desire is central to the Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy Junior (1994), in which a male scientist manages to impregnate himself. As far-fetched as this film is, it highlights the sense of power that is associated with the ability to reproduce, and the continued male desire to ‘own’ such power. Motherhood, then, is one arena in which women are afforded agency. Modleski’s article astutely asks whether ‘pace Freud’ femininity in men is something that is no longer denied ‘but rather a condition that man desires for himself’.20 If this is so, it is the womb rather than the phallus that can be construed as a site of ‘power’, opening up interesting questions about motherhood. The womb as site of power is not an entirely positive concept. As Friedan notes, ‘Under the Freudian microscope . . . a very different concept of family began to emerge . . . It was suddenly discovered that the mother could be blamed for almost everything.’21 This attitude is evident in films such as Marvin’s Room, in which the angry and neglectful mother (played by Streep) is presented as the cause of her son Hank (Leonardo DiCaprio)’s bad behaviour and seeming mental instability, and The Hours, which provides a distinctly Freudian response to ‘bad’ motherhood. The film concurrently tells the story of three different women in three different decades. One of these stories is that of Laura Brown ( Julianne Moore), a housewife in the 1950s, who is extremely unhappy in her marriage. It transpires, in the contemporary narrative of the film, that Laura had left her family shortly after having a second child. She outlives her children, who both die young; her daughter’s death is not explained but her son’s story forms part of the film, as a gay man suffering from AIDS. The film offers a Freudian interpretation of the absent mother (whose flight from her 1950s home is prompted by a lesbian kiss with a neighbour), in which both the mother’s absence and her homosexuality have directly influenced her son’s sexuality. Richard (Ed Harris), the son, is not only a tragic figure because of his illness, but also an angry man who torments his closest friend, Clarissa (Meryl Streep), and eventually ends his own life. It is made explicit that his mother’s decision to leave the family and their resulting strained relationship has caused his anger.

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reference to contemporary Hollywood, Tania Modleski recognizes the same power relationships at work in Three Men and a Baby:

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Motherhood and Hollywood Melodrama Viviani and Kaplan have traced representations of the mother in Hollywood melodramas from the 1910s to the 1940s back to conventions of nineteenth-century literature, placing the mother within a context in which maternal responsibility is central and transgressions from the ‘natural’ role pose a threat to the family.22 Viviani discusses the narratives of the maternal melodrama in nineteenth century plays as allowing members of the male audience to indulge the ‘“Oedipus” in him’.23 Such Oedipal narratives tie the mother to a patriarchal system in which the successful development/romantic union of the son is at stake, for the mother’s role is central in the male transition from childhood to heterosexual adulthood. Freud believed that the initial attachment to the mother was crucial to the development of heterosexual feelings towards a love object: ‘It may be presumed . . . that in the case of men a childhood recollection of the affection shown them by their mother . . . contributes powerfully to directing their choice towards women’.24 The mother took a central role in classical Hollywood melodramas such as Stella Dallas (1937) and Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948). In the latter, the mother narrates the story, seemingly positing her as the film’s subject. However, it is the father’s voice that is heard through Lisa ( Joan Fontaine), the mother. Furthermore, as the unknown woman of the title, the mother is immediately announced as a nameless ‘other’. The mothers of both these films remain bound by the constraints of patriarchy, sacrificing their own desires for the good of the family. The Bridges of Madison County repeats the pattern of maternal sacrifice, as the mother has the familiar melodramatic choice between her own emotional and sexual fulfilment and the family’s wellbeing. Here, the mother has an affair and decides to run away with her new lover, in whom she finds the happiness that is lacking in her family life. Yet at the last minute she realizes that the pull of duty to her family is too strong, and decides to end the affair and remain with her husband and children. The conclusion of The Bridges of Madison County restores the ‘transgressive’ mother back to the family and subordinates her once more to the law of the father. Harwood notes that the tendency to reposition mothers who had ‘transgressed’ in a traditionally feminine role remained central to family narratives in the 1980s, a decade in which the father’s role was debated and exalted. As a result, she argues, the mother was allowed little or no screen time, and those narratives that did include motherhood either reinstated her and the father in a patriarchal family unit or punished her for continuing to pursue interests outside the home. Harwood illustrates this by examining mothers who are redeemed by their (re)union with a/the father in Look Who’s Talking (1989), Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989) and Three Men and a Baby, and cites Terms of Endearment (1983) and Out of Africa (1985) as examples of the mother who is punished for having interests away from the home.25 The 1990s mark a shift in representations of the mother. The reconfiguration of gender roles in which a softer masculinity was celebrated26 also allowed women

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to take on more central, and diverse, roles. Hollywood’s portrayals of maternity, although still subject to patriarchal frameworks, have undoubtedly diversified since 1990. The most notable shift has perhaps been the proliferation of mothers in leading roles in action and adventure films such as the Alien quartet (1979, 1986, 1992, 1997), Terminator 2, The Long Kiss Goodnight, The River Wild and the Kill Bill films. The mother as solely a supporting character is a model that was overturned as Linda Hamilton brandished biceps and guns in Terminator 2 and fought for her son’s survival (albeit in a narrative that set out to find him a suitable father-figure), and working mothers have become the central figures of narratives. Various romantic comedies have tried to find a suitor for single working mothers, such as One Fine Day and Maid in Manhattan (2002). Even more recently, mothers are the ones who go out to work while dads stayat-home; both Meet the Fockers and Daddy Day Care (2003) depict this family model. Although such films provide a modern approach to the family and motherhood, both use the model of one parent as breadwinner and the other as main carer. These narratives present a change to traditional representations of the family and motherhood. However, the focus of both films is the relationship between father and son, so, despite appearing to be offering alternative family models, they become a further symptom of the tensions between liberal and traditional family values that permeate contemporary Hollywood. That said, there is a clear shift in attitudes towards the family and gender, and in particular the role of the mother. This is evident in terms of both the narrative weight carried by the mother and the genre she appears in, as the ‘woman’s film’ or melodrama – the traditional site of narratives about motherhood – has been superseded by more traditionally masculine genres. However, maternal melodramas do still exist, and remain the dominant genre through which the domestic mother can be explored. The domestic mother of contemporary melodrama largely conforms to the structures of Hollywood’s classical melodramas in that transgression from the maternal role cannot be tolerated. However, while the mother suffers, the use of retrospective narratives in films such as The Bridges of Madison County, One True Thing and The Hours attempts to position these ideals in the past and recognizes the pain of the mother’s punishment. In both The Bridges of Madison County and One True Thing there is a dialogue of empowerment that is expressed through the daughter – a figure allowed to learn from the mother’s experience and to forge a more liberal future. Nevertheless, the emphasis is on empowerment through traditionally feminine channels.

The Bridges of Madison County : Domestic Motherhood and Maternal Subjectivity The stay-at-home mother has become a less popular figure in contemporary Hollywood narratives, as in contemporary society. The Bridges of Madison County 49

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draws attention to this by situating the domestic mother in the past and within the dying genre of the melodrama. Set in the 1960s, the film demonstrates both nostalgia for pre-feminism and a sense of empathy with the mother who feels trapped within an oppressive domesticity. The film is split between a contemporary narrative in which the now grown-up children are the central characters, and a flashback (to 1965) told from the mother’s point of view, allowing the mother to inhabit the position of both object and subject throughout the course of the film. Maternal subjectivity is a topic that has garnered much interest across a variety of discourses including feminism and psychoanalysis. Kaplan believes that a mother’s subjectivity, both within Hollywood narratives and in the wider spheres of scholarly writing and popular culture, has been largely ignored; she argues that the mother’s role in society (as typified by Freudian ideology) is as an ‘other’ from the point of view, usually, of a child.27 This is echoed in Hollywood narratives, in which it has been more common for the maternal figure to be the hero’s mother than the central protagonist. The mothers of Lethal Weapon and Meet the Parents, whose bad cooking is the butt of jokes, exemplify the mother-as-other; she is a figure to be viewed, critically, from another character’s point of view. The coming into subjectivity of the mother in cultural representations, and specifically in Hollywood, has no doubt been influenced by feminism, which set out to give all women (not just mothers) a greater voice, yet Hollywood’s representation of maternal subjectivity remains problematic. The overriding concern in women’s films with traditional feminine interests such as romance and motherhood means that female subjectivity fails to be attributed to diverse, well-rounded women, instead traditional ideas of womanhood continue to be perpetuated. Beyond ‘women’s films’, the action mothers, discussed later in this chapter, are given their own subjectivity in a ‘masculine’ genre, but even here their motivation is frequently to protect their child, as seen in The Long Kiss Goodnight, The River Wild, Panic Room (2002), Kill Bill and Flightplan (2005). The Bridges of Madison County is particularly useful to a discussion of objectivity/ subjectivity because of its split narrative, which places Francesca in a position that both empowers and undermines her; although her subjectivity is explored, it is then re-appropriated through the eyes of the children, and in particular the daughter. The re-appropriation of the (domestic) mother’s narrative complicates it, situating it firmly in the past and therefore distancing Francesca’s turmoil from the problems of contemporary women and mothers. The Bridges of Madison County tells the story of Francesca Johnson (Streep), beginning just after her death as her two children, Caroline (Annie Corley) and Michael (Victor Slezak), return to their childhood home in rural Iowa to deal with their mother’s will. In her possession are journals detailing a brief but passionate affair that she had some 30 years earlier with photographer Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood), who was visiting the area

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to photograph the bridges of Madison County for a National Geographic article at the same time as her husband and children were away at a state fair. The film is divided between the present, in which Caroline and Michael read and discuss the journals, and the past; a flashback to the affair voiced by Francesca. The separation of the mother’s narrative from that of her children situates maternal subjectivity away from the family. Indeed the mother’s story (the affair in the past) can only occur because the rest of the family members are absent; when they are present her role is simply to meet their demands. Frequently in Hollywood the mother can only have her own narrative – can only be a figure independent of her family and its demands upon her – if it occurs away from the family, or is somehow invested in the protection of the family. The flashback narrative of the film is sympathetic to the mother, depicting both the oppression of her domestic life and the tragedy that she cannot break free from it: the affair ends as Francesca’s family return. It is through both narrative and visuals that the film demonstrates its sympathy for Francesca. The flashback begins just before her family depart for the fair, the opening shot showing her in the kitchen, making dinner for her family, wearing a shirt-dress in pastel stripes that blends into the yellows and greens of the decor, rendering her literally part of the home. Both her dishevelled appearance and the spaces she inhabits display the dreariness of her lifestyle. The home is tidy but dull, and all the walls are decorated with patterned wallpapers, providing oppressive surroundings. Furthermore, these early scenes of Francesca in the home are dimly lit; as she is cooking, the light that falls into the kitchen avoids her, and once the family have left for their trip she sits alone at night in an unlit room. The opera music she is listening to on the radio provides a suitably melancholy soundtrack to this scene, while also representing her Italian past28 and her detachment from her unappealing present. The tension between the mother’s subjectivity and her position within the family is evident in the contrast between those scenes where the family are present and those in which Francesca is alone. Once the family have left the house and Francesca has encountered Robert (he arrives at the house by accident, having got lost on the way to photograph the bridges, Francesca then offers to join him in order to give him directions), shots from her point of view almost always coincide with watching Robert; as he photographs the bridges and as he washes outside. The eroticized gaze is displayed here, and in owning an active (sexual) gaze Francesca is empowered. However, this sexual empowerment is separated from family life. Francesca’s desire for Robert is linked to his worldliness. Their friendship, which leads to the affair, begins as she is fascinated by his tales of travel, and in particular his experience of the small town in Italy where she grew up. Both his profession as a National Geographic photographer and his appearance code him as worldly. The dusky brown of his shirt aligns him with the countryside and provides a contrast to the other men of the film (who are given little narrative time), who wear plaids and

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overalls. Robert wears jeans, sandals, even a metal bracelet. He is further aligned with the outdoors when he washes outside, where his half-naked body, displayed in natural surroundings, also links his worldliness to his sexuality. Francesca is aligned with the home, coding the domestic spaces as feminine, whereas the outdoors is masculine. The separation between the feminine domestic world and the masculine outdoors is clearly denoted in the film. When the two travel to Rosemont Bridge, on their first outing together, Francesca prefers to stay under the cover provided by the bridge, emphasizing her role as domestic, and separated, unlike Robert, who resides in the ‘exterior’ world. Francesca watches Robert from within the house, just as she watches him from beneath the cover of the bridge in the earlier scene. Placing the narrative of The Bridges of Madison County within the 1960s allows the mother’s restlessness within the home to echo Friedan’s experience of American motherhood in the fifties and early sixties, as documented in her seminal feminist text The Feminine Mystique (1963). Friedan drew attention to the dissatisfaction many domestic wives and mothers felt, and the patriarchal structures that had persuaded women they were better off within the home, providing examples of women who tried to find an outlet for their frustrations in work, alcoholism or adultery. Francesca’s sexual desire is symptomatic of this model of the dissatisfied housewife. She explains to Robert that she had enjoyed employment as a teacher but now does not work, partly because of her children, but also because her husband had not wished her to. By closely aligning Francesca’s narrative with the experiences of women/ mothers before women’s liberation had widespread effect, the film situates her concerns in the past. The tragedy of the film is that Francesca is tied to a way of life that, in contemporary society, it would be easier to break free of. Thus one could assume that the film had to be set in the 1960s as her problems are dated; women now have their emotional and sexual freedom, but this is, of course, not necessarily the case. Although women’s liberation has improved opportunities for women, Hollywood narratives remain resistant to the mother leaving the family. In a more recent film, Enough (2002), Slim ( Jennifer Lopez), a waitress who marries a wealthy man, is placed in upmarket suburbia by her new husband, who requests that she stop working (much like Richard has presumably asked of Francesca, or Ted Kramer in the late 1970s had asked of his wife Joanna). Slim’s husband soon begins to physically control her. When she discovers her husband is having an affair, her attempts to leave him are met with violence. Slim and her daughter do leave the house, but are pursued by the increasingly violent father. The climax of the narrative sees the mother, now trained in combat, fight her husband to the death. While both Kramer vs. Kramer and Enough allow the mothers to embrace their natural right to leave, respectively, oppressive and violent homes, neither woman is easily given her freedom; the price for this is that Joanna Kramer must give up her child and Slim must kill the man who has tormented her.

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Figure 4. Francesca is objectified through her introduction in a photograph, The Bridges of Madison County (1995).

The Mother as Object/Other By placing the mother’s narrative in the past, The Bridges of Madison County is able to suggest that Francesca’s problems are ‘pre’ feminist, and this is reinforced by the comparison between Francesca’s story and that of her daughter Caroline. As she reads the mother’s journals, Caroline appropriates this story in her own way, giving her own meaning to the mother’s narrative. The contemporary narrative places the mother in this role as ‘object’ by introducing her through a photograph: an image from someone else’s point of view. The photograph is over-exposed, so the mother is bathed in light as she coquettishly hides her face, appearing angelic but also distorted, a fitting introduction, as the contemporary narrative distorts the mother’s subjectivity. The mother’s unhappy marriage is echoed in the less-thanperfect unions of her two children. While Caroline is encouraged by her mother’s story to leave an unhappy marriage, Michael patches up his differences with his irritating and selfish wife. The difference is that Michael’s marriage has produced children, suggesting that when children are involved the breakdown of the family still cannot be accepted. Following the decision to leave her husband, Caroline announces that she will remain in Iowa. This creates a problematic appropriation of the mother’s narrative, but also suggests a sisterly affinity and an understanding of her mother’s unhappiness, that eludes her brother. By implication, Caroline believes that by moving back to Iowa and her mother’s old house she might experience for herself some of the sexual excitement her mother shared with Robert. Caroline’s decision to stay creates a contradiction: on the one hand she is taking control of her own life 53

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and looking for the sexual and emotional fulfilment her mother found, but on the other hand, under the guise of seizing control of her life, she is returning to the oppressive small town that had been full of judgement and small talk, and to the home and domestic life in which her mother felt trapped. This brings to mind Nancy Chodorow’s statement that it is inevitable the daughter will become like her mother.29 It is notable that the mother’s transgressions, and those transgressions and experiences which the daughter wishes to repeat, are sexual. To Caroline this represents excitement whereas, to her mother, it was the only available outlet for frustrations. Francesca’s sexual awakening through her relationship with Robert is a positive experience in her life. However, Friedan understood sexual desires outside the home as symptomatic of deeper discontents, noting that: Sex is the only frontier open to women who have always lived within the confines of the feminine mystique . . . the sexual frontier has been forced to expand . . . to fill the vacuum created by denial of larger goals and purposes for American women.30

This is demonstrated in The Bridges of Madison County through Francesca’s intellectual investment in her relationship with Robert. He becomes an outlet for experience for her; his knowledge of places and cultures is what fascinates her, and he also becomes linked to her Italian past, repressed as she is by her rural American present. It is as he is taking photographs that Francesca first watches him, thus her sexual desire is linked to his professional status, which in turn codes him as intellectually superior to her. It is notably Francesca who instigates the relationship with Robert: she invites herself along to help him find the Rosemont Bridge; she invites him in for tea and then dinner. When he is washing outside, she watches his body from the window. Francesca is clearly taking control of her sexuality and rendering Robert the subject of her desires and her gaze. Although her story clearly references the frustrations noted in Friedan’s text, it is also symptomatic of the way in which Hollywood deals with unhappy women. Kaplan suggests that in Hollywood cinema a woman’s unhappiness is linked to her position in the patriarchal order as ‘lack’ and fulfilment comes either in the form of a man or children.31 The film is sympathetic to Francesca’s frustrations. By taking control of her sexuality (outside her marriage) she is empowered. The new dress she buys for her evening with Robert is emblematic of her attempt to control her sexuality and of her desire for sexual freedom and fulfilment. The dress’s function as an expression of ‘free’ sexuality is evident when Caroline, Francesca’s daughter, wears it as she calls her husband and ends their relationship. For both women it represents an attempt to break the ties of an oppressive marriage. Francesca’s sexuality is similarly ascribed through costume early in the film – sat on the porch she opens her dress so that 54

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Sexuality and Motherhood Sexually active parents are a contentious issue in Hollywood, where sex is predominantly heteronormative and procreative. Otherwise, as in the case of single-parents, renewed sexual desire often aids the reformation of a (pseudo) nuclear family in films such as Maid in Manhattan and No Reservations.32 As outlined in the previous chapter, in Meet the Fockers the openness of the sexual relationship of one pair of parents strengthens the family, while the lack of sexual activity between the other parents signals that their marriage is less happy. However, in The Bridges of Madison County sexual activity and desire occur outside the nuclear family, posing a direct threat. In the present of The Bridges of Madison County, the mother’s sexual relationship is immediately problematized in an explicitly Oedipal manner by her son, Michael, who reacts badly to the revelation of his mother’s affair, announcing ‘I feel really weird, as if she cheated on me not Dad.’ In two further Meryl Streep mother films, a similar problem arises when the mother’s sexuality is expressed. In The Manchurian Candidate, Eleanor Shaw (Streep) appears to seduce her son: in one scene she passionately kisses him, an act that is quickly cut away from, leaving ambiguity as to whether the kiss developed into anything more. In Prime, the mother becomes entangled in her son’s sex-life, something that causes her great distress, albeit played for laughs. The mother is the girlfriend’s therapist and is privy to intimate details of their relationship until she eventually realizes her son is the boyfriend. In both Prime and Meet the Fockers, the mother’s sexuality, or interest in her son’s sex-life, is treated comedically, suggesting that maternal sexuality is something that just cannot be dealt with seriously.33 Where it is not the source of comedy – The Manchurian Candidate – the effect of this over-investment is troubling. The Bridges of Madison County manages to avoid any such awkwardness by situating the mother’s sexual desire away from the family, separating the mother’s sex-life from her maternal role. Even so, sexual desire outside the nuclear family threatens to break up the family unit and therefore must be ended. As Kaplan wrote of pre-war melodramas, the mother who transgressed from ‘her “correct” position’ had to be punished or re-positioned as subordinate to the father’s law.34 Although Francesca is allowed some sexual freedom in a film that is predominantly sympathetic to her character, she must be repositioned in the family at the film’s denouement. The inability of the film’s contemporary narrative to fully negotiate the plight of discontented mothers undermines its sympathetic portrayal of the dissatisfied domestic mother. The film fails to acknowledge what Francesca’s options might be in contemporary society by aligning her with the

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her naked body can feel the breeze. This is particularly sensual, emblematic of the mother’s desire to ‘feel’. She is bitten by insects as she opens the gown (and is seen in the next scene putting lotion on the bites), a harsh reminder that the mother is denied this sensuality.

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childless daughter. Furthermore, the daughter’s decision to try to experience some of her mother’s excitement obscures the tragic love story, and sees oppressive and isolated rural life as a site of excitement and possibility. While Francesca is able to transcend boundaries of ‘typically’ maternal behaviour, she ends up in the same place by the close of the film – restored to the family. Although the film acknowledges and sympathizes with maternal discontent, it does not offer any real solution, it merely suggests that the next generation will fare better.

The Working Mother in Hollywood The character of the mother who also works outside the home has become Hollywood’s dominant maternal model in recent years. This is a necessary shift that reflects changes in Western societies that have seen increasing numbers of women and mothers in the workplace, out of both necessity and choice: as Coontz notes, by 1991 nearly two-thirds of all married women with children worked.35 Although Hollywood represents mothers in the workforce, there is an apparent tension between ‘good’ mothering and pursuing a career that is evident in a large number of working mother narratives. Hollywood has two central ways of dealing with working mothers. The first is to depict work or a career as transgressing from the mother’s ‘natural’ role, or at the very least to remind the mother of the family’s importance over work, as exemplified by films such as Marvin’s Room, Raising Helen, The River Wild and One Fine Day, in which women who had previously been career-driven learn to sacrifice their professional aspirations in favour of spending more time with their children. The second is to focus on the mother’s professional role and pay very little attention to the family, as in Courage Under Fire, The Devil Wears Prada and S.W.A.T. (2003). Motherhood is not fully explored in these films and is seemingly at odds with the mothers’ careers, but they are symptomatic of the inevitability in Hollywood cinema that women of child-bearing age will be mothers. In both instances, as Kaplan points out, Hollywood largely fails to show on screen the practicalities of juggling work and motherhood.36 While this latter group of films depicts mothers within tougher, ‘masculine’, jobs, the majority of Hollywood’s working women and mothers are employed in ‘soft’ or ‘feminine’ jobs such as teaching, cooking, writing or design. These careers are all associated with traditionally feminine traits, implicitly coding serious jobs as masculine. Baby Boom epitomizes this dichotomy, as J. C. Wiatt (Diane Keaton), once she becomes a mother, leaves a corporate office job to set up a home industry making baby food. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, one of which is The Devil Wears Prada. Here the mother works as an editor of a fashion magazine, a ‘soft’ industry, but her professional capability as a corporate boss and her harsh management style code her as a masculinized figure. In order to succeed in a ‘masculine’ job, the working mother, Miranda Priestly (Streep), must suppress her maternity and maternal desires, creating a discourse in which 56

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The Working Mother in The Devil Wears Prada Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada is a an atypical Hollywood figure who is never, despite being a mother, explicitly chastised for her professional success – indeed professional success is crucial to her character. Because of the nature of Miranda’s job, the film largely evades dealing with the practicalities of working motherhood. The mother is idolized for her professional success, and her maternity is both inevitable (because she is a woman) and largely ignored. The Devil Wears Prada is not an obvious choice for a discussion of the maternal because Miranda’s maternity is marginal to the narrative. However, this in itself allows the film to speak volumes about Hollywood’s continued inability to represent the practicalities for working mothers. The film is a romantic comedy about a girl, Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway), who takes on a job in the world’s foremost fashion magazine, Runway, as assistant to the editor. The editor is Miranda Priestly, herself an iconic figure (closely modelled on Anna Wintour, editor of American Vogue), and thus the role of her assistant is one of the most sought after in the industry. Despite this, Miranda is the boss from hell, the devil in Prada of the title. While she is never seen on screen with her family, the film announces her maternity almost as soon as she has been introduced. As she enters the offices she begins reeling off a list of tasks for her assistant, Emily (Emily Blunt); one of these is to remind her children’s father about parents’ evening, clearly stating her maternity. The separation of work and family allows the professional woman to appear anti-maternal, yet in The Devil Wears Prada this anti-maternal demeanour is depicted as a masquerade. Although professional success seems to be central to the narrative there is, in fact, an overriding emphasis on ‘feminine’ concerns such as motherhood and romance that is symptomatic of a continued tension between diverse roles for women and mothers and a more traditional femininity. In contrast to The Bridges of Madison County, maternal subjectivity is entirely denied in The Devil Wears Prada, as the mother is presented from Andy’s point of view, as ‘other’ or object. In fact, aside from her entrance, she is never in a scene unless she is with, talking to, or near Andy. The very title of the film (assuming Miranda to be the ‘devil’) assesses her from the viewpoint of ‘other’. The disavowal of the mother’s subjectivity is not exclusive to this film. The same is evident in Courage Under Fire, for example, that centres on the investigation of the death of a soldier, and mother. In this instance, the investigation, that trawls through various versions of what happened in the past, strips the mother

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‘femininity’ is separated from the (serious) workplace. This creates an ambiguous narrative that is, at times, sympathetic to the working mother, but, as with the domestic mother, offers no solution to her problems. Furthermore, in The Devil Wears Prada, the mother’s narrative is once again told from the perspective of a younger woman.

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of a voice. The film focuses not on the mother but on how she is remembered through other people’s record of the events. While Courage Under Fire draws explicit attention to the problems of male attitudes towards the working woman through the denial of her subjectivity, The Devil Wears Prada is not so self-aware. Furthermore, the representation of Miranda from Andy’s point of view allows the narrative to avoid dealing with the choices and practicalities of the working mother. As she is effectively just a supporting character, Miranda is not defined by her maternity. However, there remains a demonstrable tension between traditional and more modern images of women. Miranda is a powerful and threatening figure; her entrance is preceded by a flurry of activity from the staff at Runway as the accompanying music increases in tempo. Nigel (Stanley Tucci), the magazine’s fashion editor, warns ‘Gird your loins’ as she approaches, drawing attention to the emasculating threat of the powerful career woman.37 The introduction of Miranda emphasizes her costuming, as she steps out of her car, beginning with her foot and then panning upwards. This is a generic shot that is frequently used to introduce the sexual or powerful woman. The shot never reveals her face, thus keeping Miranda at an emotional distance. The camera pans upwards, revealing her white hair and fur coat and evoking an image of Cruella de Vil, before cutting back to focus on her Prada handbag. This aligns her immediately with the title of the film and commodifies her, linking the figure to wealth, vanity and consumerism. Miranda is thus set apart from the traditional mother that Bassin, Honey and Kaplan describe as ‘self-less and ever patient’; as a woman whose child comes before her own needs.38 Kaplan also states that the twentieth-century ideal of womanhood embodied ‘piety, purity, domesticity and submissiveness’.39 Miranda’s commodification is directly at odds with such selflessness and maternal drives, and it is for this reason that when her maternity is announced, it has to be proclaimed clearly. While the emphasis upon appearance and costume within The Devil Wears Prada might seem to complicate its presentation of working women, it is clear that the film’s costumes, typified by Andy’s makeover, indicate status for professional women. They function as fetish objects, constructing a sense of phallic power for the women who wear them. At the same time, the abundance of costumes worn by, specifically, Miranda undercuts her character. As Bruzzi explains, for the traditional femme fatale, a changing wardrobe was a ‘mark of psychological and emotional instability, and thus an undermining mechanism that, from the perspective of potentially threatened men, nullifies the femme fatale’s potential danger’.40 Miranda’s professional success is destabilized by her emotional insecurity (highlighted later in the film); furthermore, the costumes and the use of the fashion industry as a backdrop function on various levels to weaken the mother’s initially powerful position. There is an implicit patriarchal structure at work within the fashion-conscious world of Runway magazine. Beauty and appearance are linked to success; it is

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Masquerade and the Working Mother Miranda’s costuming contributes to the masquerade, beneath which her maternal identity hides; both her clothing and demeanour are removed from Hollywood’s ideal image of motherhood as pale and soft, typified by Francesca at the start of The Bridges of Madison County. The good mother is, in many ways, depicted like the virgin, with a degree of purity about her. Take for example The Long Kiss Goodnight, in which Geena Davies’ character is feminine and floral until she remembers her past employment as an assassin, at which point she changes to dark colours, short bleached hair and tight clothing. Miranda does not dress in tight leather, but the defined lines of her designer outfits echo this un-maternal style. The spaces Miranda occupies similarly heighten the masquerade. Both Miranda’s home and the hotel room where she resides in Paris are coldly opulent, richly decorated but not definably domestic. In her home there are numerous vases of fresh flowers, and the same is true in her hotel suite in Paris. Her home is vast, evidenced in the scale of the ground floor and as Andy glances upwards at the many floors above. It is within these private spaces of the feminized domestic sphere that Miranda’s mask slips and her emotional vulnerability is glimpsed. Thus the appearance of wealth and power displayed in the decadently decorated spaces can be aligned with her own unfeeling and authoritative surface image, as under both there lies a damaged interior. Miranda’s outward appearance as an ultra-powerful woman represses and subverts her maternity. As part of her masquerade, she uses her maternal status to manipulate Andy; the most ridiculous of Miranda’s demanding requests are those involving her daughters. The first sees her ask Andy to charter a private jet in the middle of an intense storm so that Miranda can make her daughters’ piano recital (which she does not). The second demand is for Andy to secure two copies of an unpublished Harry Potter manuscript in less than a day. This behaviour is contrary; on the one hand, Miranda’s use of her daughters to manipulate Andy heightens the masquerade of uncaring professional mother, on the other hand, there is a real desire to be there for, and provide things for, her children. The insistence that she makes the piano recital is indicative of this; although it allows Miranda to ‘test’ Andy’s resourcefulness, it also implies she does care about her family – Hollywood’s truly ‘bad’ mothers would put work before family. The only points at which Miranda

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only once Andy undergoes a make-over and transforms into a sexier character that she begins to excel at work, and Miranda, the effective matriarch of Runway, begins to respect her. Therefore female success is aligned with attractiveness and consumption rather than hard work. However, there is a contradiction at play, because while attractiveness is the key to success, feminine characteristics must be suppressed; Miranda’s professional persona is depicted as a masquerade under which a more typically feminine woman/mother lies.

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softens in the professional/public sphere are when she is speaking to her daughters on the phone. Her desire to protect her daughters is also at the centre of her emotional outpouring in the scene where she breaks down in front of Andy. Streep herself recognizes that while powerful women – and in particular female leaders – are deemed un-maternal, the skills of leadership (making tough, and at times unpopular, decisions) are similar to those of motherhood.41 Streep’s performance demonstrates sympathy for the seemingly ‘hard’ career woman, something that is not necessarily evident in the film’s overarching narrative. The scene in which Miranda breaks down is crucial to Hollywood’s relationship with the working mother. It comes as Andy has joined Miranda in Paris; she enters her boss’s hotel room to find her sitting in a robe, with no make-up and visibly upset. Miranda’s husband has just requested a divorce (although it is never made clear in the film how many times Miranda has been married, it is implied this is not her first divorce and that her current husband is not the father of her children). This is the point at which Miranda’s masquerade is momentarily dropped, signalled by the temporary removal of the clothes, make-up and stern demeanour. That this scene did not appear in the book on which the film is based is significant, as the ‘original’ Miranda shows no compassion or maternal desire. Her emotional fragility has thus been added, and can be seen as symptomatic of both Hollywood’s incarnation of the working mother and Streep’s sympathetic performance. As Miranda opens up to Andy about her divorce, she expresses concern specifically for her children, and disdain for the role she has had to play: Another divorce splashed across page six, just imagine what they’re going to write about me; the dragon lady, career-obsessed, snow queen drives away another Mr. Priestly . . . I don’t really care what anybody writes about me, but my . . . my girls, it’s just so unfair to the girls. Another disappointment, another let down, another father-figure.

The importance of maternal desire surfaces again here, as at the core of Miranda’s character lies a need to protect the family and children above all else. Although the performance might suggest sympathy for the character, the narrative, that Miranda’s ‘drive’ has affected her marriage, seems evidence of backlash ideologies that see personal and professional success (for women) as mutually exclusive. Similarly regressive attitudes were widespread in popular discourses of the 1980s; as Faludi notes, a Newsweek article in 1986 proffered that: ‘The emotional fallout of feminism’ was damaging women; an ‘emphasis on equality’ had robbed them of their romantic and maternal rights’.42 Faludi also makes reference to Dr. Srully Blotnick, a psychologist and so-called ‘expert’ on women’s careers, whose 1985 text concerning the private lives of successful women, argued that ‘success at work “poisons both the professional and personal lives of women”’.43 60

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This tension between work and personal life is similarly clear in the film’s central narrative concerning Andy. The progression and climax of the narrative sees an increasingly harassed Andy eventually quit a promising and sought after position, and one in which she ultimately excelled. It cannot be denied that the job was demanding and required sacrifice of her personal life, and that her boss was unreasonable in the extreme, yet there is a distinct lack of encouragement for Andy from the supporting characters: when she threatens to leave her job, her boyfriend, Nate (Adrian Grenier), buys a celebratory meal. Even her father is critical, essentially teaching her to complain rather than take on the hard graft and long hours required to succeed at work. The dedication required is only for a year, but the narrative puts emphasis on sacrifices of romantic and familial relationships which, of course, are the priority for Hollywood’s women. This is cemented as the film concludes with Andy foregoing the job and its consequent rewards, and reunited with Nate. Again, this is a marked contrast to the original book, in which this final reunion between Andy and her boyfriend does not happen. As Virginia Wright Wexman writes: ‘in most Hollywood films, romantic love is a major concern . . . movies are overwhelmingly preoccupied with what received Hollywood wisdom knows as its most reliable formula: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl’.44 Furthermore the reunion of Nate and Andy suggests the priority for the young working woman is a relationship – after all Andy would not want to end up like Miranda, stressed and unloved. Despite the anti-feminist undertones of the narrative, Miranda is never explicitly chastised as a working mother or returned to the domestic sphere. Nevertheless, the film’s representation of the working mother remains contradictory. Although Miranda is the titular ‘devil’ and the film is ostensibly about her, the central character remains Andy, the film’s subjective presence through whom Miranda is observed

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Figure 5. Miranda’s masquerade is broken down as she appears with no make-up, displaying her maternal emotions in The Devil Wears Prada (2006).

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and against whom Miranda is judged. As a supporting character to Andy, whose romantic reunion concludes the film, the maternal figure is relegated to the position of other or object. The inclusion of the scene in which the mother breaks down is a symptom that Hollywood continues to rely on traditional feminine archetypes, and further proof that the myth of the maternal, in which mothers must be soft, emotional and put their children’s concerns first, is perpetuated. Ultimately, Hollywood sees all women as potential mothers. Therefore, while Hollywood attempts to depict a diverse range of women’s roles and maternal characters, women are still positioned within the context of traditionally feminine constraints and, because this view of women as mothers continues to stand in opposition to professionalism and success in business, such femininity must be repressed. As such the film recognizes the pressures mothers face when wanting to succeed in the workplace, but this narrative remains on the side-lines and no solution is offered.

The Action Mother The tension between a desire to depict female power and authority, and a reliance on more traditional patriarchal structures similarly permeates the action mother narrative of The River Wild. The action mother, much like the working mother, must combine masculine and feminine features; however, the action mother does so by putting the needs of her family first, rather than by suppressing maternal desire. Streep’s role in this film is symptomatic of a shift in Hollywood towards mothers as action heroines, although Gail (Streep) is much less violent than her action-mother counterparts in The Long Kiss Goodnight or the Kill Bill films. The action mother is distinctly separated from her domestic and working counterparts, though in many ways she is an extension of the working mother, as her ‘action’ status is often linked to her job. In films such as The Long Kiss Goodnight or Kill Bill this ‘work’ is further aligned with her maternity, for her job/action narrative coincides with protecting the family. This at once allows the action mother more freedom from traditional notions of maternity, while still representing her as a contemporary re-working of the mother whose central role is to care for her children. In The River Wild the mother’s action status is actually in opposition to her day job as a teacher (another ‘soft’ job). Streep plays an unlikely action heroine in that the mother is part of a complete (though not at the start entirely happy) nuclear family.45 This creates further tensions for the action mother in terms of her place within a narrative or family set-up that is essentially patriarchal, for she is a threat to the less active husband/father who is rendered significantly weaker, physically, than his wife. This immediately likens the action heroine to the working mother – certainly to Miranda Priestley – as she has to promote both masculine and feminine traits in order to succeed. 62

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The narrative of The River Wild sees Gail return to the river where she was employed as a tour guide during her teenage years, for a family trip to celebrate her son Roarke ( Joseph Mazello)’s birthday. Gail’s younger daughter is left with grandparents, as she, Roarke and her husband Tom (David Strathairn) set out on a trip down the river, in which Gail heads up the male family. The trip is rife with family tensions; Tom was planning to remain at work rather than join his family on holiday, although he changes his mind at the last minute. Then, during the river journey the family befriend two men, Wade (Kevin Bacon) and Terry ( John C. Reilly), who, it transpires, are making a getaway after a robbery. They become a violent threat to the family, and, after Wade attempts to shoot him, Tom is left behind, presumed dead. The mother and son reluctantly agree to help Wade and Terry navigate ‘the gauntlet’, a dangerous set of rapids, but the film concludes with the family, including the father, working together to secure their safety. The action mother of The River Wild is both the head and protector of the family, as maternity and action are combined, allowing her a central role in the family and in its restoration. However, there is a tension between the re-figuring of the maternal role as something other than domestic, and a continued need to retain patriarchal control. Within The River Wild the action mother is permitted authority over the men she travels the river with, an authority depicted in both the visuals and the narrative, and particularly evident as she runs the gauntlet. Although Gail successfully navigated the gauntlet as a reckless teenager, it is made explicit in the narrative that since then a number of people have died on this stretch of the river. The current river guide explains to Gail and her family that people are no longer allowed to attempt these rapids. However, Wade and Terry insist that Gail takes them through, as it is their only escape route. Before she attempts to tackle the gauntlet, Gail dons a figure-hugging black wetsuit, unzipped at one point to reveal her cleavage. The suit clings to her curves, and, while it is just a wetsuit, it also represents – in its tight blackness that puts the female form on display – the more fetishistic clothing of action heroines such as Charly (Geena Davis) (in The Long Kiss Goodnight), or Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie). Gail/Streep is immediately more sexual, sexy and powerful than she had been previously, and her attire marks a point at which she is at her most authoritative. Tasker discusses the link between powerful female heroines and the traditional image of the dominatrix: ‘In responding to feminism, image-makers sought to present women as active and as powerful, mobilizing already-existing types and conventions . . . such as the leatherclad dominatrix’.46 Gail is, of course, never consistently presented as a dominatrix, but clad in her revealing black suit and shouting orders at the men in her raft, she echoes this image. Gail’s strength is evidenced throughout via her domination of men and also (paradoxically) in her maternal behaviour. On the river she exists within a

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Figure 6. The action mother is sexualized by her figure-hugging wetsuit in The River Wild (1994).

completely male world, yet she is the leader – not only does she know how to navigate the river, she is also able to teach Roarke and Tom about the history of the area, combining her physical ability with her nurturing skills. This identifies her as different from the working mother of The Devil Wears Prada, who had to deny her maternity in order to succeed in a male-dominated realm. Of course, Miranda was separated from her family while, in The River Wild, the family remain within the action sphere, allowing the action narrative to create a re-defined ‘domestic’ world. Unlike the other mothers discussed in this chapter, Gail is actually seen interacting with her son. This ‘actual’ mothering is separated from the home, but requires the same maternal qualities that typify the good domestic mother. Gail has a self-confidence about her that allows her to be a strong role model (stronger than the father). Gail’s dominant matriarchal role poses a threat to the male characters in much the same way as Miranda Priestly’s success and powerful position posited her as an emasculating force. This is particularly evident in Gail’s relationships with Tom and Wade. Although Gail and Wade start the trip as friends, Wade is clearly threatened by the action mother and, therefore, attempts to subordinate her by using masculine power constructs, most notably the male gaze. This is pointedly evident as Wade watches Gail on a number of occasions. She finally becomes aware of this when she is bathing naked and sees him looking down on her from the shore. Despite attempts to subordinate her through the gaze, there remains a tension between the characters. Her physical strength allows her to maintain a position of power. Gail’s physical prowess is announced in the film’s opening sequence, in which Streep’s muscular physique is slowly revealed, as she is rowing along an urban river. Wade’s body is similarly displayed: as Gail teaches him to fish his muscular torso is exposed. However, the masculinization of the mother’s body poses a threat to Wade, hence his attempts to assert his sexuality over her. In the scenes in which Wade watches 64

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Gail he is always looking down upon her as if wanting to diminish the mother. However, Wade never succeeds in asserting power over her: when he has the opportunity to fulfil his sexual desires (having attacked Tom and tied up Gail) he avoids it. Gail manages to play power games with him; as he tells her ‘I could do anything I want with you’, she goads him ‘Go ahead. Don’t keep telling me how tough you are Wade, go on . . . do it’. Wade’s attempts to dominate the powerful mother never fully succeed, implying that the male gaze is not omnipotent; it cannot control the active female. It is the mother’s physical and emotional strength in the face of male threat that saves the family, both literally saving their lives and saving the nuclear family unit. In the first part of the film, this same strength (denoted by her feisty personality and her drive) is criticized by her husband. Tom explains: ‘You set such high standards for yourself and everyone around you’, and the mother is forced to apologize for this, echoing Faludi’s recognition that backlash ideology tells women that professional success negatively impacts on personal relationships.47 The point at which Tom reprimands his wife for her drive marks a break in the narrative. Up until then the film had sought to reconcile the family; from then on, the family – who are now reconciled – have to fight off the threat to their unity. The first part of The River Wild sees the family quite literally isolated on the river, as the landscape surrounding it is high imposing cliffs. A thunderstorm within the narrative marks the change, and it is at this point that Gail notices Wade watching her bathe, and thus she and the family become under threat. This moment of objectification effectively marks the shift from Gail as ‘active’ mother to Gail as action heroine. Of course, she has already been masculinized by her leadership on the river but from this point onwards she becomes the protector of the family. This marks a refiguring of the maternal role. Philip Green suggests that ‘the centrality of female heroism is disavowed (as it almost always is in mainstream cinema) in favour of the woman’s familial role, which is thereby recuperated’.48 However, while the mother’s role within the family remains important, her heroism is not disavowed, rather it becomes part of her maternity. It is the ‘musculinization’49 of the mother’s active body (exploited in the film’s opening sequence) that allows her to become the action figure that saves the family; however, this musculinization is contradictory. Gail’s physicality is reminiscent of Demi Moore’s body as Jordan in G.I. Jane (1997), in which it was not just Moore’s character that became buff and masculinized, but also the actress herself. Linda Ruth Williams explores the differing reactions to the muscular female body, explaining that G.I. Jane provoked some feminist reactions in favour of the woman’s strength and achievement in this film, but some felt it was turning women into men.50 That Gail, Jordan and other female action mothers, such as Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2, are depicted as muscular, ushers them into the world of ‘musculinity’ that has previously been men-only. They may therefore appear to be making progress for women in terms of the strength and power assigned to them by Hollywood.

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However, like Miranda Priestly, they are doing so by proving themselves to be ‘one of the men’ and disavowing femininity. The contrast between Gail’s body and her husband’s needs to be noted here; not only does Gail appear to have more drive and determination than her husband, but she is also physically stronger. Tom is a caricature of weak fatherhood: bespectacled and gangly. He has neither the physique nor the ability of his wife, which is apparent as he falls into the river at the first set of rapids, much to Gail’s amusement. Such a father figure is common in Hollywood films of the 1980s; for example, he was represented by George McFly (Crispin Glover) in Back to the Future, in a narrative that similarly used this caricature to imply that the father was lacking in masculinity and needed to change for the sake of his son. The difference between this and The River Wild is that George McFly undergoes a personality change, whereas Tom does not; rather he asserts his masculinity by deflating his wife’s masculine qualities. Although, as Jeffords notes, the 1990s Hollywood hero embodied a softer masculinity than his 1980s counterpart, he still must be more powerful than the wife/mother.51 The father also becomes an action hero by the close of the film, for the family is only ‘saved’ once the whole family unit works together. It is important to reiterate that ‘saving’ the family is the end goal of the action mother’s narrative. There is a link between the domestic space and the final section of the river in which Gail, now without her husband, navigates the gauntlet. The sense of chaos and noise in the gauntlet echoes Gail’s home at the opening of the film, a house filled with mess and commotion, that is warm and homely. Gail is most at ease amongst chaos – this is made clear through the delight she experiences when she rows through the rapids. The rapids, and by extension the river as a whole, provide a release from previous tensions, suggesting the action sphere as a place where family dysfunction can be fixed.52 The symbiosis between the home and Gail’s final ‘challenge’ of the gauntlet allows her action heroics to be celebrated as she is acting to save her family. The good maternal role has traditionally been aligned with placidity and domesticity, but in recent years Hollywood has allowed the mother to transgress from quiet domesticity to the action sphere, as long as it is done for the good of the family. The conclusion of The River Wild not only sees Gail conquer the river and command the boat full of men, but also crucially shows her shooting Wade; taking charge of the phallic weapon. While the mother of The River Wild is the central character, and is played by the actress with top billing, the family is fixed predominantly by the restoration of the father to a place of respect within it (the relationship between father and son is explicitly damaged, Roarke expresses his disappointment in the father’s continual absence from the family due to work) and the gender balance being refigured towards a more patriarchal norm. The final reconciliation with the father, who in the end has proved himself to be a strong man, marks this film as an Oedipal journey for Roarke, who had previously been attached to his mother (with a

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brief interlude of allegiance to the surrogate father-figure of Wade) before finally aligning himself with his biological father – a mark of his maturation. Tasker refers to the mother’s role in Lost in Space (1998) to further highlight the importance of patriarchal narratives when the family’s status is at stake; she suggests that even though the film acknowledges a more modern family ‘[t]he crisis in the family is largely to do with men and masculinity’.53 The crisis in the family of The River Wild is a result of Tom’s damaged masculinity. The close of the film endorses the father’s new found heroics, allowing masculine power to be restored. When asked by a ranger about the family’s adventure, Roarke explains that his mother brought them through the gauntlet by herself, but concludes ‘My dad . . . he saved our lives.’ Green recognizes in this conclusion a ‘recuperation of the . . . sexual order’ in which women are subordinate to men.54 However, the mother has led the action throughout. Although the ending implies that the importance of the mother’s role has to be superseded by the father, the mother’s role in the family is crucial. Furthermore Bruzzi recognizes an ambiguity in the father’s role. Although Roarke announces him to be the family’s saviour, he ‘adopts the conventional feminine role by leaving the macho stuff to Gail while he uses intuition and guile’.55 The mother’s central position allows her to transcend the traditional role of the mother as carer, nurturer or domestic figure, and become the action hero and family redeemer. The mother is not a passive figure in the family narrative of The River Wild (breaking free from the role Harwood notes Hollywood’s mothers were afforded in the previous decade56 ), rather she leads the action and, along with her husband, is able to save the family.

Refiguring Traditional Structures The restoration of the mother to a nuclear family, and to a husband who has chastised her un-feminine behaviour, is a problematic conclusion to The River Wild, suggesting that despite a diversification of gender roles there remains an overriding concern for a heteronormative patriarchal order. Lucy Hamilton reads such conclusions as unproblematic for women, claiming, of The Long Kiss Goodnight, that the ‘naturalisation of the nuclear family’ at the film’s close can be forgiven as the film has broken ground by ‘allowing a mother, automatic weapon in one hand, daughter tucked under the other arm, to be an action picture heroine’.57 She further believes the film addresses itself to mothers, who for the hour or so the film runs for, can join in Samantha’s transgressions as a break from their own domestic drudgery.58 The problem is that for both these action mothers, and those who are watching, the natural state is domesticity and any transgression from it cannot last. The same is true of The Bridges of Madison County, in which maternal freedoms are only allowed as long as they do not ultimately impinge on the nuclear family’s 67

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status. While Miranda Priestley has been demonstrated to be a problematic mother, The Devil Wears Prada is an example of a film in which the mother’s independence does not obviously benefit the family and in which it does not have to be sacrificed for the good of the family. Furthermore the nuclear family remains damaged at the close of the film (although Andy’s reunion with Nate suggests that her relationship will follow heteronormative structures more closely). The action mothers further suffer through being restored to domesticity; that transgressions are forgiven ‘for the good of the family’ once again problematizes the mothers’ subjectivity. The action mother is usually the central protagonist of her narrative but she is not the central concern: in order to be forgiven she must take part in the action only for the benefit of others. Indeed, the separation of the mother’s subjectivity and the family in The Bridges of Madison County implies that the two are mutually exclusive, reinforcing Green’s comments that in the Hollywood family the actual subordination of women has been displaced ‘by a conceptual sleight of hand, into the ideological realm of “the family”’, a unit that is based on unpaid labour reconceptualized as a moral institution that encourages women to believe that their natural desire is to be within the home.59 Thus mothers continually have a sense of duty to the family that can only be combined with personal interests if such interests benefit it. Furthermore motherhood as the motivating factor for their journeys is once again proof that women in Hollywood are almost inevitably driven by maternal desire. Hollywood, then, struggles to deal with the complex relationship between liberated women and motherhood, and the fall-back position is to rely on traditional maternal roles and values. The films of Meryl Streep undoubtedly depict this tension. Streep herself embodies the combination of traditional and contemporary/liberal through her long career that has spanned theatre, independent film and Hollywood. As a part of the Hollywood establishment during the last few decades, she has embodied the changing depictions of women through which these tensions have been played out. Furthermore, she has been outspoken about the roles for, and representation of, women, not least with regard to Kramer vs. Kramer, and her decision to rewrite a more sympathetic version of Joanna Kramer’s courtroom speech. In addition, her role in The Devil Wears Prada is significant; Streep dominates the film through a consciously controlled performance as Miranda, climaxing with the heartfelt sequence in which the masquerade slips. Streep’s off-screen persona has undoubtedly affected her performance in these maternal roles. When making Kramer vs. Kramer, Streep was pregnant with her first child. She has commented upon her attempts to combine motherhood and work; she took her family with her when filming Out of Africa,60 and her love affair with Mamma Mia! began after a trip to the theatre with her daughter.61 Although there is a continued tension at work between ‘good’ mothering and maternal freedoms throughout Streep’s performances, it needs to be reiterated that

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in these films, and a wider sphere of maternal representations, some progress is being made. This is clear beyond the typically feminine genres of melodrama or romantic comedy, and has infiltrated the family-adventure movie, in particular through narratives of the superhero family, where the action mother returns, but here mothers, fathers and children are given relatively equal narrative time.

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3 The ‘Super’ Family Discussions of mothers and fathers are integral to analysis of familial representations; however, it is necessary now to turn attention to those films that focus on the whole family unit. This is a more frequent occurrence in films aimed at a family audience, in particular those of the popular genres of action and adventure cinema, yet analysis tends to focus on mothers and fathers, or at the very least those films that privilege one parent, largely because that is the dominant model of Hollywood family films. This chapter concentrates on the family unit, that appears together in a small but significant cycle of films that focused on superhero families, a group that includes the Spy Kids films (2001, 2002, 2003, 2011), The Incredibles (2004) and Sky High (2005). These films are of interest because they take the nuclear family out of its usual domestic context and provide an ‘extreme’ or unconventional version of this unit. They also subvert traditions of the superhero narrative, asking questions about why the superhero is placed within the family and why the family needs to be super. The relationship between superheroes and the family allows the unconventional (superheroes) to be manipulated to promote the perpetuation of the conventional (the nuclear family). The combination of the superhero and the family is a topic that remains relatively unexplored despite familial relationships being integral to many superhero narratives. The chapter shows that not only do these films do something significant by giving screen time to all family members (although the crises caused by male characters provide the catalyst for action in The Incredibles and Sky High), but that, more importantly, they provide family narratives in which parental fulfilment away from the home is celebrated and seen to be crucial to a thriving family unit. That is not to say that the films represent entirely unproblematic versions of the family: the relatively easy reconciliation of family dysfunction is in keeping with conservative family values that see the restoration of the complete nuclear family as a defence against society’s ills. Furthermore childhood trauma is easily forgotten within these films as the family is recuperated. However, it is the way in which dysfunction is overcome – through the personal 71

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fulfilment of adults and children – that opens up a unique discourse about the values of Hollywood’s contemporary American family. The Incredibles, Sky High and Spy Kids fall into the category of ‘family-adventure movies’ that Kr¨amer describes as ‘the most successful production trend in American cinema since the 1970s’.1 These are films aimed at family audiences, in which dysfunctional family groups are reconciled, usually paying specific attention to male characters. The superhero-family films fit the conventions of the familyadventure movie through their marketability and narrative direction, and while most superhero films can be categorized as such they have not been discussed in this way. However, they provide a distinctive group, especially in their attitudes towards women, work and the family because they provide mothers and daughters with narrative space and agency. This allows them to transcend the boundaries of the domestic in a narrative that is about the family. All family members and all genders are part of the narratives, challenging the masculinist bias of superhero movies and family-adventure films.

Tropes of Superhero Narratives The superhero is a long standing figure of American popular culture. Whether as a Lycra-clad caped crusader or the lone cowboy of the Western, heroes who are somehow super or set apart from the norm have played an important part in storytelling. John Shelton Lawrence and Robert Jewett explore this figure in their text The Myth of the American Superhero (2002), in which they set out what is termed the ‘American monomyth’ – the basis for stories of superheroism. This myth includes an Eden-like setting, a story that starts and ends in a close community, and a narrative focusing on an invasion upsetting the equilibrium of this community, that must be rectified.2 The hero’s responsibility is therefore to defeat the evil ‘other’ who threatens the equilibrium, and restore the community. The superhero of this myth is a lone figure, an ‘unknown redeemer’ who originates from outside the society he/she must save, a character who renounces sexuality in favour of the cause: ‘his motivation is a self-less zeal for justice’.3 Lawrence and Jewett conclude that: The American monomyth offers vigilantism without lawlessness, sexual repression without resultant perversion, and moral infallibility without the use of intellect. It features a restoration of Eden for others, but refuses to allow the dutiful hero to participate in its pleasures. The Lone Ranger’s laughter was one sound effect never heard after the first program.4

This model is evident across most contemporary superhero narratives, with Batman providing a clear example. Batman/Bruce Wayne is the loner who has renounced pleasure and love in favour of saving Gotham City, particularly in the most recent 72

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filmic incarnations, directed by Christopher Nolan, in which Christian Bale plays the emotionally tortured hero. Although superheroes frequently appear as lone or tortured individuals, they have a more hopeful function as a symbol of escapism and of American determination, with the comic book superhero emerging in the 1930s providing optimistic narratives in the face of the Great Depression.5 In contemporary Hollywood there has undoubtedly been a rise in superhero narratives in the wake of the September 11 attacks on America, depicting a similar reaction to crisis. The Spiderman franchise began in 2002 (and was re-booted in 2012), Daredevil was released in 2003, as was the first of the Hulk films. The Hellboy series was begun in 2004, the Fantastic Four films in 2005, Batman Begins was also released in 2005 and Superman Returns in 2006, with other films including Iron Man (2008), Thor (2011), Captain America (2011) and Avengers Assemble (2012) continuing the trend. The Incredibles and Sky High, released in 2004 and 2005 respectively, similarly fit into this category, and while the Spy Kids films began in 2001, and the X-Men series started in 2000, their continuation after 2001 was no doubt affected by the success of other superhero narratives. These superheroes all reside in America, often within New York City, and are coded as American heroes, providing national pride and optimism in the face of threat. The superheroes of these franchises are predominantly male. Their status as masculine icons is as important as their status as American icons. In his study of masculinity, The Inward Gaze (1992), Peter Middleton understands superheroes to be idealized figures of what the (young) male reader would like to be – a manifestation of the ego ideal: ‘strong, tall, handsome and awesomely powerful’.6 Of equal importance to this display of hyper-masculinity is the ‘weak’ alternate personality of the superhero: ‘Without a nondescript alter ego, these stories would not strike so resounding a chord.’7 The importance of identity to superheroes exists not only within their own worlds and psyches but also in the worlds of those who consume their stories. Roz Kaveney suggests that: ‘Both celebrities and superheroes are wish-fulfilment people, living complicated and glamorous lives that we envy in spite of the perpetual hard work and potential tragedy that goes with the glitz.’8 Despite this, the superhero, certainly in terms of Hollywood’s recent incarnations, is not a one dimensional hero. Indeed there is a necessity for a back story of suffering and pain, one that is usually linked to the heroes’ family status; Spiderman feels guilt for his uncle’s death, and in Spiderman 3 (2002) he is taken over by a powerful substance that plays upon his fears and insecurities, rendering him a cocky, dislikeable figure. Daredevil and Batman are similarly haunted by the deaths of their fathers and a feeling of responsibility for the tragedy. Daredevil’s alter ego Matt Murdoch was blinded by acid as a child, rendering his suffering physical as well as emotional. Superman and Elektra have similarly suffered familial losses; the list is substantial and their pain is usually the catalyst for the transformation into superhero. The superhero (or at least the cinematic superhero) is a largely

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isolated figure, even those groups who do work together tend to be bands of misfits or ‘freaks’ such as the X-Men, who are born as mutants, or the Fantastic Four, who mutated themselves in a science experiment gone awry. The superhero family immediately creates a contrast to these isolated figures, for the family of Hollywood cinema, while itself often troubled, is usually imagined as a stable and supportive unit. Furthermore, the superhero family films differ from the monomythic paradigm put forward by Lawrence and Jewett, for the ‘Edenic’ place in which equilibrium must be restored is the home, and the motivation for these superheroes is not a selfless zeal for justice but a (selfish) need to improve their own family. The superhero families resonate with the figures that Lawrence and Jewett term ‘domestic redeemers’. Their study of American superheroes looks beyond the easily recognizable caped crusaders of comic books and sees a longer history with its roots in the legendary characters of the American frontier. They consider such heroes as Pa Ingalls and Heidi to be domestic redeemers as they repair domestic troubles through ‘nonviolent manipulations’,9 implying a form of feminized heroism. What these characters, and indeed all the superheroes, promise is that ‘rescue is inevitable’ and ‘super agencies will solve our problems and make us happy’.10 This is clearly linked, in Spy Kids, The Incredibles and Sky High, to the resolution of family dysfunction, so although the films are at times critical of the elitism of superheroes and their interventions, they clearly celebrate these figures in conclusions that see equilibrium restored. While upholding narratives of inevitable rescue, the depiction of superheroes in both The Incredibles and Sky High is tongue-in-cheek, as if to poke fun at conventions. Pixar’s computer animation, The Incredibles, begins with its heroes as popular figures who are pushed into hiding after various successful attempts to sue superheroes, either for saving the lives of those who wished to die, or injury sustained during their superheroics. The narrative then continues 15 years on as Mr Incredible and his wife have started a family and are now living undercover in dull suburbia. Action ensues as Mr Incredible is hired for covert ‘super’ work; however, this turns out to be a trap. He is captured, and his wife and family set out to rescue him. It is through subtle humour and the exaggeration that animation, as a form, provides that the film is able to gently poke fun at its superheroes, particularly at the start of the narrative, when the superheroes are victims of lawsuits rather than infallible heroes. Sky High creates humour out of the combination of superheroes and ‘normal’ domesticity. It tells the story of teenager Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano), who is about to start Sky High, a school for superheroes, or the children of superheroes. Will’s parents are the most renowned superheroes: The Commander (Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston). Will, however, has inherited no superpowers as the film begins, a fact he hides from his overbearing father. In a narrative move that likens the elitism of superheroics to the cliques of high school, the powerless Will

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is placed in a class for sidekicks – the effective nerds of Sky High. Of course, in the traditions of coming-of-age stories, Will eventually receives his superpowers, just in time to save his parents, who have been captured by his father’s arch nemesis, Royal Pain (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a task he undertakes with the help of his sidekick classmates. Spy Kids similarly sees equilibrium restored at the close of its family narrative, although the heroes of this film are not superheroes in the same sense as those of The Incredibles or Sky High.11 Ingrid and Gregorio Cortez (Carla Gugino and Antonio Banderas) are master spies now in retirement and raising a family. They return to spy work when an old colleague goes missing only to be captured themselves. At this point their children discover the family’s true heritage and take on their parents’ role as spies, saving Ingrid and Gregorio, and repairing a previously dysfunctional family in the process. The family can only be repaired, though, once they all work together as spies. Therefore, much like The Incredibles, ‘superheroics’ are necessary for the film’s successful conclusion. The conclusion of Sky High is different, here it is the sidekicks who save the superheroes. While Will’s superpowers play an integral role in this, the film pointedly tries to break down the elitism of the superheroes. In allowing their superheroes to save the day and redeem the family, both The Incredibles and Spy Kids present a goal that, for the ordinary family, is unattainable. This echoes Lawrence and Jewett, who ask of ‘domestic redeemers’: ‘what message do these stories offer to the poor, the defeated, the frustrated, and the disappointed?’.12 As this chapter will demonstrate, superheroics thus complicate the resolution of family conflict.

Gender Roles, Active Families and the Family-Adventure Movie By telling the family’s story through the superhero genre these films necessarily place emphasis on gender difference, particularly through the gendering of superpowers. Mr Incredible and The Commander are both given super-strength whereas their wives are, respectively, allowed the power to stretch and the ability to fly: more typically feminine powers. On the one hand this allows the films to echo Kr¨amer’s model of the family-adventure movie that places emphasis on male reconciliation, on the other hand the more diverse gender roles do begin to challenge this model. Indeed, although scholars such as Kr¨amer, Mark Gallagher and Barry Langford13 have discussed the representation of the family in action genres, none have questioned how the gender dynamics of action cinema are challenged by the inclusion of a complete nuclear family. The superhero family films do this in a way that few other family-based action narratives manage, as such they provide a model that contradicts existing scholarship on the topic. Advances in the portrayal of women are evident in the action-adventure genre (discussed with reference to The River Wild in Chapter Two). The action mother is a figure allowed increasing strength and physicality, and often power over the 75

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father. Although the emergence of the action mother has been apparent from the mid-1990s (The River Wild was made in 1994, The Long Kiss Goodnight in 1996), Kr¨amer’s model of the family-adventure movies fails not only to acknowledge the diverse roles of women in Hollywood films contemporary to his writing, but also refuses to critique earlier films that ignore women or push them to the side-lines, such as E.T. (1985), Jurassic Park (1993) and The Lion King (1994). Kr¨amer openly acknowledges that it is predominantly father-son relationships that are being restored within the ‘unconventional families’ of family-adventure movies. However, the superhero family films challenge this model, including female characters in the action. Indeed, as Gallagher notes, Spy Kids (and the same is true of The Incredibles and Sky High) grants ‘agency to both parents and children, and distribut[es] this agency roughly equally among male and female characters’.14 Kr¨amer’s analysis of family-adventure movies does not recognize the lack of diverse gender roles as a concern for the genre. Instead, he discusses the role of the mother in problematic terms, writing: ‘even when the films’ stories concentrate on the relationship between fathers and sons, mothers are likely to have a prominent role, taking children by the hand both in the movie theatre in the present and in memories of the past’.15 This role which Kr¨amer sets aside for the mother is passive and fails to involve her in the film. His understanding of the role of mothers both within films and within family dynamics is short-sighted. In contemporary society, assuming that the mother takes sole responsibility for her children is regressive. Furthermore, she should be allowed to participate in films as more than just a passive viewer, in fact, she does take part in films in a more active way, as demonstrated in the previous chapter, and as exemplified by the mothers of Spy Kids, The Incredibles, Sky High, and in particular Spy Kids: All The Time in the World (2011), all of whom are in some ways more capable than their husbands. It is not just mothers who lose out in Kr¨amer’s model of the family-adventure movie; he suggests that feminized male characters provide figures of identification for young female viewers, citing E.T.’s Elliot as an example of a male character feminized by emotion.16 He fails to fully acknowledge the work of Sue Zschoche, whose article ‘E.T., Women’s History, and the Problem of Elliot’ specifically uses the film as an example to demonstrate that the only characters young female viewers can identify with are male, and that a problem lies in the ‘poverty of imagination that characterizes the stories told about women’s lives’.17 Women are not as important to the family in Kr¨amer’s model, as he suggests family-adventure movies do not require a nuclear family, and that what is reconciled is often a male group of elders coming together around a son figure. Nevertheless, Kr¨amer explores the familyadventure movie as a sort of ‘therapy’ for its family audiences, as he explains: ‘I shall suggest that the cultural work that the films’ narratives perform to reconcile family members with each other on screen translates into a kind of social work performed by the films on the familial units in the auditorium.’18 If this is the case, the absence of the mother surely becomes more pronounced. Not only is this argument flawed,

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but it also fails to recognize the increasingly diverse nature of family-adventure movies that began to appear in the 1990s. The superhero families challenge gender roles and the way in which family roles are imagined. For example, the experiences of childhood are not played out away from the family, instead they are explored alongside family dynamics, allowing childhood trauma to be a metaphor for family dysfunction.

Family-Adventure Movies and Childhood Experience Allen recognizes narrative traits of the family movie that often position the child in the role of redeemer. With reference to Home Alone (1990), he points out that the film’s central character, Kevin (Macaulay Culkin), survives when left home alone by reconstructing the nuclear family within himself. Kevin does not need parenting but has managed to ‘save’ the family (home), by echoing the roles of both his parents.19 This is at odds with the superhero family films, which all conclude by highlighting how much the family need each other, a sentiment explicitly stated at the close of Spy Kids 3 (2003). However, Allen does highlight the integral role of the child in the family film as frequently a redemptive one. In Family Fictions, Harwood also spends some time discussing the child as family redeemer. Her study draws on various films in which the child has a redemptive role, paying specific attention to Three Men and a Baby and Look Who’s Talking. What is significant about Harwood’s analysis is her conclusion that the child as redeemer forces a paradox: Here lies the unresolvable contradiction. The child is the hope for the future, the hope that things will be different from the way they are now . . . but it is also constructed within a discursive field in which the . . . nuclear family is the ideal. The desire for difference is thus short-circuited by the holds of the past.20

The role of the child within family-adventure movies is pivotal; indeed, while the most successful family-adventure movies appeal to audiences of all ages there is always a foregrounding of the child or of children’s concerns. However, unlike Wood’s reading of family narratives, that sees identification with younger characters as a way to evade responsibility,21 Kr¨amer suggests that in fact the young protagonists of these films face a mountain of responsibilities: ‘the onscreen representation of childhood . . . is by no means idealized’.22 This is cemented by Matt Roth’s reaction to The Lion King, which he sees as an ‘obsessive plumbing of horrors more real to children than death: parental loss, withdrawal of love, exile from family and friends, and blame for unintended acts of destruction’.23 While Roth’s observation does highlight the traumatic events of the narrative, he ignores the possibility that such sanitized traumas are necessary catalysts for action. The violence and ordeal of the superhero family films is undoubtedly sugar-coated; for example, in Spy Kids the father is tortured, but this means he is 77

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turned into a rather cartoonish ‘Fooglie’ rather than facing any real physical pain. Nevertheless, the children of these films do all face parental separation and threats to their lives and domestic stability, and by no means partake in idealized adventures. The tone of the films is integral to their ability to represent what in reality are traumatic events without seeming too serious. That the premise is unrealistic helps, there is also a sense that there is never any real danger or threat to the family; another convention of the family films is the happy ending. The problem is that the promise of a happy ending within a narrative that is about domestic troubles and a damaged family sets up the expectation that family troubles can easily be solved, reflecting Lawrence and Jewett’s sentiments about domestic redeemer narratives: [T]hese stories promise that super agencies will solve our problems and make us happy . . . Those who identify with redeemer figures and seek to emulate their feats in real life will find that targets of redemption are not as easy to change as one might expect. Nor is adversity easy to alter.24

It is the centrality of childhood experience in the superhero family films that sets them apart from other films discussed in this book. While childhood ‘trauma’ is central to the narratives, the parents play a crucial role in causing this trauma; in short, ‘problem’ parents are the cause, and unhappy children the effect, of family dysfunction. The reconciliation of the family comes about by repairing the problems of, or caused by, the parents. Sky High and The Incredibles place emphasis on the father’s disengagement with the family. Mr Incredible is at his least engaged precisely at the moment his wife asks him to engage with the children early on in the film. He is too wrapped up in his own world, distracted by a newspaper article about a missing superhero (representing his longing for the glory days of the past) while his wife struggles with the family. The Commander is similarly self-involved and disengaged; he fails to realize that Will has befriended sidekicks because he himself is one, and the father never gives his son the opportunity to speak up about his lack of powers. Spy Kids alters this scenario somewhat, both parents clearly miss the adventures they gave up for family life but it is the mother who most clearly articulates this, although the father’s disappointment with family life is equally apparent. Family problems are all manifest in the superhero children, through symptoms of increasing seriousness. In Spy Kids, nine-year-old Carmen Cortez (Alexa Vega) wets the bed, and in The Incredibles, Violet is shy and lacks self-confidence – for her the problems of her family contribute to manifestations of typical adolescence, and the same is true of her brother Dash, who is mischievous in class but does not display any ‘serious’ problems. Juni Cortez (Daryl Sabara) seems unusually childish, he is fixated on the television show Floop’s Fooglies, and the spin off dolls, but he also has problems socializing. It is announced early on that he has imaginary school friends, largely because his wart-covered hands cause him to be teased and bullied by his 78

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peers. Spy Kids seems keen to quickly make us aware of the children’s problems. Carmen, alongside her bedwetting, also skips school twice a month. These are troubled children, and, crucially, while they live in a ‘super’ world their problems are quite ordinary. This perception that problems with children’s development are the fault of the parents is in keeping with reactionary family values; for example, Eberstadt blames all childhood ills on parental failings. She is concerned with the health and social problems of American youth, and believes them to be a manifestation of problems within the family unit. This resonates with the superhero family films, but Eberstadt’s conclusions and the solutions proffered by these narratives are directly at odds. Eberstadt blames the culture of ‘latch-key’ children, believing it is the absence of parental supervision that leads to violence, mental illness and teenage pregnancies, amongst other problems. As a result she argues against working motherhood unless it is financially unavoidable.25 The problems of the family within these superhero films, however, seem to occur when the parents are not employed (and, therefore, the children do have parental supervision and attention). In Spy Kids both parents are involved in their children’s lives – they take them to school as a family, and work from home, but because they are not fulfilled in these roles the family unit is unstable.

Coming of Age in the Superhero Film: The Father and Son Narrative The superhero family films allow all their members a part in the action, making this the perfect arena to explore and analyse the representation and function of gender roles within the family, and within an ‘action’ context. It is necessary to discuss masculinity and fatherhood in relation to the superhero families, as the traditional superhero is usually male (of course there are exceptions – Supergirl, Wonderwoman, Batgirl, Elektra and Catwoman are all examples, as are Jean Grey of the X-Men, Sue Storm of the Fantastic Four, and Black Widow in The Avengers). It is the coming of age of the young male that is frequently played out in male superhero narratives, and this is repeated in both Sky High and Spy Kids 3. Superheroes such as Spiderman, Batman and the Hulk, to name a few, have all discovered, or developed in the case of Batman, the extent of their powers as they move into manhood. Therefore superpowers become a metaphor for masculinity. As noted earlier, Middleton believes the superhero and his violent abilities represent an idealized manhood. This is physically evident in the 2002 film of Spiderman, in which the nerdy Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) wakes up, having been bitten by a ‘super’ spider, to discover his new hyper-masculine physique of rippling muscles. Masculinity is thus aligned with strength, denoting it as primarily, if not exclusively, a physical attribute. Of course, Peter Parker’s uncle does tell him ‘with great strength comes great responsibility’, but his masculinity is signified through the change in his body. For Will Stronghold, the son of Sky High, strength similarly signifies masculinity. 79

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Will’s coming of age is signified by the emergence of his superpowers, notably super-human strength, but also in his ability to ‘parent’ his mother and father. This aids the reconciliation of the family and places him in the role of child as redeemer that has been recognized as a trope of the family film. Will is intimidated by his parents, but specifically his father who, as the opening sequence of the film depicts, is not only the world’s premier superhero but also a successful real estate agent too. The father’s success has boosted his ego, thereby damaging family relations. It is up to Will to teach his father/parents to change by becoming less self-involved, before the family can be reconciled and Will can embark upon his final romance, a relationship with his best friend Layla (Danielle Panabaker) (signifying this as an Oedipal narrative). It is only once the father has overcome his faults that the family is reconciled. The Commander learns by the close of the film to follow his son’s lead and recognize Will’s friends, the sidekicks, as heroes, breaking down his egotistical elitism. This occurs as The Commander passes on to the sidekicks the Hero of the Year trophy he had been awarded. In this, and other sequences of the film, Will is presented in a parental role and as superior to his mother and father. As The Commander makes his speech of thanks to the sidekicks, the camera cuts back to Will, separating him from his parents. Once The Commander has said his piece, he rather awkwardly thanks the sidekicks’ teacher and walks away, in contrast to Will, who looks at his father with an air of confidence and control. A similar hierarchical shift is seen in the family dynamics when, earlier in the film, Will returns home to share with his parents the news that he has finally gained superpowers. As he makes this announcement he lifts his mother above his head, as though she is an infant. Although this shift places Will in a ‘paternal’ role, it is the father’s super strength he has inherited, reiterating the importance of the father passing down his traits to the son. The importance of inheritance within Hollywood’s superhero families needs to be stressed. Superheroes, more generally, can be divided into those who are born with their powers (Superman; X-Men) or those who gain them through some sort of accident, usually a science experiment gone awry (Spiderman; The Fantastic Four; The Hulk). The majority of contemporary superhero films fall into this latter category, but in the superhero family films powers are inherited from parents. This provides a discourse of inheritance in the Hollywood family, and most notably masculine inheritance. Concepts of masculine inheritance frequently invoke the underpinning concepts of Freudian psychoanalysis, in particular through Oedipal narratives and the paradigm of the Primal Father. Oedipal narratives present us with the son’s continued attachment to the father – a bond that must be resolved and broken through the narrative. As Harwood notes (of 1980s father-son movies), the Oedipal trajectory sees that ‘All passion is reserved for the father . . . The motor behind the majority of these films is the desire to redeem the alienated or disgraced father . . . the adult-child must . . . prove himself worthy of paternal affection’.26 The father of these superhero films (Batman Begins, Spiderman, Daredevil ) is absent

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through death, but his death has caused guilt for the son who feels responsible for it. This evokes Freud’s model of the Primal Father. In ‘Totem and Taboo’ Freud explores the idea that the father represents such a threat to his sons’ masculinity and virility that he is killed by them, but then, through guilt and a feeling of loss, the father is reinstated as a totem animal/figure who is then worshipped by the sons, becoming more powerful than the living father ever was. The sense of guilt over the father’s death within these superhero films allows him to become a totem figure. It is no coincidence that the identities taken on by both Daredevil and Batman are related to their fathers, based on totem figures that represent the father, or what the father means to them. For Daredevil it is the Devil, as he replicates the devil ‘horns’ of his father’s boxing gown on his own costume; for Batman it is the bat, an animal linked to the father’s death, that represents fear and loss to Bruce Wayne, and is therefore adopted as a totem character in an attempt to overcome this.27 The superhero family films do not follow this narrative pattern, for the fathers are all alive and involved in the family. Sky High does, however, make some attempts to visually code Will to be like his father by dressing the two in the same colours – red, white and blue (a symbol of patriotism as well as paternity). A concern with inheritance is clearly indicated throughout the film. The Commander is desperate for his son to be like him and demonstrate super strength, and the head teacher at high school tells Will (and his ‘enemy’ Warren Peace (Steven Strait), son of a super villain who The Commander had put in prison): ‘living up to your father’s reputation – or trying to live it down – is a sad waste of talent; your talent’. This reminds us of the opening of the 1985 film Back to the Future, in which Marty McFly’s head teacher tells him: ‘You’re too much like your old man, no McFly in the history of Hill Valley has ever amounted to anything.’ Marty McFly’s father was too weak, Will’s father is quite literally too strong. There is a clear change in attitudes proffered by these figures of authority. In the 1980s, Marty was told he could not overcome his family’s failings; in the 2000s it is a given that this is possible, and it is encouraged – indeed, the film sees Will break free from the pattern of necessarily being like the father that has been a frequent trope of Hollywood’s father–son narratives. Although Will does gain his father’s super-strength, he does not inherit his egotism, and Sky High is at pains to present feminine inheritance as equal to masculine inheritance. While the mother is a more stable figure than the father, femininity within the film is dyadic. The super-villain, Royal Pain, is a woman – much to the surprise of The Commander. It is notable that the characters of Sky High’s rather cartoonish universe are all dressed appropriately to their powers; the girl who can control nature wears floral outfits and various shades of green, the boy who can glow in the dark wears an array of fluorescent clothing, a girl who can turn into a black and purple guinea pig is always dressed in these colours. Gwen, who becomes the villain Royal Pain, is the most feminine of the high school girls. She is dressed in pink, and usually wears delicate cardigans and short skirts that emphasize

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femininity (rather than sexuality). Gwen’s daily attire bears no resemblance to her superhero costume or powers, separating her from the other students. Gwen/Royal Pain’s superpower is an ability to control technology, but as the villain of the film she is defined by her ‘evil’ intent rather than her superpowers. If, like the other superheroes, her costuming is linked to her powers, Gwen’s girlish attire suggests a link between femininity and ‘evil’. It is significant that Gwen/Royal Pain’s act of destruction is to turn superheroes back into babies so that she can raise them as an army of super villains, aligning her crime with maternity. The film makes a joke of Royal Pain’s ineptitude at understanding car-seat instructions – she is trying to strap the many super-babies she has ‘created’ into seats to transport them away. Her sidekick (significantly a man, who poses as her father – Gwen is a high school student) reads the instructions out to her as she is crouched, agitatedly, in a sea of crying babies. That she cannot cope with this task suggests that her crime is, perhaps, that she is lacking maternal instinct. It is not until she delivers her supervillain speech to The Commander, now reduced to an infant, that she takes off her helmet. The helmet creates an emotional distance between her and the children she is hoping to nurture. As Middleton suggests, superhero masks provide a disguise for emotional expressiveness,28 and thus they are not conducive to good parenting. While the father–son relationship provides the central tension of Sky High, the son inherits from the mother as well as the father, providing an opportunity for masculinity to be critiqued. Will is not physically linked to his mother – although the whole family are coded by their dress, always a combination of red, white and blue, whether in superhero costume or not. They are the manifestation of the successful family of the American dream, evident not only in their professional success, both as superheroes and real estate agents, but through their house, which is represented as a bright, if rather dated, middle-class American home. The kitchen is yellow with frilly net curtains, and the room which hides their ‘secret sanctum’ is decorated with unfashionable wood panels. This pokes fun at the family, and contrasts with the masculinity of The Commander. When Will finally admits to his father that he does not have any superpowers, his father is dressed in full superhero regalia making a sandwich in the kitchen, highlighting, through the juxtaposition of The Commander’s hyper masculinity with the mundane and rather effeminate decorations of the kitchen, the discord that comes through trying to combine superheroics and the family. This becomes manifest in the narrative through Steve/The Commander’s rather haphazard parenting and his overt concern for his son’s maturation into physical manhood – when Will finally gains super strength and devastates the school cafeteria during a fight with another pupil, he is awarded an X-Box by his father rather than being reprimanded for his recklessness. While this depicts a moment of solidarity between father and son, this is not followed through into the film’s denouement. It is The Commander’s hope (once Will has gained his superpowers) that the family will work together as The Stronghold Three. Will resists this, wanting to

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THE ‘SUPER’ FAMILY Figure 7. The Commander’s superhero costume juxtaposes with the domestic space in Sky High (2005).

step away from the father’s shadow. This is recognized in the final family tableau29 of Sky High, in which the family is separated in the shot; Will faces his parents rather than stands beside them. Although the family’s problems are reconciled, the family unit remains fragmented. Will and his mother share an embrace, but they remain separated within the shot. Therefore, once reconciled, the son distances himself from the parents, forging his own identity. What is crucial about this narrative is Will’s disavowal of his father’s values, unlike those superheroes who reinstate the father as a totem figure. The Commander is a fairly arrogant man, for example in his view of sidekicks as being distinctly inferior – he does not even remember the name of his own old sidekick. He attends the school homecoming (where he is captured) solely to collect an award and the subsequent praise, so his egotism becomes his weakness. It is Will’s rejection of these qualities that leads to him saving the day, with the help of the equally egoless sidekicks. This, notably, only occurs once he has inherited his mother’s ability to fly. It is also at this point that Will achieves his final romance, reiterating an Oedipal trajectory. Sky High subverts many of the traditions of superhero films; Will not only inherits both his parents’ powers, suggesting that inheritance from the female line is equally important, but he also breaks down the sense of elitism that is linked to the superhero; as Ali Jafaar notes, the film ‘undercuts the pomposity of other superhero films’.30 The coming of age narrative is repeated in Spy Kids 3. In this film, Juni has to enter the virtual world of a video game, Game Over, in which his sister is trapped. His mission is to save his sister Carmen and to shut down the game, which the evil villain the Toy Maker (Sylvester Stallone) is intending to use as a tool to brainwash millions. The premise of the film is that within the virtual world of Game Over participants can take on new identities, and thus it offers a masculine fantasy of strength to its geeky, pre-pubescent participants. The programmers (villains of the 83

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game) are depicted as cool and threatening men in long leather coats; however, when seen in reality they are whimpering, pasty teenagers. When Juni finally leaves the game he meets the boys he had been playing against, and again, rather than the masculine and ‘cool’ personas of the game world, he is presented with three weak young boys. Even Juni’s wheelchair-bound grandfather is allowed the ability to walk within the game world; his character becomes a towering and physically fearsome man. Juni, however, did not change; due to his secure masculinity he appeared the same in the game world as in reality. Juni’s sense of (masculine) identity was threatened in the first film of the Spy Kids franchise, in which he is a shy, weak and friendless boy; he is picked on by his older sister and by his classmates. During the opening stages of Spy Kids, Juni is dropped at school by his father, who witnesses a boy bullying his son. Gregorio Cortez confronts the father of the bully but will not fight him – in reality it is because he will so easily win (having been trained as a spy), but Juni sees his father as weak. Following this altercation, Juni asks the question ‘what’s so special about being a Cortez?’ that the film’s narrative then answers. Once the family is reconciled at the close of the film (and reconciled with the estranged grandparents through the course of Spy Kids 2), it becomes clear that the father is strong and fully capable of defending himself and his family, gaining the honour of becoming head of the OSS (Organization of Super Spies). Juni can now inherit a masculine identity, and therefore does not need to project fantasies of himself within the game world. For other participants, their projected fantasy of masculinity is necessarily linked to family status: Arnold (Ryan Pinkston), one of the players in the game world of Spy Kids 3, performs masculine strength (he is announced as the strongest player) in order to win the ‘untold riches’ that are promised to whoever completes level five. Arnold wishes to win so that he can help his destitute family, a victory that would fulfil his fantasy of masculinity by allowing him to be the family’s provider.

Young Female Protagonists It is not just masculinity that is at stake in these films. By depicting a whole family, the superhero family narratives must give screen time to their young female characters. This is a problematic role for action films, even those aimed at the whole family. The young female form is far from the masculine body ideal often understood as a point of identification for (young) male viewers of superhero narratives (although girls do often function as objects of desire). Furthermore, those films that do take young girls as their leads are usually aimed at a solely female audience and concerned with ‘feminine’ issues, with My Girl (1991), The Parent Trap (1998), The Princess Diaries (2001), The Lizzy Maguire Movie (2003), Freaky Friday (2003) and The Ice Princess (2005) all providing examples of family films that are led by young female protagonists, focusing on typically feminine plotlines such as romance, motherhood, ice skating, becoming a princess – potentially alienating 84

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male audiences and providing evidence of what Zschoche describes as the poverty of imagination when telling stories about women’s lives. As Kr¨amer points out, the majority of family-adventure movies are led by male figures and are often concerned with male issues.31 Despite this, Carmen Cortez is arguably the central character of the first Spy Kids film. When she and her brother Juni, having discovered their heritage as spies, are forced to leave home and access a safe house, it is her full name that is the key. The whole Cortez family take part in the narrative, but it is Carmen, as the oldest child, who takes the lead. Mary Beltr´an suggests Carmen is the younger version of the Latina action heroine, a figure who is being found more and more in contemporary Hollywood: [L]et’s not forget Alexa Vega, who, as Carmen Cortez, discovers early in Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids saga that it is her full name, Carmen Elizabeth Juanita y Costa Brava Cortez, and thus indirectly her Latin heritage that is the key that unlocks the Cortez family safe house after her parents are kidnapped . . . By the opening of the second installment in the series, Carmen is fully recognized as one of the top ‘spy kids’ in the nation, a young Latina action hero on who the nation’s security depends.32

For Beltr´an it is, in part, Carmen’s ethnicity that is crucial to her success as an action heroine. Beltr´an’s article uses Jennifer Lopez and Michelle Rodriguez as examples of how the Latina action hero embodies something different to her white American counterpart. While the Latina hero remains a problematic figure, she presents to Beltr´an a ‘spectacular heterosexuality’ rather than ‘compromised femininity’.33 The importance of ethnicity within Spy Kids needs to be addressed at this point. The Cortez family do represent a break from the traditional American family that has up to now dominated this book and the superhero family films. Despite the pronounced ethnicity of this family, with Latino stars playing the roles, the family are Americanized and their ethnicity thus undermined. The Cortez family work for the US government, under the authority of Devlin, played by George Clooney, himself an American icon. Furthermore, Carmen’s ridiculous full name, while highlighting the importance of ethnicity to her and her family’s identity, actually pokes fun at it. Beltr´an understands the rise in Latina action stars as an important diversion from the traditional action hero as white and male,34 and it is in contrast to this ‘traditional’ role that Carmen’s centrality to the Spy Kids films, and the professional success her character achieves, needs to be considered. As a result of her age, Carmen is a successful female protagonist who in no way uses her sexuality to succeed – it would be tasteless if she did – yet her femininity is still evident. While there is the hint of a romantic interest for Carmen in the second film (she has a crush on fellow spy kid Gary Giggles (Matt O’Leary)), nothing comes of this, as Gary 85

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Figure 8. Carmen chooses a mature outfit in Spy Kids (2001).

represents a threat to her belief system and her family. What Carmen exudes, then, is a self-assured and capable femininity. Her costuming highlights this: when given the chance to forge her own identity as a spy she chooses a feminine outfit. Juni and Carmen are on the run from ‘thumb thumbs’ (robot villains that are literally all thumbs), and end up in a clothes store where they change their outfits in order to disguise themselves. Prior to this point, once they realized their heritage as spies, Juni and Carmen had been dressed in matching black outfit – reminiscent of spy chic – echoing their parents’ clothing. They are now given the opportunity to choose their own identity. Juni opts for a three-piece suit and bowtie, aligning him with his hero, the dandily dressed Floop (Alan Cumming), as well as hinting at the suave costuming of James Bond. Carmen opts for cropped trousers, and a longish jacket that is embroidered with a floral motif. This at once makes her appear older, for the outfit choice is relatively sophisticated (more so than Juni, whose ostentatious suit is reminiscent of a child dressing up as a spy) and also allows her to appear feminine. The outfit, while pointedly feminine, is not sexual. She has not tried to dress up as an older (sexual) woman, in the way that Juni has tried to dress to fit his perceptions of being an adult. Indeed, in Spy Kids 2, Carmen’s outfit worn to a black tie event at the OSS is similarly age appropriate and feminine but not sexual. Although Carmen is a strong young woman, both Spy Kids and The Incredibles problematize their young female roles. The fathers (the heads of the households) take very little interest in their daughters, and are more invested in their sons’ development. In The Incredibles, Violet is the least involved in the father’s life; in a montage sequence of the family interacting, Bob/Mr Incredible is seen spending time with both his sons, but all the attention he pays to his daughter is a quick 86

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kiss on the cheek. Furthermore, the daughters of both films are the eldest siblings, placing them in a position of responsibility that echoes the mother’s familial role. Carmen complains to a school friend that she is always being told to look out for Juni, and Violet is required to look after Dash both at home and on the island as their mother leaves them to search for their father. One of Violet’s powers – the ability to create a protective field around herself and others – forces her to safeguard the family. Despite their responsible roles, both daughters seem the most troubled children. Carmen still wets the bed and therefore sleeps in diapers, and Violet in The Incredibles, who on the one hand provides the antithesis to Carmen through her outwardly nervous disposition, quite literally wishes to be invisible (this is one of her powers, and she employs it to hide from a boy she is attracted to). In contrast to what appear to be more complex issues manifested in female adolescence, the boys’ problems are more simplified: they strive for masculinity and achievement; all Dash wants to do is use his powers to compete in school sports. The films, however, offer no real explanation for why the daughters have such strong emotional problems. Violet’s troubles seem to be simplified to the level of a lack of confidence, which is easily rectified when she becomes sufficient in her superpowers. As a result she is able to talk to the boy she likes at school, in fact she becomes so confident that she asks him out herself. Violet’s new confidence is depicted through her appearance; the hair that once covered her face has been swept back and is worn in a more feminine and adult hair band. In this respect Violet’s narrative echoes the coming of age narrative that dominates superhero films; once she has mastered her superpowers she is able to make the transition from teenager to young adult, culminating in her own final romance. That her appearance becomes more feminine sets her apart from the usual superheroes, who must embody masculinity to enter adulthood, but at the same time implies that femininity could be elevated to the same level of importance. Carmen’s narrative is more complex; across the three films she becomes one of the most successful spy kids and a more settled character. However, she never achieves a romantic union, and by the third film she barely takes part in the action, being passed over in favour of her brother. This suggests that while there is a shift in the centrality of young female roles, it is not something that can be sustained, interest in masculinity wins out and, furthermore, there is no obvious resolution to the daughter’s narrative.

Masculinity, Fatherhood and Ageing While superpowers represent coming of age for the young protagonists, for the fathers they signify an attempt to hang onto youth. Both The Commander and Mr Incredible wish to live vicariously through the sons who have inherited their superpowers, allowing generation and ageing to figure as important themes. This reiterates the concern with ageing noted in Chapter 1 in relation to the father– daughter narratives. That ageing and generation re-appear as concerns in these 87

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quite different films demonstrates the wide ranging importance of these themes in narratives of fatherhood, and begs the question of why ageing, at least, has been paid little attention in Hollywood and film criticism. The superhero films deal with ageing in a different way to the father–daughter films; the concern here is predominantly with the body and physical abilities, but in both sets of films there is a crisis of masculinity related to age, and age is clearly associated with fatherhood. The ageing superhero of these family narratives presents a significant departure from the traditional superhero. As Kaveney points out, even though many characters have been around in comic book form for years, they have not aged. She cites Peter Parker/Spiderman as an example of a character introduced as a teenager in the 1960s who has barely aged ten years by 2006: ‘it is simply one of those areas in which the commercial need to keep certain characters going forever is more important than any even vague attempt at realism’.35 This explains, perhaps, why the superhero is eternally young, but it is in any case a necessity for superheroes to be youthful; the ageing man in tights would make an awkward masculine hero. Frank Miller’s brief comic series The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and The Dark Knight Strikes Again (2001–2) does, however, depict a Batman in his 50s, who had previously been in retirement for ten years. The ageing superhero is a distinctive feature of these comics, as Kaveney writes: One of the strengths of The Dark Knight Returns is the poignancy of its meditation on aging: Jim Gordon is on the brink of retiring and is glad to be done with the struggle, Selina Kyle has become a podgy panderer whom the still-trim Joker mocks for the effect of time and forces to dress up in an unbecoming Wonder Woman costume, Oliver Queen (Green Arrow) is a balding cripple whose days as a superhero are over.36

The Batman of Miller’s comic ‘is older, and conscious of it’.37 As Kaveney explains, he is jealous of the youthfulness of Carrie (his female Robin) and has become a much darker hero who is torturing and sadistic, positing the older hero as a troubled and complicated figure. The superhero is usually coded as young no doubt because masculinity is linked to the physicality of youth, whereas fatherhood, in Hollywood, is often associated with the more placid older man. Ageing represents a crisis in masculinity – as Lehman points out, the ageing man of Hollywood has traditionally been feminized. As discussed in Chapter 1, Lehman cites the example of Stumpy in Rio Bravo as a man who is placed within a domestic environment, as he is ageing; he is seen cooking and keeping house.38 This signifies ageing as a threat to ‘active’ masculine power, but also links the ageing man to the home. The role of the grandfather in the third Spy Kids film opens up further discussion of ageing and masculinity. The grandfather is in a wheelchair, albeit one that can fly, and is therefore less able than his male counterparts throughout the second 88

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and third films. His body is thus symptomatic of the threat to masculine power and physicality that is usually signified in Hollywood by an inability to compete in action, though he is still perceived as an active hero. The Hollywood father, indeed the Hollywood family, is rarely depicted as particularly young. Gallagher reiterates Lehman’s understanding that ageing and domesticity are aligned: ‘In . . . films, such as Air Force One and Dante’s Peak, the male protagonists’ family connections denote their integrity while offering active, life-saving roles to male characters who may appear past their physical prime’.39 It is notable that these older, family men seem ‘past their physical prime’, as this causes friction between the ideals of fatherhood and physical masculinity. This also brings to mind Friedan’s suggestion that working and motherhood have been imagined as different stages of a woman’s life that cannot be combined, as working was categorized as a pastime for the last third of life, permissible only once children were grown up.40 Within the father’s narrative there appears to be a reversal of this role, for men ‘action’ and masculine activities take up the younger years, and the older years are reserved for fatherhood and domesticity. This reiterates the tension between action heroics and fatherhood, as Bruzzi writes: ‘The action man has seldom proved a successful father, for “action” signals a representational dependence on the body, physicality and strength, all attributes the father – the more feminine nurturer, carer – most notably lacks.’41 However, it is through the combination of superheroics and fatherhood that this relationship between paternity and active masculinity needs to be re-assessed. While the father can still function as a superhero, his age is important to his physical depiction. The white male body in The Incredibles is juxtaposed with the Black character who has not suffered ageing so badly. It is unclear whether this is to do with race or fatherhood, two central factors separating these men. Frozone, Mr Incredible’s Black buddy, is still agile and pointedly so, evidenced as he wows Dash by turning a jet of water into an icicle and then quickly running and somersaulting to catch the ice before it shatters. This provides a strong contrast to Mr Incredible’s rather cumbersome form. Once Mr Incredible does regain his physique it is, however, the white superhero who embodies super strength and hyper-masculinity. While Frozone shows no signs of ageing, he is physically of a much smaller build, and his muscles are not accentuated in the way Mr Incredible’s are. It is not just Mr Incredible’s physique that differs from Frozone. When, early on in the narrative, the two spend an evening together listening to police radios (in an attempt to intercept trouble and flex their super muscles), Frozone expresses his boredom by suggesting they go bowling. Mr Incredible insists they stay, to him both his physique and his super activity are a link to youthfulness, which he must pursue in an attempt to deny ageing. The Incredibles, then, initially displays a disparity between fatherhood and superheroics, as Mr Incredible/Bob is more concerned with dwelling on his past successes and following the stories of missing superhero friends than engaging

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with his family. However in a montage sequence the film highlights that it is precisely as he becomes physically strong and involved in superhero work that he does engage with the family. On the return from his first mission back as a superhero, Mr Incredible spends time with his family – the images of the home are bright and colourful, more so than in previous family sequences. He kisses his children, spending time with each one, and feeds Jack Jack; he is now an involved father. The montage sequence then cuts to images of Mr Incredible working out by pulling railway carriages, a reminder of his excessive strength. The whole sequence is played to a jazzy soundtrack that evokes a sense of the playboy; Mr Incredible is thus coded as sexually active – evident as he pinches his wife’s bottom. The implication of this sequence is that the good and attentive father is one who is physically strong; active, professionally successful and sexual, a contrast to expectations of fatherhood. Similarly, in Spy Kids, Gregorio sees that his son is in trouble (when he is being picked on at school) by zooming in on his image in the gadget-enhanced wing mirror of the car. That Gregorio is ‘spying’ on his son and intervenes to aid Juni, links ‘good’ parenting to his profession. In Gregorio’s fantasy of this scene, Juni comes running to embrace him once he has beaten up the bully’s father. This other father is coded as the villain, aligning a threat to the family with the threat of violence, and therefore Gregorio’s professional skills translate to those required to assist the family. In terms of good fathering, here a heroic role model is represented as a positive figure – for sons at least. Conversely, of course, The Commander, while a hugely successful superhero and on the surface a good father, is blinded by his success and therefore becomes an egotistical man whose elitism creates a distance between himself and his son. The very nature of the superhero character – as a performed identity, both in appearance and temperament – also seems to be at odds with the requirements of the father as emotional nurturer. As Middleton notes of the Batman comics: We know that the Joker is dangerous because he has green hair, a mauve suit and a green shirt. He even wears lipstick. The Joker’s face is very expressive, he smiles, he laughs and uses his high cheekbones and narrow chin to great effect. No hero would have a face like that. Batman has a mask over his eyes to conceal any tell tale expressiveness as well as his identity.42

The superhero thus distances himself from emotion, a poor trait for a father, yet the good superhero father combines masculine and feminine traits – emotional openness and physical prowess. It is noteworthy that Middleton refers here to Batman, a character who actually has no real superpowers, but through training and technology has forged an identity that is super and hyper masculine. Batman sits alongside figures such as Spiderman and Daredevil as a character whose superhero identity is the performed masculinity, the masquerade. Superman provides a 90

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THE ‘SUPER’ FAMILY Figure 9. The Commander’s ‘disguise’ in Sky High visually references Superman’s disguise as Clark Kent.

contrast to this; he was born with his powers, for him the masquerade is Clark Kent, an antithesis of physical masculinity. The fathers of the superhero family films were similarly born with their powers, and the parallels between The Commander and Superman are clearly evident, his persona as Steve Stronghold echoing Clark Kent’s appearance with the thick rimmed glasses and a curl of hair dropping into his face. For these characters the masquerade is family life; fatherhood. The idea of performing roles is evident in Spy Kids as Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez head back to work as spies. Here the performed role is that of the superhero/spy. Gregorio plays out a masculinity that is virile, confident, and a little self-obsessed. He is stood next to a sleek silver car, a contrast to the more cumbersome family vehicle he drove the children to school in, and reminiscent of James Bond’s automobiles – the car is a signifier for the type of masculinity that Gregorio hopes to display. He looks in the mirror to check his fake moustache, suggesting vanity and simultaneously highlighting the ‘disguise’ that separates his roles as father and spy. The costumes of both Gregorio and Ingrid signify this separation, as well as fetishization, of the action body – evident in the black leather outfits they are wearing. The treatment of the ‘action’ body as vastly different from the ‘family’ body (in the previous scenes Gregorio wears a cardigan and Ingrid unflattering pastels) re-enforces this segregation of ‘action’ and family life. However, like The Incredibles, Spy Kids necessarily combines these two spheres in order to reconcile the family. Within this narrative it is the acceptance of the parents’ professional identities that allows an openness within the family and a level of excitement and respect that was missing, making way for the reconciliation of the previously dysfunctional family unit. Much the same happens in The Incredibles. Mr Incredible is more engaged once he has returned to superheroics, but it is not until the rest of the family join in the action that the family is fully repaired. This is signified by the final tableaux of both films: The Incredibles sees the family posed, masked and ready for action as soon as The Underminer appears as a threat; in Spy Kids the 91

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Cortez family are together around the kitchen table as they receive instructions for a mission. Gregorio and Ingrid prove they have changed by refusing to accept a mission without consulting the family. It transpires that the mission is for the children, but Juni continues this newfound solidarity by announcing ‘If you want the Cortezes you take all the Cortezes’, and Carmen concludes ‘from now on whatever we do, we do together’. As the reconciled Incredible family pose, ready for action, they are grouped around the father, who is dominant by his size. Yet this central, and physically impressive, figure of the father is most often the one in jeopardy. It is Gregorio who is turned into Fooglie in Spy Kids, and Mr Incredible who is captured by Syndrome, resulting in his family embarking on a rescue mission. All three fathers find themselves in trouble, in part because of their arrogance. Mr Incredible snubs Buddy, who later grows up to become Syndrome, by telling him ‘I work alone’. He is angry at Buddy’s intrusion into his heroics, predominantly because it does more harm than good, but his angry dismissal of the boy causes a grudge that leads to the deaths of many superheroes and an attempt to kill Mr Incredible and his family. The Commander’s egotism is less harmful, but it is his desire for self-promotion, (by attending the school dance where he hopes to win an award) that puts the Strongholds in danger. Sky High, as mentioned, critiques the superhero films and conventions by its exposure of this heightened masculinity as elitist and egotistical. The egotism and sense of pride that the father embodies is further evident in Spy Kids. The villains, led by Floop and Minion (Tony Shalhoub), are looking for the Third Brain, a technological device that many spies believed had been destroyed years previously. It transpires that it had been Gregorio’s job to do so, but having worked on the project he could not bring himself to destroy his hard work and kept it as a souvenir. This draws parallels with The Commander in Sky High, whose weakness is keeping souvenirs of his heroics. It is through knowing this that Royal Pain is able to exploit him and infiltrate his home, by planting a camera in one such souvenir. In Spy Kids it is the knowledge that Gregorio owns the Third Brain that puts his family and home under threat. In the second Spy Kids film the villain, Donnagon Giggles (Mike Judge), is a father similarly led by egotistical desires to run the OSS and control the world. These films allow the role of the traditional patriarch to be criticized; while professional success aids the family, egotism and complacency damage it.

The ‘Super’ Mother Although the father’s transition is often at the centre of superhero family films, to such an extent that Ken Gillam and Shannon R. Wooden argue that The Incredibles is a coming of age story for the father,43 the super mother also takes a significant role. The narratives of the superhero mothers bear similarities to the action mother 92

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THE ‘SUPER’ FAMILY Figure 10. The superhero family of The Incredibles (2004) frequently pose, ready for action, with the dominating figure of the father at the centre.

discussed in the previous chapter. In much the same way as Gail in The River Wild protects her son, Helen Parr is given the task of saving her family once her husband, Mr Incredible, is captured. The representation of maternity within the superhero films is one of strength, responsibility and stability, presenting mothers as considerably less interesting characters than their husbands. Tasker’s understanding of the action mother can be readily applied to these characters. Referring to the film Lost in Space (1998), Tasker writes: Ironically, because the film has taken such pains to portray her as a thoroughly modern, well-rounded woman, Professor Maureen Robinson is the only character who is not transformed through the course of the movie – she is more than capable from the outset and subsequently seems to fade to the margins of the narrative.44

Helen Parr represents this mother in the superhero films. She is an involved and capable mother, evidenced as she bathes Jack Jack in the sink, deals with Dash’s problems at school and takes control at the hectic mealtime. Helen is thus the stable centre of the family: it is the rest of the family that is unhappy and must change or adapt throughout the narrative. Of course Helen does return to her superhero role during the film but she is content in either existence. Her settled domestic life echoes Green’s comments about the mother, that she is the central peg without whom the family would collapse. Green discusses the mother in these terms as a repressed figure, one who is tied to the family and not allowed her own narrative outside of it.45 Helen Parr is indeed tied to her family, although in The Incredibles this allows her a greater role in the narrative as a heroine, for she has to save her husband when he is captured. In the superhero family films, by including whole families in the action, active women do not need to transgress their familial role to 93

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partake; rather action becomes part of family life and offers a refigured view of the domestic. This contradicts the role of women in traditional retellings of heroic stories, something that is explored by Faludi, who sees it as a largely passive one. Faludi analyses the media rhetoric after the September 11 attacks on the USA that created a narrative of heroic men who must protect women, and of a threatened domesticity. In The Terror Dream (2007) she explores both long-standing American myths of heroism and post-9/11 media stories, discovering a consistent mistreatment of women that placed them within a passive role. She cites as an example the media coverage of the capture of American soldier Jessica Lynch, who was depicted as a helpless and violated girl. In reality reports of her capture and rescue were manipulated to make her male counterparts appear the heroic soldiers, and she the helpless damsel. Faludi believes this is part of a tradition of manipulating tales of heroism so that women pose no threat, men are masculine saviours, and the USA a force to be reckoned with.46 The representation of women in superhero films calls this into question. Faludi puts forward a persuasive argument, and as a result the superhero films become all the more significant in differing from the traditional paradigm of male heroism. It was noted in relation to action mothers that violence and heroics are often deemed acceptable pursuits for women when protecting the family; in this respect the superhero mothers are not extraordinary. Lawrence and Jewett’s use of Heidi as an example of a superhero of sorts, presents female heroism as domestic and placid. Unerring kindness is Heidi’s effective superpower, once again linking female heroics to a specific set of gender expectations. The superhero family films offer a contrast to this sort of feminine hero. As the ‘less interesting’ parent of the narratives, mothers do not face the same threat as their husbands. Furthermore, the wives lack their husbands’ egos and as a result are not so easily exploited. The mothers of these superhero narratives are strong characters and have a sense of authority within the family. This is evident as Josie Stronghold adopts the same hands-on-hips stance when reprimanding her son as she does when in ‘character’ as Jetstream. Helen Parr has to physically restrain her arguing children, and is the voice of dominance and reason during a chaotic family meal, whereas the father fails to engage with his family. In Spy Kids the speed in which the film cuts from Ingrid asking to accompany Gregorio on the mission to the arrival of Uncle Felix (Cheech Marin) to baby-sit suggests the woman’s persuasive powers and control of her husband. Although Ingrid has to seduce her husband to be allowed to join him, in succeeding she exerts power over him – a power that is evident as Gregorio sees his wife in the next scene. He gapes at her as she arrives in her tight black spywear, reminiscent of the dominatrix, drawing attention to the strength of female sex. Although sexual power is a contentious issue,47 Ingrid’s dominance is not just explored through her husband’s sexual submission: she dominates the frame,

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standing confidently against the wall while her husband is crouched checking his appearance in the wing mirror of the car. The superhero mother is a successful professional, particularly as seen in Spy Kids: All the Time in the World, the fourth instalment of the franchise, and The Incredibles. The fourth Spy Kids film focuses on a step-family rather than a biological nuclear family. Marissa ( Jessica Alba) is step-mother to two children, and biological mother to another. She retires as a spy upon the birth of her daughter (although not until she has fought off villains while in the throes of labour), but is called back into action a year later. The father of this film is not a spy, in fact he is oblivious to his wife’s past. Instead he is a television presenter trying to promote a new show, Wilbur Wilson: Spy Hunter, a role he is not equipped for as he lacks the active strength and intelligence of his wife. The wife is not only more professionally successful, she is also the more switched-on parent. The premise of the film is that a device stolen by the villainous Time Keeper is causing time to run out. His reasoning for this is that families do not value the time they have together and are pre-occupied with meaningless tasks. This is the lesson the father needs to learn, but one that the mother, having retired to spend time with her children, has already acknowledged. Although this appears problematic, in depicting the mother as a solely domestic figure, it can be easily forgiven as Marissa uses her active credentials to bond with her step-children and repair the family: it is only once she is back at work that the children begin to respect the mother, so, much like the superhero father, it is when combining masculine and feminine traits that the super mother is at her best. The capable professional mother also appears in The Incredibles. The film’s prologue shows interviews with superheroes, 15 years before the central narrative begins. Elastigirl (who will become Helen Parr), is feisty and confident as she says to the interviewer: ‘Settle down? Are you kidding! I’m at the top of my game. I’m right up there with the big dogs. Girls, c’mon, leave the saving of the world to the men? I don’t think so’. In the sequence that follows both she and Mr Incredible pursue the same villain, but it is Elastigirl, not Mr Incredible, who, by the thief’s own admission, captures him. It is significant that despite having achieved professional success, the superhero mothers are not problematic maternal figures. The mother is not a placid domestic figure and the films never question either her professional or domestic status. This immediately suggests an acceptance of working mothers that spans the superhero genre. Indeed, the superhero world has long accepted professional women. Kaveney refers to the Superman comics and the relationship between Superman and Lois Lane once they are married, writing: [S]ince John Byrne’s reboot of Superman continuity in 1986, Lois has been a knowing partner and wife to Superman, while assisting the pretence that she is married to Clark Kent, but without abandoning her career for a second. It is

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Figure 11. Jetstream has to transport her husband, The Commander, in an undignified fashion in Sky High. more or less a given that she is a more gifted reporter than her husband, partly because he spends so much time disappearing to change into his other persona. When Superman seems to disparage her career in any way, it is usually solid evidence that he is temporarily on a wrong path.48

The implication is, thus, that not only should Lois Lane’s working be celebrated, but that she is in fact more successful professionally than her husband, marking a distinct departure from how women have been imagined in Hollywood. Of course, Kaveney refers here to the comic books, but a similar situation is manifest in Sky High. In terms of their real estate business, Josie Stronghold appears the more involved and successful partner – she is seen on the phone dealing with, and rescheduling, clients. Furthermore her professional dominance is evident within their superhero work, in a scene that wonderfully undermines the male superhero. As the Strongholds journey to fight a rampaging robot early on in the narrative, we see Josie/Jetstream having to carry her husband, lifting him under his arms in an undignified fashion. Within the world of the film most superheroes only have one superpower; Jetstream can fly (although she is also a master of unarmed combat) whereas The Commander has super strength. That Jetstream has to carry her husband is comedic and undercuts his powers and masculinity; in order to succeed he is completely reliant upon his wife’s abilities. The superpowers of the mother are coded as being equally important to the father’s. However, none of the mothers is allowed super strength; as Middleton suggests, superhuman strength is ‘a fantasy of masculine body omnipotence’.49 The male body undoubtedly dominates these films, as does the fear of the ageing male body. In a clip from the original trailer of The Incredibles (that was not present in the released film) Mr Incredible is seen wrestling with the belt on his suit, which will not fasten over his ageing and expanding stomach. The film uses spandex 96

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to great effect to highlight the imperfections of the body rather than its hypermasculine contours. On his first assignment back as a superhero, Mr Incredible is so wide he cannot fit through the exit chute of his aircraft. The use of animation is ideal for exaggerating the bodies of superheroes, both when they are at their physical peak – evident through Mr Incredible’s height and overly wide shoulders – or, when out of shape, his bulging belly, that looks even larger next to his tiny waist and feet. Mrs Incredible/Helen suffers a similar fate, she catches sight of her rear when wearing the super-suit and is horrified by the size of her backside. However, Helen Parr’s wide rear actually serves her well, helping her to attack the bad guys while her elastic limbs are stretched through three doorways. The implication of this is that the mother/woman’s body can change without the same damaging effects as the ageing male body; Mr Incredible must get back into shape for hero work, but the mother’s body is fine as it is. Of course, this reiterates the concern with masculinity evident in superhero films. Furthermore, there is a suggestion that the ageing female body is of little consequence or concern here; that female ageing is taken for granted, or perhaps that it is not deemed such a crucial issue. It is necessary here to return to issues of age and motherhood, and once again draw upon Friedan’s suggestion in The Feminine Mystique that in the 1950s and 1960s women were expected to have different interests for different thirds of life, motherhood taking up the central block, and ‘other interests’, such as work, filling the years after. In the superhero films, and most prominently in The Incredibles and Spy Kids, this is reversed, parenting comes after an exciting work life. However, that the two must eventually be mixed for the good of the family sets these films apart from many other family narratives. The attitude towards action and the family in these films is significant. Faludi notes that the media promoted a return of women to domesticity and ‘nesting’ post-9/11. The attacks were seen by many as a threat to the American way of life, and therefore American home life, allegedly prompting many women to question their career aspirations and return to the home.50 It is impossible to ascertain a definite link between concerns with threatened domesticity and the emergence of domestic narratives within the superhero films, but both The Incredibles and Sky High were made after the September 11 attacks and depict heroism on a personal and domestic level. Indeed, the shift in Helen Parr from the career-driven Elastigirl to the contented housewife and mother in the first part of The Incredibles, personifies the post-9/11 woman who wishes to trade career for family. There is no real surprise, then, that superhero films ventured into the domestic, it has long been a genre that has relied on family troubles as the catalyst for the hero’s action. What is distinctive about these films, though, is their resolutions, that only come once the parents (more than their children) are fulfilled, notably through professional success, albeit in an unconventional profession. Furthermore, resolution can only occur once the whole family quite literally work together, and it is at this point that the family is at its most stable. This is a difficult conclusion to assess because it is so far removed from reality,

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and the resolutions are further complicated by the fact that the reconciliation of the family is a silent one; the families never really express themselves. This brings to mind Middleton’s understanding of the comic book superhero. Middleton draws attention to the superhero’s lack of expression on two levels, firstly through his own language; phrases such as ‘Aaauulllgh’51 (taken from Dan Dare) highlight the superhero’s literal inability to express himself; secondly, Middleton explains: ‘In these comics the language is seemingly not available for conflict resolution; the best method is to smash your opponent.’52 While this does not literally translate to the superhero families, the link between superheroics/ action and an inability to express feelings is evident. Both Gallagher and Langford suggest family action narratives are an extension of melodrama, exploring tension through the mise-en-sc`ene, which in action films means through explosions, violence and action.53 While none of the characters of the superhero family films jump into a phone box and transform like Superman, the theme of transformation provides another problem in these family narratives. Middleton notes that the transformation into ‘super’ hero is not always a glamorous one: ‘Bruce Banner could never just pop into a phone booth as if to get in touch with his super alter ego. Hulk would tear it apart.’54 What these superhero films do not deal with, then, are the problems that arise from this desire to make the body super. Films such as The Fly (1986) highlight the terror involved in changing the body into something superhuman; the ‘super’ body is replaced by a horrific body that is neither masculine nor attractive. In contrast, the transformation of the body is glamourized and celebrated by The Incredibles as Mr Incredible becomes a more attentive husband and father as he slowly transitions back to his over-sized physical peak. The superhero as problematic character extends beyond physicality to encompass power. Middleton believes: ‘The Hulk stories suggest how close the heroes are to terrorists.’55 This complicates the role models created by these films, in terms of their destructive abilities. Kaveney suggests that their very presence is in itself problematic: ‘in the course of the 1990s and 2000s, it became almost a clich´e that villains would point out that superheroes are careless gods who render ordinary human achievement null and void, the point was not without merit’.56 Indeed, as Lawrence and Jewett highlight, the involvement of ‘superheroes’ in solving what are essentially everyday problems presents an image of fulfilment that cannot be attained. Thus while these superhero family films make important inroads in their depiction of gender roles, they remain problematic in their resolutions of family conflict. Furthermore these films deal specifically with the nuclear family, and suggest no alternative to this; the family must be repaired through the narrative. Violet announces to her brother that her parents’ lives could be in danger ‘or worse, their marriage’. The breakdown of the nuclear family is the one evil these films are determined to fight. The superhero family films are significant in challenging the norms associated with the nuclear family, particularly evident in the importance

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placed upon parental fulfilment outside the home, and the need for both parents to combine masculine and feminine traits. However, because this is combined with an unconventional (super) family these ideals are not fully normalized, and as such, as well as celebrating a modern version of the family, these films ultimately perpetuate myths of traditionalism and conventionality through their simplified and necessary resolution of the problems the nuclear family face.

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4 Family Dysfunction and the Action-Melodrama The action films discussed in Chapter 2 alongside the action mother, and the superhero films explored in Chapter 3, depict relatively progressive representations of the family. Although there are still gender inequalities, there is a clear shift towards female agency and a sense of families as a unit of equally capable members, albeit often led by the father. Despite this there remain a number of action films that are problematic in their attitudes towards gender and the family, elevating masculinity and fatherhood above other familial roles. One such subset is the contemporary disaster film. The disaster film has had two recent resurgences, in the late 1990s when films such as Independence Day (1997), Armageddon (1998) and Deep Impact (1998) proved successful at the box office, and again in the 2000s with films including The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and War of the Worlds (2005) reigniting the trend. The family has taken centre stage in these two recent cycles in a way it had not in previous disaster film cycles (most notably that of the 1970s). Indeed the threat to mankind is clearly aligned with a threat to the traditional American family, never more evident than when the white picket fenced house is one of the first targets of destruction in 2012 (2009). This chapter will argue that these films, as well as depicting the collapse of the family as being a disaster of global proportions, also celebrate patriarchy, not only through their family dynamics, but also through a celebration of the American president as paternal figurehead, and through a nostalgic reference to past models of the American family. However, the version of patriarchy that is celebrated relies upon a refigured, softer version of masculinity in which nurturing is a key trait. The reliance on more typically feminine behaviours is evidenced through the good father as sacrificial, a subverting of the conventions of the domestic melodrama to create an action-melodrama genre that privileges the experiences and difficulties faced by the contemporary father. 101

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The 1970s disaster films were a product of a specific industrial and ideological moment. Although disaster was present in a number of films throughout Hollywood’s history, including historical or biblical epics such as The Last Days of Pompeii (1908, 1913, 1935) and The Sign of the Cross (1932), more ‘realist’ historical narratives such as San Francisco (1936) and sci-fi movies of the 1950s including The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1955), the disaster film did not really come into being until the 1970s.1 The earlier films spoke to the ideological concerns of the US arising from the Depression and the threat/fear of communist invasion in the immediate post-war years,2 but they were not defined by disaster. Stephen Keane points out that: In order to distinguish ‘disaster-ridden movies’ from disaster movies Roddick lists a number of important requirements. The actual disaster must be ‘diegetically central’; ‘factually possible’; ‘largely indiscriminate’; ‘unexpected (though not necessarily unpredicted)’; ‘all-encompassing’; ‘and finally ahistorical, in the sense of not requiring a specific conjuncture of political and economic forces to bring it about’.3

Although, as Keane notes, this rules out movies involving monsters from space as disaster films, in contemporary cinema Independence Day arguably does function as a disaster film due to its adherence to contemporary genre conventions and its representation of global attack. The 1970s disaster films, including Airport (1970), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), The Towering Inferno (1974) and Earthquake (1974), amongst others, are indicative of social unrest and a lack of faith in US politics. Class conflict was regularly played out through narratives, with characters representing a cross-section of American society4 and a ‘liberal twist’ in the way the films also criticize ‘unrestrained corporate capitalism’ and the ‘pursuit of profit’.5 This is particularly evident in the narratives of The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, in which man’s opulent creations are destroyed. Keane suggests that these films provide ‘disaster as therapy’,6 giving their characters, and therefore audiences, a renewed sense of perspective, expanding Kr¨amer’s notion of family-adventure movies as therapy. Although in the earlier disaster films there is a renewed focus on social and personal issues rather than a ‘fixing’ of the family, the spectacular action film continues to be consistently therapeutic for its audiences. Unlike many contemporary disaster films, the need to display a ‘microcosmic view of American society’7 led to these films being dominated by non-familial groups, whether the passengers of the Poseidon or the workers and professionals of Airport. However, beyond an interest in professionals, disaster films focused on ordinary members of the public, who were ‘important, as disaster fodder, to a certain extent but also fundamental to the requirements that ordinary folk be put under as much extraordinary duress as possible’.8 As the cycle developed, this 102

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focus on ordinary people made room for gender diversity, with more women than men surviving The Poseidon Adventure and young people sympathetically incorporated into the plot.9 The industrial reasoning for this, Keane notes, was that ‘Hollywood cinema needed to widen its demographics and sacrificing the women, teenagers and children would have proved far too alienating’.10 Nevertheless, while women were given some narrative weight in the 1970s disaster films, they were still confined to relatively traditional roles: in The Towering Inferno, ‘the men are primarily defined in relation to their jobs and the women are defined solely in terms of their relationships with men’.11 Although family narratives were not central to disaster films, the dysfunctional family does appear in Airport. Mel Bakersfield (Burt Lancaster), the film’s lead, is a man whose job has affected his marriage, with his wife deeming him a bigamist because he is married to his profession. Although family dysfunction is played out alongside the disaster here it is not rectified, indeed the husband/father is set free to pursue a relationship with another woman, and the family is broken. Keane suggests that the disaster film cycle of the 1970s is considered to have been ‘acutely reflective of social, cultural and political developments’,12 an argument cemented by the correlation between disaster movie cycles and times of crisis. This accounts for the resurgence in the genre in the late 1990s: tapping into millennial anxieties, and the emergence of the global disaster cycle post-9/11. As Antonio Sanchez-Escalonilla suggests: ‘in the wake of the 9/11 attacks Hollywood has experienced a new refurbishment of popular genres, especially of the traditional master plots of invasion and catastrophe in action, science fiction and fantasy’.13 Both Leighton Grist and J. Hoberman directly relate War of the Worlds to the post-9/11 mood,14 with Hoberman drawing attention to the echoes of September 11 in the mise-en-sc`ene that depicts ‘dust coated survivors’.15 While there has been a resurgence of global disaster films post-9/11, the 1990s cycle of disaster films, according to Geoff King, are representative of pre-millennial anxieties, in particular through the ‘shortcomings of technology’,16 which were given a ‘specific millennial twist in discourses playing on fears about the “millennium bug”’.17 Nevertheless, King does warn that while ‘a range of contemporary resonances can be identified in the disaster films of the 1990s . . . caution is required . . . in any sweeping assertion that such films capture the mood of the times’.18 He sees in the pre-millennial disaster films a return to frontier heroics that offer assurance through a re-playing of relatively traditional values and structures.19 Although the contemporary disaster film appears in many guises – with Dante’s Peak (1997), Volcano (1997), Poseidon (2006) and even Titanic (1997) being classed as such – the focus of this chapter is the global disaster film. These movies, including Independence Day, Armageddon, Deep Impact, The Day After Tomorrow, War of the Worlds and 2012 all align a threat to the world with familial dysfunction, implying that the real tragedy is the collapse of the American family, a consistent concern that has spanned the decades from 1990 onwards. The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

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can also be included in this group as, although it is arguably a sci-fi film that contains elements of disaster rather than a disaster film, a threat to humanity is prevented alongside the recuperation of a damaged family. While this film has much in common with its full-on disaster film counterparts, the differing gender politics and its more liberal approach to the family are significant.

Backlash and Gender Politics in Post-1990s Cinema The family narratives of the global disaster films place emphasis on the role of the father, with films such as Armageddon, The Day After Tomorrow, War of the Worlds and, to some extent, 2012 positing the father in the role of hero. Even when the father is not the hero, he is central to the narrative, as dysfunctional relationships with him are the cause of family troubles (that are reconciled through the course of the film/action) in disaster films including Armageddon, Deep Impact, Independence Day, War of the Worlds and 2012, demonstrating that this is a genre concerned with patriarchy and restoring the father. Although there are diverse family relationships, father–son narratives prevail, particularly in Roland Emmerich’s disaster films (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012). Bruzzi recognizes a propensity towards ‘traditional’ patriarchal narratives in the father/son films of the 1990s, noting that movies such as Apollo 13 (1995) and Gladiator (2000) were ideologically conservative and demonstrated a ‘nostalgic adherence to Hollywood generic orthodoxy, self-consciously referencing older genres’20 such as the epic, the father–son melodrama or the crisis movie. The revival of the disaster film, with its patriarchal narratives – and a number of very self-conscious fatherson storylines, particularly in War of the Worlds and The Day After Tomorrow – surely echoes this return to conservative ideology. The very need for men to prove themselves as heroes in the face of disaster or crisis suggests a backlash to the shift in early 1990s Hollywood, noted by Jeffords, towards a softer, less hard-bodied masculinity. Jeffords suggests that 1991 was the ‘year of the transformed U.S. man’, adding: [T]here’s hardly a mainstream Hollywood film from that year with a significant male role that does not in some ways reinforce an image that the hard-fighting, weapon-wielding, independent, muscular, and heroic men of the eighties . . . have disappeared and are being replaced by the more sensitive, nurturing, protective family men of the nineties.21

Although the hegemonic ideal of the muscular hero is superseded in the 1990s, it is by a re-formed, ‘new man’ whose interest in paternity, albeit a nurturing paternity, evokes a different sort of patriarchal power. The conservative or traditional attitudes of the majority of disaster films provide key texts for analysing questions of a ‘backlash’ in attitudes towards gender 104

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and the family, which remains prominent in disaster films made post-9/11. As Faludi says: ‘In the aftermath of the attacks, the then cultural troika of media, entertainment and advertising declared the post-9/11 age an era of neofifties nuclear family “togetherness,” redomesticated femininity and reconstructed Cold War manhood.’22 This involved an ideological return to traditional notions of masculinity, and women as victims to be saved. The global disaster films represent an interesting dichotomy in terms of masculinity. As Gallagher suggests, action-melodramas provide escapism for the modern, capitalist man whose responsibilities lie as breadwinner and father, offering a sort of primal fantasy of heroic, active masculinity.23 Gallagher is primarily discussing True Lies (1994), in which the on-screen father and the figure of identification for male viewers fulfils this fantasy. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a husband and father who masquerades as a salesman but is actually an undercover spy. This theory translates to the global disaster films, in particular Armageddon, in which Bruce Willis, another action figure of the hard-bodied cinema of 1980s Hollywood, stars as Harry Stamper, the active paternal hero, with a pointedly masculine job (he runs an oil rig). Although made prior to 9/11, the film evokes Faludi’s reading of the post-9/11 rhetoric that saw women as in need of saving, suggesting that this rhetoric is more widespread, and that a backlash had begun well before the September 11 attacks. In this film the plight of America (and indeed the world) is frequently aligned with Harry’s daughter Grace (Liv Tyler) – the pain and worry of the nation is seen through her face as she waits at NASA to hear news from the two shuttles; she personifies the feelings of the rest of the world. Harry is an oil-driller who is called in by NASA when they need assistance drilling into an asteroid heading towards earth, the aim of the mission being to detonate the asteroid from inside, avoiding collision and catastrophe. Harry’s motivation for the mission is as much to save his daughter as it is to save the planet. The film ends with Harry’s final act of paternal sacrifice and protection: he remains on the asteroid to detonate the nuclear bomb, a role initially reserved for AJ (Ben Affleck), his daughter’s boyfriend, allowing him to not only protect the daughter, but also offer her a romantic future. The active and protective father is further visible in the figure of President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) in Independence Day, who returns to his military roots in an air strike against attacking aliens – again saving the nation, the world and his young daughter. Both War of the Worlds and The Day After Tomorrow present the same possibilities, as fathers take naturally to the role of ‘action’ hero. In the former, Ray (Tom Cruise) sets out on a vigilante quest to protect his children, but specifically his daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning), once again aligning action with protection of the helpless daughter. Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) similarly proves himself capable in The Day After Tomorrow as he defies the elements to rescue his son who is trapped in the freezing temperatures of New York City. However, here, although the father is used to extreme conditions, working as a climatologist,

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it is his cerebral qualities that make him the film’s hero; through his knowledge of weather systems he is able to advise the government and trek through a snow covered North America to rescue his son, who is stranded with his schoolmates. The less active, more cerebral, father-hero is central to 2012, in which Jackson Curtis ( John Cusack) becomes the unlikely saviour of his family. Jackson’s awkwardness affects his masculinity and role as a father. From the outset it is clear that Jackson is not the ideal action hero, as he takes his children camping in a limo (he is a chauffeur) when his own car will not start. The inappropriateness of the vehicle as it rattles through Yellowstone Park echoes Jackson’s own uneasiness in the role of father and hero. Indeed it transpires, as the extended family become embroiled in the action, that the mother’s new partner can fly a plane: a true hero’s mode of transport. Jackson’s emasculation arises not only in his lack of action-man credentials, but also in his lack of career success – he is the author of a vastly unsuccessful novel, Farewell Atlantis, that tells the plight of human kindness in the face of adversity. This is again in contrast to the highly successful career of the mother’s boyfriend, Gordon (Thomas McCarthy), who is a plastic surgeon working in cosmetics. His capitalist profession is linked to virile sexuality – it is made clear he performs breast enhancements – and this is cemented by his active masculinity. Although Gordon and Jackson are given equal status as action heroes (neither is particularly heroic, but under duress both become equally capable), Jackson’s sense of humanity is more readily exploited. When Gordon, piloting a place that provides the family’s escape, is ready to take off from an erupting Yellowstone Park, he appears more eager to leave Jackson behind than Jackson is to leave him when the roles are reversed later. In a convoluted and unlikely plot, Gordon has helped fly a plane to China (where the family hope to board an ark to freedom as the world faces a catastrophic tsunami), and here the family wait for him to join them before exiting the plane. The roles are reversed in this instance so that the active skills Gordon once provided in protecting the family are, at this point, no longer required, and it is the thoughtful and caring Jackson who takes control as family protector. Gordon, then, becomes surplus to requirements just before he faces an early demise. Jackson learns from Gordon to be more actively masculine and protective, but then, as the biological father, supersedes him in the paternal, nurturing role. Although the mother is a capable and educated woman, the film posits her as victim and places her in a placid position, so that men are, once again, perceived as the protectors of the family.

Action Cinema and the Melodramatic Tradition The focus on family narratives within action aligns the masculinist genre of actionadventure cinema with the feminized domestic melodrama, as noted by various critics including Steve Neale, Gallagher and Langford.24 Disaster films and other adventure genres have been discussed as action melodrama due to the way in 106

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which they integrate spectacular visuals with a domestic/family narrative. For example, Gallagher notes of True Lies, ‘The film’s linkage of active and domestic realms follows a pattern established in Hollywood melodramas: as in melodrama, the action-film episode derives its impact from the stylistic excess and from its conflation of social and personal spaces.’25 Both Gallagher and, separately, Langford suggest that the explosive visuals in action cinema can be linked to the tensions in mise-en-sc`ene typical of melodramas – exemplified by the films of Douglas Sirk, such as All That Heaven Allows (1955), Written on the Wind (1956) and Imitation of Life (1959), in which visual tension is coupled with narratives of family dysfunction and recuperation. Nevertheless, the link between ‘male’ genres and the melodrama is not new. Neale cites the history of the term – within the Hollywood film industry rather than academia – and notes that in the past melodrama has most readily been associated with thrillers and violent films.26 As classical Hollywood director King Vidor said on the subject: ‘If you have villains, you have melodrama.’27 While a film such as Rebel Without a Cause might be deemed by scholars to be melodrama due to its family narrative, it was considered melodrama by critics of the time because of its ‘startling, if vividly theatrical, scenes (a knife fight, a “chicken” race with stolen cars) which all offer the full quota of thrills to seekers after the sensational’.28 Neale distinguishes between these types of melodrama and the more readily understood category of the women’s film. The former, he suggests, typically had little or no interest in romance or passion, whereas women’s melodramas were built upon this.29 What is clear in contemporary cinema, as noted by Langford, who suggests that the action melodrama is an amalgamation of forms,30 is that the two notions of the genre have become combined, providing a melodrama that is full of thrills but also contains romance and passion. Regardless of its heritage, one thing that Neale does emphasize is that melodramas of any origin can be defined or identified by ‘intensity of feeling’31 both in terms of the feelings the films provoke in the audience and the intensity of feeling the characters display. This is reiterated in the work of Gallagher, who describes True Lies as ‘utopian’ due to its intense overcoming of the dreary.32 The intense emotion displayed in the family narratives of contemporary actionmelodramas is symptomatic of the pathos of the women’s film. Gallagher argues that: ‘Despite their masculinist overtones, contemporary action films formally and narratively follow patterns developed in popular media geared towards women rather than men.’33 King reiterates a ‘feminizing’ of action narratives through the introduction of domestic/family centred storylines; suggesting that Deep Impact is oriented towards a female audience due to its emotional melodramatic narrative, whereas the excessive spectacle and action narrative of Armageddon aligns the film more easily with a male audience.34 Although there is clearly an argument that the ‘domestic’ family narratives of these films are part of a feminizing of the genre, the majority of contemporary disaster films focus on male familial drama

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or crisis providing a male family melodrama. Indeed, as King notes: ‘This new generic category of “action fathering” locates the durable male-mastery narrative in a popular form that, historically, has disproportionately appealed to women audiences.’35 While Gallagher suggests that action-melodramas provide an outlet for men in capitalist society to realize their primal desires by identifying with the action on-screen,36 there is an increasing shift towards the good hero as good father – and, in fact, the contemporary global disaster films have very little to do with active, physical masculinity and escaping domesticity, and more to do with teaching men how to be good fathers (especially if one accepts Kr¨amer’s suggestion that films can function as social work for the audience37 ). Although male-centred (family) melodramas are not new – Rebel Without a Cause, for example, is a prime example of the concern with masculine family relationships in Hollywood melodrama – the contemporary action melodramas evoke the traditions of female-led family melodramas from the first part of the twentieth century such as Stella Dallas or Letter from an Unknown Woman, in which transgression from the natural role was punished and mothers were required to make sacrifices for the good of their children or family. Within the actionmelodramas paternal sacrifice is a frequent device, as demonstrated by Armageddon, Independence Day and 2012, in which fathers give up their lives for the good of the cause – usually both the nation, if not the planet, and the family.

Paternal Sacrifice The centrality of the father in these narratives is, of course, nothing new, but the narrative created around paternal sacrifice and protection is significant. The death of Harry at the close of Armageddon is surely one of the most prominent moments of paternal sacrifice in the global disaster films. As Langford notes of this moment: Harry’s death arguably supersedes the destruction of the asteroid and the salvation of the planet as the major affective element and the ultimate climax of the film . . . no phenomenon is of more global or even cosmic significance than the death of [the film’s] star.38

While for Langford the cataclysmic event is the death of the star, within the film it is the death of the father that creates pathos. The father’s sacrifice here is for both the good of the planet/nation and the good of the daughter. Although Grace loses her father, Harry saves AJ, her fianc´e, who was prepared to give his life for the mission. The father’s sacrifice, then, allows for the continuation of the nuclear family – something the film makes clear as the closing credits are accompanied by footage of Grace and AJ’s ‘wedding video’. The father’s death is a symbolic moment in the family narrative, for it is only through death that he can redeem himself in 108

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the eyes of his daughter. Although Grace and Harry have a close relationship, they antagonize one another, and Harry had been violently opposed to her relationship with AJ (threatening the boyfriend rather than the daughter). It is once AJ has proved himself as a man, by successfully drilling into the asteroid and by being prepared to sacrifice himself for his country, thus aligning himself with the father by sharing his competencies, that Harry finally accepts him as a suitor for Grace, and announces that he is proud of the surrogate son. Here then, martyrdom or sacrifice is linked closely to masculinity. By switching places with AJ, Harry’s sacrifice is also coded as for the good of the family – his family being Grace – sacrificing his own life so she can live hers more fully. Sacrificial paternal death is repeated in 2012, in which it is also linked to the father’s redemption in the eyes of the daughter. As President Wilson (Danny Glover) tells his daughter, Laura (Thandie Newton), he will be staying behind to perish with his country rather than joining her on an ark to safety, he explains that he wants to remain in the USA and address the nation about their impending fate so that ‘a mother can comfort her children and a father can ask his daughter for forgiveness’. He is implicitly asking his daughter for forgiveness here (for being a neglectful father, and one involved in the cover-up of the forthcoming disaster), aligning the plight of family and nation. The father’s redemption comes at a moment of sacrifice, and, as with Armageddon, paves the way for the daughter’s final romance. Here it is with scientist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), with whom Laura seeks solace as they depart for the ark, leaving her father behind to perish. Paternal deaths are rife in 2012, and frequently associated with the repairing of damaged family ties within the film’s various subplots. For example, jazz musician Tony Delgato (George Segal) finally calls his estranged son before his death on a cruise liner (in the first wave of the catastrophic tsunami). Although it appears the son also perishes before the bond can be fully repaired, Tony is able to speak to his granddaughter for the first time, and she tells her father that Tony has called. The self-involved Yuri (Zlatko Buric), a Russian businessman for whom Jackson works as a chauffeur, also dies a sacrificial death as he helps his sons to safety boarding the ark. This marks a moment of change, as it is the first time Yuri appears to be caring; sacrificing himself for the good of the family. The notion of sacrifice evokes the narratives of maternal melodrama, in which women had to make sacrifices – not necessarily giving their lives, but sacrificing their own needs and desires for the sake of the family, as in Stella Dallas, in which the mother is required to sacrifice her role in the daughter’s life in order to open up opportunities for upwards mobility that she herself never had. Global disaster narratives may appear to judge paternity with the same harsh criteria as maternity has traditionally suffered – it was those mothers who did not inhabit the appropriate feminine or class position who were punished by the patriarchal

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order. Yet, rather than recognizing that fathers face similar pressures to mothers, there is ambiguity. The overriding concern with fatherhood is also in keeping with patriarchal structures and conservative attitudes to family decline. Discourses surrounding American family values remain greatly concerned with fathers being present and being strong role models. This is seen across the political spectrum – in the right wing work of Mary Eberstadt39 and William J. Bennett,40 in the more languid and poetic writings of Bly,41 and in public politics, such as President Obama’s ‘fatherhood pledge’, supported by the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, that calls upon American fathers to ‘pledge that we’ll do everything we can to be there for our children and for young people whose fathers are not around’.42 Having taken the pledge, men receive ‘updates, tips and resources from fatherhood organizations, prominent dads and other supporters of responsible fatherhood’.43 This overt concern for fatherhood and strong paternal role models across the political spectrum is echoed in the global disaster films through the prominence of the President as a symbolic, and often actual, fatherfigure.

Fathers-in-Chief The president plays a significant role in a number of action/disaster films, frequently linking the family and politics, not least because all the presidents of the global disaster films are male, and several of them are fathers. This is not a narrative trait exclusive to the global disaster films, as other action-disaster movies such as Air Force One (1997) have included the president-as-father in narratives that linked disaster to family threat. In all these films the president-as-father becomes the heroic ideal, a protector and saviour of family and nation, and, in the global disaster films, frequently the world as well. He is the personification of successful, powerful masculinity in a role where ‘caring’ is linked to these masculine traits. In Independence Day, President Whitmore’s heroic persona is linked to his paternity. He becomes a single father after his wife is lost (punished by death for her failure to uphold a more traditional and submissive feminine role). The father and daughter are frequently in shot together, while the mother and daughter do not share screen time until the mother is on her deathbed. The father’s paternal care is linked to his care for his country. Indeed of all the disaster film presidents, Whitmore is the one who provides the most stirring and jingoistic speech about survival, positing him as caring patriarch for a nation, and aligning fatherhood with the presidency. This is, of course, not the case in all of the disaster films, as not every president is a father, or present in the narrative at all – War of the Worlds, in particular, appears, initially, to situate its action well away from the political sphere. Although there is no political presence per se, the film’s oppressive military presence represents state authority as problematic.44 Both Grist and Hoberman see echoes of political figures in the characters of Ray and Ogilvy (Tim Robbins). 110

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Whereas Grist reads Ogilvy as an allegory of George W. Bush, personifying the failure of aggressive tactics,45 Hoberman believes that Ray’s transformation into a family leader at a time of crisis is reminiscent of Bush’s transformation into worthy president in the wake of the September 11 attacks.46 These differing readings have implications for the way in which the film’s attitude towards the family can be understood. The close of War of the Worlds sees Ray return his daughter safely to her mother (and step-father)’s home, but he is not invited inside. The family reconciliation outside the house is conciliatory but not celebratory. In the conservative reading of the narrative, whereby Ray represents a Bush-like figure, the film is pessimistic, aligning an attack on America with the permanent damaging of the nuclear family. If Ray is seen as a counter-cultural figure, defeating Ogilvy and thus Bush, Grist suggests that the film can be read as symptomatic of Hollywood cinema that has, since 2000, ‘functioned from an oppositional leftliberal position’.47 The lack of family reconciliation being here a marker for change: the nuclear family does not have to remain intact. However, Grist goes on to suggest that Ray’s lack of entry into the home can be aligned to Ethan ( John Wayne)’s continued banishment at the close of The Searchers (1956), and is linked to class status – his working-class roots threaten the middle-class family, further complicating attitudes towards the family. Regardless of political position, the film has succeeded in transforming its problematic father into a capable, active and caring man who, while not reintegrated into the family unit, has taken a step closer to hegemonic notions of masculinity and paternal responsibility. Karen Schneider notes the ambiguity of Independence Day’s politics, suggesting that the overplaying of heroism is able to ‘mockingly neutralize the film’s paternalistic, nationalistic discourse’.48 Her claim, that by partaking in the air assault the president ‘validates former President George Bush’s “kick butt” campaign’, demonstrating the need to have a ‘real man’ in the White House,49 similarly highlights ambiguity in the film’s politics. Although Bruzzi recognizes similarities to JFK,50 President Whitmore is a Clinton-esque figure, evidenced through his relationship with a career-oriented wife and a young daughter, as well as being a younger presidential figure. Therefore it might be easy to assume that the president is a loosely liberal character,51 cemented by public opinion within the film that sees him as a ‘soft’ man – a news story that claims ‘we elected a warrior and we got a wimp’ is overheard in the first part of the film. While he evokes the more liberal leadership of Clinton, and certainly evokes the ‘new man’ in his tender relationship as apparent sole carer for his young daughter, Whitmore is celebrated most fully when he exhorts the ideology/characteristics of Reaganite entertainment: active, forceful and aggressive masculinity. It is as the ‘warrior’ pilot that he gains support and respect, not as the ‘wimpy’ cerebral politician. This is particularly evident in his rousing speech before the final air-battle against the aliens. Here the president is at his most authoritative, standing next to a fighter jet and calling on all of ‘mankind’. Although describing the separation between mankind and aliens, this also draws

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attention to his ability to command a male space – the airfield, dominated by male military personnel, seen as the camera pans over a sea of almost exclusively male faces all ready to save the planet, with the President as the patriarch of the group. Although here Whitmore leads a group of men into battle, there is a tension in his character, made clear through the softer relationship with his daughter. As such he moves away from the Reaganite hero, the hard-bodied action man that John Shelton Lawrence believes him to be,52 and instead evokes the more sensitive 1990s hero that Jeffords recognizes have dominated action films of the period.53 The father-daughter relationship necessarily softens the former war hero; as Secunda argues, the father is most likely to ‘yield to sentiment’ when ‘discussing his adored little girl’.54 Although the gender politics of the film elevate patriarchy and male heroism, it is more inclusive in its treatment of race, providing an ethnically diverse cast. As Schneider notes, the main cast consists of Jewish, African-American and white families, but they are all presided over by the ‘great white father’.55 This great white father is placed in the role of moral guide: his speech is delivered on 4 July, and, as he encourages his troops to fight once again for their independence, he is aligned with America’s founding fathers, becoming a symbol of morality and justice. That said, the speech occurs at a significant moment in the film. Immediately prior to this, the Black family is restored, with Steven (Will Smith) marrying his fianc´ee, Jasmine (Vivacia A. Fox), and providing a complete nuclear, if not biological, family for her son. Following the speech there is another tender moment, this time between Jewish father and son David ( Jeff Goldblum) and Julius ( Judd Hirsch), who had previously antagonized one another, but now the father announces how proud he is of the son. While the ethnic families are reconciling, the great white father’s family has been irrevocably damaged by the death of the mother. This does not necessarily undermine the white father; rather he is able to prove himself heroic as an action man, and as a single-father – a role frequently played out in 1990s disaster films. Schneider draws attention to the single-father-as-hero as a trope exploited by films such as The Lost World (1997) and Volcano, allowing single dads to usurp the role single mothers had previously taken in family action films.56 The need to repair those non-white families (while the white father is capable of coping alone) is reminiscent of discourses around ethnic fathers as problematic. As Bruzzi writes ‘since the publication in 1965 of the controversial Moynihan report into the Black American family, the community’s main “problem” has been perceived to be its lack of good fathers’.57 More recently, a broader range of non-white fathers have been targeted in advertising campaigns, created by The Administration for Children and Families and The Office of Family Assistance, that urge men to spend more time with their children. In the first round of advertisements created in 2008, white fathers were the subject of posters, along with African-American and Hispanic fathers. In 2010, apparently in a bid to include all

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ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds, a renewed campaign used images of Asian-American, American-Indian and Hispanic fathers, asking them to ‘take time to be a dad today’.58 The need to ‘improve’ fathers is linked closely to politics, as Barack Obama has used his influence as president to call on American fathers, and in particular African-American fathers, to take more responsibility.59 While the white family and the white father has been held in high esteem, both Hollywood and the USA have had the foresight to elect a Black American president. However, as Hoberman demonstrates, ‘the underlying condition’ for a Black presidency in Hollywood is that ‘it is precipitated by, or perhaps precipitates a catastrophic event. According to the movies, an African-American in the White House signifies disaster.’60 This is particularly evident as the Black presidents of the disaster films exist in films in which the disaster is only partially diverted and in which America is a site of major destruction – Danny Glover’s President Wilson sees the whole of the USA destroyed as the Black patriarch becomes the last ever president. In Deep Impact a tsunami washes away the eastern states of America, and the final image of Morgan Freeman’s president sees him addressing the nation in front of a devastated White House that is now being rebuilt, the emblematic ‘home’ of the USA having been destroyed during the tenure of the Black president. While the Black president in both films is a sympathetic character, and in 2012 is depicted as a good, albeit distant, father, this link between the destruction of the nation, the house and the Black father cannot help but conjure up reactionary attitudes towards Black patriarchy that have been perpetuated in US cultural politics and continue to be discussed by family values campaigners on both sides of the political divide. The absent African-American father is an image cemented by Moynihan and reiterated by Obama, who urged black fathers that ‘responsibility doesn’t just end at conception’.61 Indeed, Helene Cooper refers to Obama as the ‘father-in-chief’,62 a role he actively performs. Much was made by the press of an image that had been hanging in the White House longer than is customary for such photographs, of President Obama bending down so a young African-American boy could feel his hair,63 drawing attention to shared ethnicity and the president’s paternal qualities. Furthermore, Obama has written extensively about what good fatherhood means, and his own longing for a father. Although celebrating the nuclear family, Obama recognizes the pressures modern fathers feel, writing ‘I realize I’m not alone in this.’64 As well as father-in-chief, then, he also actively performs the role of everyman, or everyfather, of contemporary America. This image of the compassionate, Black father-in-chief is repeated in 2012, with President Wilson clearly constructed in Obama’s image as a nurturing father to his daughter, aware of his fallibility. Wilson’s nurturing extends beyond his own family relationships: once Washington DC has been destroyed, he remains on the ground, helping a young child find their mother – mucking in as an ‘ordinary guy’. Notably in this scene, his ash-covered face renders the compassionate president quite literally white.

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Figure 12. The final shot of Deep Impact (1998) is of the devastated White House.

The Space Race, Kennedy, Nostalgia and the Post-War Boom Writing in 1998, Bruzzi discusses Hollywood’s version of the president as tied to one of two polar opposites – either evoking the heroic and charming John F. Kennedy or the underhanded Richard Nixon.65 In recent years it is surely possible to add the liberal and relaxed Black, Obama-like president, whose Hollywood incarnation arguably preceded the swearing in of Obama himself. The image of Kennedy still dominates Hollywood’s representation of the president, often lending a nostalgia to the role, and to the narratives more broadly. Moreover, as Gregory Frame argues: ‘In Freudian terms . . . Kennedy’s death and the subsequent mythologization of his youthful image enabled him to become the idealized father to the later generation of Americans.’66 Even when the president is not really part of the narrative, the nostalgic image of Kennedy remains. Armageddon does not really include the president in its narrative – he is a shadowy figure who is occasionally seen and only included in the story as the ‘bad guy’ who forces NASA to attempt to detonate the nuclear weapon while the astronauts are still on the asteroid. Bad presidents in this and other disaster films are those who threaten the family; here the president is happy to destroy Grace’s current and future families (her father and fianc´e), and in The Day After Tomorrow the equally stubborn and heartless vicepresident (the president is part of the narrative, but is a weak leader who frequently defers to his more unfeeling deputy) orders the evacuation of the southern states of the USA, seemingly leaving Jack Hall’s son Sam ( Jake Gyllenhaal) to perish in freezing New York. Although the president is a problematic character, Armageddon focuses its energies on a much more positive role model. The montage sequence that follows the destruction of the asteroid focuses on a mural of Kennedy and the word ‘Life’, intrinsically linking the image of one specific president to the saving of the world. The reference to Kennedy here is significant for a number of reasons. Not only does it strike a contrast to the film’s own largely absent president, the implication being that if Kennedy were still president he would not have tried 114

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to detonate the bomb, it also surely aligns the premature death of the film’s star and father Harry Stamper with Kennedy’s own untimely death, thus depicting Harry as the ideal father, speaking volumes of the film’s nostalgic attitude towards masculinity and the family. It should be no surprise that Kennedy is the resounding image of the US presidency in a film dealing with space travel/exploration, as he is undoubtedly the president most readily associated with the space race following his 25 May 1961 speech to Congress announcing America’s intention to go to the moon. Both Armageddon and Deep Impact introduce space travel alongside varying images of nostalgia. Armageddon is peppered with montage sequences of communities and cities around the world preparing for the worst, and celebrating when disaster is averted. The film makes a nod to other nations, but the US experience remains its central focus, in sequences shot in muted tones in an America that seems ageless; there are no trappings of modernity, but rather a 1950s styling in both costume and mise-en-sc`ene, drawing on nostalgia for an American past that is widely perceived to have been as wholesome and family-oriented as it was prosperous. There is a clear reference to post-war America, a time of promise and a belief in the American dream, that Faludi calls ‘the era of the boy’,67 a sentiment she recognizes in President Kennedy’s 1960 address to the Democratic National Convention: He spoke not of the populace at large but principally of ‘young men’ – ‘young men who are coming to power,’ ‘young men who can cast off the old slogans and the old delusions.’ What Kennedy implicitly presented was not so much a political platform as a new rite of passage for an untested male generation . . . Kennedy understood that it was not enough for fathers to win the world for their sons; the sons had to feel they had won it for themselves.68

This need for the sons of the baby boom to be actively heroic is certainly recognized in the narratives of Armageddon and Deep Impact, as the fathers Harry Stamper and Spurgeon ‘Fish’ Tanner (Robert Duvall) take on the ultimate heroic role as American astronauts. In Armageddon, nostalgia is linked to nation and family. The montage that follows the destruction of the asteroid, and reprieve for the people of earth, shows families leaning out a window beneath the American flag – a less-than subtle celebration of heritage and values. It is most frequently in the montage shots of America that we see family groups, allowing these nostalgic images to link heritage and family to the USA. Nostalgia, nation and a celebration of the family are all echoed in the representation of Grace; as her romantic relationship develops her costuming becomes more ‘retro’; she is frequently clad in girlish floral dresses with button-down fronts. Her wedding dress, although slightly more modern, has a seventies feel, and the wedding home video that plays over the closing credits is grainy, indeed the very nature of home video-style footage itself is nostalgic. The 115

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Figure 13. Armageddon (1998) is peppered with nostalgic images of America.

wedding of Grace and AJ marks the continuation of the family, a union that occurs once Harry has given his permission for the surrogate son to marry the daughter. The giving away of the daughter itself represents a regressively nostalgic view of the family, in which the father literally hands over the daughter in marriage – one criticized by feminist Jessica Valenti, who sees this practice as signifying ownership of the daughter/wife.69 Furthermore the style of the home video necessarily links nostalgia to the family – although the marriage represents the future of the family, it is visually linked to the past. Deep Impact also depicts nostalgia for the post-war era, although here it is presented through narrative rather than hyperbolic imagery. In this instance there is no reference to JFK in imagery or presidential similarities, but rather nostalgia for the Kennedy years comes through explicit reference to the space race, personified by the character of Spurgeon ‘Fish’ Tanner. Fish is a former astronaut from the golden age of space travel drafted in to join a mission of much younger players, he is the only one with experience of actual space travel. Fish’s criticism of the simulators the new recruits have learned to fly and land in is symptomatic of a favouring of the ‘old way’ of doing things. The character becomes the overriding patriarch of the crew – and a sacrificial father, as it is he who suggests that they complete a mission that will result in their deaths. Having faced technical difficulties trying to intercept the asteroid, their only option is to land on its surface and detonate the nuclear bombs, a suicide mission, as the crew do not have enough fuel to return home. This ultimately saves the American nation and the entire world. The narrative that celebrates Fish also endorses his ideologies; he is an action man who has fathered two sons, both of whom are now in the military, epitomizing the post-war model of heroic masculinity that Kennedy endorsed. His devotion to his sons and his late wife further re-enforces the strong family values of this model of American manhood. The father’s sacrifice here, and in Armageddon, demonstrates that the ultimate paternal hero is the ‘real’ man, who is willing to die to protect both family and nation. 116

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Reference to Kennedy appears again in a less nostalgic manner in 2012. Morgan Freeman’s President Wilson elects to stay behind and die with the nation he has led, rather than take up a passage to safety. He clearly announces that he is the ‘last president of the United States’, making him a historically significant (fictional) president. Wilson’s untimely death comes as a tsunami washes an aircraft carrier towards him emblazoned with the name USS John F. Kennedy. Aside from the irony of the favourite president of modern America ‘killing’ its last, in the final moments of the US presidency there is, once again, a reminder of Kennedy. The death, and historical significance, of the two presidents is linked. It cannot be ignored that Glover’s President Wilson is also linked to his namesake, President Woodrow Wilson, and is thus representative of liberal politics. This is in contrast to Hoberman’s reading of the Black president as linked to disaster and the destruction of the nation. Although the nation does perish here, it is under the leadership of a progressive man who is not afraid to sacrifice himself for the good of his nation and family. Indeed, as John E. O’Connor and Peter C. Rollins explain of Deep Impact, the Black president allows politics to be portrayed as ‘considerably more open that it has been in reality’.70 The very image of the African-American president is surely itself liberal, and Wilson’s attitude to office in 2012 cements this; he is an emotional and thoughtful leader, aware of his mistakes and humble enough to help ordinary people in the face of disaster. Although in the majority of the global disaster films the president is representative of both patriarchal importance and nostalgia for a patriarchal family, The Day the Earth Stood Still is markedly set apart from this through the removal of its president and vice-president from the action. They are instead stowed in a ‘secure location’, handing over the reins of governmental authority to the female Secretary for Defense Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates). The film challenges the family values and the patriarchal concerns of the other global disaster films by focusing largely on its female characters, who display a different array of competencies to the action men and presidents, but still manage to avert disaster and protect the family.

Women in Action-Melodrama As Schneider notes, when the family first began to emerge in action cinema in the 1990s, women took on a central role, as the ‘hard’ female heroes of action franchises became mothers in Terminator 2 and Alien 3 (1992).71 This has continued more recently, as is demonstrated in the discussion of Sky Kids, The Incredibles and Sky High in Chapter 3. Although the mother in these films, and in The River Wild (see Chapter 2), are not the sole saviours of their families, and men are often still afforded the role of family protector, women still retain agency in family-action narratives. Yet Schneider argues that this changed with the disaster film cycles of the 1990s and early 2000s, as the recuperation of the family is now more closely linked to masculinity and the father as action hero: ‘Although this move to the 117

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paternal and domestic in the action-thriller began with a nod to single moms, the focus has shifted to the beleaguered but heroic single dad.’72 This is certainly demonstrable in the global disaster films, in which women frequently take on the role of placid, threatened characters, in distinct contrast to Keane’s analysis of 1970s disaster films, in which women, teenagers and children were less frequently under threat.73 What remains in this genre, then, is a regressive representation of femininity in which it retains traditional associations. This is particularly clear in the figure of the helpless daughter, personified by Rachel, who spent much of War of the Worlds screaming, and who is carried back to the (mother’s) home by the father in the closing moments of the film, a weak and limp female figure in the arms of the protective patriarch. The mother is missing from this film (reminiscent of Harwood’s assertion that 1980s mothers were largely absent or placid characters in action films,74 drawing parallels between this film and Spielberg’s earlier offerings such as E.T. or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). The same roles – as either absent or placid – are reserved for mothers in Armageddon and to some extent The Day After Tomorrow. In the latter, the mother is present, but she is separated from the action – all she can do is wait, redundantly, for news that the father has successfully located, and rescued, the son. Although her job as a paediatrician allows her to save the lives of other people’s children, it is a nurturing role, aligned with the traditional traits of femininity. Once again she is required to placidly wait for someone else to do the rescuing, as her patient, a young cancer sufferer, cannot be moved without special transport. The ambulance is held up by the inclement weather conditions, and the mother can do nothing until help arrives. The placid mother reappears in 2012. Kate (Amanda Peet) had attended medical school before becoming a mother, which is now her full time role. She is helpless, quiet and feminine, in both behaviour and dress. Female weakness is similarly present through Kate and Jackson’s daughter Lilly (Morgan Lily), who is emotionally scarred by her parents’ divorce, and at the age of seven still wets the bed. There is a clear division between the active men and the passive women and children of 2012. As the band of refugees makes its way from the USA to China on a stolen cargo plane, men are privy to the scenes of destruction below while women are kept away from it. The film depicts women as wholesome and honest; Kate lives in the domestic bliss of a white picket fenced neighbourhood, the president’s daughter, Laura, is enraged at her father for keeping the nation’s escape plans a secret from ordinary people in favour of selling seats to the highest bidder (rather than following his late wife’s request that they have a lottery), and even busty blonde Tamara (Beatrice Rosen) reveals she only had a breast enhancement at the behest of her rich boyfriend, Yuri, explaining that she preferred her original appearance. In the Indian-based strain of the narrative, scientist Satnam ( Jimi Mistry)’s wife is announced to be a terrible cook (reminiscent of 1980s action films, in particular Lethal Weapon, in which the domestic mother is a terrible chef ), but despite this lack of culinary skills, the wife has allegedly become more

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beautiful as time has passed. It seems the only role women can perform well is a decorative one. Elsewhere in the global disaster films, women who initially occupy roles that are not traditionally feminine are given the opportunity to transform themselves. This is true of Jasmine in Independence Day, as a stripper and single-mother she challenges the maternal stereotype, yet as her career has been purely to provide for her son, she is easily forgiven. This reiterates Williams’ assertion that women are forgiven for transgressing their natural role, as long as it is for the good of the family.75 Moreover, in marrying Steven she recreates a nuclear family for her son. This is in distinct contrast to the First Lady, who continues to put her professional life before the good of her family and consequently perishes. Gender roles are relatively staid in the majority of global disaster films, and it is The Day the Earth Stood Still which provides the most progressive representation of motherhood and the family. The premise of the film is that the human race has not taken enough care of the Earth and therefore, in order to save the planet, an alien invasion is set to wipe out all its human inhabitants. This can be read as a critique of patriarchal power/control in a narrative in which the US government is represented by the female Secretary for Defense, while the male president and vicepresident are in hiding. Female political power is echoed by a female head of the household in the form of Helen Benson ( Jennifer Connelly). Both women manage to stave off the attack using their more ‘feminine’ skills and attributes, in particular compassion, to convince the invading aliens, represented by Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) that humankind is worth saving. The film resonates with King’s declaration that Deep Impact provides a more feminized disaster film than Armageddon, focusing on melodrama rather than spectacular action. This is certainly true of The Day the Earth Stood Still, a film that swaps hyperbolic visuals for a more thoughtful and low-key narrative. This feminizing of the narrative and mise-en-sc`ene is paired with feminizing of the film’s key players, and of the skills required to end the alien invasion. Helen becomes embroiled in the ‘disaster’ of the film (an alien arriving on Earth) as she is a leading scientist, immediately setting her apart from the majority of women in the global disaster films, who take on nurturing roles or soft jobs. In The Day the Earth Stood Still it is not just the woman’s profession but also her familial status that differs. Although Helen has a relatively ‘masculine’ profession, it is not through her scientific discoveries that she is able to intervene and stop Klaatu’s plans to extinguish human life, but it is through her compassionate nature that she both helps Klaatu escape captivity when he has been taken hostage by the US military, and fixes the family. This occurs when Helen convinces her stepson that she wants to be his mother, as he fears she has landed the role by default. As the relationship is cemented, the family is fixed, and it is through this that she, inadvertently, convinces Klaatu of the goodness of humanity, causing him to call off the extinction. The protective mother is a recurring theme of the film. Klaatu’s

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arrival on Earth is linked to a birthing experience, his body is encased in a placentalike substance that is eventually used to heal him when he is injured (by bullets fired by male military personnel), thus the womb becomes a site of power and protection, in direct contrast to the masculine protectors of the patriarchal disaster films. Although the gender politics of The Day the Earth Stood Still align femininity with traditional roles of compassion and nurturing, the film endorses a liberal approach to the family and its reconciliation. It is the reunion of white stepmother and Black stepson that convinces Klaatu to save the human race, a reunion that pointedly rejects the intervention of the white patriarch. Jacob is worried that Klaatu will be coming to live with the family, disrupting their tight-knit unit. Although he is afforded a significant role as protector of the family, Klaatu is never ushered into this group: he saves Jacob’s life, and in so doing sacrifices his own (once mother and son have repaired their relationship). Klaatu, then, does not become part of the family, not just because of his sacrifice, but because the mother and son do not need him. There is no requirement for the reconciliation of a nuclear or biological family in this instance, instead there is a clear rejection of the patriarch.

Family Values While The Day the Earth Stood Still provides a liberal and progressive reconciliation for its non-traditional family, the majority of global disaster films conclude with a nuclear family intact, and it is the protection and recuperation of the family that is at stake in these films. Deep Impact most clearly utilizes the allegory of global devastation for the breakdown of the nuclear family, initially likening the asteroid heading to earth to a mistress. When reporter Jenny Lerner (T´ea Leoni) stumbles across the news that the Secretary of the Treasury is resigning due to a scandal involving ‘Ellie’, she assumes this to be an affair, a threat to his happy nuclear family life. Ellie is in fact an ELE, an extinction level event, aligning the destruction of the Earth with the destruction of the family. The need to save the family is a frequently recurring motif that runs through the film; when Jenny is offered a passage to safety, she gives this up in favour of her boss, a single mother, taking the spot with her young daughter. The film is not just at pains to save the family, traditional family unions also save lives. Teenager Leo Biederman (Elijah Wood), who discovered the comet, marries his high school sweetheart so that she will be able to join him, as he and his family have been offered refuge in underground tunnels. Places are limited and only significant political and scientific figures, or those who won places in a lottery, will be saved. Leo hopes that in marrying Sarah (Leelee Sobieski) she and her family will also be safe. This is not the case, Sarah’s family eventually perish, but she and Leo survive, taking with them her infant sister. The film then puts its faith and 120

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hope in the next generation; in those who are willing to support traditional family values. Such values are particularly evident in Roland Emmerich’s global disaster films, Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, which have become more conservative in their family values as time has progressed. In particular, the central family narrative of 2012 involves a paternal transformation which reflects concerns that the ‘problem’ with modern families is the lack of a strong patriarch. Jackson’s need to prove his capabilities as a parent echo Tasker’s assertion about Daddy Day Care (2003), that when the father promises his son he will not be late home, he of course will, and through the course of the film he will learn the importance of being there on time.76 The mother, a stable character, has no such lesson to learn. This is precisely the premise of 2012. The father must learn to be attentive, on time and involved with his children. It is not just the attentive and involved father that 2012 celebrates, but it is pointedly the biological father, demonstrated through its rather brutal treatment of the stepfather. Gordon is a good fatherfigure, he is a financial provider and a caring man. As the action ensues, he and Jackson have no trouble getting along. Neither is a bad parent, and both take equal roles in saving the family. The film at times seems to celebrate the extended nontraditional family, in particular towards the close when, now living aboard the ark, Alec (Alexandre Haussman) and Oleg (Philippe Haussman), Yuri’s children, offer to share their family dog with Jackson’s daughter Lilly – in this new world there is a new extended, and international, family. However, this utopian view of the family is crushed at various points within the film, in particular in the death of Gordon who is mourned momentarily but seems to be quickly forgotten, as Kate soon declares her love for her ex-husband. This is no surprise. Gordon as extra to requirements is demonstrated earlier on in a moment that is telling about attitudes towards new family set-ups. It is just as Gordon suggests to Kate that they have another baby that the earthquakes in California begin, and the two become separated by a large chasm. The film ironically allows Gordon to deliver the line ‘I feel like there’s something pulling us apart’ just as the earth splits between them. However, it is not their disagreements over Jackson so much as the threat to the nuclear family that is being critiqued here; the film, although sympathetic to the stepfather clearly celebrates the reunion of the biological nuclear family. Although 2012 requires the biological nuclear family to be restored, other global disaster films, while still upholding conservative values, do not so easily reconcile damaged units. Armageddon, though offering potential for continuation of the family through the marriage of Grace and AJ, kills off the patriarch, a move all the more dramatic because of the film’s melodramatic reliance on the family as a trope repeatedly drawn upon in moments of tension. Grace cries ‘that’s my family up there’ when the president decides to remotely detonate the nuclear bomb that the astronauts have taken to the asteroid, thus sentencing them to death (a move

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Figure 14. Grace is frequently framed in front of the American flag in Armageddon.

that is, of course, foiled). The joys of the family are extolled as Harry’s father tells him ‘having a family is like roses in December’, a feeling reiterated in Harry’s last moments, when his life, as it flashes before his eyes, is a montage of images of his beloved daughter growing up: proof, if ever needed, that a life well-lived is defined by family and children. Grace takes on an elevated status here as a symbolic daughter. The film clearly depicts her as the sacred daughter of America, and the true American hero, evident as she is framed against the American flag at numerous points throughout the film: she stands before the flag, saying her farewells to the motley crew of astronauts, and later, as they take off, she is lit angelically glowing in an otherwise silhouetted shot, again in front of the flag. In the NASA control room, fearing for the safety of Harry and AJ, again she appears before the stars and stripes. The jingoistic American-ness of Armageddon cannot be ignored – despite this being a global crisis it would appear no country other than the USA have made efforts to stop it, and NASA is working alone. It is the US president who makes a global address – even in the similarly over-patriotic Independence Day, various national air forces are called in to help take down the aliens. While the family of Harry, Grace and AJ is central to the film, it is not the only family in Armageddon. Chick (Will Patton) also has an estranged wife and child. His heroism reunites this unit, which had previously been severely damaged, with his ex-wife reminding him that the court had ordered he must not visit their house unannounced and refusing to let her son know the identity of his father. Yet, as soon as he becomes an astronaut – a true American hero – the mother tells her son that this is his father, and she and the child are there to greet him when he returns to earth with hugs and kisses. In this instance the heroic action man is inherently the ideal father. The global disaster films constitute a specific group of disaster films predicated on the need to recuperate the nuclear family. Although the nuclear unit continues 122

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to be celebrated by Hollywood, particularly in the mainstream genre of actionadventure cinema, there is a recognition that more diverse set-ups exist. This is evident in the more feminine narrative of The Day the Earth Stood Still, that makes inroads, not so much in its celebration of the single mother, but particularly in its conclusion, that sees the mixed race stepfamily as an adequate unit. It seems pertinent now, then, to turn attention to those other films that have begun to celebrate alternatives and challenge Hollywood’s family values.

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5 Race, Class and Hollywood’s ‘Alternative’ Families The families discussed thus far have adhered to a traditional norm – for the most part they are nuclear, or reform a nuclear family, that is middle-class and white. Although there have been some exceptions, particularly in terms of race, such as the Murtaugh family of Lethal Weapon, the Burnett family of Bad Boys (Chapter 1) who are both African-American, and the Cortez family of Spy Kids (Chapter 3) who are Latino, it is clear that Hollywood’s dominant family model occupies a specific race and class position. The overt concern with the middle-class family allows the values of the American dream to be upheld – most notably upward mobility, a trait that has been linked to a specific celebrated version of the family. As Coontz argues, the long-regarded ‘traditional’ model of the family in which the father goes out to work and the mother rears children and tends to the home was never the normative model. Instead, in the 1950s when the family structured around the breadwinner father was supposedly at its peak, it in fact provided a new family model.1 Coontz extends her arguments by breaking down myths about family self-sufficiency, suggesting that, while the ‘traditional’ 1950s was a decade of astounding upward mobility, this was largely as a result of government subsidies and economic legislation rather than the choices of individual families. Such policies are no longer in place, yet the middle-class, upwardly mobile ideal remains. It is undoubtedly due to this link with the idealized family of the American dream that the middle-class family is so pervasive in contemporary Hollywood narratives. This chapter focuses on two variations that challenge the values of Hollywood’s dominant family model, the middle-class Black family and the working-class family. The main focus of the chapter is the middle-class Black family, a unit that offers challenges to both cultural expectations concerning the intersection of race, class and the American family, but more significantly provides a model that is more liberal than many of its white counterparts. The middle-class Black families can be 125

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separated into those that ignore racial difference and assume a family model based upon the dominant, white, norm, and those that follow this family model but articulate racial difference. These families reverse traditions of representing white and Black families by contrasting a stable African-American nuclear family with a damaged white one. The final group similarly highlights racial difference while depicting the importance of ethnic heritage to the Black family. In all cases there is a concern for paternity that problematizes the role of the African-American mother, but films such as Made in America and Daddy Day Care, while at times problematic in their representation of race, depict modern versions of the American family that are liberal in their politics and values. Before examining the middle-class Black family in more detail it is necessary to pay attention to the working-class family. This model is particularly significant as it represents a threat, not just to the American dream, but also to the nuclear ideal, with many Hollywood representations of poorer families embracing other alternatives, such as the single-parent family or the non-white family. The chapter argues that Hollywood’s representations of the working-class family have a reinvigorated focus on paternity, yet in these cases the father takes on a redemptive role – in contrast to the action-adventure, or disaster films, explored in the previous two chapters, where it was the father who must transform, here the father is able to redeem or transform the family from a more stable position. The father occupies a similar role in both Black and white working-class narratives, however gender roles are more diverse in those films that depict middle-class African-American families. However, the representation of race in narratives across this spectrum is often problematic, with the need to represent the alternative family within the structure of the dominant model, continually drawing attention to difference and forcing the alternative family (in this case the Black family) to occupy the position of ‘other’.

Hollywood’s Working-Class The working-class family is a significant alternative to Hollywood’s norm because it does not represent a changing family form; it does not question the changing relationship between marriage, sex and childrearing in the same way that step, gay or single-parent families (discussed in Chapter 6) do. In this respect the representation of the working-class family is not an example of Hollywood’s attempts at positively accepting a liberal refiguring of the American family unit, instead the poor family is a negative alternative that needs to be overcome. Hollywood’s representation of the working-class is often simplified and the majority of its working-class families inhabit broken homes. This is a stereotype that extends beyond filmic representations. Coontz expresses the view that the correlation between poverty and broken homes is often announced, incorrectly, as 126

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a causal link, and that few attempts are made to understand the complexity of the relationship between non-nuclear families and poverty. Family break-up is blamed for poverty, whereas, in truth, the link between poverty and single-parents does not only flow in one direction, but rather the cost of marriage is prohibitive to young men, and women, living below the poverty line and is a reason why ‘young men are not rushing to get married, and why young women don’t bother to pursue them’.2 While there are clearly misconceptions about the relationship between broken homes and poverty, the link is exploited by Hollywood’s representation of the working-class family. The ‘poor’ screen family is a damaged one, demonstrated by Meryl Streep’s role as a white trash single-mother in Marvin’s Room (1996), Helen Hunt’s performances as an alcoholic single-mother with an abusive ex-husband in Pay It Forward and a struggling single-mother in As Good as It Gets, and Will Smith’s character who is left by his wife in The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) when he does not earn enough to support her. The Hollywood films that do represent the working-class family present a sanitized version of poverty, and fail to deal with real concerns. For example, the remake of Fun with Dick and Jane provides an interesting narrative about a family whose middle-class lifestyle proves too much for them following redundancy. The underlying premise of the film is a poignant tale about just how fragile the desire for upward mobility is, but the film can only offer humour as the family resorts to armed robbery to fund its lifestyle. The light-hearted nature of the film, and the eventual ending in which all miraculously turns out fine, fails to recognize financial instability as a serious problem for American families. Fun with Dick and Jane has at its core a complete nuclear family, and the easy restoration of financial stability for the nuclear family at the close of the film links family form with class. A more thoughtful take on financial difficulties is depicted in The Joneses when, in an attempt to keep up with the lifestyle of his neighbours, Larry (Gary Cole) sends himself and his wife into debt, and as a result commits suicide. The criticism here is of excessive consumption and the competitive society that has caused it, there is no focus on economic hardship, and a family unit is restored once they learn to be more honest and open. In those films where poverty is taken more seriously, it is easily rectified along with the repair of the family. This is typified by the narrative of As Good as It Gets, in which the mother’s financial worries are quashed by the film’s resolution, in which she falls in love with a man who is rich enough to take care of her and her sickly son. A similar narrative pattern is evident in Jerry Maguire (1996), in which a single-mother needs a man, and financial stability, in order to look after a son who is also unwell. By its close, both are provided.3 The good father figure thus becomes the redeemer of this alternative family. Although there is little scholarly work exploring the working-class in Hollywood,

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the role of middle-class man as the family’s redeemer features in both Bruzzi and Barbara Ehrenreich’s writing about Hollywood’s working-class.4 The necessity of paternal intervention to ‘rescue’ these families becomes proof that the problems of the alternative can only be fixed by reinstating the traditional. Bruzzi and Ehrenreich, separately, draw attention to the representation of masculinity within Hollywood’s working-class, and both note that working-class fathers fit into a model of physical masculinity that is often violent and un-nurturing, as opposed to an ideal (and usually middle-class) fatherhood, which requires a softer form of masculinity.5 For this reason working-class men within Hollywood frequently make problematic fathers. Although both Bruzzi and Ehrenreich make this distinction in relation to films of the 1960s and 1970s, a similar model is evident in contemporary cinema. Pay It Forward is an example of this. The biological workingclass father is an abusive alcoholic who is largely absent, whereas the middle-class substitute father is a better, more stable parent. Bruzzi cites various 1970s sources that made a clear link between class and good fathering; she quotes David Lynn, for instance, who argues: ‘Working men are much less likely than professionalexecutive fathers to see childrearing as part of their parental duties. They are more likely to regard this as the wife’s domain.’6 The continued perpetuation of this model suggests that contemporary Hollywood’s representation of poorer families is regressive. Furthermore, it demonstrates a continued interest in the middle-class as the ideal site for the American family. In Pay It Forward, the middle-class father is ‘chosen’ by the son.7 This ideal father is a teacher; a middle-class, educated and nurturing man. In As Good as It Gets, the father-figure who repairs the family is also middle-class and educated – if not so obviously nurturing – allowing, in this instance, wealth to be an important characteristic of the father. This model of fatherhood promises the poorer family upward mobility, as well as stability. Upward mobility is a crucial part of the American dream to which Hollywood conforms, yet as Coontz explains the reality of upward mobility is not one that is easily upheld. She notes that, from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, upward mobility was available through one of three things: child labour; a move from farm to city where higher wages were available; or an investment in increased training and education for male family members.8 In contemporary society, it is a second wage that is necessary: Those who tell women who ‘don’t need to work’ that they should go back to full-time child rearing are contradicting many of the other ideals most Americans hold dear. We’re talking about abandoning the American dream here. The only way to get a significant number of families to make this choice would be to foster a thoroughly untraditional – some might even say un-American – acceptance of a stationary standard of living, a no-growth family economy. Some families may harbor such subversive ideals; yet the chances are slim that this will become a mass movement any time soon.9

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Coontz draws attention here to the tensions between a desire to hold on to what is assumed to be ‘tradition’ and the need to embrace the realities of everyday families. The drive to occupy the middle-class frequently underpins the narratives of Hollywood’s contemporary ‘social problem’ films. In such narratives upward mobility is often achieved through determination and talent. Dance and music films such as 8 Mile (2002), Take the Lead (2006), Step Up (2006), and its sequel Step Up 2: The Streets (2008) provide examples of this. These films depict multicultural working-class America and a mixture of white, Black and Latino families. They are not family narratives but the dysfunctional family is part of this society – evidenced through the Black single-mother as prostitute and the Black father as violent (Take the Lead) or the foster family (Step Up). In ‘social problem’ films there is a foregrounding of the broken home, racial diversity and a desire for, specifically, youth to rise above their unsatisfactory economic and familial status. This is seen in both successes in dance or music, but also through heteronormative romances that suggest a brighter future for the next generation of the family. However the opportunities that are available are unrealistic and largely reserved for the white characters, and specifically white men in Step Up and 8 Mile. The foregrounding of white characters within these films is symptomatic of the importance not only of class but also of race to Hollywood’s dominant model of the family, which is primarily depicted as white.

Boyz n the Hood : The Black Working-Class Family Hollywood’s Black family, and in particular the working-class African-American family, offers the ultimate contrast and response to the dominant white middle-class family. The Black family is, of course, not the only racial alternative in Hollywood. The Latino family has already appeared in this book in the form of the Cortez family of Spy Kids, discussed in Chapter 3. While Hollywood portrays a diversity of ethnic families, the African-American family is the dominant racial alternative. Furthermore, the plight of the Black family has played an important part in American social history and has been a marginalized group in Hollywood’s own past. Although working-class Black families are widespread in Hollywood, a number of mainstream films do focus on the middle-class Black family, a model that often tries to emulate its white counterpart. The same compromise is not necessarily true of the portrayal of working-class Black families, in which race and ethnicity are more frequently central concerns. One such example is the 1991 film Boyz n the Hood that draws a parallel to the social problem films discussed above. Here the teenaged son of the working-class family needs to overcome the problems related to his family’s status. The film is set in a Black neighbourhood, populated by broken homes. These single-parent families live in a troubled area where Blackon-Black violence is rife, adding further complication to the lives of disadvantaged families. Boyz n the Hood is specifically concerned with the lives of young men in 129

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this neighbourhood. The opening intertitles of the film announce: ‘One out of every twenty-one Black American males will be murdered in their lifetime. Most will die at the hands of another Black male.’ Within the narrative the ability to escape this bleak future of violence and poverty is linked directly to family status and the influence of the respectable patriarch. Boyz n the Hood is representative of ‘new Black cinema’, the name given to a significant group of films made by Black filmmakers such as Spike Lee, John Singleton and Mario Van Peebles, in the early 1990s. New Black cinema was important in bringing the work of Black filmmakers, and the representation of ‘real’ Black life from their point of view, into the mainstream. Bruzzi notes that this group of films ‘foregrounded issues of masculinity, fatherhood and race’.10 Although, as Rinaldo Walcott writes, even though new Black cinema ‘supposedly represents a “new” era in Black [male] filmmaking’,11 the representation of masculinity and fatherhood within these films, and Boyz n the Hood in particular, is regressive. Walcott’s bracketed insertion of ‘male’ draws attention to the patriarchal order that underlies the representation of gender in Boyz n the Hood. The representation of African-American life and masculinity within the new Black cinema is thus contradictory and problematic, as Bruzzi explains: The ‘new Black cinema’ films are, however, fraught with anomalies; for example, within the exploration of contemporary racial and community issues, they offer depressingly regressive images of Black masculinity and fatherhood . . . the good male characterized by articulacy, a propensity to study and the successful pursuit of a profession and the bad male who drops out of education and enters an often fatal life of crime and drugs. In these films, the definitive factor determining which group a boy will fall into is his father: whether he is present, attentive and a good role model or whether he is absent, criminal and a bad role model.12

This model of the good attentive father who is able to ‘save’ his son from becoming ‘bad’ is at the centre of Boyz n the Hood. The film follows the life of Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr.), a child from a broken home, from the age of ten to 17. When tenyear-old Tre starts getting into trouble at school his mother decides he should live with his father, Furious (Laurence Fishburne), in order to learn what it is to be a man. Tre befriends a group of boys in the Black neighbourhood where his father lives, two of whom are sent to a detention centre after they are caught stealing. The film then jumps forward seven years, but the neighbourhood tensions have not changed. Tre and his friend Ricky (Morris Chestnut) are keen to get an education and stay on the straight and narrow, whereas Ricky’s brother Doughboy (Ice Cube) has been in and out of prison. Tre and Ricky have prospects: Tre intends to go to college, and Ricky hopes to play college football. It is the influence of the family, and specifically the father, that provides the defining factor in whether these young men are able to rise above their circumstances and attain their goals. 130

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The story takes place within the notorious neighbourhood of South Central Los Angeles, signalling that this is a film exclusively about Black masculinity and the Black family. However, even though there are limited white characters in the film, racial difference and racial oppression is still felt, and is a cause of the poverty and aggression of the Black neighbourhood: ‘The seemingly peripheral nature of white people to the film demonstrates how white supremacy works to organize and make invisible its power.’13 The film, then, still positions the Black family as ‘other’. The oppressive influence of white power is articulated by Furious, who tells Tre that his SATs are culturally biased and gives a speech to Tre and Ricky about the negative influence of white capitalism upon their neighbourhood. Furious blames white intervention for the local violence: ‘Why is it that there’s a gun shop on almost every corner in this community? . . . For the same reason that there’s a liquor store on almost every corner in this community. Why? They want us to kill ourselves.’ Within the film Furious occupies the position of idealized father figure, giving credence to these views on racial oppression. Although Black and white communities are depicted on either side of a divide, the film does not fully explore those elements that set the Black family apart, specifically in terms of family dynamics and poverty. Thomas Doherty suggests that the poverty facing the characters of Boyz n the Hood is cultural rather than financial: [T]he neighbourhood is not poor in an economic baseline sense – no one talks about making ends meet, the homes are not high-rise projects and, if not privately owned, they are at least private, and Ricky’s gridiron exploits are cued up on the VCR.14

Doherty uses cultural poverty as the justification for the film’s inability to represent the real conditions of financial impoverishment that Black families in the ghetto experience. This further questions Hollywood’s ability to represent poverty in any meaningful way; violence and family status become indicators of class but financial stress is never a real concern for these families. Furthermore, Tre manages to rise above the neighbourhood not because he is financially better off but because he is morally better off. It is Furious who instils in his son this moral code. The emphasis on the father’s role in doing so, though, creates an image of the African-American family that ignores the important role played by mothers and the extended family. Coontz highlights not only the existence of extended kin networks as support for single parents in Black families, but also their positive benefits,15 yet Walcott draws attention to the absence of such families within Boyz n the Hood: As I watch the film, I am struck throughout by the glaring absence of grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles and cousins. The extended family has been 131

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and continues to be an important part of Black family life in the diaspora. While it is true that the conditions that produce neighbourhoods like the one in the film make it difficult for the extended family to stay together, the extended family is nonetheless an aspect of Black family life that cannot be dismissed or easily made non-existent.16

It is not just the extended family that is dismissed; strong, Black mothers are also glaringly absent in the film. For Walcott this is also a misrepresentation of reality and a suggestion that Singleton’s film attempts to rewrite the roles of women in Black society, ignoring ‘hundreds of years of Black women’s efforts at keeping the Black family intact’.17 Indeed, Walcott highlights not only the dismissal of this role but its reversal, as women within the film are depicted as part of the ‘problem’ rather than the ‘solution’; a role reserved for (good) fathers. The ‘problem’ here is both youth violence and insufficient parenting. Mothers are critiqued, both implicitly through a narrative that posits Furious as the only ‘successful’ parent, and more explicitly through an array of unsuitable maternal characters: Tre’s mother cannot raise him, Doughboy and Ricky’s mother is angry, loud mouthed and disinterested in her elder son’s life, and Tre’s neighbour is a drug user who is continually chastised by her neighbours for letting her toddler run around in the street. This film fits into a pattern that Chambers draws attention to, in which Black matriarchy was blamed for family dysfunction. Chambers makes reference to problematic government reports by Frazier in 1939 and Moynihan in 1965, referring specifically to Frazier’s assertion that disorganized Black matriarchal families could be traced back to slavery, linking matriarchy, dysfunction and class.18 That Boyz n the Hood promotes similar ideas about problematic Black motherhood posits it as a deeply regressive text. While maternity is displayed as flawed and potentially harmful, it is also of little consequence within the films. Paternity is the central concern, not only in the relationship between Tre and Furious, but also in Ricky’s relationship to his absent father. Ricky’s father gave him a football that he plays with continually as a child, and it is his attachment to this football as a reminder of his father – and effective totem object – that leads to his success as a football player. Thus, even when absent, paternal influence can aid the son’s prospects. The film sets up a direct conflict between genders, and specifically between mothers and fathers; as Michael Eric Dyson notes, male autonomy within the film only comes at the cost of female infirmity.19 Jacquie Jones also discusses this conflict, reading the battle between genders as a displaced struggle against racial oppression, arguing that the film ‘sees this struggle as one that must be played out between genders, falling into a Moynihan-type scenario of victimizing one to vindicate the other’.20 The conflict between mothers and fathers thus becomes a distraction from the real issues facing the Black family. Indeed, although the film never tries to establish a nuclear family (largely because mothers are coded as ‘bad’ and therefore are distanced from the film’s familial ideal) it places the need 132

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for traditional values at its core, suggesting that, above all, this is a film about re-instating patriarchal influence, rather than exploring the pressures and dangers facing urban Black youths. This is clearly demonstrated through the central relationship of Boyz n the Hood, that of Tre and Furious. Tre’s father is, in a run-down Black neighbourhood, one of the few figures of genuine authority. Furious’s model of Black patriarchy commands respect; when he gives an impassioned speech to Tre and Ricky about the oppressive influence of white capitalism, a crowd gather round to hear him speak. He stands on slightly higher ground, as if preaching from a soapbox. As soon as Tre comes to live with his father, Furious begins to teach his son, whether about the need for a sense of responsibility and hard work, as Tre has to do chores around the home, or about the oppression of Black men. Furious’s respectability, and subsequent upward mobility, are visually referenced: his house, certainly in the latter part of the film, is filled with bookshelves and smart furniture, in contrast to the plastic covered sofas of Ricky and Doughboy’s home. Furious and Tre also have their own car, and are both separated from their counterparts by dress; rather than the ‘ghetto’ fashion worn by their neighbours, both men wear smart shirts. The positive relationship between Furious and Tre is at the centre of Tre’s ability to rise above the ghetto. Doughboy and Ricky, who come from a more negative family environment, have both, by the end of the film, been killed. Tre remains distanced from this, taking no part in the gang violence surrounding their deaths. Indeed, the epilogue explains that he went away to college with his girlfriend, Brandi (Nia Long), implying both a move out of the ghetto and a final romance, signifying an Oedipal element to the film, and thus restating the importance of the father–son bond. The relationship between Tre and Brandi is a signifier that the film sees the perpetuation of the heteronormative family model as the ideal conclusion, even if single-parent families are not repaired. In Boyz n the Hood, both masculinity and relationships are exclusively coded as heterosexual, ‘and other ways of sexually and sensually knowing the world are absent and are never explored’.21 Although Walcott observes that: ‘The notion of manhood is never interrogated in the film and the viewer is supposed to know instinctively what manhood is’,22 Boyz clearly alludes to a heterosexual and patriarchal form of masculinity. When Furious discusses sex with Tre, it is heterosexist to the point of misogyny, referring to ‘pussy’ rather than women. Furthermore, Tre lies about his sexual experiences as he is too embarrassed to tell his father he is a virgin, implying that the ideal of manhood that he has to live up to is an explicitly (hetero)sexual one. Although the families of Boyz n the Hood are categorized here as alternative, there is a perpetuation of traditional values within the film. The ability of good fathering to pave the son’s way out of the ghetto creates a discourse in which the father is integral to the family’s financial success. As such ‘Singleton models

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his portrayal on the dominant stereotype of the white, nuclear family model and even includes divorce and its negative effects on family members to make his point much more salient.’23 This posits both the poor, broken, or Black family as ‘other’. A contradiction is created between the ideals held by the film’s characters – such as Furious who fights white capitalist oppression – and the model needed for success which conforms to a traditional, white, ideal. The reliance on traditional values in this depiction of an alternative family extends beyond narrative into form. Doherty suggests that: ‘Behind the streetwise verisimilitude is the soundstage sensibility of a very traditional Hollywood melodrama.’24 In both narrative and form, then, there remains a tension between alternative and traditional. The need to place the alternative family, and specifically the Black family, within the confines of a more traditional unit, and narrative, is even more striking in those films that situate their African-American families in middle-class suburbia.

Hollywood’s Middle-Class Black Families By depicting the African-American family as working-class, Hollywood is echoing real statistics. As Coontz notes (in 1997) there remain high levels of AfricanAmerican poverty.25 Despite the fact that Black teenage birth rates are dropping and high school graduation rates and test scores have increased, youth poverty rates for African-Americans have grown at the same time.26 Although many African-Americans continue to live below the poverty line, it is an incorrect stereotype to only represent Black families within the working-class. However, the representation of Black families as part of the middle-class has also proved to be cause for discussion. Coontz writes that: [M]ovies and ads have gone to great lengths to show diversity, with the ironic consequence that Blacks and women are now highly overrepresented in the images of professions and income levels in which they remain highly underrepresented in reality.27

Discourse surrounding the middle-class African-American family and its visibility has grown since the election in 2008 of Barack Obama as the first Black American president. There has been media interest in both Obama’s race and class. Although the Obama campaign did not wish his family to be depicted as different from the families of any other candidates or presidents in terms of race, the media has specifically drawn attention to the difference. British journalist Ed Pilkington highlights the racial history of the White House: In one important sense, of course, the Obamas will be unlike any other first family that has come before them. On the White House walls are a succession of white men and women; Black America is conspicuous only by its absence. 134

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Pilkington notes that African-Americans have long worked in the White House even though the Obamas will be the first family to live there. Obama’s own middle-class background has led another, Black, British journalist, Gary Younge, to question ‘Is Obama Black enough?’29 Younge’s provocative article suggests that ‘Blackness’ is a class issue, and that Obama’s middle-class upbringing, and education, prevent him from being fully understood as Black. Hollywood’s representations of the middle-class Black family fuels the debate over whether race is or is not a class issue. The films can be loosely separated into two groups: those that draw attention to the family’s ethnicity and those that ignore it. In not drawing attention to either race or any sort of ethnic heritage, the middle-class families are divorced from their racial roots, separating them from the families of a film such as Boyz n the Hood in which race is crucial to identity.

RACE, CLASS AND HOLLYWOOD’S ‘ALTERNATIVE’ FAMILIES

On my tour of the building I could detect only one Black figure in any of the fine art that hangs there . . . a painting from 1858 by Ferdinand Richardt. In the right-hand corner of his depiction of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall stands a Black boy, about a centimetre tall. He appears to be begging.28

Representing Blackness The representation of the Black family as ‘other’ is demonstrated by Chambers, who draws attention to ‘whiteness’ as a characteristic of the dominant family model: ‘social sciences in the United States and Britain continue to . . . take the Anglo-white nuclear family as the norm against which to measure “other” family forms’,30 continuing: ‘Whiteness may not be experienced or recognized as white consciousness in many regions but it is implicated in the “othering” and subordination of other raced subjectivities.’31 Therefore, whiteness becomes the norm and everything that deviates from this is somehow ‘other’. Although Hollywood does not always draw attention to issues of racial difference within its narratives, it is often implicit through both the inherent coding of Blackness as the opposite to whiteness, and through a set of signifiers that separate Black and white characters. Hollywood’s articulation, or inarticulation, of racial difference in Black middle-class family narratives is a useful tool through which to analyse Hollywood’s confused relationship to the Black family. Despite attempts to depict its Black families in a diverse way, breaking from the stereotypes of poverty and dysfunction, there is a reliance on the values and structures of the white family. Tasker notes of Lethal Weapon that: ‘The inter-racial pairing of Mel Gibson as Martin Riggs and Danny Glover as Roger Murtaugh operates without any explicit reference to racial difference’,32 yet it remains implicit in their characterization. The Murtaughs represent the same ideal as Hollywood’s white nuclear family: upward mobility; suburbia; moral values. Murtaugh’s race is of relatively little consequence to his character. The pairing of the white cop and his Black buddy 135

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is an archetypal form of male bonding in Hollywood narratives; both Christopher Ames and Cynthia Fuchs discuss this pairing in the Lethal Weapon films. For Fuchs, racial difference allows homoerotic tension to be displaced, thus depicting this difference as significant, even if it is not explicitly articulated.33 Ames notes a reversal, in the pairing of Riggs and Murtaugh, of established racial stereotypes. He suggests that Lethal Weapon reverses the ‘traditionally’ depicted roles of Black man/family as ‘savage’ and white man as less physically masculine, citing as an example Rigg’s naked, muscular body and Special Forces background. His dishevelled life and living arrangements contrast with Murtaugh’s comfortable suburban lifestyle and inability to take control of his physical masculinity by shooting his gun.34 Although Murtaugh is placed in the role of family man, separating him from a ‘traditional’ stereotype, he is still a problematic character. Ed Guerrero explains: It seems that with the biracial buddy formula Hollywood put the Black filmic presence in the protective custody, so to speak, of a white lead or co-star and therefore in conformity with white sensibilities and expectations of what Blacks, essentially, should be.35

Thus, even when specific attention is not drawn to racial difference, it is coded within the conventions of the narrative, and in the representation of the Black and white characters as somehow not the same. In Lethal Weapon 2, specific attention is drawn to Murtaugh’s race, although, as Sharon Willis suggests, attempts to speak directly about race in this film are obsessive and confused.36 In this sequel the villains are white South Africans at a time when apartheid was still in force. The narrative draws explicit attention to Murtaugh’s race by opposing racist villains to the Black police officer. In an attempt to create a diversion at the South African embassy, Murtaugh pretends he wants to emigrate to South Africa, forcing the troubled clerk dealing with him to announce, ‘But you’re Black.’ This allows Murtaugh to make an impassioned speech about wishing to join his ‘oppressed brothers’. The film, though, fails to take this seriously, and retelling the incident creates a point of hilarity for the characters. While attention is drawn to racial inequality and racism, this is coded as ‘foreign’, there is no question of racial oppression in America. Yet the one clear reference to Murtaugh’s race, made by Riggs, is problematic. In Lethal Weapon 2, Riggs recites the ditty: ‘We’re back. We’re bad. You’re Black. I’m mad.’ As Willis notes, this places Blackness on the same level as madness.37 The difference between Riggs and Murtaugh is played out within the narrative as a difference in physical masculinity and family status. Although Murtaugh is the family man, his lack of masculinity affects his paternal authority, which is undermined throughout the series, most notably when his daughter appears in a condom commercial and his protestations are ignored.38 During this sequence a 136

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distraught Murtaugh is so angry that Riggs takes on the paternal role, congratulating Rianne and reminding her, in a fatherly tone, that she is too young to buy drinks as she heads out to celebrate her television debut. Murtaugh is undermined again when his wife becomes a successful author of romance novels (Lethal Weapon 4), so the family, for unexplained reasons, hide her success. One of the implications here is that his wife’s career threatens his patriarchal authority. This is evident in a number of Hollywood narratives, such as Wild Hogs (2007), a film about four middle-aged men who decide to get away from it all on a motor biking trip. One of these men, Bobby (Martin Lawrence), is so frightened of his intimidating wife that he lies about his whereabouts; Bobby’s wife is an angry woman who constantly nags and belittles her husband. While there is some diversity in the representation of the Black mother (especially in terms of domestic and professional mothers) there is a pattern evident in these films, in which the mother somehow poses a threat to the father’s masculinity, whether it is in terms of professional success or domestic control. bell hooks writes: ‘Much is made by social critics who want to further the notion that Black men are symbolically castrated, of the fact that Black women often found work in service jobs while Black men were unemployed.’39 hooks reiterates, though, that like white masculinity, Black masculinity is not homogenous; while this posed a threat to some men, to others it did not.

Daddy Day Care : Ignoring Racial Difference This contradictory representation of the middle-class Black family continues to pervade contemporary Hollywood narratives, evidenced more recently in the 2003 family comedy Daddy Day Care. The film is significant as a popular movie within a popular genre, family comedies, that has at its heart a wealthy Black family, but draws no attention to their race. Despite this, in much the same way as Lethal Weapon, there is a marked difference between the film’s Black and white characters that points towards racial difference. Daddy Day Care attempts to paint the same picture of family life as the majority of white family comedies; this relies upon a suburban dream and a pastel coloured home, usually double-fronted with a sizeable lawn and a large garden. The well-todo Hinton family struggle with their finances as the father Charlie (Eddie Murphy) loses a well-paid corporate job. The result of this is that they must withdraw their son from The Chapman Academy, a prestigious but expensive pre-school, and Charlie must become a stay-at-home dad. Along with a colleague who lost his job at the same time, and also has a young son, Charlie sets up ‘Daddy Day Care’ in his home – an affordable day care centre to rival the Chapman Academy. The project is initially a disaster, not least because of interference from the principal of the Chapman Academy (Angelica Huston), but as the two men learn how to become fathers and childcare providers, things improve and Daddy Day Care revives both the father–son relationship and the family’s finances. 137

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The representation of the middle-class Black family in Daddy Day Care resonates with that of The Cosby Show (1984–1992). As Chambers explains of this television family: The African-American Cosby family is marked by a class position and by cultural capital that is notably Anglo-American within a hegemonic normalizing of middle-class and anglo-nuclear family values. The Cosbys are upper middle-class and ‘cultured’, not simply in the sense of being ‘educated’ but educated in an Anglophone tradition.40

She suggests that this image of the African-American family was so successful because it idealized the Black family in a way that supports the myth of the American dream, and that the portrayal of social mobility amongst Black families promotes an image of America that dissolves boundaries of race and class.41 Daddy Day Care also attempts to erase such boundaries by depicting a liberal society in which equality is taken for granted. The Chapman Academy is racially diverse, although there is no explicit mention of this. Furthermore, Charlie’s wife Kim (Regina King) returns to work as a lawyer and becomes the sole breadwinner when her husband is made redundant. The working mother is accepted without question and there is never any suggestion that her professional life will, or does, affect her maternal abilities. The automatic assimilation of the working mother into the mainstream of Hollywood meets the demands of the women’s movement, in much the same way that the representation of racial equality effectively dispels notions of racial inequality and racism within Hollywood and the American society that the film represents. The acceptance of racial equality, in particular, appears on the surface of Daddy Day Care, but there is a distinct difference between the film’s white and Black characters that problematizes gender roles as well as race. The central concern of Daddy Day Care is the father–son relationship. This is played out primarily within the Black family through the relationship of Charlie with his son, Ben (Khamani Griffin). This relationship is paralleled by the relationship between Charlie’s colleague, Phil ( Jeff Garlin), and his son. The pairing of Charlie and Phil, and the contrast between the two, echoes the mixedrace buddy narrative of a film such as Lethal Weapon. However, physical masculinity is not the concern of this buddy partnership, rather these two men have to prove their nurturing, and therefore more ‘feminine’, abilities as hands-on fathers. The racial difference between the two fathers is thus played out through their parenting abilities. Both men are initially relatively incompetent fathers, although Charlie is the more authoritative, and in control. He is also the louder and more fun father. In contrast the white father is undermined and emasculated as the butt of the children’s games and jokes. Furthermore, his paternal ineptitude is reduced to the level of toilet humour; he is unable to take his son to the toilet, as the result of an unsuccessful attempt to change a nappy when his son was an infant, depicting him 138

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Figure 15. The Hinton’s impressive family home in Daddy Day Care (2003).

as inept and childish. Charlie steps up to this task, positing him as the better carer, and also the man who is able to ‘father’ his white buddy’s son – in this respect there is a clear reversal of the race roles in Lethal Weapon 2, in which Riggs took on a paternal/protective role with Rianne. Although the Black father is the better parent, the Black family are divorced from their ethnic heritage and placed within a white suburban environment; an image of suburbia that is drawn from Hollywood’s conventionalized representation of the white middle-class family. The Hinton’s home is indicative of this: it is decorated with polished wood floors and regency wallpaper, and could be the Byrnes’s home in Meet the Parents, the Banks’s home in Father of the Bride, or one of any number of other homes in Hollywood’s suburbia. Therefore while the Black father is the better parent, there is an attempt to divorce his attributes from race. Charlie’s style of parenting echoes that of some of Hollywood’s white fathers who have also populated the family comedies – Steve Martin as Tom Baker in Cheaper by the Dozen is the most prominent example. Both men learn how to look after a large group of children and learn what it is to be a fun yet responsible father. The simultaneous acknowledgement and ignorance of Charlie’s ‘difference’ provides the film’s central contradiction, one that, to an extent, runs through Guess Who (2005) as well. The decision not to attribute this difference directly to race suggests a reluctance to explicitly allow the Black family to be ‘better’, when of course the Black father is the better parent and, in fact, the Hinton family are a liberal and contemporary unit in which the mother works, the father provides childcare, and equality – both racial and gender – is taken for granted. This is a thoroughly modern and impressive model of the African-American family, but it is one that can only exist in a society in which no emphasis is placed on its 139

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ethnicity. That said, Black father-based narratives serve as a reminder of regressive attitudes towards the Black family that blame Black matriarchy for dysfunction and therefore try to rectify this by promoting strong, Black father figures.42 As Tasker suggests of Daddy Day Care, ‘the significance of Charlie’s transformation . . . deepens when framed by discourses of “crisis” so prominent in relation to African-American fatherhood’.43

Middle-Class Black Mothers The representation of the mother in Daddy Day Care is intriguing and ambiguous. The film seems fairly content to place the mother in a non-traditional professional role. Charlie’s wife, Kim, is a lawyer who returns to work as their son Ben joins pre-school, and once Charlie is fired she is the main breadwinner. The film places her in a sympathetic role; she obviously still cares about her family, even though she returns to work and she is disappointed when, after a few weeks at home with his father, Ben asks for Charlie rather than his mother after a bad dream one night. This marks a significant moment in the film; the father is beginning to play an important role in his son’s life, and while the mother is jokingly jealous of this new bond, she is clearly also supportive of it. The need for this bond between father and son to be built indicates the centrality of the male relationship to the film’s family, in a narrative that is centred on the father’s transformation. As Tasker points out, when ‘Charlie Hinton says, near the beginning of Daddy Day Care, “I will not be late”, we know with certainty not only that he will be late, but that he will ultimately learn the value of being on time’.44 Tasker goes on to highlight that there is never any question that Kim will be late or forget, therefore the problem is not that Ben will be endangered, but rather he will be disappointed by his father. Ben, a shy little boy, is indeed disappointed, however later in the film when his father is at home with him and his mother arrives late from work there is no such disappointment. Although this undermines the mother’s role by clearly announcing the father’s elevated importance to his son, it is necessary to reiterate the ease with which the film accepts the mother’s non-traditional role as breadwinner, and the father’s nontraditional role as caregiver. The mother’s role, though, is peripheral, and this is clearly a film about fatherhood. The attitude towards Black mothers in Hollywood’s family comedies is often a confused one. Black family films frequently rely on a family structure in which the mother has more authority, a reworking of the cultural model of the Black matriarchal family. Even when she is not professionally successful, the Black mother is regularly depicted as the head of the household, or certainly the parent with more influence, and a figure to be fearful of. Martin Lawrence’s characters in both Bad Boys and Wild Hogs are intimidated by angry nagging wives and unruly children, 140

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whereas the wives of white family comedies such as Cheaper by the Dozen, Meet the Parents and even Father of the Bride are much more serene. In Guess Who, the Black mother, Marilyn ( Judith Scott), is a calmer, more stable and sensible figure than her husband Percy (Bernie Mac), who, despite outward bravado, is clearly intimidated by his wife. Following a family row Marilyn stays with a group of friends, and it is up to her husband to grovel and apologize in front of the group of Black women, who represent a formidable force. The downside to these films is that by depicting Black mothers as strong, together women, and concentrating on Black fathers, there is very little attention paid to Black maternity. Although Black maternity is of little consequence to the narrative, the image of white matriarchy depicted in Daddy Day Care is neither nurturing nor sympathetic. Indeed the importance of the Black father’s role is heightened through the contrast between the Black family and the authoritative white matriarch of the Chapman Academy, resultantly constructing Black masculinity as a parental ideal. While being careful not to mention racial difference, the film implicitly draws attention to it through the coding of the raucous Daddy Day Care centre as ‘Black’, masculine and fun, whereas the Chapman Academy is ‘white’, feminine (as it is run by women), and authoritative to the point of militaristic. Black masculinity is often stereotyped as raucous, and a day care centre is not a typical setting for it. The depiction of white ‘maternity’ as cold and militaristic is also unexpected. This clearly allows Black masculinity to provide more suitable parenting characteristics than white femininity, setting this film apart as a significant shift away from the norm. The fun and brash ‘parenting’ of the day care centre is made all the more appealing through its direct comparison to the uptight and disciplined ways of the Chapman Academy, drawing a parallel with films such as Cheaper by the Dozen 2 and Meet the Fockers, where fun, liberal, fathering is contrasted with strict parenting, providing the more favourable option. As noted, Tasker believes Charlie’s transformation into a responsible, yet fun, parent, takes on a political agenda in the face of a ‘crisis’ in Black fatherhood. She sees the political significance of a film such as Daddy Day Care extend beyond the question of race, suggesting that in a postfeminist era in which heterosexuality and marriage are seen by many politicians to be in need of defence, the decision to leave children in the care of men/fathers is often met with prejudice. Tasker believes that the film is underpinned by the irrational prejudice towards male child carers and that the ‘conventions of the family comedy are familiar enough for the audience to be certain that the positive benefits of male parenting will be in evidence soon enough’.45 While Tasker does draw attention to a political backstory that underpins this narrative, the film does not place the father within a context in which African-American fatherhood, or masculinity, is in crisis, but rather chooses to marginalize social realities and politics of race and class in order to promote an image of the family that is, on the surface at least, ‘race-less’, but in

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Figure 16. Angelica Huston as Mrs Harridan, the militaristic matriarch of Daddy Day Care’s Chapman Academy.

which racial difference is inherent. However, it does need to be reiterated that the image of the Black family put forward by Daddy Day Care is on the whole positive, and thoroughly modern.

The Articulation of Racial Difference in Guess Who The 2005 film Guess Who more explicitly creates a ‘political’ narrative with its representation of the middle-class Black family. Attention is drawn to race, to such an extent that the narrative is centred on racial difference, through the relationship of the Black daughter and her white fianc´e. As a remake of Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), Guess Who is immediately given a political agenda. The film is both a remake and a reversal of the 1967 original, a ponderous film, in which a middle-class white girl brings home her Black fianc´e, John, played by Sidney Poitier, to meet her liberal parents, Matt and Christina Drayton (Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn). Despite their political ideals, the family, and notably the father, struggle to accept John into their family. The earlier film is predominantly played out as drama, in contrast to the 2005 film, a comedy that relies heavily on slapstick style humour. Guess Who is closer in tone and narrative to Meet the Parents than Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. The white boyfriend is introduced to his Black girlfriend’s family on the weekend of her parent’s 25th wedding anniversary, as they prepare to renew their wedding vows. The young couple, Simon (Ashton Kutcher) and Theresa (Zoe Saldana), intend to announce their engagement, but following a less than amicable meeting between father and future son-in-law (Theresa’s father Percy presumes the Black cab driver 142

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Figure 17. The grand and imposing Jones house in Guess Who (2005).

to be his daughter’s new beau and things escalate from there) the announcement is not immediately made. Much like Meet the Parents, comedy ensues as Simon tries desperately to impress his overbearing father-in-law, but here there is the added issue of racial difference to overcome. This film articulates a racial difference that is built around a difference in family status; the Black family is nuclear and middle-class, whereas the white family (although not present in the film), it is announced, is fatherless. The film attempts to overturn stereotypes but does so purely by reversing them. Furthermore, the Black family are subject to racial stereotypes. What is presented, then, is a contradictory and confused portrait of both the Black middle-class family and racial difference. By positing the Black and white characters’ difference predominantly within their family experience, Guess Who ultimately asserts that Black and white families are different. The opening sequence of the film depicts Percy in his office as the camera picks out a framed picture of Theresa’s graduation. Guess Who thus immediately draws a link between Percy’s professional position as a bank manager and his family status, suggesting that this Black family has attained a middle-class goal, through the father’s responsible job and the daughter’s academic success. This middle-class status is heightened by the grandeur of the Jones’ imposing suburban home. They are the epitome of the American dream, with a moral, patriarchal head (Percy and Simon both describe the Jones’ home as the father’s house, Percy does not drink alcohol and he upholds ‘Christian’ values) and comfortable suburban lifestyle. At face value the representation of the Black family is liberal and accepting of racial difference; however this is complicated by the use of simplified stereotypes, and the film’s, at times, uneasy relationship with racism. When Simon first meets 143

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the Jones family and Percy mistakes the taxi driver for his daughter’s new beau, a stunted conversation between Simon and Theresa follows in which they discuss whether Theresa has told her parents he is white. Once the awkwardness of the initial meeting has died down, Simon greets Percy by saying ‘I wish Theresa had told me you were Black’ in an attempt to diffuse the situation. The sequence marks the only real effort made by the film to deal with what is a tricky question: should racial difference be announced? However, Guess Who makes a joke out of Percy’s misunderstanding, not allowing this to become a serious issue. Furthermore it begins a stereotype within the film whereby the Black characters are threatened by/aggressive towards the white male. Theresa’s sister’s first reaction is ‘Oh my God, are we being audited?’ The tension heightens when Simon is goaded into telling racist jokes by Percy and his father. During a family meal with Theresa’s grandfather the topic of racism is brought up. Simon re-tells his own grandmother’s racist reaction to Theresa, linking racism to an older generation.46 The conversation develops and Simon is coerced into telling racist jokes. Initially the Black family laugh along with Simon until he takes one step too far – joking about the Black man’s ability to get a job (clearly not an issue, though, in this middle-class depiction of the Black American family). In allowing all its characters to laugh at the jokes the film invites its audience to laugh along too, becoming implicit in their racism. The decision to remake Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner as a comedy places it within the more accessible genre as a piece of mainstream entertainment, and aligns it with recent white family comedies, especially Meet the Parents. On the one hand this allows the discourse about race that underpins the narrative a wide audience, on the other Guess Who has to resort to stereotypes and simplifications in order to conform to the requirements of family comedy. That the film chooses parodic stereotypes rather than a serious exploration of mixed race relationships, suggests a discomfort in Hollywood with confronting racial difference. Indeed this is implicit in the suppression of racial difference in films such as Daddy Day Care, an avoidance that fits into a wider discussion of the representation of race and racial diversity in Hollywood. bell hooks highlights the inconsistencies of mainstream Black representation when race is ignored; with reference to the films of Quentin Tarantino she writes: Ironically, white directors now assume that simply putting Black characters in their films means that they could not possibly be perpetuating racism by way of their work . . . Significantly, while he [Tarantino] made a case for the repeated use of the word ‘nigger’ in his films by suggesting that it is important to strip that word of its power, he makes no connection between that rationale and what would be needed to strip whiteness of its power to dominate.47

hooks criticizes author Jeff Dawson’s assertion that the casting of Pulp Fiction (1994) ‘dispelled any notion of racism’, explaining that the mere inclusion of Black 144

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characters is not enough to undermine racism and that these characters can, in fact, themselves become the mouthpiece for racist assumptions and beliefs; as hooks concludes, Tarantino’s films ‘make racism and sexism entertaining’.48 Similar tensions are at play in Guess Who: in the opening sequence, in which Percy Jones is trying to write vows for the ceremony to celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary, he is inadvertently using lyrics to a rap song: ‘I wanna see your sexy body go bump bump bump’. Percy thus conflates his profession of love with one of sexual desire. It is an endearing moment that points towards Percy’s emotional immaturity. However, his sexuality is highlighted more than once in the film, evoking the stereotype of over-sexed African-Americans. During a ‘home video’ sequence that runs over the closing credits, attention is drawn to Percy and Marilyn sneaking off to ‘shake some sheets’. This sequence includes the whole family, implying not only a sexual relationship between mother and father but also openness about sexuality within the family. Despite Percy’s acknowledgment in this instance that his children were ‘old enough’ to know why they were sneaking away, Percy does not accept Theresa’s sexuality, refusing to acknowledge her sexual relationship with Simon. When Percy walks in as Simon jokingly dons Theresa’s negligee his reaction is overblown, resulting in an attempt to move Simon to a hotel. Any implication that his daughter and Simon share a sexual relationship is ignored by the father, yet during the closing credits his younger daughter refers to her boyfriend as a ‘bone crusher’ in reference to his size and their sexual relationship, and Percy’s reaction is much calmer. Both daughters inhabit mixed race relationships: Theresa’s sister’s partner is Samoan; however it is Theresa’s relationship with a white man that is criticized, as it is the relationship with the Black father’s opposite – the white male – that is, for Percy, most problematic. Both the unease with which the mixed-race relationship is accepted in the film and the differing representations of Black and white sexuality make one question further how comfortable mainstream Hollywood is with racial integration. When Simon tries to apologize to Theresa by using the lyrics of the same rap song that Percy recites in the opening sequence, the effect is embarrassing; the white male is less able to express his sexuality, but the Black man conversely appears oversexed. The old and racist stereotyping of African-Americans as over-sexed, while not over-played, is awkwardly and demonstrably present. Sexual openness and primal attitudes to body and sex are key characteristics of mainstream Black stereotypes. Within this outwardly liberal film the allusion to such stereotypes undermines any notion of racial equality that the film is at pains to promote. Moreover, the middle-class American family is constantly divorced from its ethnic and cultural heritage, evidenced within the family home, which, like that of Daddy Day Care, is a generic suburban home. The Black family, then, is an acceptable alternative when it conforms to the standards of the (white) norm. The one nod to the African-American family of Guess Who as being something different to the white (Hollywood) norm is evident in Marilyn’s network of friends with whom

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she seeks refuge and companionship after she has had an argument with Percy. On the one hand they are stereotyped as a group of angry, loud Black women; on the other they represent the sort of support network that Coontz suggests is more easily available in African-American communities.49 However, while emotional support is available to this family, Percy’s reaction to Simon’s request for a loan, and his concern with his son-in-law’s financial stability, suggest that financial selfsufficiency is an important issue for the Jones family, reflecting Chambers’ words about the ‘acceptable’ Black family of the Cosby show representing an anglocentric version of the American dream.50

Made in America : Ethnicity, Mixed Race and the Family Unit Made in America (1993), in contrast to Guess Who and Daddy Day Care, celebrates rather than ignores cultural and ethnic heritage. Sarah (Whoopi Goldberg), the single-mother of Made in America, is a proud African-American whose livelihood is linked to her ethnicity as she runs a shop that sells African artefacts and literature. Sarah contrasts with the other parents of Black family films in that, although she displays some of the stereotypical boisterousness of the Black mother, she is a fiercely independent woman who raised a daughter alone to be a young, proud and intelligent Black woman. Sarah’s daughter Zora (Nia Long) is the product of artificial insemination, which also sets this film apart, as it tackles an issue not frequently seen in white or Black family films. Both Sarah’s independence and her decision to have a child through artificial insemination (following the death of her husband) align her with feminist ideologies, yet the narrative concern of Made in America is not its strong Black women, but fatherhood. Zora discovers her origins early in the film, having previously believed her mother’s husband to be her father. The film then becomes a story about Zora’s search for her father and an exploration of what it is to be a father. Having broken into the sperm bank’s computer system, Zora discovers her father’s name, but is shocked to find upon meeting him that, despite her mother’s insistence that she had asked for the best Black sperm they had, he is white. Her father, Hal (Ted Danson), is more than just white: he is coded to be the epitome of white oppressive patriarchy, with his philandering ways (he attempts to chat up his own daughter) and his attire; he is dressed in cowboy get-up for commercials he is shooting for his used car business. Throughout the course of the film, Hal accepts Sarah and Zora into his life, despite initial reservations, and he even embarks on a romantic relationship with Sarah, positioning him firmly in the conventional paternal role. However, in a twist in the narrative, it transpires that the sperm bank’s data had been mixed up, and he is in fact not Zora’s father after all. Despite this he decides to remain in her life, and announces himself as her father as she graduates from high school at the close of the film. 146

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Made in America provides diversity in the representation of the family, both through its acceptance of reproductive technologies as a valid way of creating a family, and by asking questions about the importance of biological paternity. However, the narrative surrounding the father’s race implies the continued inability in Hollywood to deal with mixed race relationships. It allows Hollywood to posit the ‘best’ father as the non-biological father, but also demonstrates an inability to depict a biological family of mixed-race parentage. Upon hearing that her daughter’s father is a white man, Sarah is angry and defiant; she is disappointed her daughter does not share the same racial heritage as she does. The eventual revelation that the white father is not the biological father prevents the film from having to deal with any implications of mixed race, allowing, as in Daddy Day Care and Guess Who, ‘Black’ and ‘white’ to remain separate. Despite this, the family is influenced by white paternity, and whether a biological father or not, the white man ‘fixes’ and completes the Black female family, becoming a romantic partner for the mother (and thus softening her boisterousness) and becoming a stable and supportive fatherfigure for Zora. It is important to note that those mixed-race relationships that do appear in Black family narratives consist of a Black woman and a white man. While the mixed race family/couple on the one hand suggests diversity, on the other it allows white patriarchy to infiltrate the Black American family. Yet, it is through the middle-class Black families that an acceptance of liberal values emerges, particularly in the easy acceptance of the mother as breadwinner and the father as caregiver in Daddy Day Care, and the non-traditional formation of the family in Made in America. What Made in America, then, does offer – beyond an exploration of race – is a focus on the non-nuclear family, and on reproductive technologies. Both of these represent further examples of the alternative family that challenge Hollywood’s ‘norm’ and suggest progressive attitudes towards the form, if not the class status, of the contemporary American family.

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6 Single-parents, Homosexual Unions and Reproductive Technologies Hollywood’s families have predominantly emulated a standard structure of two parents, usually biological, one male and one female. Made in America begins to challenge this with a single-mother and a family created using reproductive technologies. However, the film is largely concerned with biological heritage, even if the denouement does overturn its importance. What is significant about Made in America is the way it attempts to deal with changes in the ways families are structured, and created, in contemporary America. While Hollywood undoubtedly perpetuates a specific family set-up, this is not indicative of American family realities, as single-parents, homosexual families and those formed using reproductive technologies are becoming increasingly widespread. Indeed, the idea that children have traditionally been brought up in a two-parent household, or by their biological family, Coontz maintains, is false: ‘As late as 1940, 10 per cent of American children did not live with either parent, compared to only one in twenty-five today.’1 This final chapter explores how Hollywood has dealt with challenges to the traditional family unit by outlining its depictions of alternative families. These fall predominantly into the categories of single-parent families, divorcing families, homosexual families, and those families created through the use of reproductive technologies. The chapter argues that liberal family forms are easily accepted as long as they adhere to the structure and ideals of the heteronormative nuclear family, including two parents, with masculine and feminine traits and middle-class status. Representations of those families created through the use of reproductive technologies involve a renewed emphasis on biological parenting that is less important in other family models. Therefore, as the family becomes more diverse on the surface, its values are increasingly traditional. There is also a renewed emphasis placed on patriarchy and paternal experience, that is particularly prevalent in the recent trend of mom-coms, films about motherhood – encompassing those 149

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narratives of reproductive assistance – in which paternal anxieties and a need for male characters to ‘have it all’ are given precedence over female concerns. On the one hand this presents a modern narrative that recognizes a crisis in masculinity, on the other it reinforces patriarchal concerns and thus established gender binaries. While some structures remain unchallenged, there has been a distinct shift towards films that depict parenting as tough, messy and difficult. This, along with the continuing prevalence of non-traditional family forms, leads to a Hollywood depiction of the family that accepts lived realities. As such, Hollywood’s representations fit into wider discourses about the changing nature of American families that are celebrated as progressive by liberal campaigners and destructive by rightwing activists. Hollywood accepts different types of families, and (even though some representations are problematic) in the case of the gay family, offers the alternative in favourable contrast to the norm. It is important to conclude with an analysis of alternative families because they demonstrate Hollywood’s recognition of the possibilities open to the contemporary American family. The films, and archetypes, discussed here represent an attempt to assimilate these new family forms with Hollywood’s own ideologies, and therefore they offer perhaps the greatest insight into Hollywood’s family values. The changing nature of contemporary families has been theorized by scholars such as Chambers, who discusses the effect new family forms have on the perception of the family as an ‘institution’. She suggests that, as diverse groups such as gay and lesbian couples adopt the term ‘family’, its meaning has shifted, and that ‘family practices’ is a more useful term to indicate the varying nature of contemporary families. Chambers argues that a new ‘post-nuclear, post-patriarchal familial model has been conceived’.2 Furthermore, both Coontz and Chambers recognize that the relationship between sex, marriage and childrearing has changed, causing a re-definition of the family, as childrearing and sex are no longer as closely linked to marriage as they once were, particularly in single-parent and gay families, and of course reproductive technologies have also aided the separation of family from both marriage and sex.3 Chambers also discusses the shifting meanings of marriage, suggesting that there is a transformation in the ‘nature of marriage to reflect a greater emphasis on the couple relationship as a source of fulfilment rather than social, economic or sexual convenience’.4 This is reiterated by Valenti, who recognizes the same notion of fulfilment as a driving force behind the decision to have children, in a way it has not been historically.5 Chambers also notes a ‘serious confusion between family/household, couple/marriage and marriage/parenthood’,6 that articulates the changing nature of family and marriage, as the two are no longer necessarily connected. Conservative family values campaigners see these changes in family realities as evidence that the nuclear family is under threat, and believe that its undoing is detrimental to society. Bennett believes Americans should be ‘frightened’ about the state of the family,7 adding:

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Bennett’s hyperbolic attack on changing family values presents an extreme viewpoint, but there is a widespread resistance to change. Hollywood’s representations of alternative families attempt to negotiate these conflicts. The non-nuclear, nonheterosexual family has appeared more frequently since 1990, but while some representations acknowledge a liberal re-thinking of what the American family actually is, there remains a reliance on traditional structures. This allows the alternative family to complement the norm by trying to live up to its standards; alternative families are not necessarily rebuked, but exist within the parameters of the dominant model. The fact that Hollywood’s alternative families echo the structures of the nuclear family aligns with Chambers’ assertion that the alternative (or postmodern) family has been created as its own mythical model.9

Single-parent and Divorced Families

SINGLE-PARENTS, HOMOSEXUAL UNIONS AND REPRODUCTIVE TECHNOLOGIES

There are few matters of more profound public consequence than the condition of marriage and families. Most of our social pathologies – crime, imprisonment rates, welfare, educational underachievement, alcohol and drug abuse, suicide, depression, sexually transmitted diseases – are manifestations, direct and indirect, of the crack-up of the modern American family.8

The single-parent family is the most visible of Hollywood’s ‘alternatives’, no doubt because of its prevalence in American society. As Coontz wrote in 1997: ‘Today only half of American children live in nuclear families with both biological parents present. One child in five lives in a stepfamily and one in four lives in a “single-parent” home.’10 Although the single-parent is widely represented, there are relatively few mainstream films that deal with the breakdown of the family through divorce, allowing a discussion of single-parent or divorced families to fall into two groups: those that present a long-term single-parent family and those that concentrate on the family in a state of transition as a result of divorce. Although single-parent families are becoming widespread across a number of genres, it is their prevalence in romantic comedies, in which the single-parent is a desirable romantic partner, that is of particular interest, challenging the notion that sexualized parents are problematic.11 The romantic imperative of such films necessitates the reformation of a (pseudo) nuclear family, suggesting a desire to reinstate an alternative family that echoes a traditional model. The conventional nature of romantic comedies is echoed in a film such as One Fine Day, in which not only is a pseudo-nuclear family reformed, but the career-driven parents learn that family must come first. While the single-parent is widely represented in romantic comedies including Sleepless in Seattle (1993), One Fine Day, Jerry Maguire, Maid in Manhattan, The Perfect Man (2005), Mamma Mia! and The Rebound (2009), amongst many others, he/she is not confined to this genre, instead there is a common implication across varying 151

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genres that the single-parent cannot cope alone. Panic Room and Flightplan, for example, both see Jodie Foster play a newly single-mother through, respectively, divorce and death. In both cases the safety of mother and daughter is under threat. Although neither film ends with a romantic union, male figures are required to protect the family. In Panic Room the mother calls upon her ex-husband to aid her when intruders attack her new home, and in Flightplan Foster’s character loses her daughter on board an aeroplane. She is initially branded crazy by the (male) pilot who refuses her help; however, once it has been proved that her daughter was abducted he gallantly protects her. The pilot’s part in aiding the family is notably limited, he does little but request that the police do not question the mother immediately after the ordeal; but he is allowed the last word, intervening to protect the female family. The concern for masculine intervention and influence seen in Panic Room and Flightplan is shared by the heterosexual partnerships of single-parent romantic comedies. The majority of the single-parent narratives take a single-mother as their central parent (Sleepless in Seattle is an exception, and in One Fine Day there is both a single-mother and a single-father). The need to complete the family by reinstating a father-figure (evident in the discussion of disaster films in Chapter 4 and the working-class family in Chapter 5) echoes a widespread concern, perpetuated by family values campaigners, that absent fathers represent a serious problem. The importance of a father is emphasized by conservative thinkers such as Bly, who notes the damage done to both women and men if they have an ‘insufficient’ father in their life.12 Eberstadt blames the lack of paternal influence for many teenage ills including, somewhat irrationally, teenage pregnancies,13 and Julie Bindel notes the strong reaction to Dick Cheney’s daughter Mary’s decision to bring up a child with her lesbian partner, quoting a spokeswoman of Concerned Women of America as stating: ‘It’s very disappointing that a celebrity couple like this would deliberately bring into the world a child that will never have a father.’14 The implication of all these texts is that fathers are crucial to child development. Although the fathers of the single-parent films do not directly aid child development, they do provide the qualities that the family needs, such as financial stability ( Jerry Maguire, Maid in Manhattan, Mamma Mia! ) and a fun and ‘constant’ parental figure in the face of the biological father’s absence (One Fine Day, Maid in Manhattan). In the case of One Fine Day, the substitute father’s presence also helps to ‘soften’ the demeanour of the stressed-out working mother. The need to reform a nuclear family unit – even if not a biological one – evokes the desires of right-wing family values campaigners, who see the restoration of the nuclear family as a way to ward off societal ills. As Coontz writes: The fallback position for those in denial about the socioeconomic transformation we are experiencing is to admit that many families are in economic stress but to blame the plight on divorce and unwed motherhood . . . we are kidding ourselves

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This desire for a two-parent family is particularly pervasive in the writing of Eberstadt, who considers that ‘It would be better for both children and adults if more American parents were with their kids more of the time. That is to say . . . if more parents entertaining separation or divorce did stay together for the sake of the kids.’16 Eberstadt’s model promotes reconciliation of the nuclear family, paying no attention to parental needs or desires. What single-parent romantic comedies offer, through a reformation of a non-biological family, is a way of perpetuating the two-parent ideal while still seemingly offering their parents personal fulfilment. The restoration of a nuclear family is, though, a fairly predictable element of the single-parent film. What is of more interest, in the romantic comedies, is the single-parent’s status as desirable romantic character. He/she is rendered more attractive specifically through the presence of their child – a child who often plays an important role in instigating or cementing the romantic union. This is an established trend in Hollywood narratives, seen in films such as The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (1963), The Sound of Music (1965), Look Who’s Talking, Jerry Maguire, Pay It Forward and Maid in Manhattan. The trope of the child ‘choosing’ the new parent allows the reconfigured non-biological family to still be in the child’s best interests, and creates a parallel between parental fulfilment and the child’s needs. In most of these films it is the son who chooses a father, although this is not exclusively the case. For example, in Sleepless in Seattle the son chooses a new suitor for his widowed father, Sam (Tom Hanks), who inadvertently pours his heart out on a radio phone-in and consequently receives hundreds of letters from adoring women. His son, Jonah (Ross Malinger), singles out one of these women, Annie (Meg Ryan). Although Annie is engaged to another man she instantly falls for Sam when she hears him on the radio. Jonah attempts to arrange a meeting between Sam and Annie, at the top of the Empire State Building, directly referencing An Affair to Remember (1957) – a film that is cited throughout Sleepless in Seattle – thus creating a sense of idealized and destined grand romance.17 The romantic union of Sleepless in Seattle occurs without Sam or Annie really speaking to each other. The film ends with them holding hands and smiling sheepishly, cementing a chaste romance and promoting an all too easy reformation of the broken or damaged nuclear family. Annie’s decision to leave her fianc´e and pursue a man she has never met is symptomatic of the idealization of the single-parent as romantic partner. For Annie it is Sam’s emotional honesty that is attractive, a trait linked to his role as a father. As Coontz notes, above all this emotional presence is necessary in a successful family,18 and it is the father’s emotional availability and complexity that sets him apart from other potential suitors. Nurturing paternity is also an attractive characteristic in One Fine Day. In this film two single-parents are paired up by the romantic narrative, Melanie

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if we think the solution to the economic difficulties of America’s children lies in getting their parents back together.15

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(Michelle Pfeiffer), a neurotic single-mother and successful architect, and the charming but chaotic part-time father Jack (George Clooney). The two meet when Jack causes both their children to miss a school field trip. Despite an acrimonious start, they agree to join forces so that both parents can juggle important work commitments with childcare. It is not until Melanie watches Jack put on a puppet show for his daughter, to alleviate her upset at having to attend a day-care centre, that her feelings for Jack soften. It is as Jack, in particular, but essentially both parents, transform from career-oriented individuals to more adaptable and caring parents that their romance blossoms. The (involved) single-parent, then, is an idealized romantic figure, and it is particularly when the parents conform to traditionally ‘nurturing’ roles that they become attractive. Although singleparents are desirable romantic partners, the relationships remain chaste: in One Fine Day, like Sleepless in Seattle, the blossoming romance lacks sexual intimacy. Here Melanie, clearly hoping to consummate her relationship with Jack, dashes away from a lingering kiss to ‘freshen up’ but spends so long preening and beautifying that Jack falls asleep on the sofa, and the relationship is consummated instead with a sleepy cuddle. The family units formed in the single-parent romantic comedies succumb to relatively traditional standards. While single-parent narratives allow their mothers careers, the reliance on male financial intervention is problematic. Mamma Mia!, for example, fixes the female family by instating a rich father. Single-mother Donna (Meryl Streep) has brought up her daughter and run a business alone; her close relationship with two female friends is sisterly and is implicitly feminist in its marginalization of men. Moreover, these are feisty women who do not rely on men and have all achieved varying levels of professional success. This is visible in the musical numbers through a gentle mocking of men; Donna’s friend Tanya (Christine Baranski) rebukes the advances of a younger admirer in ‘Does Your Mother Know’ and plays around to create a make-shift phallus as she sings ‘anybody could be that guy’ during ‘Dancing Queen’. While the film pokes fun at men, the single-mother still conforms to traditional standards. The film’s conclusion is generically satisfying, as it is with Donna’s marriage to Sam (Pierce Brosnan) (and not her daughter’s) that it ends. Sam is an old boyfriend that Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) has, unbeknownst to Donna, invited to her own wedding, wanting to know which of three men with whom Donna had had flings over an eventful summer, is her biological father. Although Donna marries for love, her chosen beau is the one who offers money for both the wedding and the repairs her hotel requires – so he is the perfect romantic match. Donna’s relationship with Sam, like the majority of single-parent unions is a chaste one: Sam is Donna’s first love. Despite the symbolic chastity of this union, Donna does have a sexually active past (conveniently repressed by the reemergence of Sam). She never discovers which of her three previous lovers is Sophie’s father. Donna has been rebuked for the sexual experimentation in her

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youth, labelling herself a ‘reckless slut’, and it is implied that she has had no significant relationships since Sophie was born. However, in marrying her first love, the romantic resolution for Donna is idealized, conforming to the romantic comedy model. The marriage goes ahead with little more than a quick kiss between the bride and groom, and is symptomatic of chaste single-parent relationships. The reconfiguration of the single-parent family, while based on a traditional set-up, does acknowledge that the biological family is not always the best. This is particularly clear in those families that welcome in a new father. One Fine Day provides an extended narrative of good parenting by contrasting Melanie’s son Sammy (Alex D. Linz)’s biological father unfavourably with Jack. Sammy’s father fails to fulfil his promise to take the son on a planned camping trip. The biological father’s lack of presence provides a contrast to Jack’s presence. As Nicole Matthews writes of Mrs Doubtfire (1993), with words that resonate here, ‘responsibility as a father constitutes a physical presence’.19 It is Jack’s presence, looking after Sammy, and his own daughter Maggie (Mae Whitman), that suggests his ability to be a more responsible and involved father. Maid in Manhattan follows a similar narrative pattern, contrasting the biological father’s irresponsibility with the substitute father’s interest. The substitute fathers are not just present, they also provide financial stability in a number of the narratives, such as Mamma Mia!, Maid in Manhattan and Jerry Maguire. The link between financial security and masculinity implies that women need men, a reactionary conclusion that suggests how romantic comedies – even those that centre on single-parents – resemble the dominant, traditional Hollywood family model. The patriarchal imperative is further imposed as, in repairing the family, any trauma caused by the biological father’s absence or disinterest is erased. These romantic comedies all provide an easy and utopian conclusion to their family dramas, in contrast to those films that focus more readily on divorcing and transitioning families.

Families in Transition Mrs Doubtfire and Stepmom both deal with the separation of the family rather than its recuperation, allowing their conclusions to embrace less traditional models. In place of reconstructing the nuclear family, they attempt to amicably but more loosely reconcile estranged family members by their close. However, there is a reliance on the traits that permeate the dominant model, in particular feminine, nurturing responsibility in Stepmom and the transformation of the father into a fun but responsible parent in Mrs Doubtfire, another example of Hollywood’s attempt to embrace both diversity and traditionalism. Stepmom focuses on a family that has already suffered a marital break-up, which is complicated as the father becomes engaged to his new, younger, girlfriend, much to the distress of his estranged wife and children. At the same time, the family is 155

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further threatened by the mother’s diagnosis of terminal cancer. Conversely, Mrs Doubtfire begins with the nuclear family barely intact, and with the irresponsible parenting of Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) causing his wife Miranda (Sally Field) to initiate divorce proceedings. An acrimonious separation follows, and, in order to spend more time with his children, Daniel resorts to extreme measures, disguising himself as ‘Mrs Doubtfire’, and becoming housekeeper and nanny in his old home. Meanwhile, the mother embarks on a relationship with a responsible, better looking, but dull new beau. Both families reach a point of rapprochement, though notably not through the restoration of the nuclear family. The common theme of these films is the need for the parents, whether biological or step, to undergo a transformation in order to repair damaged relationships. This is particularly apparent in Mrs Doubtfire, in which Daniel shifts from being an irresponsible but fun father to a capable (yet still fun) parent, reflecting trends in Hollywood cinema, whereby the father must learn to be responsible, evidenced in Kramer vs. Kramer, Three Men and a Baby and One Fine Day amongst others. Stepmom also requires its parents to change, but in this instance emphasis is placed on female characters and their need to adapt. Stepmom is a film concerned with its female familial roles; the mother, the stepmother and the daughter. Although the father and son are both present within the narrative, they play more static and less consequential roles. Furthermore women in the film are, at times, bitchy and unpleasant characters, while the father and son are easy-going and amicable. The young son of the family is a cheerful child, happy in anyone’s company, but his mother and sister are more obviously affected by the family break up. This reversal of Harwood’s paradigm of 1980s family movies in which mothers and daughters are largely absent in narratives focusing on fathers and sons,20 is therefore problematic in portraying its female characters as dislikeable. Anna ( Jena Malone), the teenaged daughter, is emotionally damaged by the divorce, pretending to her school teacher that her parents have reconciled. She takes her frustrations out on Isabel ( Julia Roberts), her father’s girlfriend, actions exacerbated by the behaviour of her mother Jackie (Susan Sarandon), who detests her ex-husband’s new girlfriend. Thus women fuel the dysfunction. Despite Jackie’s bitchiness, the film frequently idealizes her. Stepmom creates an opposition between the stay-at-home mother and working stepmother through which a broader analysis of mothering emerges. This contrast centres on various binaries – old and young; domestic and professional; maternal and non-maternal – and is typical of various films, especially those that deal with the chastising of the professional mother/woman. This is also seen in One True Thing, in which the domestic mother is juxtaposed with the professional daughter (briefly discussed in Chapter 2). Notably in both films the domestic mother is dying of cancer, which functions on two levels: it necessitates a speedy transformation in the younger woman from professional to more feminine and domestic, and also implies that the domestic mother is a dying trend and deserves canonization.

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Although the domestic mother in Stepmom is at times unnecessarily critical of Isabel, on the whole she is a relatively sympathetic character and good parent; when Anna has trouble with boys at school, for example, Jackie talks to her about selfrespect. Isabel’s advice in this situation is to rely on insults and name-calling. Jackie’s final Christmas presents to her children are thoughtful and homemade.21 She gives a magician’s cape to her son, embroidered with photos of the two of them, and a quilt to her daughter decorated in the same way. The presents symbolize her sentimentality and her ‘feminine’ skills; she even gives the gifts while sitting in front of her sewing machine, amid cream coloured decor – a picture of serene domestic maternity. The good mother’s greatest characteristic, however, is her selflessness in relation to her children. Jackie eventually welcomes Isabel into the family for their benefit, and the final scene of the film is a moving one in which the whole family – mother, stepmother, father and children – all spend Christmas together. The mother has orchestrated this for the benefit of her children. Jackie insists a photo is taken of the ‘whole’ family and, as the picture is captured, she embraces Isabel. This is the final shot of the film, signalling the mother’s self-sacrifice in welcoming the younger woman into the role she will soon have to vacate, and presenting a utopian image of the alternative family. Jackie’s embrace of Isabel follows a scene in which the two women attempt to reconcile their differences. Their central concern appears to be for Anna, and this is played out in a discussion about her wedding: Isabel fears that when the time comes Anna will wish her mother is there, Jackie fears she will not. Narratively this marks a moment of bonding between the women, but beyond this it is symptomatic of a need for the alternative family to breed conventionality; it is taken for granted, for example, that the daughter will get married. The bonding between Isabel and Jackie prompts a transformation in both of them. Jackie learns to accept Isabel into the family, and Isabel learns to be more maternal. This is played out through her relationship with the children; initially she is irresponsible and puts work before their care, managing to lose Jackie’s son while combining baby-sitting with a photo shoot in Central Park. By the close of the film, however, Isabel is more available to the children, picking them up from school when their mother cannot make it because she is unwell following a dose of chemotherapy. Isabel’s transformation into a responsible and engaged stepparent also shows her changing into a more conventional and traditional feminine archetype. In Mrs Doubtfire, Daniel, much like Isabel, must transform himself into a more responsible parent, more so because his irresponsibility leads his wife to request a divorce.22 Daniel learns the art of good fatherhood by engaging with his children responsibly, as Mrs Doubtfire. As Matthews suggests, this allows responsibility to be gendered – as female – within the film.23 The gendering of responsibility is also apparent in Stepmom; when the mother cannot pick up her children from school or a birthday party, there is no question of the father doing it, it becomes the

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stepmother’s job. The assumption that women are primary carers is recognized by Valenti, who notes that the US Census Bureau only recognizes mothers to be designated parents, meaning that ‘anyone who takes care of the child besides the mother counts as “child care” – including dad’.24 Although female responsibility is celebrated through the character of Mrs Doubtfire, it is also complicated, as Daniel is masquerading as the housekeeper. She improves the running of the home and becomes a figure of authority and stability to the children. Of course, Daniel’s masquerade is eventually discovered, leading to an acrimonious court battle with Miranda for child custody in which the character of Mrs Doubtfire is deemed a perversion. By the close of the film, though, Miranda realizes the important role Daniel-as-Mrs Doubtfire played in the family’s life, and asks Daniel to look after the children. At the same time Daniel manages to gain employment on a children’s television show as Mrs Doubtfire, so his feminization has improved both his prospects at home and at work. The correlation between professional success and ‘happy’ family draws parallels with The Incredibles – it is once Mr Incredible is employed in a job he enjoys that he is able to engage with his family as a responsible father. Daniel, though, has always engaged with his family, but it has been only as a figure of fun, befriending, rather than parenting, his children. The film’s attitude towards childcare separates responsibility and love. Following the revelation that Daniel is Mrs Doubtfire, he is denied custody of his children despite a heartfelt plea about how much he loves them. Daniel’s love never has to be proved, it is explicit from the outset, but his parental responsibility must be learned. Bruzzi notes that responsibility in the form of good parenting is divorced from traditional masculinity. She categorizes Daniel, because of his cross-dressing, with queer fathers, noting that this film and The Birdcage improve the father by refuting traditional masculinity.25 However, Matthews does highlight contradictions in the film’s representation of gender roles: [T]here are textual indications in Mrs Doubtfire that a norm of responsibility articulated across fatherhood might be implicitly taken up to measure other performances of responsible conduct, including, perhaps, the notion of the responsible mother.26

Harwood, conversely, believes Mrs Doubtfire to be liberal in allowing its mother both a career and a sex-life.27 However, it is the more involved father who, even once the persona of Mrs Doubtfire is discarded at the close of the film, continues to provide childcare. While Daniel must be transformed into a woman in order to learn responsibility, once transformed he provides an image of domestic maternity that the natural mother cannot emulate. The professional mother is implicitly criticized; for example the birthday party which Daniel throws and which provides the catalyst for the parents’ divorce only happens because the mother is working 158

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late. While the film’s central transformation is that of Daniel, Miranda is also changed through its course. Her hard, career-driven demeanour softens as she turns to Daniel for help and apologizes for denying him custody, asking him back into the family, having been transformed by the presence of Mrs Doubtfire. Whereas Stepmom creates an extended utopian family – evidenced in its final tableau of the snapshot – Mrs Doubtfire’s conclusion is, in conventional terms, dystopian, as the mother and father remain separated, with the father waiting for his children outside the home and the mother inside. Although neither film culminates in the reconstitution of a nuclear family, both rely on ‘traditional’ values being reinstated within alternative family structures, demonstrating the continued tension between alternative and traditional in Hollywood’s representation of the family. The working mother and stepmother have both been chastised for their lack of maternal involvement, their transformation is crucial to the reconciliation of the family. The absence of Miranda’s new boyfriend in the closing sequence of Mrs Doubtfire is also poignant, again pointing to the importance of biological parents regardless of family arrangements. The closing scene is accompanied by a pointed speech made by Mrs Doubtfire on her television show, watched by Miranda, that acknowledges the widespread and varying nature of contemporary families, but placing the emphasis on love rather than structure, echoing Coontz’s research, which recognizes that supportive parenting has proved much more beneficial to child development than maintaining a complete, but unhappy, nuclear family.28 Mrs Doubtfire’s celebration of alternative families is, however, short-lived. The mother’s loneliness in this scene, evident as she looks longingly after Daniel and her children, suggests a desire to reunite the family. It is, though, the presence of Mrs Doubtfire, rather than Daniel, that she longs for. While both films allow alternative families to exist, it would be an impossible conclusion to restore the ‘gender-bending’ or ‘queer’ father to a place in the nuclear family. However, some films do attempt to create a family around queer characters, further challenging the dominant norm.

The Gay Family Conservative commentators regard the homosexual family as the ultimate threat to the traditional model, Bennett believes that homosexual marriages and families reject ‘time-honoured moral truths’,29 altering the relationship between marriage, sex and procreation. Although Hollywood is more open-minded in its treatment of homosexuality, the narratives of films such as Far From Heaven and Brokeback Mountain (2005) do depict homosexuality as a threat to the family. They are period films, set in the fifties and the sixties to eighties respectively, and in both the father of a heterosexual, nuclear family has hidden his homosexuality, the eventual revelation of which destroys the family. Although homophobia is critiqued within the worlds the films inhabit, homosexuality is a clear threat to family life. There 159

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have been more positive representations of the homosexual family; however, it is when the set-up of the nuclear model is echoed by the gay family that they are most successful. Indeed, in The Birdcage, the gay family is compared favourably to the heterosexual conservative family. However, in order for the gay family to be accepted it must still echo the structures of the norm. This is particularly seen through the gendering of parents as masculine and feminine, and their middle-class status. Romantic love is also important to this family group, again reflecting the importance of sexually active parents – those families created through a platonic relationship between mother and her gay best friend always fail. Although the representation of homosexuality does offer a diverse and liberal portrait of the contemporary American family, it is important to note that patriarchy and male characters are foregrounded in these narratives, and, while the gay family is becoming increasingly mainstream, the lesbian family remains nearly invisible, and when it does exist it is almost always complicated by heterosexual desires. Hollywood’s treatment of homosexuality has, historically, been critical. As Harry Benshoff and Sean Griffin write: In accordance with the Hollywood Production Code (written in 1930, and enforced in 1934), explicit representation (or even the mention) of ‘sex perversion’ was banned from Hollywood movie screens for almost three decades. Thus, unable to show any overt marker of homosexual desire, but still desiring to characterize supporting characters as homosexual, filmmakers repeatedly employed the pansy or butch woman stereotypes.30

Although homosexuality was thus implicit in queer and gender-bending characters, these stereotypes were often played for laughs, or to portray evil. Benshoff and Griffin note that the ridicule of homosexual characters continued even once the Production Code had been abolished in 1961, when homosexuality was allowed to be represented as long as it was with ‘care, discretion, and restraint’.31 Hollywood’s representation of homosexuality, as well as being based in stereotypes, has been consistently marginalized. Few mainstream films have dealt explicitly with homosexuality, even since the abolition of the Production Code. In recent years, Philadelphia (1993) is a notable example of a film that attempted to deal headon with homosexuality, homophobia and the AIDS crisis, and managed to gain critical and commercial success. Since the 1990s Hollywood has attempted to embrace homosexual characters, and these characters are beginning to be depicted in a positive light. Wood cites My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997) as a film that includes a [C]haracter who is not only openly gay but is represented positively and attractively. Rupert Everett’s George is very different from the grotesques and lost souls who first represented gays when the taboo on explicit gay representation was lifted in the 1960s.32 160

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Ellen is linked to the increased public recognition and inclusion of conservative and ‘respectable’ gay organizations and issues within mainstream politics and media. Such inclusion is, however, conditional upon the mirroring of white heterosexual monogamy and anglodominant middle-class family ties in homosexual relationships.33

In American society, as well as Hollywood representations, the increased acceptance and visibility of homosexuality has led to gay relationships becoming subject to heteronormative structures. Benshoff draws attention to two important factors when discussing the gay family that demonstrate a tension between, and an attempt to amalgamate, the alternative and the traditional. Firstly, that the desire among homosexual couples to create a family is symptomatic of the marginalized conforming to the standards of the mainstream. Secondly, that those who oppose gay marriage and gay families (especially because of conservative or religious beliefs) are turning something traditional and conformist into something radical.34 The combination of homosexuality and the family, then, is fraught with complexity. Gay family films, such as The Birdcage, The Object of My Affection and The Next Best Thing, situate homosexuality as the alternative to heterosexuality and the heterosexual family, placing the gay family in the role of ‘queer’ or ‘other’. Chambers suggests, though, that the use of ‘categories such as “divergent” and “new” [or in this case “queer”/“other”] actually make the nuclear form seem normal’.35 Therefore the assertion of the alternative family’s ‘otherness’ heightens the division between alternative and conventional, and confirms the notion that cinema ‘has almost always told stories about gay men and lesbians from within heterosexual perspectives, when it told them at all’.36 The tensions between alternative and traditional are evident in the construction of a gay family based on a heteronormative model, as played out in The Birdcage, through a hetero-normalization of the family that functions both explicitly and implicitly. The concealment of the family’s homosexuality provides the narrative drive, allowing chaos and comedy to follow. The gay family of The Birdcage is

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However, Hollywood’s treatment of homosexuality continues to represent it as ‘other’, and the increased visibility of homosexual characters, and notably homosexual families since 1990, has existed alongside a ‘normalization’ of homosexuality that has subjected this group to the standards and structures of patriarchal society. For example, in My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Object of My Affection and The Next Best Thing, the gay male is partnered with a heterosexual female, echoing a heteronormative partnership. In The Birdcage, the homosexual relationship is monogamous, mirroring a heterosexual marriage. Chambers notes a similar ‘normalization’ of homosexual relationships in media representations of alternative families. She cites the American TV sitcom Ellen (1994–8) as an example of this, writing:

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made up of Val Goldman (Dan Futterman) and two gay fathers, his biological father Armand (Robin Williams), and Albert (Nathan Lane), Armand’s life partner. Val has become engaged to Barbara Keeley (Calista Flockhart), the daughter of a conservative senator, and the film deals with the subsequent meeting between the two contrasting families. However, this is complicated by the fact that Barbara has concealed Val’s parentage from her mother and father, leading them to assume he is the product of a heterosexual marriage. When the two families meet, the Goldmans, at Val’s request, masquerade as a married couple, forcing Albert to dress up as Val’s mother.37 The version of the traditional family created by the Goldmans is a caricature, not helped by Val’s insistence that they claim their name is Coleman, not Goldman, hiding their Jewish roots, and reiterating that America’s ideal family fits the WASP mould. Armand succumbs to this by redecorating the apartment and hanging an overbearing crucifix on the wall, while Albert transforms himself into a conservative mother in a pastel twin set and pearls. The exaggerated artifice of the Goldmans’ performance implicitly critiques the heterosexual and conservative family, and indeed the film celebrates the gay family. Early on, Val had announced that he is one of the few in his college class not to come from a broken home. Conversely, Senator Keeley (Gene Hackman), is scheming and self-serving and only agrees to his daughter’s wedding to counteract bad press caused by the revelation that his colleague, co-founder of ‘The Coalition for Moral Order’, had recently been found dead in bed with an underage African-American prostitute. Expectations are reversed as the traditionalist heterosexual family is admonished. However, the gay family that is celebrated is one that, in everything but sexuality/ gender, both echoes and pokes fun at Hollywood’s idealized model. The Goldmans are a middle-class family with a butler, albeit a flamboyantly camp man, and Armand runs a successful business, although it is a gay night-club, where Albert is the star performer. Indeed, Chambers considers that a new mythic version of the postmodern, or alternative, family exists under the assumption that it is middleclass.38 Furthermore, the parents are gendered as masculine and feminine through their professional roles and personalities. Albert is a drag queen who frequently displays ‘feminine’ hysterics and, as a result of his stage persona, Starina, is referred to as ‘she’ for much of the film. There is also a subplot concerning the relationship between Armand and Albert. Albert wishes Armand to sign palimony papers, so that he has legal rights if anything happens to Armand. By the film’s close the papers are signed, effectively rendering Armand and Albert married and thus further heteronormalizing the queer family.

Homosexual Fathers and Heterosexual Mothers The Object of My Affection and The Next Best Thing similarly rely on a traditional family model, although in these films the gay father is partnered by the heterosexual, 162

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biological mother of the child in a platonic family, and this utopian version of a platonic family does not remain intact. That is not to say that alternative, extended family units are not celebrated by the films, but there does remain an emphasis on love and romance for the central nuclear unit. Wood believes that the inclusion of the gay character as the heroine’s best friend in these films, rather than a central romantic character, avoids the ‘potential embarrassment of the more repressed and inhibited members of the audience’.39 In The Object of My Affection, Nina Borowski ( Jennifer Aniston) falls pregnant with her boyfriend’s child but decides not to stay with him, instead asking her gay housemate and best friend, George (Paul Rudd), to raise the child with her. However, while George embarks on an affair with another man, Nina falls in love with George. By the close of the film Nina has given birth and George has moved out, so while there is an attempt to mimic the nuclear family, essentially it does not work. The Next Best Thing approaches the gay family in a similar way; Abbie (Madonna) has a one-night stand with her gay best friend Robert (Rupert Everett) and falls pregnant. They live together and bring up their son for five years in a platonic relationship until Abbie falls in love and wants her new husband to share custody of her son Sam (Malcolm Stumpf ). During the custody battle it transpires that Abbie’s unsuitable ex-boyfriend, not Robert, is the biological father. The film ends, following the acrimonious court scenes (in which Robert’s sexuality is used as a weapon against him), with a friendly reconciliation between the two and the agreement that Robert can play a part in Sam’s upbringing. Although the platonic families of The Object of My Affection and The Next Best Thing are not sustainable, the denouement of The Object of My Affection celebrates

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Figure 18. Armand (left), is masculine whilst Albert (right) is feminized, allowing the homosexual family of The Birdcage (1996) to echo its heteronormative counterpart.

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an alternative family group. Once Nina has become a mother, the film skips five years to its finale, in which Nina’s daughter, Molly (Sarah Hyland), is now a pupil at a school where George is the principal. Molly is at the centre of an extended family network that includes Nina, Nina’s boyfriend Louis (Kevin Carroll), an African-America policemen she met earlier in the film, Molly’s natural father Vince ( John Pankow), George and his partner, and Nina’s step-sister Constance (Allison Janney), her husband Sidney (Alan Alda) and daughter Sally (Paz de la Huerta). The daughter’s excitement that she had the most friends and family watching her in the school play implies that such an alternative family is a positive thing, indeed Coontz notes that extended kin networks are often a very positive influence in child rearing.40 However, the film is at pains to show diversity (gay, Black, unmarried) without any perception or indication of how such a family unit might work. This utopian vision is in sharp contrast to the only nuclear family of the film, that of Nina’s stepsister Constance. A parallel can be drawn between Constance’s family and the Keeleys of The Birdcage; both are wealthy, conservative families in which the parents are self-involved and self-serving. The alternative families in these two films provide stable and nurturing environments for children. Yet there is never any real indication as to how the alternative families interact and work on a day-to-day basis. By the close of The Object of My Affection it is not clear whether George has an active role in rearing Molly – whether, as he wished to be, he is the guy who ‘gets to say goodnight’. The Next Best Thing similarly avoids such intricacies, skipping the entire family narrative from pregnancy to Sam’s fifth birthday. Furthermore, the inclusion of the biological mother in all three narratives avoids dealing with the question of homosexual couples adopting and reiterates a concern for biological parenting. Although, as Coontz points out, the majority of children living in gay families are the product of a heterosexual relationship, and live with a parent who came out after their birth,41 gay adoption is not an uncommon way for homosexual families to be formed. In failing to deal with any real family dynamics, though, the films can only create a snapshot, or a fac¸ade, of what a gay family looks like.

Masquerade and the Gay Family The idealized fac¸ade of the gay family provides a thread that runs through all three films. In The Birdcage, the family itself creates this fac¸ade to fool the Keeleys, hiding both their sexuality and Albert’s gender. For the most part, homosexuality, camp-ness and Albert’s performance in drag provide the basis of the film’s comedy, likening The Birdcage to Hollywood’s historic representations of homosexuality as either comedic or grotesque. Having said that, Senator Keeley becomes the butt of the joke when he fails to comprehend, even once Albert has removed his wig, that Albert is a man in drag. Albert’s masquerade easily fools the Keeley family because they are so blinkered to such an alternative lifestyle. The film is contrary as it relies 164

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on various stereotypes of homosexuality as entertainment, yet it attempts to paint a positive picture of the gay family. The theme of masquerade is present, albeit less conspicuously, elsewhere. In The Next Best Thing, Sam asks his dad if he is a ‘fag’, repeating the words of a school friend. The ambiguity of the family relationship is highlighted in this scene as it becomes unclear whether or not Sam is aware of his father’s sexuality and his parents’ unconventional living arrangements. The masquerade of platonic friendship as romantic love similarly appears in The Object of My Affection, through references to Singin’ in the Rain (1952). As George and Nina sit in bed together, they watch Don (Gene Kelly) create an artificial romantic scene in the hope of seducing Kathy (Debbie Reynolds). This falsity is echoed in the relationship between Nina and George, as their attempts at a platonic relationship are complicated by Nina’s sexual desire. Their relationship is cemented by ballroom dancing, a hobby they share, through which Singin’ in the Rain is again referenced. As they dance together to ‘You Were Meant For Me’ at George’s brother’s wedding, the guests mistakenly assume that they are a couple; a ‘normal’ family. This scene ends in an argument and the breakdown of the alternative family bringing down the fac¸ade. In both The Next Best Thing and The Object of My Affection, the queer family unit does not work because it is a masquerade, as at least one member requires romantic love which cannot be provided. Parental sexuality is not threatening to the family in these narratives. Indeed sexual desire, in The Next Best Thing, aids the formation of a heterosexual family, as Abbie and her new beau Ben (Benjamin Bratt) create a family by the film’s close. Although Abbie’s romantic relationship creates a family unit that remains complete and is therefore viewed as more stable than her family with Robert, she is not the better parent. Bruzzi suggests that the ‘asexuality’ of Robert, as a gay father in this film, places him in the role of good parent because: the notion of the sexual father has proved so problematic to Hollywood, the father’s eroticism has had to be repressed – or, as is possible with the gay father, displaced onto another object of desire beyond the family unit. It is this displacement that allows, for example, Robert to prove the more attentive, traditionally maternal parent in the Next Best Thing.42

Throughout the gay father films there is an implicit discourse about parenting, in which the biological parents – often the mothers – are not necessarily the ‘best’ parents. Robert’s lack of romantic entanglements, in direct contrast with Abbie’s relationship, allows him to be the more involved parent in the brief glimpses offered of family life. The Object of My Affection, much like the single-parent films One Fine Day and Maid in Manhattan, replaces the less suitable biological father with a more ‘natural’ paternal figure. In this instance it is George. George’s role as a primary school teacher allows him to be more nurturing than the over-bearing biological father, Vince. The Birdcage depicts a family in which the biological mother has 165

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been completely removed. Val’s biological mother has not seen him since he was a baby, and chose to have no part in his upbringing. In the family of The Birdcage, the gay fathers are the better nurturers and the more ‘natural’ parents. Indeed it is a gay parent who has effectively taken on the role of the mother. During the revelation of Albert’s true identity (as Val’s biological mother becomes caught up in the masquerade) the senator asks Armand ‘Exactly how many mothers does your son have?’ at which point Val answers it is just one: Albert. The conscious use of the phrase ‘mother’ here to refer to his second father implies an attempt to normalize this queer family, while replacing the biological mother with the gay man. In this film and The Next Best Thing, the unconventional father is the ‘better’ parent. In a similar manner to films such as Cheaper by the Dozen 2 and Meet the Fockers, The Birdcage celebrates unconventionality by contrasting two very different fathers, Armand and Senator Keeley. It is in comparison to the conservative family that gay parenting flourishes. The film implicitly criticizes the conservative family for its lack of tolerance and the father’s self-centredness. The gay family, in contrast, is more stable, honest and nurturing. Furthermore this film presents homosexual parenting as a positive choice as opposed to the next best thing. However, there remains an overriding concern with fatherhood that ties it to more conservative ideologies. The Birdcage is distinctive in that, in contrast to The Next Best Thing, it offers the example of the gay father as biological parent with no suggestion that the father will complicate his son’s sexuality. Father–son narratives are frequently concerned with the passing on of patriarchal values and lessons in masculinity. As Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick suggests, this is directly in contrast to gay fatherhood: Sedgwick argues for a distinct opposition between men loving men and men promoting the interests of men; in short patriarchy and homosexuality do not fit together easily.43 However, there is a patriarchal order at work in The Birdcage. Armand teaches his son what it is to be a man through his self-respect, honesty and integrity, but he also takes on a more traditionally patriarchal role as the head of the household, and in looking after the feminized Albert. While Albert’s role in Val’s upbringing is acknowledged, the central family unit is that of father and son. This is apparent from the outset, as the meeting between Val and his father, in which Val announces his engagement, is kept a secret from Albert. Albert, as the second father/substitute mother, remains on the outskirts of the family; when he orders a cake from a local bakery for Val, Albert asks for the iced inscription to read ‘To my piglet from his Aunty Albert’, both feminizing and distancing his role in Val’s upbringing. Furthermore, it is a traditional image of fatherhood that convinces George, in The Object of My Affection, to accept Nina’s offer to bring up her child together. He makes the decision having spent an afternoon watching a father playing catch with his son. The image is specifically coded to present a certain ideal of heterosexual fatherhood – that of father and son playing sports. Thus, ideal fatherhood is here represented by a type of masculinity that George, as a creative, gay man, will never

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The Lesbian Family The continued concern with fatherhood and masculinity goes some way to explaining the near invisibility of the lesbian family in Hollywood. Whereas gay families have appeared in the mainstream since the 1990s, it took until 2010 for a lesbian family to be central to a Hollywood narrative, in The Kids Are All Right. There had been earlier examples of lesbian families and parents in Hollywood films such as The Hours and Kicking & Screaming (2005), but generally they have been few and far between. While the Hollywood gay father’s characteristics, as feminized and nurturing, make him an ideal parent, if homosexuality is portrayed as gender inversion, which Benshoff and Griffin see as Hollywood’s ‘traditional’ model of homosexuality,44 then male homosexuality is feminizing, while lesbians disavow their femininity (and therefore maternal desire/instinct which is inherent in this femininity). Furthermore, if being a lesbian involves the criteria lesbian separatist Monique Wittig put forward, then it is explicitly threatening to the family and the patriarchal order. Wittig believes that lesbians are one of the few groups who are able to operate outside patriarchal structures, and sees this decision as a positive choice: ‘The refusal to become (or remain) heterosexual always meant to refuse to become a man or a woman, consciously or not.’45 This refusal to become a man or woman, to Wittig, is a way of distancing oneself from the structures of patriarchal society. Her central concern is the political role of the lesbian in asserting herself as something other than a woman:

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be able to emulate. This is cemented not only through his eventual removal from the role of father but also through the birth of a daughter, rather than a son, as his ‘surrogate’ child.

Lesbian is the only concept I know of which is beyond the categories of sex (woman and man), because the designated subject (lesbian) is not a woman, either economically, or politically, or ideologically. For what makes a woman is a specific social relation to a man, a relation that we have previously called servitude, a relation which implies personal and physical obligation as well as economic obligation (‘forced residence,’ domestic corv´ee, conjugal duties, unlimited production of children, etc.), a relation which lesbians escape by refusing to become or to stay heterosexual.46

Wittig, writing in 1981, believed being a lesbian to be a positive choice and one that allowed women to opt out of the structures of patriarchal society. Hollywood, however, has situated its lesbian families within narratives that are explicitly concerned with fatherhood. A concern for paternity underpins both 167

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Kicking & Screaming, in which the lesbian family plays a supporting role in a film that is ostensibly about a father–son relationship, and in The Kids Are All Right, in which the narrative is driven by a desire to meet and know the biological father. Kicking & Screaming offers, albeit briefly, a positive representation of lesbian parenting. The film tells the story of Phil Weston (Will Ferrell) and his relationship with his father, Buck (Robert Duvall), an over-competitive ex-sportsman who now coaches a boys’ football team which includes both his grandson, Sam (Dylan McLaughlin), and son, Bucky ( Josh Hutcherson), who are the same age. Unlike Buck and Bucky, Phil and Sam are not athletic. When Sam is forced to play in the worst football team in the league, Phil steps in to coach them, exacerbating a rivalry between him and his father that has been caused by many years of unhealthy competition and disappointment in the son. Thus the film is a father–son narrative. The lesbian family fit into the narrative as adoptive mothers of one of the boys, Byong Sun (Elliot Cho), in Phil’s new team – a band of misfits who have few soccer skills. While it has a limited role in the narrative, the lesbian family is depicted in a positive, if stereotyped, way. The narrative takes them for granted as a family; despite an obvious, but brief, shock when Phil realizes that the women are both Byong Sun’s mothers, the lesbian family is accepted without question. The family’s stability is also never in doubt; the mothers themselves state that they are always present to support their son at every game. There are some jokes made at the expense of the lesbian family, but essentially these only consist of stereotyping over-involved ‘new-age’ mothering, and in all instances the outcome is a positive representation. Byong Sun is a tiny, weak and shy boy whom the women adore. While they are coded as comic ‘new age’ mothers, they are also involved and supportive parents. Despite this, we see very little of lesbian family dynamics, or the decisions and hurdles that lesbian families face. A specific notion of female parenting is repeated in The Kids Are All Right, in which the two mothers undertake an involved style of parenting which Jack Halberstam argues is stifling, forcing the two distinct personalities of the mothers to be ‘merged into one maternal entity [that] is depicted as one amorphous smothering gesture after another’.47 In contrast to the easy critique of lesbian mothering in The Kids Are All Right, the positive representation of the lesbian family in Kicking & Screaming aligns itself with dominant ideas about motherhood – that ‘good’ mothers are involved in their children’s lives, and are supportive and encouraging regardless of the child’s abilities. There is an implication that this family works because there are two mothers, and women are natural nurturers, implicitly placing the film within a patriarchal discourse in which femininity is necessarily linked to ‘good’ parenting (in contrast to the gay father films). The Kids Are All Right recognizes both mothers to be maternal, but the film also relies on notions of gendered parenting and the requirement of masculine and feminine attributes. Nic (Annette Bening) is loosely butch, while Jules ( Julianne Moore) is loosely femme. This is coded in their roles more than their costuming;

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I’ve got this model of a household . . . What I want is to have a job, and have a life, and I want a partner with a job and a life to come home to, and a high standard of living, and I want us to have kids that go to school and do their homework . . . And, you know, at the end of a hard day, I would like to come home from work and have my wife suck my cock.48

The (hetero) normalizing of the lesbian family is evident not just through the two-parent set-up and the comfortable suburban home – supporting Chambers’s argument that the notion of ‘choice’ so readily attached to representations of the postmodern family operates ‘on the assumption that we are “all middle-class now”’49 – but also through the contrast with Paul (Mark Ruffalo), the sperm donor father. Paul is introduced into the family when Laser ( Josh Hutcherson) encourages his older sister Joni (Mia Wasikowska) to contact their biological father after she turns 18. Paul is a free spirit who owns a restaurant serving produce he grows locally. He is not interested in formal education, committed relationships, or conforming to the requirements of ‘the establishment’, leading Jules to announce ‘he’s working the alternative thing pretty hard’. In this instance the lesbian family represents the mainstream, and Paul – the white male – the alternative, thus recognizing ‘mainstream’ to be the middle-class, nuclear family that, regardless of sexual orientation, is coded as not queer/other because it bends to the necessities of convention. Halberstam recognizes the parallels the film draws between gay and straight marriages, but sees this as problematic: ‘The Kids Are All Right is a soul-crushing depiction of long term relationships . . . the film loads sexual inertia, domestic dowdiness and bourgeois complacency onto the lesbian couple and leaves the sperm donor dad in the enviable position of being free’.50 There remains, then, a tension between the film’s suggestion that all long-term relationships, whether gay or straight, are the same (offering equality, albeit a rather bleak version), and an apparent attack on the lesbian family as being particularly problematic. If Hollywood had produced more lesbian family films, then this example might appear more nuanced, but the representation of lesbian relationships here and in The Hours is regressive, with heterosexual desire rearing its head in both. The Kids Are All Right sees Jules embark on an affair with Paul, whereas in The Hours Clarissa is in love with her gay friend Richard, for whom she cares despite his obstinacy, another example of selfless maternity. In contrast to Wittig’s idea of a

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Nic is a successful obstetrician and the family’s breadwinner, whereas Jules is flighty and creative – she cannot decide on a career, but turns her hand to landscape design (a ‘soft’ job). Jules, more than Nic, is led by her emotions, and had previously been a stay-at-home mother to the couple’s two children. This evokes the experiences of Ariel Levy, who found the attitudes of young lesbians to fall in line with conservative, patriarchal expectations of the family, with one interviewee claiming:

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positive choice, The Hours represents the lesbian mother as someone who has settled for the next best thing. Although Clarissa’s desires are never fulfilled, Jules’s are, and as Lisa Blackman explains: ‘the adventure of the film lies in the heterosexual romance while the women’s relationship is more about habit, monotony and routine’.51 The father does offer excitement for Jules, and indeed for the children as well, and the very need to meet him suggests the continued importance of the patriarch, but male intervention clearly complicates – and almost ruins – the female family. Paul is eventually forcefully ejected from the family by all its members, and whereas he falls in love with Jules, she has no time for his infatuation, hanging up the phone on his declarations of love. Heterosexual desire might exist, but it is quickly overturned, and the love-struck father figure is left outside the family, appearing foolish and immature, and failing to recognize that the family will not forgive his intrusions. While Paul is eventually banished from the family, at various points the film seems at pains to integrate him into a more traditional union. For example, during a meal involving the whole family – Paul included – it is Nic who is ostracized as Jules, Joni and Laser all help Paul prepare dinner while Nic sits apart. It is Nic, as the butch, breadwinning lesbian who has most readily transgressed her natural feminine role as nurturer, suggesting ‘deeply conservative’52 overtones to the film. On the other hand, the denouement attempts to celebrate the lesbian family, and the narrative does make inroads through its focus on female inheritance. Neither child is particularly like Paul, despite Jules’s claim that she recognizes their expressions in his face (a possible further complication of the lesbian mother as her subsequent desire for Paul, coupled with her apparent bisexuality, can surely be read as symptomatic of a sexual desire for both her children). The biological link between mothers and children is clearly announced – each woman had given birth to one child, Joni has inherited Nic’s intelligence and scientific mind, whereas Laser is a free spirit, like his biological mother Jules. Female inheritance is exalted above male inheritance, marking a distinct shift in Hollywood’s concerns. The biological link between mothers and children here draws attention to one of Hollywood’s tropes: the necessity for at least one parent to be biologically related to their children. The concern for biological parenting can be seen not only in those gay/lesbian family films that require the child to be biologically related to one or other parent, but also in the lack of mainstream films that deal with adoptive families. Both Sex and the City (2008) and Did You Hear About the Morgans? (2009) feature women desperate to become mothers but biologically unable to. They decide to adopt, and having done so fall pregnant, the implication being that if you desire it enough biological parenthood will happen. This is a problematic conclusion that fails to deal with the realities of infertility, and undercuts adoption by promoting biological parenting as the holy grail. Although Kicking & Screaming does allow its supporting lesbian family to be adoptive parents, The Hours and The Kids Are All Right both depict families created using reproductive assistance.

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Reproductive Technologies Few Hollywood narratives deal with alternative ways of forming a family. As Bindel notes, reproductive technologies are an important part of debates surrounding lesbian motherhood, as they create fear that men are no longer necessary in the formation of a family and leave fathers somewhat defunct.53 Hollywood has begun to counteract this fear with a spate of films focusing on artificial insemination, including The Back-Up Plan and The Switch, that both demonstrate the continued need for a father. This is particularly prevalent in The Switch, in which the biological father becomes the romantic partner and a nuclear family is formed. A similar conclusion occurs in The Back-Up Plan, in which, although Zoe ( Jennifer Lopez) does have children by an anonymous sperm donor, the film ends as she realizes she is once again pregnant, this time with the child of her fianc´e Stan (Alex O’Loughlin), again demonstrating a concern for biological parenting. The desire to form a biological family is particularly rampant in The Switch, a film that revolves around the friendship of Wally ( Jason Bateman) and Kassie ( Jennifer Aniston). Kassie has decided to have a baby using artificial insemination, and decides not to use an anonymous sperm donor, instead placing an advert for one. She throws a party to celebrate the conception, at which a drunken Wally accidentally washes the original sperm offering down a sink and replaces it with his own, an act he forgets. Kassie moves away from the city, returning when her son Sebastian (Thomas Robinson) is six and has begun to resemble Wally in temperament and mannerisms – something Wally soon recognizes, forcing him to remember the ‘switch’ he made at Kassie’s party. The film is consciously aware of the pull of the biological father, as upon her return to New York, Kassie

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Figure 19. Nic, the butch mother, is separated from the rest of the family in The Kids Are All Right (2010).

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begins dating Roland (Patrick Wilson), the assumed sperm donor. However, the celebration of biological parenting runs deeper than this. When Wally realizes that Kassie was impregnated using his sperm, his friend Leonard ( Jeff Goldblum) congratulates him: ‘you’re a father’, he says, reasserting that paternity is purely biological. There is no notion of nurture or care: they share DNA; Wally is the father. This is cemented by the similarities between Wally and Sebastian, who have the same mournful expression, are both neurotic hypochondriacs, and even display the same physical mannerisms – humming while they eat, and adopting the same stance as they watch penguins at a zoo. The desire to instate a biological father in this tale of non-traditional motherhood contradicts earlier Hollywood films such as The Next Best Thing, in which the narrative goes to great lengths to disentangle ‘mythic’ parenting from biological parenting. There is, in The Switch, a renewed vigour in celebrating the biological father, one that manages to side-step the complicated issues surrounding pregnancies that are the result of reproductive assistance. Lisa Belkin and Elizabeth Stuart both recognize that aspects of American family law struggle to recognize a non-biological parent as the father, an issue that occurs most frequently in homosexual unions, but made news headlines in 2013, when Dr Jonathan Sporn fought for the right to custody of his girlfriend’s child, conceived using a sperm donor, after her death.54 The Switch not only side-steps these debates, but it recognizes the biological father to be the ideal. In a common trope, the son effectively chooses the father; however, unlike One Fine Day or Pay it Forward, here the son chooses the biological father. Sebastian’s birthday party is organized by Kassie’s boyfriend Roland at a climbing centre. Having been coerced into scaling a wall by the mother’s suitor, Sebastian is scared. When he eventually returns to the ground he runs to his mother, and clutches Wally’s hand, creating a family tableau. Later in the film, when Sebastian is bullied at a party, he runs to Wally’s apartment rather than his mother’s. Although Wally is initially an inept father-figure, it is the similarities between father and son that help to forge the bond. The impetus here is not based on mythic parenting, instead the film suggests that biological parenting is necessarily the best. For a film that deals with non-traditional subject matter, the narrative of The Switch is anything but, adhering to the conventions of male transformation and the child-as-redeemer that are recognized by both Allen and Harwood.55 It is as Wally spends more time with Sebastian that he is softened and becomes the ideal nurturer. Although ostensibly a film about a feminist issue, assisted reproduction, The Switch is essentially a narrative of male, paternal responsibility. This is clear not only in the voice-over led by Wally, aligning the film with his point of view, but also his transformation, which echoes paternal films, and in particular Kramer vs. Kramer. Wally’s transformation is cemented as he is required to take care of Sebastian, who contracts head lice, while Kassie is away for the weekend. The father manages the task with ease, and the weekend culminates in a scene in which father and son

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make breakfast together, the son sitting on the kitchen counter mixing pancake batter while the father cooks, a direct reference to the scene in Kramer vs. Kramer in which Ted demonstrates the depth of his transformation into good parent by making French toast with his son.

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Figure 20. Wally makes breakfast with his son in a scene from The Switch (2010) that visually references Kramer vs. Kramer (1979).

Male Parental Anxiety The focus on the father reflects a trend in narratives of artificial insemination, and mom-coms more widely, in which male anxiety around parenthood is central. This is the primary cause of tension in The Back-Up Plan, as Stan is worried about the impending fatherhood thrust upon him by his relationship with Zoe. Having learned that Zoe is expecting twins, Stan, in a state of shock, walks away, seeking solace with a father he meets at the local park. The two men discuss the highs, and mostly lows, of parenthood, a trope that is repeated in What to Expect When You’re Expecting (2012) through the group of fathers – ‘the dudes’ – who meet regularly with their children and share child-rearing horror stories and difficulties. This renewed interest in the father-as-nurturer and paternal anxiety echoes a shift in parental responsibility that is recognized in a 2008 report produced by The Families and Work Institute, which found that not only are men taking more responsibility for child-care and family work than they have for the past 30 years, but that fathers now experience a greater work-life conflict than mothers.56 A 2011 report from the same institute, which explores this conflict more deeply, labels the issue the ‘new male mystique’,57 drawing clear parallels with feminist issues and Friedan’s seminal text. The report recognizes masculinity and fatherhood to be shifting, noting: ‘men today view the “ideal” man as someone who is not only successful as a financial provider, but is also involved as a father, husband/partner and son’,58 and arguing that the need to retain the position of breadwinner ‘in 173

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combination with emerging gender role values that encourage men to participate in family life and a workplace that does not fully support these new roles [has] created pressure for men to, essentially, do it all in order to have it all’.59 This need to ‘have it all’, and the subsequent anxiety when men cannot, is explored in contemporary parenting narratives. In The Back-Up Plan, Stan’s worries are largely connected to the cost of having twins, reinforcing a continued concern for the father as breadwinner. Stephen Marche recognizes financial concerns not as a gender issue, but as a family issue: ‘The central conflict of domestic life right now is not men versus women, mothers versus fathers. It is family versus money.’60 Marche identifies a shift in gender roles, in which traditional divisions are broken down, arguing that it is a ‘hollow patriarchy’61 that purports men to be iconic leaders and breadwinners and women domestic carers, a division he believes is outdated, and has been replaced by a family model in which financial responsibility and childcare is shared, providing equal levels of responsibility and anxiety for both parents. Yet, rather than playing out nuanced narratives that recognize the shifting gender positions within contemporary American families, both The Back-Up Plan and The Switch usurp female/feminist issues (of reproductive freedom) and focus on male concerns, removing any sense of shared experience, and exploring parenthood through its effect on the father. The very nature of artificial insemination leaves male romantic partners somewhat defunct, and these films consciously rally against this through the representation of conception and of single-mothers. In both films the place of conception is sterile and clinical; Zoe ‘conceives’ in a doctor’s surgery, whereas Kassie does so at home in a starkly white bathroom, with charts fixed to the door. The space is thus masculinized, made all the more prominent by the presence of male doctors, albeit a rather unorthodox ‘alternative’ practitioner who oversees Kassie’s conception party. Although Kassie’s friend Debbie ( Juliette Lewis) announces to the party that Kassie’s act symbolizes that ‘we’re doing it for ourselves’, both The Switch and The Back-Up Plan undercut the feminist implications of women taking control of their own fertility. The very need for conception to take place in a masculine environment represents a deep mistrust of female conception. Both Benjamin and Fischer recognize the power that has traditionally been associated with the ability to reproduce – to give life; in loose terms womb envy, allowing pregnant women to become powerful in a way that men cannot.62 Women who have gone it alone are undermined by comedy, in particular in The Back-Up Plan, as Zoe becomes part of a single-mother’s support group. The group provides the humour of the film, at the expense of women who do not conform to patriarchal structures. When Zoe announces to the women that she has met a man, they have to take a vote on whether she can remain a member. The group is led by earth-mother Carol (Melissa McCarthy), and its members are

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Parenting Troubles and the Mom-Com It is not just the woman’s body that is depicted as grotesque. Toilet humour is frequently present in mom-coms and other films concerned with parenthood. For example, in the opening sequence of The Change-Up (2011), disgruntled father Dave ( Jason Bateman) is the recipient of a face full of faeces when trying to change his child’s nappy. This scene is shot in close detail, focusing on a CGI image of the child’s anus defecating with force. This moment provides an extreme example of a clear shift in Hollywood’s depiction of parenthood into something that is conceived as difficult, if not grotesque. This has undoubtedly come hand-in-hand with a new sub-genre of comedy film, the mom-com or ‘momance’,63 that focuses on pregnancy, motherhood or family life, a group that includes Knocked Up, The Back-Up Plan, The Switch, Life as We Know It (2010), I Don’t Know How She Does It (2011), The Change-Up, Friends with Kids, What to Expect When You’re Expecting and This is 40 (2012). Although parenthood is often the goal of these films, it is depicted as difficult in a way not seen in Hollywood previously, where learning to be a parent in films such as Baby Boom, Three Men and a Baby and, more recently, Raising Helen and No Reservations has its difficulties, but is generally fun and rewarding. This new group of films recognizes that parenthood does not necessarily bring personal fulfilment, echoing the writing of Valenti, who argues that child-rearing has not, historically, been about personal fulfilment, but rather tradition, lineage, and creating a family labour force.64 Valenti suggests that the myth that being a mother/parent is the most fulfilling role in the world has led to guilt amongst those who do not feel

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depicted as in some way ‘alternative’ – one mother is breastfeeding her three year old daughter, another, Lori (Maribeth Monroe), is costumed in a way that codes her as butch. Furthermore, Lori is frequently seen outside the support group with Carol, implying a lesbian relationship between the two. This, coupled with the group’s mistrust of Stan, aligns ‘alternative’ mothers with homosexuality. Mothers are further mistreated through the representation of the pregnant body, and the mother’s body as somehow grotesque. Zoe’s friend Mona (Michaela Watkins) tries to dissuade Zoe from having children by sharing her loss of bladder control. When Lori goes into labour, she invites the whole single-mother’s group to watch the experience, including her defecating in the birthing pool. As if this were not grotesque enough, she asks for a mirror so that she can see her own baby being born. Much hilarity and slapstick humour surrounds this episode, pointedly poking fun at the pregnant woman’s body and experience. This is repeated elsewhere in Hollywood, for example the actual image of childbirth used in Knocked Up functions as a horrific incident that is witnessed by one of the father’s friends, who then runs screaming out of the delivery room.

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magically transformed by the birth of their children and the subsequent role as carer.65 Friends with Kids, more so than its contemporaries, plays out this pressure through the relationship of supporting characters Missy (Kristen Wiig) and Ben ( John Hamm), whose sexually vibrant marriage falls apart once they have children. The issue here, as in The Change-Up, is that the value of a marriage is measured by its participants’ sex lives. The unhappy marriage of Friends with Kids is played off against an ‘alternative’ family, that of Julie ( Jennifer Westfeldt) and Jason (Adam Scott), best friends who decide to have a child together – conceived the traditional way, but brought up by the two of them, who live in separate apartments in the same block. The film initially celebrates this alternative group, one that, as Halberstam argues, mimics the Boston Marriage (or companionate marriage), a notion recognized as ‘queer’.66 Jason and Julie initially fare better than their haggard and worn-out married friends, breezing through an impeccably catered soiree as they introduce their son to the friendship group. Of course, the queer set-up must eventually mirror its more traditional counterparts, and Jason and Julie eventually fall in love with one another, cementing a need for heterosexual unions and biological parenting. What this film also offers is another example of male parental anxiety, as here it is Jason who struggles to ‘have it all’. It is Jason more than Julie who finds it hard to juggle his new role as father with his dating life. In this film, as in The Change-Up, it is fathers who struggle with the difficulties of parenting. The Change-Up is a body-swap comedy that sees family man Dave switch places with his single friend Mitch (Ryan Reynolds). Family life involves feeding babies in the middle of the night, a gruelling work schedule to provide for the family, and a non-existent sex-life, whereas bachelor life is carefree, relaxed and filled with sexual exploits. By the close of the film both men have learnt that fatherhood is fulfilling, but both the strains and rewards of parenthood are played out in a male narrative. Although this recognizes shifts in male concerns about work-life conflicts, it again erases female experience, particularly ignoring the widespread nature of maternal guilt and struggle that Valenti recognizes in Why Have Kids? (2012). Once again, men’s anxieties remain a dominant concern, even in contemporary women’s cinema. This focus on fatherhood is particularly pronounced in those films that depict alternative families and try to challenge the norm. Diverse and liberal attitudes are accepted, but only if some traditional values remain in place. Although, as the last two chapters of this book attest, Hollywood does depict alternative families, it relies on a nuclear model as its norm, and the perpetuation of this is problematic. As Chambers writes: One would . . . expect moral leaders to be sensitive to the fact that children need to be reassured that the diversity of family relationships is normal and that if children do not experience a nuclear family upbringing themselves it does not mean they are somehow odd or abnormal.67

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The dominant model of the white, nuclear, patriarchal, middle-class norm is the standard by which all non-traditional families are judged, and to which they feel compelled to conform. The desire to hold on to ‘traditional’ values even within diverse family structures suggests that Hollywood does indeed have a mythic ideal of the family that it wishes to perpetuate, if not through the continuation of the nuclear unit, then at least through the promotion of values such as patriarchy, gender division and romantic unions. Indeed, many alternative families manage to deal with their transgression from the norm by perpetuating conventionality in the next generation, such as Val’s marriage in The Birdcage, the talk of Anna’s wedding in Stepmom, and Tre’s final romance in Boyz n the Hood, as well as the biological families created in The Back-Up Plan and The Switch. Hollywood’s alternative families exist in a world where they are specifically coded as ‘other’, and in which the white, middle-class, heteronormative family predominates. By promoting the same values as the nuclear family, those alternative families that do not conform essentially complement the dominant model by assuming it as the standard by which families should live, and by ultimately upholding its values. This becomes a further symptom that Hollywood’s families are torn between the traditional and the alternative, a theme that has recurred throughout this book.

Making Sense of Hollywood’s Family Values It is through the depiction of non-traditional families that Hollywood’s family values emerge. A clear response to changing family forms has been evident since 1990, but it particularly emerged in the new millennium, through the prevalence of single-parents, divorcing families, homosexual parents and reproductive technologies. The changing nature of the family is also evident through narratives of the nuclear unit, with shifting attitudes towards parental roles and parental fulfilment being played out, and a wider acceptance of racial diversity. Working mothers and middle-class African-American families have a visibility in contemporary Hollywood that was previously missing. So it is clear that Hollywood recognizes that family forms, roles and relationships are changing. The father–daughter narrative is a fundamental example of this, as a trend exclusive to post-1990 Hollywood. Films including Father of the Bride and its sequel, and Meet the Parents/Fockers, allow discourses around inheritance and fatherhood to be exposed. Although the films include women in their narratives they are predominantly concerned with how paternity has been refigured in the face of challenges to traditional masculinity. Narratives of inheritance are reversed, so it becomes of importance to the father, rather than the son or daughter. This, again, is a significant trend of contemporary narratives, challenging the need for the strong father to function as an ideal role model for sons, as played out in earlier decades. The family, in narratives of father–daughter, or father–grandchild, inheritance, functions as a 177

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totem object of masculine power, that undoes the emasculating threat of both ageing and the threats to patriarchy posed by society. Although Hollywood is resistant to shifting notions of masculinity in these instances, and particularly in the regressive representation of patriarchy in global disaster films such as Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, generally fatherhood has been refigured by contemporary Hollywood into something softer. The need for the good father to embody masculine and feminine traits is apparent in films from Meet the Fockers to The Incredibles or Daddy Day Care, and is central to discourses of good parenting. A number of films, such as Meet the Fockers, Cheaper by the Dozen, The Birdcage and Daddy Day Care, that contrast ‘strict’ but perhaps more traditional parenting with a less structured approach, in which fun and love are key elements, demonstrate traditionalism is not always best. The same is true of those families in which the non-biological parent is coded as ‘better’ than the biological one, such as One Fine Day, Maid in Manhattan, Pay it Forward or The Next Best Thing. Narratives of fatherhood are undoubtedly central to contemporary Hollywood’s family films; however, the mother is also a refigured character, who, much like the father, must embody both masculine and feminine traits. The mother is largely depicted as a capable figure who is allowed fulfilment outside the home – although not always away from the family, as is the case in The Incredibles and Sky High, in which the family work together, but not on domestic duties. Although there is some difficulty in resolving women’s narratives with a conclusion that allows them to ‘have it all’, the pressures that women face as domestic and working mothers are sensitively explored in The Bridges of Madison County, The Devil Wears Prada and The River Wild. There are limitations to the non-traditional roles afforded to women, though, with the lesbian family, in particular, marginalized and complicated by heterosexual desire. Contemporary Hollywood mothers can transgress the role of selfless domestic carer, but there are still boundaries in place that prevent a fully liberal imagining of the maternal role. It is not just in terms of gender and sexuality that Hollywood has diversified; racial diversity is becoming more prevalent in family narratives, albeit in relatively limited roles. The Black family is still readily associated with the working-class, as in Boyz n The Hood, but more recent films have challenged this with portrayals of the middle-class African-American family. This unit is one that emulates the standards, structures and behaviours of the white family, most visibly in the family home. The family home, as indicative of the family’s status, has recurred as a theme throughout this book. The home speaks of the family’s success and class status. It is generally suburban and large. D´ecor is generic and depicts affluence, with regency stripes and polished wood populating the homes of Father of the Bride, Cheaper by the Dozen, Meet the Parents, Daddy Day Care and Guess Who. The home depicts a particular version of a white, Anglo-cized American family, regardless of the family’s race.

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SINGLE-PARENTS, HOMOSEXUAL UNIONS AND REPRODUCTIVE TECHNOLOGIES

While the contemporary Hollywood family is diverse, recurring themes and structures emerge that speak to Hollywood’s family values. In addition to middle-class status, the two parent model almost always prevails, demonstrating that alternative ideals and parents can only be accepted within the nuclear structure – as in The Birdcage, The Kids Are All Right and Friends with Kids. The need for conventionality is particularly transparent in the brief mentions of the next generation in alternative family narratives. For example, Val’s upcoming heterosexual wedding in The Birdcage, the announcement of Tre’s heteronormative final romance at the close of Boyz n The Hood, and the discussion of Anna’s hypothetical wedding day in Stepmom. Alternative families must, then, breed convention. This may be important to family form and its continuation, but there are a number of ways in which contemporary Hollywood’s family has emerged as defying conventions. The prevalence of sexually active parents is one such example. Families built on romantic or sexual love are the most successful – highlighted by the failure of the platonic family in both The Object of My Affection and Friends with Kids. Of course, sexually active parents offer more opportunities for procreation and the continuation of the family, realigning this concern with heteronormative expectations. However, the representation of sexually active parents as emotionally open parents in Meet the Fockers further supports claims of a refigured parental ideal. The ideals of Hollywood’s family are most certainly shifting, but it is necessary to conclude this book by considering those families that still remain glaringly absent from mainstream film narratives. The issue of adoption is particularly marginalized, and tends only to occur if the desire for a child leads to biological parenthood after the adoption, as in Sex and the City and Did You Hear About the Morgans. Although the non-biological parent is sometimes depicted as the better option, this tends to occur in narratives of fatherhood, so a woman is still valued by her ability to reproduce. Furthermore, the importance placed on biological parenting evokes the, often hysterical, claims of right-wing campaigners that biological parenting is best.68 The other significant absence in Hollywood films is the teenage pregnancy and the teen parent. Although this has appeared on the edge of mainstream cinema, in films such as Where the Heart Is (2000), the narrative impetus is towards restoring conventionality. Here, the teenaged mother’s narrative concludes some years later, when she is a successful middle-class professional with a nuclear family. In other films, such as 17 Again (2009), the parents who had a child as teenagers are now middle-aged, and thus the tensions of teen parenthood are never really explored. Here the damaged family is recuperated following the father’s experience of being a teenager again (in a body-swap caper) and therefore the unconventional parents are transformed into the conventional family. This absence of teenage parents is coupled with a continued representation of parents as middle-aged, heightened by the crisis of ageing frequently faced by on-screen fathers. Parenting, thus, becomes linked to responsible adulthood, restating responsibility as a key trait of the good

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parent. The absence of young – and, in particular, teenage parents – also allows, once again, the middle-class to be the site of the ideal American family, as most parents are established professionals. Therefore, contemporary Hollywood’s family is one that has diversified but still upholds, or strives for, the class position and two parent status of the dominant model. However, as this book has demonstrated, its ideals are becoming more varied and increasingly more liberal.

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Notes Introduction 1. Stella Bruzzi, Bringing up Daddy: Fatherhood and Masculinity in Post-War Hollywood (London: BFI, 2007), p.xviii. 2. William J. Bennett, The Broken Hearth: Reversing the Moral Collapse of the American Family (2001) (New York: Broadway Books, 2003), p.2. 3. Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope (Edinburgh; New York: Canongate Books, 2008), p.333. 4. Stephanie Coontz, The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap 2nd Edition (New York: Basic Books, 2000), p.xi. 5. Stephanie Coontz, The Way We Really Are: Coming to Terms with America’s Changing Families (New York: Basic Books, 1997), pp.5–6. 6. Obama, The Audacity of Hope, pp.333–334. 7. Coontz, The Way We Never Were, p.1. 8. Coontz, The Way We Really Are; Deborah Chambers, Representing the Family (London: Sage, 2001); Bennett, The Broken Hearth. 9. Murray Pomerance, ‘Introduction’, in Murray Pomerance (ed.), A Family Affair: Cinema Calls Home (London; New York: Wallflower, 2008), p.8. 10. Chambers, Representing the Family, p.17. 11. Morgan cited in Chambers, Representing the Family, p.25. 12. Coontz, The Way We Really Are, p.157. 13. Bruzzi, Bringing up Daddy; Susan Faludi, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the Modern Man (London: Chatto and Windus, 1999); Robert Bly, Iron John (London: Rider, 1991). 14. See Susan Jeffords, ‘The Big Switch: Hollywood Masculinity in the Nineties’, in Jim Collins, Hilary Radner, Ava Preacher Collins (eds), Film Theory Goes to the Movies (London; New York: Routledge, 1993), pp.196–208. 15. Chambers, Representing the Family, p.17. 16. Chambers, Representing the Family, p.11.

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17. Gary Younge ‘Is Obama black enough?’ in the Guardian [online], Thursday, 1 March 2007, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/mar/01/usa.uselections2008 [accessed 22 August 2013]. 18. Harry M. Benshoff, ‘Queers and Families in Film: From Problems to Parents’, in Murray Pomerance (ed.), A Family Affair: Cinema Calls Home (London; New York: Wallflower, 2008), p.223. 19. Liza Mundy, Everything Conceivable: How Assisted Reproduction is Changing Men, Women and the World (London; New York: Penguin, 2007), pp.11–12. 20. Mundy, Everything Conceivable, p.11. 21. Coontz, The Way We Really Are, p.7. 22. Pomerance, ‘Introduction’, p.8. 23. Peter Kr¨amer, ‘Would You Take Your Child to See This Film? The Cultural and Social Work of the Family-Adventure Movie’, in Steve Neale and Murray Smith (eds), Contemporary Hollywood Cinema (London; New York: Routledge, 1998), p.295. 24. Mary Eberstadt, Home Alone America (2004) (New York: Sentinel, 2005), p.xvi. 25. Susan Faludi, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women (1991) (London: Vintage, 1993), p.451. 26. See Faludi, Stiffed. 27. Rachel Devlin, Relative Intimacy: Fathers, Adolescent Daughters and Postwar American Culture (London; Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), p.20. 28. See Devlin, Relative Intimacy, p.20, pp.73–77. 29. Jeffords, ‘The Big Switch’. 30. Andrew Britton, ‘Blissing out: the politics of Reaganite entertainment’, Movie 31/32 (1986), p.24. 31. Sarah Harwood, Family Fictions: Representations of the Family in 1980s Hollywood Cinema (London: Macmillan, 1997); Susan Jeffords, Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994); Elizabeth Traube, Dreaming Identities: Class, Gender and Generation in 1980s Hollywood Movies (Oxford: Westview Press, 1992). 32. Jeffords, Hard Bodies, p.64. 33. Britton, ‘Blissing Out’; Robin Wood, Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan . . . and Beyond (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003). 34. Jeffords, Hard Bodies, p.67. 35. Bruzzi, Bringing up Daddy; Yvonne Tasker, ‘Practically Perfect People: Postfeminism, Masculinity, and Male Parenting in Contemporary Cinema’, in Murray Pomerance (ed.), A Family Affair: Cinema Calls Home (London; New York: Wallflower, 2008), pp.175–187. 36. Bruzzi, Bringing Up Daddy, p.133. 37. Tasker, ‘Practically Perfect People’, p.176. 38. Tasker, ‘Practically Perfect People’, p.186. 39. E. Ann Kaplan, Motherhood and Representation: The Mother in Popular Culture and Melodrama (London; New York: Routledge, 1992), p.3.

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NOTES

40. Yvonne Tasker, ‘The Family in Action’, in Yvonne Tasker (ed.), Action and Adventure Cinema (London; New York: Routledge, 2004), pp.254–266; Linda Ruth Williams, ‘Ready for Action: G.I. Jane, Demi Moore’s Body and the Female Combat Movie’, in Yvonne Tasker (ed.), Action and Adventure Cinema (London; New York: Routledge, 2004), pp.169–185. 41. Harwood, Family Fictions, p.71. 42. Chambers, Representing the Family, p.8. 43. E. Ann Kaplan, ‘Mothering, Feminism and Representation: The Maternal Melodrama and The Woman’s Film 1910–40’, in Christine Gledhill (ed.), Home is Where The Heart Is: Studies in Melodrama and the Woman’s Film (London: BFI, 1987), pp.113–137. 44. Harwood, Family Fictions. 45. Bennett, The Broken Hearth, p.12. 46. See Christian Viviani, ‘Who is Without Sin? The Maternal Melodrama in American Film, 1930–39’, in Christine Gledhill (ed.), Home is Where The Heart Is: Studies in Melodrama and the Woman’s Film (London: BFI, 1987), pp.83–99. 47. Chambers, Representing the Family, p.17.

Chapter 1 Hollywood’s New Generation: Fathers and Daughters; Sequels and Series 1. Bruzzi, Bringing up Daddy, p.xviii. 2. William J. Palmer, The Films of the Eighties: A Social History (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1995), p.ix. 3. Jeffords, Hard Bodies, p.65, p.90. 4. Bruzzi, Bringing up Daddy, p.119. 5. Bruzzi, Bringing up Daddy, p.66. 6. Bruzzi, Bringing up Daddy, p.66. 7. Devlin, Relative Intimacy, p.171. 8. Victoria Secunda, Women and Their Fathers: The Sexual and Romantic Impact of the First Man in Your Life (London: Cedar, 1993), p.xv. 9. Sigmund Freud, ‘Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction Between the Sexes’ (1925), in James Strachey (trans.), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud Vol XIX (London: Hogarth Press and The Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1961), p.234. 10. Devlin, Relative Intimacy, p.84. 11. Devlin cites books and plays such as Sally Benson, Junior Miss (New York: Random House, 1939) – made into a play in the 1940s and F. Hugh Herbert, Kiss and Tell (Columbia Pictures, 1945) that deal with this subject – the fathers are both part of their daughter’s sexual development. Devlin also suggests Vladimir Nabokov’s, Lolita (Paris: Olympia Press, 1958) was a product of popular post-war thought regarding fathers and daughters. Devlin claims that ‘revulsion to the sexual content of Lolita was the exception . . . discomfort with the subject matter was regularly denounced as unsophisticated and immature’ (Devlin, 2005: 168). 12. Devlin, Relative Intimacy, p.11.

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13. See Bruzzi, Bringing Up Daddy; Harwood, Family Fictions; Traube, Dreaming Identities. 14. Kathleen Rowe Karlyn, ‘“Too Close for Comfort:” American Beauty and the Incest Motif ’, Cinema Journal 44/1 (Autumn 2004), pp.69–93. 15. Secunda, Women and Their Fathers, p.12. 16. Sigmund Freud, ‘Totem and Taboo’ (1913), in James Strachey (trans.), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud Vol XII (London: Hogarth Press and The Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1955), pp.1–162. 17. The ‘alien’ that Eleanor ( Jodie Foster), the daughter, meets, maintains that, while he looks like her father, he is not – his ‘friendly’ appearance is designed to alleviate any trauma that seeing an unnatural being might cause, therefore he takes on the disguise of a person familiar to Eleanor. This seemingly absurd twist is significant as, regardless of whether the ‘alien’ actually is the father or not, the climax of the film, and the end goal of Eleanor’s work, is to be reunited with the father. 18. Secunda, Women and Their Fathers, p.5. 19. Sigmund Freud, ‘The Dissolution of the Oedipus Complex’ (1924), in James Strachey (trans.), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud Vol XIX (London: Hogarth Press and The Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1961), pp.173–179. 20. Devlin, Relative Intimacy, p.113. 21. Perhaps this is because his own son, a wayward teen with a drug problem, is sent off to military academy in this film, suggesting that the father has failed – no doubt because he was not around to raise Denny as closely as he is with Little Jack. 22. This is continued in the sequel, Father of the Bride 2, when Annie gives Megan, her baby sister, a tiny basketball, continuing the symbolism of basketball as special to the father-daughter bond. 23. Secunda, Women and Their Fathers, pp.92–93. 24. Coontz, The Way We Really Are, pp.34–39. 25. Cited in Vera Dika, Recycled Culture in Contemporary Art and Film: The Uses of Nostalgia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p.2. 26. Bruzzi, Bringing up Daddy, p.177. 27. Bruzzi, Bringing up Daddy, p.ix. 28. Faludi, Stiffed, p.65. 29. Dika, Recycled Culture, p.122. 30. Coontz, The Way We Really Are, p.33. 31. Jameson cited in Dika, Recycled Culture, p.122. 32. Coontz, The Way We Never Were, pp.35–39. 33. Coontz, The Way We Never Were, p.33. 34. Coontz, The Way We Really Are, p.34. 35. Britton, ‘Blissing out’, p.24. 36. Bruzzi, Bringing Up Daddy, p.132. 37. Bruzzi, Bringing Up Daddy, pp.138–139. 38. Bruzzi, Bringing up Daddy, p.138. 39. John McClane’s son, initially referred to as ‘Jack’, is revealed to in fact be named John McClane Jr, a revelation that comes as father and son have reunited, once again

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43.

44.

45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50.

51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56.

highlighting the importance of inheritance and lineage, and the inevitability that the son will be like the father. Although in a true Freudian model it provides an object of fixation that becomes symbolic of the phallus in place of the female lack, thus easing castration anxiety, in this context the fetish object represents the phallus in the face of a threat to masculinity more generally; see Sigmund Freud, ‘Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality’ (1905), in James Strachey (trans.), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud Vol VII (London: Hogarth Press and The Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1953), pp.125–243. Andrew O’Heir, ‘Lethal Weapon 4’, Sight and Sound 8/9 (September 1998), p.46. While Murtaugh was 50, Danny Glover was only in his 30s when he played the role. The distinction between this and the final film is the acknowledgement that the stars themselves are ageing, not just the characters. Christopher Ames, ‘Restoring the black man’s lethal weapon: race and sexuality in contemporary cop films’, The Journal of Popular Film and Television 20/3 (Autumn 1992), p.54. Murtaugh’s formal attire is remarked upon by Riggs in Lethal Weapon 4 but is also exemplified by George Banks in the Father of the Bride films. George’s signature outfit is his (denim) shirt and tie, however when he is trying to prove his youthfulness with an image change he is seen wearing a roll-neck jumper instead. The shirt and tie is thus a symbol of the ageing father, as is the damaged body. O’Heir, ‘Lethal Weapon 4’, p.46. Stephen M. Whitehead, Men and Masculinities (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2002), p.200. Chris Holmlund, Impossible Bodies: Femininity and Masculinity at the Movies (London; New York: Routledge, 2002), p.145, p.154. Peter Lehman, Running Scared: Masculinity and the Representation of the Male Body (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993), p.62. Lehman, Running Scared, p.57. Peter Coleman, ‘Psychological Ageing’, in John Bond, Peter Coleman and Sheila Peace (eds), Ageing in Society: An Introduction to Social Gerontology 2nd Edition (London: Sage, 1993), p.85. Whitehead, Men and Masculinities, pp.199–200. Devlin, Relative Intimacy, p.113. Cited in Secunda, Women and their Fathers, p.15. Bruzzi, Bringing Up Daddy, p.157. Bruzzi, Bringing Up Daddy, pp.157–158. Faludi discusses the problems caused in southern California when large numbers of fathers lost jobs in the aerospace and shipbuilding industries. Communities had been built up around these industries, and job losses led to financial turmoil for fathers. This in turn negatively affected their sons (Faludi, Stiffed, p.102). Robert Bly asks more poetically, and based on less factual analysis, ‘when the father shows up as an object of ridicule . . . or a fit field for suspicion . . . or a bad-tempered fool . . . or a weak puddle

NOTES

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57. 58. 59. 60.

of indecision . . . the son has a problem. How does he imagine his own life as a man?’ (Bly, 1991: 100). Jessica Valenti, Full Frontal Feminism (Emeryville: Seal Press, 2007), p.147. Jon Lewis, The Road to Romance and Ruin: Teen Films and Youth Culture (London; New York: Routledge, 1992), p.237. Secunda, Women and their Fathers, p.113. Bruzzi, Bringing up Daddy, p.153.

Chapter 2 Meryl Streep and Hollywood’s Maternal Archetypes 1. See, in particular, Christine Gledhill (ed.) Home is Where the Heart Is: Studies in Melodrama and the Woman’s Film (London: BFI, 1987); E. Ann Kaplan, ‘Sex, Work and Motherhood: Maternal Subjectivity in Recent Culture’, in Donna Bassin, Margaret Honey and Meryle Mahrer Kaplan (eds), Representations of Motherhood (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1994); Kaplan, Motherhood and Representation. 2. Deborah Mellamphy, ‘“See That Girl, Watch That Scene”: Notes on the Star Persona and Presence of Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia!’, in Louise FitzGerald and Melanie Williams (eds), Mamma Mia! The Movie: Exploring a Cultural Phenomenon (London; New York: I.B.Tauris, 2013), p.65. 3. Mellamphy, ‘“See That Girl, Watch That Scene”’, p.65. 4. Streep quoted in an interview by Kevin West, cited in Mellamphy, ‘“See That Girl, Watch That Scene”’, p.64. 5. Cited in Faludi, Backlash, p.278. 6. Streep quoted in an interview: Rachel Abramowitz, ‘Meryl’s Room’, Premiere Special Issue: Women in Hollywood (1997), p.59. 7. Coontz, The Way We Really Are, pp.55–56. 8. Coontz, The Way We Really Are, pp.33–43. 9. Coontz, The Way We Really Are, p.51. 10. Eberstadt, Home Alone America, p.55. 11. Opposition to mothers that work is noted by a variety of feminist scholars. Faludi draws attention to this in Backlash (1991) and more recently in The Terror Dream (2008). Friedan notices a similar trend in magazine stories of the 1950s, in which the heroine was perpetually repudiated for enjoying herself outside the domestic sphere, and in which the conclusion was always a romance and a return to a more traditionally feminine role (Friedan, 1992: 30–60). Although in recent years women have been persuaded by the right wing press and campaigners that their natural role is within the home, in previous decades the opposition to women and mothers in the workforce has been more pointed. Faludi notes a direct opposition between maternity and work in particular through ‘foetal rights’ campaigns, highlighting one such campaign at the American Cyanamid plant in the 1970s. Women wanted to join male workers in an attempt to earn better wages, but this was met initially with violent and abusive opposition and then later with a ‘foetal rights campaign’, that demanded ‘no fertile woman under fifty would be allowed to work in eight of ten departments . . . unless

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14. 15.

16. 17. 18.

19. 20. 21. 22. 23.

they were surgically sterilized’ (Faludi, 1991: 483). This was based on the claim the women were exposed to too many harmful chemicals, which was later proved to be untrue, but not until several women had to go through the procedure in order to keep jobs they desperately needed. While this is only one company, it is indicative of the reaction to women, and specifically mothers, in the workplace. Jessica Valenti sees contemporary attitudes towards foetal rights – such as a 2006 set of guidelines issued by the Centre for Disease Control urging all women of child-bearing age and capability to treat their bodies as pre-pregnant – as an attempt to promote motherhood as a goal for all women (Valenti, 2007: 154–155). Rich cited in Donna Bassin, Margaret Honey and Meryle Mahrer Kaplan, ‘Introduction’, in Donna Bassin, Margaret Honey and Meryle Mahrer Kaplan (eds), Representations of Motherhood (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1994), p.3. Kramer vs. Kramer is not a comedy, but it presents the difficulties of parenting as relatively superficial. The scene in which Ted Kramer attempts to make French toast for his son on their first morning together is indicative of this. The motif of French toast is repeated in the film, towards the close, at which point Ted, who has become an involved and responsible parent, is now able to make his son breakfast. That it is cooking that becomes a motif for parenthood rather than anything more serious suggests that, in fact, mothering is relatively fun and simple. Faludi, Backlash, p.451. Sarah Palin’s vice-presidential campaign in the 2008 American elections had her opposition to legal abortion/the ‘Roe vs. Wade’ ruling at its core. The continued debate over reproductive rights within American society – and perpetuated by the (Christian) Right – demonstrates an unrelenting inability to allow women freedom over their own reproduction. In some states there is a clear move towards criminalizing miscarriage – with women who have lost pregnancies and were drinking or using drugs facing murder charges (see Ed Pilkington, ‘Outcry in America as pregnant women who lose babies face murder charges’, the Guardian [online] 24 June 2011). This provides proof that motherhood is promoted as an ideal option in any circumstance, indicating that motherhood itself has been elevated to something symbolic. Valenti, Full Frontal Feminism, pp.154–155. Lucy Fischer, Cinematernity: Film, Genre, Motherhood (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), pp.41, 47. Jessica Benjamin, ‘The Omnipotent Mother: A Psychoanalytic Study of Fantasy and Reality’, in Donna Bassin, Margaret Honey and Meryle Mahrer Kaplan (eds), Representations of Motherhood (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1994), p.130; Fischer, Cinematernity, p.47. Tania Modleski, ‘Three Men and Baby M’ in Camera Obscura, no.17 (May 1988), p.70. Modleski, ‘Three Men and Baby M’, p.70. Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, p.165. Viviani, ‘Who is Without Sin?’; Kaplan, ‘Mothering, Feminism and Representation’ . Viviani, ‘Who is Without Sin’, p.83.

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29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37.

38. 39.

40. 41.

42. 43. 44. 45.

46.

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Freud, ‘Three Essays on Sexuality’, p.229. Harwood, Family Fictions, pp.102–123. See Susan Jeffords, ‘The Big Switch’. Kaplan, Motherhood and Representation, p.3. Francesca is Italian and met her husband when he was stationed in Italy during the war. The move to America promised her excitement and prosperity but has proved disappointing to the pre-feminist mother. Cited in Diane Richardson, Women, Motherhood and Childrearing (London: Macmillan, 1993), p.117. Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, p.228. Kaplan, Motherhood and Representation, p.85. For a more extended discussion of this see Chapter 6. It is also noteworthy that in both these films the mothers are Jewish, perpetuating a racial stereotype of the over-invested Jewish mother. Kaplan, ‘Mothering, Feminism and Representation’, p.117. Coontz, The Way We Really Are, p.51. Kaplan, ‘Sex, Work and Motherhood’, p.261. The emasculating threat of ‘powerful’ women/mothers (also seen in The River Wild ) is most prominent when the woman/mother tries to enter or dominate the masculine sphere. Bassin, Honey, Kaplan, ‘Introduction’, pp.2–3. Kaplan, Motherhood and Representation, p.24. That Miranda is linked to consumerism does not set her apart from ‘traditional’ mothers, but it is the type of consumerism to which she is linked that presents a marked difference. Household goods have long been promoted to mothers who have, in their own way, been commodified by consumerism and by labels – here the labels of domestic appliances – Hoover, Dyson etc., not Prada. Stella Bruzzi, Undressing Cinema: Clothing and Identity in the Movies (London; New York: Routledge, 1997), p.129. Streep quoted in an interview with Film4, ‘Q&A: Meryl Streep on The Iron Lady’, Film4.com (2012) http://www.film4.com/special-features/interviews/q-anda-interview-meryl-streep-iron-lady [accessed 22 August 2013]. Faludi, Backlash, p.102. Faludi, Backlash, p.25. Virginia Wright Wexman, Creating the Couple: Love, Marriage and Hollywood Performance (Princeton University Press: Princeton, 1993), p.4. There are other female action heroines who function as part of a nuclear family, but most of these are confined to narratives in which all family members take part in the action, for example the Spy Kids films (2001, 2002, 2003, 2011), The Incredibles (2004) and Sky High (2005). These films are explored in detail in Chapter 3 in relation to the ‘super’ nuclear family. Yvonne Tasker, Spectacular Bodies: Gender, Genre and the Action Cinema (London; New York: Routledge, 1993), p.19. The image of the dominatrix, as Tasker notes, is not in

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50. 51. 52.

53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58. 59. 60. 61.

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itself unproblematic; it does mark powerful femininity, but is also a submission to male sexual desire. Faludi, Backlash, p.80. Philip Green, Cracks in the Pedestal: Ideology and Gender in Hollywood (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998), p.84. Yvonne Tasker, Working Girls: Gender and Sexuality in Popular Cinema (London; New York: Routledge, 1998), p.70. Tasker uses the phrase ‘musculinity’ to refer to masculinized and muscular bodies of female action figures. Williams, ‘Ready for Action’, p.178. See Jeffords, ‘The Big Switch’, p.197. The link between action sequences and family dysfunction/the fixing of family dysfunction is noted by both Barry Langford (Film Genre: Hollywood and Beyond (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005)) and Mark Gallagher (Action Figures: Men, Action Films and Contemporary Adventure Narratives (New York; Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006)) who liken contemporary family action films to traditional melodramas, the tensions of mise-en-sc`ene being replaced by the spectacular action sequences. This idea is discussed in more detail in Chapter 3 alongside the superhero family films, and Chapter 4 in a discussion of disaster films in which, much like The River Wild, action sequences and ‘active’ family members help to overturn family dysfunction. Tasker, ‘The Family in Action’, p.257. Green, Cracks in the Pedestal, p.82. Bruzzi, Bringing Up Daddy, p.162. See Harwood, Family Fictions. Lucy Hamilton, ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight and maternal ambivalence’, Metro Education 19 (1999), p.21. Hamilton, ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight and maternal ambivalence’, p.21. Green, Cracks in the Pedestal, p.78. Abramowitz, ‘Meryl’s Room’, p.59. Mellamphy. ‘“See That Girl, Watch That Scene”’, p.70.

Chapter 3 The ‘Super’ Family 1. Kr¨amer, ‘Would You Take Your Child to See This Film?’, p.295. 2. John Shelton Lawrence and Robert Jewett, The Myth of the American Superhero (Cambridge; Michigan: Eerdmans, 2002), p.22. 3. Lawrence and Jewett, The Myth of the American Superhero, p.47. 4. Lawrence and Jewett, The Myth of the American Superhero, pp.47–48. 5. Paul Simpson, Helen Rodiss, Michaela Bushell (eds), The Rough Guide to Superheroes (London: Rough Guides, 2004), p.4. 6. Peter Middleton, The Inward Gaze: Masculinity and Subjectivity in Modern Culture (London; New York: Routledge, 1992), p.32. 7. Simpson, Rodiss, Bushell, The Rough Guide to Superheroes, p.9.

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8. Roz Kaveney, Superheroes! Capes and Crusaders in Comics and Films (London; New York: I.B.Tauris, 2008), p.10. 9. Lawrence and Jewett, The Myth of the American Superhero, p.75. 10. Lawrence and Jewett, The Myth of the American Superhero, p.82, p.83. 11. The central family of Spy Kids do not actually have superpowers per se, but they fit the mould of the superhero for they have extraordinary ‘power’ and dual identities linking them thematically to this category. Lawrence and Jewett categorize their superheroes as those who do extraordinary things. For example, Heidi is recognized as such, because although she does not have superpowers, she is able to create extraordinary resolutions to problems. 12. Lawrence and Jewett, The Myth of the American Superhero, p.83. 13. Kr¨amer, ‘Would You Take Your Child to See This Film?’; Mark Gallagher, Action Figures; Langford, Film Genre. 14. Mark Gallagher, Action Figures, p.69. 15. Kr¨amer, ‘Would You Take Your Child to See This Film?’, p.297. 16. Kr¨amer, ‘Would You Take Your Child to See This Film?’, p.299. 17. Sue Zschoche, ‘E.T., women’s history, and the problem of Elliot’, American Studies 36/2 (Fall 1995), p.100. 18. Kr¨amer, ‘Would You Take Your Child to See This Film?’, p.295. 19. Robert C. Allen, ‘Home Alone Together: Hollywood and the “Family Film”’, in Richard Maltby and Melvin Stokes (eds), Identifying Hollywood’s Audiences (London: BFI, 1999), pp.126–127. 20. Harwood, Family Fictions, p.137. 21. Wood, From Vietnam to Reagan . . . And Beyond. 22. Kr¨amer, ‘Would You Take Your Child to See This Film?’, p.297. 23. Cited in Kr¨amer, ‘Would You Take Your Child to See This Film?’, p.298. 24. Lawrence and Jewett, The Myth of the American Superhero, p.83. 25. Eberstadt, Home Alone America, p.173. 26. Harwood, Family Fictions, p.138. 27. The contemporary Batman films follow two different ‘continuities’, those started by Tim Burton running from Batman (1989) to Batman and Robin (1997), and the trilogy of films directed by Christopher Nolan: Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). The two series imagine the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents in different ways, although there is always a link to a bat cave. In the earlier series of films, flashbacks suggest Wayne’s parents were killed in, or close to, a bat cave, whereas Batman Begins sees a young Bruce Wayne fall into a bat cave shortly before his parents’ death. The bats represent fear to Bruce, and in this series, the fear of bats leads to the family leaving an opera early – people dressed as bats on stage had scared the young Bruce. On leaving the theatre his parents are shot by a mugger, thus leaving Bruce feeling responsible and his fear of bats a reminder of their death. The bat thus becomes a totem figure that represents the father. 28. Middleton, The Inward Gaze, p.31. 29. This is a phrase borrowed from Kr¨amer’s article ‘Would You Take Your Child to See This Film?’. He writes about the tableau as an on-screen representation of where the

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33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47.

48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56.

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30. 31. 32.

family have got to by the end of the narrative. It is a useful phrase, and way of assessing how the family has been reconciled. Ali Jafaar, ‘Sky High: review’, Sight and Sound 15/12 (December 2005), p.74. Kr¨amer, ‘Would You Take Your Child to See This Film?’, p.302, p.304. Mary Beltr´an, ‘M´as Macha: The New Latina Action Hero’, in Yvonne Tasker (ed.), Action and Adventure Cinema (London; New York: Routledge, 2004), p.186. Beltran, ‘M´as Macha’, p.198. Beltran, ‘M´as Macha’, p.187. Kaveney, Superheroes!, p.22. Kaveney, Superheroes!, p.149. Kaveney, Superheroes!, p.151. Lehman, Running Scared, p.57. Gallagher, Action Figures, p.68. Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, p.322. Bruzzi, Bringing up Daddy, p.132. Middleton, The Inward Gaze, pp.30–31. Ken Gillam and Shannon R. Wooden, ‘Post-Princess models of gender: The New Man in Disney/Pixar’, Journal of Popular Film and Television 36/1 (2008), pp.2–8. Tasker, ‘The Family in Action’, p.259. Green, Cracks in the Pedestal. Faludi, The Terror Dream. That Ingrid Cortez uses sexuality to get her own way and display dominance over her husband presents her as a problematic version of the powerful woman/mother. Ariel Levy notes in Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (London; New York: Pocket Books, 2006) that women who use sexuality to gain ‘control’ are making themselves subservient to male desires. However, Ingrid succeeds and quite possibly never intends to follow through with the attempted seduction of Gregorio, her knowledge that simply whispering sweet Spanish nothings to her husband will seduce him, presents male desire as the weakness, arguably leaving her in control as she exploits her husband. Kaveney, Superheroes!, p.19. Middleton, The Inward Gaze, p.33. Faludi, The Terror Dream, pp.116–145. Middleton, The Inward Gaze, p.27. Middleton, The Inward Gaze, p.33. Gallagher, Action Figures; Langford, Film Genre. Middleton, The Inward Gaze, p.35. Middleton, The Inward Gaze, p.35. Kaveney, Superheroes!, p.104.

Chapter 4 Family Dysfunction and the Action-Melodrama 1. Stephen Keane, Disaster Movies: The Cinema of Catastrophe 2nd Edition (London: BFI, 2006), pp.4–11.

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2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13.

14.

15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38.

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Keane, Disaster Movies, p.7, p.10. Keane, Disaster Movies, p.13. Keane, Disaster Movies, p.4. Keane, Disaster Movies, p.23. Keane, Disaster Movies, p.22. Keane, Disaster Movies, p.23. Keane, Disaster Movies, p.21. Ryan and Kellner cited in Keane, Disaster Movies, p.36. Keane, Disaster Movies, p.39. Keane, Disaster Movies, p.39. Keane, Disaster Movies, p.4. Antonio Sanchez-Escalonilla, ‘Hollywood and the rhetoric of panic: the popular genres of Action and Fantasy in the wake of the 9/11 attacks’, Journal of Popular Film and Television 38/1 (2010), p.11. Leighton Grist, ‘Spielberg and ideology: nation, class, family, and War of the Worlds’, New Review of Film and Television Studies 7/1 (March 2009), p.69; J. Hoberman, ‘Unquiet Americans’, Sight and Sound 16/10 (October 2006), pp.22–23. Hoberman, ‘Unquiet Americans’, p.23. Geoff King, Spectacular Narratives: Hollywood in the Age of the Blockbuster (London; New York: I.B.Tauris, 2000), p.155. King, Spectacular Narratives, p.157. King, Spectacular Narratives, p.159. King, Spectacular Narratives, p.155. Bruzzi, Bringing Up Daddy, p.158. Jeffords, ‘The Big Switch’, p.197. Faludi The Terror Dream, pp.3–4. Gallagher, Action Figures, p.46. Steve Neale, Genre and Hollywood (2000) (London; New York: Routledge, 2005); Gallagher, Action Figures; Langford Film Genre. Gallagher, Action Figures, p.48. Neale, Genre and Hollywood, p.179. From Brownlow cited in Neale, Genre and Hollywood, p.197. Film Daily, 27 October 1955, cited in Neale, Genre and Hollywood, p.187. Neale, Genre and Hollywood, p.202. Langford, Film Genre, p.236 and pp.246–247. Neale, Genre and Hollywood, p.198. Gallagher, Action Figures, pp.75–76. Gallagher, Action Figures, p.46. King, Spectacular Narratives, p.173. King, Spectacular Narratives, p.50. Gallagher, Action Figures, p.45. Kr¨amer, ‘Would you take your child to see this film?’. Langford, Film Genre, p.256.

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51.

52.

53. 54. 55. 56. 57.

Eberstadt, Home Alone America. Bennett, The Broken Hearth. Bly, Iron John. National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, ‘The President’s Fatherhood Pledge’ http://www.fatherhood.gov/pledge [accessed 18 July 2013]. National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, ‘The President’s Fatherhood Pledge’. Grist, ‘Spielberg and Ideology’, p.69. Grist, ‘Spielberg and Ideology’, p.70. Hoberman, ‘Unquiet Americans’, p.23. Grist, ‘Spielberg and ideology’, p.75. Karen Schneider, ‘With violence if necessary: rearticulating the family in the contemporary action-thriller’, Journal of Popular Film and Television 27/1 (1999), p.9. Schneider, ‘With violence if necessary’, p.8. Stella Bruzzi, ‘The President and the image’, Sight and Sound 8/7 ( July 1998), p.19. Although President Whitmore is clearly modelled in Clinton’s image, Clinton’s public/ mediatized image relied on parallels drawn between him and JFK, recognized by Bruzzi in filmic versions of Clinton, and by Luc Herman. As Herman notes of Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign, ‘with his blockbuster JFK . . . filmmaker Oliver Stone tapped into this Arthurian vein [referring to the Camelot myth exploited by both Kennedy and Clinton] and, in doing so, made it possible for Bill Clinton to ride a new wave of Kennedy popularity in the 1992 presidential campaign’ (Luc Herman, ‘Bestowing Knighthood: The Visual Aspects of Bill Clinton’s Camelot Legacy’, in Peter C. Rollins and John E. O’Connor (eds), Hollywood’s White House: The American Presidency in Film and History (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2003), p.310). Such similarities between the two leaders were further exploited when photographs of a young Clinton shaking hands with Kennedy were utilized in his campaign. Clinton’s own policies, particularly in relation to family values, are not so black and white. Coontz suggests that ‘within months of the 1992 presidential election, both liberal and conservative commentators were claiming a new “bipartisan consensus” that “Dan Quayle was right” [in condemning fictional character Murphy Brown for bearing a child out of wedlock]. New think tanks were formed and old ones reorganized to proclaim “The Controversial Truth: Two-Parents Are Better”’ (Coontz, 1997: 5). John Shelton Lawrence, ‘The 100 Million$ Men: Presidential Action/Adventure Heroes of Independence Day (1996) and Air Force One (1997)’, in Peter C. Rollins and John E. O’Connor (eds), Hollywood’s White House: The American Presidency in Film (Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2003), p.230. Jeffords, ‘The Big Switch’. Secunda, Women and their Fathers, p.5. Schneider, ‘With violence if necessary’, p.7. Schneider, ‘With violence if necessary’, p.5. Bruzzi, Bringing up Daddy, p.163.

NOTES

39. 40. 41. 42.

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58. Jane L. Levere, ‘Ads urge fathers to “take time” to be a dad’, The New York Times [online] 18 October 2010 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/19/business/media/ 19adnewsletter1.html? r=0 [accessed 18 July 2013]. 59. See Helene Cooper, ‘President delivers exhortation to fathers’, The New York Times [online] 20 June 2009 http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/20/us/politics/ 20obama.html [accessed 18 July 2013]. 60. J. Hoberman ‘Cine Obamarama: the presiding-while-black scenario’, Film Comment ( July/August 2012), p.45. 61. From a speech given to one of Chicago’s largest black churches, cited in Cooper, ‘President delivers exhortation to fathers’. 62. Cooper, ‘President delivers exhortation to fathers’. 63. Jackie Calmes, ‘When a boy found a familiar feel in a pat of the Head of State’, The New York Times [online] 23 May 2012 http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/24/us/politics/ indelible-image-of-a-boys-pat-on-obamas-head-hangs-in-white-house.html [accessed 18 July 2013]. 64. Obama, The Audacity of Hope, p.346. 65. Bruzzi, ‘The President and the image’, p.18. 66. Gregory Frame, ‘Seeing Obama, projecting Kennedy: the presence of JFK in images of Barack Obama’, Journal of Comparative American Studies 10/2–3, August 2012, p.167. 67. Faludi, Stiffed, p.24. 68. Faludi, Stiffed, p.25. 69. Valenti, Full Frontal Feminism, pp.145–147. 70. Peter C. Rollins and John E. O’Connor, ‘Introduction’, in Peter C. Rollins and John E. O’Connor (eds), Hollywood’s White House: The American Presidency in Film (Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2003), p.2. 71. Schneider, ‘With violence if necessary’, p.2. 72. Schneider, ‘With violence if necessary’, p.5. 73. Keane, Disaster Movies, p.36. 74. Harwood, Family Fictions. 75. Williams, ‘Ready for Action’, p.180. 76. Tasker, ‘Practically Perfect People’, p.180.

Chapter 5 Race, Class and Hollywood’s ‘Alternative’ Families 1. Coontz, The Way We Never Were, p.25. 2. Coontz, The Way We Really Are, p.139. Despite Coontz’s findings, conservative social commentators continue to assert a two parent model and a stay-at-home mother as the ideal family set-up in order to aid a child’s development. This is the basis of Mary Eberstadt’s Home Alone America, and a recent study of British families by the Children’s Society: Judy Dunn and Richard Layard, A Good Childhood: Searching for Values in a Competitive Age (London; New York: Penguin, 2009). 3. Notably these single-mothers live with other family members, suggesting that singlemothers need support. The common theme of medical expenses that both mothers

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5. 6. 7.

8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15.

16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28.

29. 30. 31. 32. 33.

NOTES

4.

have to deal with implies it might be feasible for single-mothers to get by on their own without these additional costs. Bruzzi, Bringing up Daddy; Barbara Ehrenreich, The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight from Commitment (London: Pluto Press, 1983). Bruzzi, Bringing up Daddy, pp.104–107; Ehrenreich, The Hearts of Men, pp.136–139. Cited in Bruzzi, Bringing up Daddy, p.105. This trope is particularly prevalent in single-parent narratives, contradicting the notion that the biological parent is not always the ‘best’ parent. This is discussed more fully in Chapter 6. Coontz, The Way We Really Are, p.58. Coontz, The Way We Really Are, p.59. Bruzzi, Bringing up Daddy, p.162. Rinaldo Walcott, ‘Keeping the black phallus erect’, Cineaction 30 (Winter 1992), p.69. Bruzzi, Bringing up Daddy, p.163. Walcott, ‘Keeping the black phallus erect’, p.74. Thomas Doherty, ‘Two takes on Boyz n the Hood’, Cineaste 18/4 (December 1991), p.18. Coontz, The Way We Really Are, pp.162–163. Coontz provides a specific example of an African-American colleague whose single-mother had taken advantage of support and care from friends and family, exposing him to the influence of stable and employed Black men who, within his immediate family, he would not have had access to. Walcott, ‘Keeping the black phallus erect’, p.70. Walcott, ‘Keeping the black phallus erect’, p.71. Chambers, Representing the Family, pp.55–56. Michael Eric Dyson, ‘Out of the ghetto’, Sight and Sound 2/6 (October 1992), p.19. Jacquie Jones, ‘Two takes on Boyz n the Hood’, Cineaste 18/4 (December 1991), p.17. Walcott, ‘Keeping the black phallus erect’, p.72. Walcott, ‘Keeping the black phallus erect’, p.71. Walcott, ‘Keeping the black phallus erect’, p.70. Doherty, ‘Two takes on Boyz n the Hood’, p.19. Coontz, The Way We Really Are, p.139. Coontz, The Way We Really Are, p.139. Coontz, The Way We Really Are, p.133. Ed Pilkington, ‘Welcome to the Glass House’, the Guardian [online] Saturday 17 January 2009 http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/17/white-house-barackobama [accessed 22 August 2013]. Younge, ‘Is Obama Black enough?’. Chambers, Representing the Family, p.10. Chambers, Representing the Family, p.15. Tasker, Spectacular Bodies, p.45. Cynthia J. Fuchs, ‘The Buddy Politic’ in Steven Cohen and Ina Rae Hark (eds), Screening the Male (London; New York: Routledge, 1993), p.199.

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34. Ames ‘Restoring the black man’s lethal weapon’, pp.52–53. This reversal is similarly apparent in Die Hard, in which Al Powell occupies the same position as Murtaugh, as the family man who must be taught to shoot his gun by the stronger, more savage, white male. 35. Ed Guerrero cited in Sharon Willis, High Contrast: Race and Gender in Hollywood Film (Durham; London: Duke University Press, 1997), p.35. 36. Willis, High Contrast, p.35. 37. Willis, High Contrast, p.35. 38. See the discussion of Lethal Weapon 2 in Chapter 1. 39. bell hooks, Black Looks: Race and Representation (London: Turnaround, 1992), p.92. 40. Chambers, Representing the Family, p.125. 41. Chambers, Representing the Family, p.125. 42. This is noted by Chambers, Representing the Family, pp.11–13 and Bruzzi, Bringing up Daddy, p.163. 43. Tasker, ‘Practically Perfect People’, p.182. 44. Tasker, ‘Practically Perfect People’, p.180. 45. Tasker, ‘Practically Perfect People’, p.181. 46. The notion that racism is attributed to an older generation is also clear in the character of Simon’s boss. Simon is sacked at the very beginning of the film, by the close it transpires that this was because he objected to his, much older, boss’s racist comments about Theresa. 47. bell hooks, Reel to Real: Race, Sex, and Class at the Movies (London; New York: Routledge, 1996), p.74. 48. hooks, Reel to Real, p.74. 49. Coontz, The Way We Really Are, pp.162–163. 50. A misguided belief that America has built itself up through self-sufficiency is highlighted by Coontz, who noted ‘self-reliance is one of the most cherished American values . . . The fact is, however that depending on support beyond the family has been the rule rather than the exception’ (Coontz, 2000: 69).

Chapter 6 Single-parents, Homosexual Unions and Reproductive Technologies 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.

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Coontz, The Way We Never Were, p.15. Chambers, Representing the Family, p.25. Coontz, The Way We Never Were, p.182. Chambers, Representing the Family, p.121. Jessica Valenti, Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness (Las Vegas: Amazon, 2012), pp.14–15. Chambers, Representing the Family, p.141. Bennett, The Broken Hearth, p.1. Bennett, The Broken Hearth, p.4. Chambers, Representing the Family, pp.138, 172. Coontz, The Way We Really Are, p.79. ‘Yet, as she clarifies, many of those families that are classed as single-parent actually include two co-habiting parents, but are not

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NOTES

recognized as such because the figures ‘confuse marital status with living arrangements’ (Coontz, 1997: 79). 11. Bruzzi, Bringing Up Daddy, p.174. 12. Bly, Iron John. 13. Eberstadt cites a dubious study which states that a father’s presence in the home can delay a daughter’s menstrual development, and that the presence of non-biological males in the house can ‘biologically accelerate certain young girls’ (Eberstadt, 2005: 135). She develops this in order to draw a link between absent fathers and teenage sexuality. With reference to a study published in Child Development in 2000, Eberstadt writes: [T]hree factors . . . [are] associated with the onset of puberty . . . absence of the biological father, depression in the mother, and the presence in the home of the non-biologically related male. According to the study, the younger the girl at the time the unrelated male is introduced, the earlier her period will begin. If the theory about pheromones turns out to be true, it will connect absent parents to other dimensions of the teen-sex matrix. The earlier sexual activity starts, the more partners a girl is likely to have; the more partners, the more risk of STDs (Eberstadt, 2005: 135). 14. Julie Bindel, ‘Why Are pregnant lesbians scary?’, the Guardian [online] 8 December 2006 http://www.guardian.co.uk/women/story/0,1967354,00.html [accessed 22 August 2013]. 15. Coontz, The Way We Really Are, p.137. 16. Eberstadt, Home Alone America, p.172. 17. Although Sam does not agree to the meeting, he and Annie do eventually meet atop the Empire State Building. Jonah has travelled to New York City to meet Annie, without telling his father. While trying to track down his son, Sam catches fleeting glimpses of Annie, and by the time they bump into one another at the Empire State Building (retrieving a backpack Jonah had left there earlier in the day) he is already smitten. 18. Coontz, The Way We Really Are, p.160. 19. Nicole Matthews, Comic Politics: Gender in Hollywood Comedy after the New Right (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000), pp.115–116. 20. Harwood, Family Fictions, pp.102–104. 21. The film ends at Christmas. The mother is very weak and slowly dying of cancer, and therefore uses it as an opportunity to say goodbye to her children. 22. Daniel throws a lavish, yet out of control, birthday party for his son, despite the fact the mother had forbidden a party because the son had been grounded. Daniel’s raucous party, that includes a petting zoo, led to the destruction of the house, and children (and animals) running wild. This is symptomatic of Daniel’s character at the beginning of the film, when he wishes only to be a figure of fun and makes no attempts to discipline his children or behave in a responsible or adult fashion. It is this behaviour that leads the mother to ask for a divorce. The problem with Daniel at this point in the film is that he is only interested in fun. Although the father must learn to be responsible, good fathers manage to find a balance between responsibility and fun – for example Jack in

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31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37.

38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45.

46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52.

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One Fine Day and Tom Baker in Cheaper by the Dozen and its sequel – notably the other father ( Jimmy Murtaugh) in Cheaper by the Dozen 2, who is responsible but not fun, is a dull and problematic figure. Matthews, Comic Politics, p.113. Valenti, Why Have Kids, p.45. Bruzzi, Bringing up Daddy, p.177. Matthews, Comic Politics, p.114. Harwood, Family Fictions, p.186. Coontz, The Way We Really Are, p.160. Bennett, The Broken Hearth, p.121. Harry Benshoff and Sean Griffin, ‘General Introduction’, in Harry Benshoff and Sean Griffin (eds), Queer Cinema: The Film Reader (London; New York: Routledge, 2004), p.7. Benshoff and Griffin, ‘General Introduction’, p.8. Wood, Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan . . . And Beyond, p.205. Chambers, Representing the Family, p.124. Benshoff, ‘Queers and Families in Film’, p.224. Chambers, Representing the Family, p.19. Benshoff, ‘Queers and Families in Film’, p.224. Val’s estranged mother agrees to participate in the charade, but as she is held up on her way to the family gathering Albert dresses up as Armand’s wife, allowing the masquerade to go ahead. Chambers, Representing the Family, p.172. Wood, Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan . . . and Beyond, p.306. Coontz, The Way We Really Are, p.162. Coontz, The Way We Really Are, p.160. Bruzzi, Bringing up Daddy, p.174. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), p.3. Benshoff and Griffin, ‘General Introduction’, p.6. Monique Wittig, ‘One is Not Born a Woman’, in Henry Abelove, Mich`ele Aina Barale and David M. Halperin (eds), The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader (London; New York: Routledge, 1993), p.105. Wittig, ‘One is Not Born a Woman’, p.108. Jack Halberstam, ‘The Kids Aren’t Alright’ (15 July 2010) http://bullybloggers .wordpress.com/2010/07/15/the-kids-arent-alright/ [accessed 22 August 2013]. Levy, Female Chauvinist Pigs, p.132. Chambers, Representing the Family, p.172. Halberstam, ‘The Kids Aren’t Alright’. Blackman cited in Arifa Akbar, ‘The kids are all right? Not according to the lesbian lobby’, The Independent (23 November 2010), p.6. Halberstam, ‘The Kids Aren’t Alright’. Halberstam recognizes the film to be conservative not just in its treatment of the lesbian family, but also in its ‘casual racism’ evidenced

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55. 56.

57.

58. 59. 60.

61. 62. 63.

64. 65. 66.

67. 68.

through ‘the depiction of the Latino gardener as a half-wit and the African-American restaurant hostess as voracious’. Bindel, ‘Why Are Pregnant Lesbians Scary?’, p.2. Lisa Belkin, ‘The changing definition of a parent’, The New York Times [online] 25 January 2011 http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/25/the-changingdefinition-of-a-parent/? r=0 [accessed 22 August 2013]; Lisa Belkin, ‘LeAnn Leutner’s son: who has the right to be his father?’, The Huffington Post [online] 8 June 2013 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/05/leann-leutner-son n 3709502.html [accessed 22 August 2013]; Elizabeth Stuart, ‘The suicide of LeAnn Leutner’, The Village Voice [online] 31 July 2013 http://www.villagevoice.com/2013–07–31/news/ the-suicide-of-leann-leutner/ [accessed 22 August 2013]. Harwood, Family Fictions, p.127, Allen, ‘Home Alone Together’, pp.126–127. Ellen Galinksy, Kerstin Aumann and James T. Bond, ‘Times Are Changing: Gender and Generation at Work and at Home’ (2008, revised 2011) pp.16–19. http://familiesandwork.org/site/research/reports/Times Are Changing.pdf [accessed 11 August 2013]. Kerstin Aumann, Ellen Galinsky and Kenneth Matos, ‘The New Male Mystique’ (2011), p.1. http://familiesandwork.org/site/research/reports/newmalemystique.pdf [accessed 11 August 2013]. Aumann, Galinsky, Matos, ‘The New Male Mystique’, p.1. Aumann, Galinsky, Matos, ‘The New Male Mystique’, p.2. Stephen Marche, ‘Home economics: the link between work-life balance and income equality’, The Atlantic [online] 19 June 2013 http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/ archive/2013/07/the-masculine-mystique/309401/?single page=true [accessed 11 August 2013]. Marche, ‘Home Economics’. Fischer, ‘Cinematernity’, p.47; Benjamin, ‘The Omnipotent Mother’, p.130. Alessandra Stanley, ‘Mother of all comedy topics’, The New York Times [online] 15 March 2013 http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/movies/tina-feys-admissionand-other-comedies-eye-maternity.html?pagewanted=all [accessed 22 August 2013]. Valenti, Why Have Kids?, pp.14–15. Valenti, Why Have Kids. Jack Halberstam, ‘Friends With Benefits + The Kids Are All Right = Friends with Kids’ (29 April 2012) http://bullybloggers.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/friends-withbenefits-the-kids-are-all-right-friends-with-kids/ [accessed 22 August 2013]. Chambers, Representing the Family, p.154. Eberstadt seems to go to extraordinary lengths to promote the intensely involved nuclear family as an ideal, and, if non-biological parenting is as hazardous to a girl’s development as she suggests, provides a fairly bleak prospect for adoptive families (Eberstadt, 2004: 135).

NOTES

53. 54.

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Halberstam, Jack, ‘The Kids Aren’t Alright’, Bully Bloggers. 15 July 2010. http://bully bloggers.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/the-kids-arent-alright/ [accessed 22 August 2013]. ‘Friends With Benefits + The Kids Are All Right = Friends with Kids’, Bully Bloggers. 29 April 2012. http://bullybloggers.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/friendswith-benefits-the-kids-are-all-right-friends-with-kids/ [accessed 22 August 2013]. Hamilton, Lucy, ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight and maternal ambivalence’, Metro Education 19 (1999), pp.19–21. Harwood, Sarah, Family Fictions: Representations of the Family in 1980s Hollywood Cinema (London: Macmillan, 1997). Herman, Luc, ‘Bestowing Knighthood: The Visual Aspects of Bill Clinton’s Camelot Legacy’, in Peter C. Rollins and John E. O’Connor (eds), Hollywood’s White House: The American Presidency in Film and History (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2003), pp.309–319. Hoberman, J., ‘Unquiet Americans’, Sight and Sound 16/10 (October 2006), pp.22–23. ‘Cine Obamarama: the presiding-while-black scenario’, Film Comment ( July/ August 2012), pp.44–49. Holmlund, Chris, Impossible Bodies: Femininity and Masculinity at the Movies (London; New York: Routledge, 2002). hooks, bell, Black Looks: Race and Representation (London: Turnaround, 1992). Reel to Real: Race, Sex, and Class at the Movies (London; New York: Routledge, 1996). Jafaar, Ali, ‘Sky High: review’, Sight and Sound 15/12 (December 2005), pp.74–76. Jeffords, Susan, ‘The Big Switch: Hollywood Masculinity in the Nineties’, in Jim Collins, Hilary Radner, Ava Preacher Collins (eds), Film Theory Goes to the Movies (London; New York: Routledge, 1993), pp.196–208. Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era (New Brunswick; New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1994). Jones, Jacquie and Thomas Doherty, ‘Two takes on Boyz n the Hood’, Cineaste 18/4 (December 1991), pp.16–19. Kaplan, E. Ann, ‘Mothering, Feminism and Representation: The Maternal Melodrama and the Woman’s Film 1910–40’, In Christine Gledhill (ed.), Home is Where The Heart Is: Studies in Melodrama and the Woman’s Film (London: BFI, 1987), pp.113–137. Motherhood and Representation: The Mother in Popular Culture and Melodrama (London; New York: Routledge, 1992). ‘Sex, Work and Motherhood: Maternal Subjectivity in Recent Culture’, in Donna Bassin, Margaret Honey and Meryle Mahrer Kaplan (eds), Representations of Motherhood (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1994), pp.256–71. Karlyn, Kathleeen Rowe, ‘“Too close for comfort”: American Beauty and the incest motif ’, Cinema Journal 44/1 (Fall 2004), pp.69–93. Kaveney, Roz, Superheroes! Capes and Crusaders in Comics and Films (London; New York: I.B.Tauris, 2008). Keane, Stephen, Disaster Movies: The Cinema of Catastrophe 2nd Edition (London: BFI, 2006).

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Index Illustration references are indicated in bold. 8 Mile 129 10 Things I Hate About You 18 17 Again 179 2012 5, 11, 102, 103–4, 106, 108, 109, 113, 117, 118–19, 121 adoption 179 Air Force One 89, 110 Airport 103 American president 110–113, 117 as father 101, 113 Armageddon 11, 14–15, 103–5, 107, 108–9, 114–16, 119, 121–2 As Good As It Gets 12, 127, 128 Baby Boom 56 Back to the Future 27, 66, 81 Back-Up Plan, The 12, 171, 173–5, 177 Bad Boys 140 Bad Boys 2 18 Batman (character) 72–3, 81, 88, 90 Belles on Their Toes 26 Birdcage, The 6, 158, 159, 161–6, 177 Boyz n the Hood 129–4, 177 Bridges of Madison County, The 5, 10, 43, 48, 49–56, 68

Brokeback Mountain 159 Change-Up, The 175–6 Cheaper by the Dozen (1950) 16, 17, 25–6 Cheaper by the Dozen (2003) 8, 19, 25, 26, 139 Cheaper by the Dozen 2 23–4, 26–7, 30, 35, 141 Contact 19 Cosby Show, The 138 Courage Under Fire 5, 46, 57–8 Daddy Day Care 4, 8, 12, 49, 121, 126, 137–42, 147 Dante’s Peak 89 Daredevil (character) 73, 81, 90 Day After Tomorrow, The 11, 103–6, 114, 118 Day the Earth Stood Still, The 103, 117, 119–20, 123 Deep Impact 11, 103, 105, 113, 114, 115–17, 119, 120–1 Devil Wears Prada, The 5, 10, 43, 46, 56–62, 64, 68 Did You Hear About the Morgans? 170 Die Hard 28 series of films 28

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disaster films 101, 117–8 cycles of 103 of the 1970s 102–3, 118 E.T. 76 Ellen 161 Enough 52 eroticized father–daughter bond 16, 17–18, 20–2, 26 family home 23–4, 35, 139, 143 family-adventure movies 72, 75–77 Far From Heaven 159 Father of the Bride (1950) 17, 26 Father of the Bride (1991) 14, 15, 18, 19, 20–23, 25, 26, 33–34, 139 Father of the Bride 2 21, 23–25, 30, 31, 34, 37–38 Father’s Little Dividend 21 father–son relationship 7, 13, 81 Flightplan 152 Fly, The 98 Freudian psychoanalysis 7, 17, 19, 21, 46–8, 80 Oedipal relationship 21, 48, 55, 80 primal father 19, 80–81 Friends With Kids 176 Fun with Dick and Jane (2005) 2, 127 G.I. Jane 65 Good Day to Die Hard, A 29 Guess Who 139, 141, 142–6, 147 Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner 142 Home Alone 77 Hours, The 47, 49, 167, 169–70 Incredibles, The 5, 71–2, 74, 75, 76, 78, 86–7, 89–93, 95–98, 158 Independence Day 5, 11, 103, 105, 108, 110–12, 119, 122 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull 28–30

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inheritance 80 family heritage, and 15 of father’s traits 13, 14, 18, 19, 29–30, 80 of mother’s traits 81, 82 Jerry Maguire 127, 155 Joneses, The 2, 127 Junior 47 Kennedy, John F. 114–17 Kicking & Screaming 167–8, 170 Kids Are All Right, The 6, 12, 168–71 Kill Bill series of films 5, 62 Knocked Up 45, 175 Kramer vs. Kramer 42–3, 52, 172–3 Lara Croft: Tomb Raider 19 Lethal Weapon 12, 19–20, 24, 28, 30, 50, 135–6 series of films 30–1, 38, 136 Lethal Weapon 2 18, 136–7, 139 Lethal Weapon 3 31 Lethal Weapon 4 30–1, 38, 137 Letter From an Unknown Woman 48, 108 Lion King, The 77 Little Fockers 15, 32–3, 36 Long Kiss Goodnight, The 59, 62, 63, 67 Lost in Space 67, 93 Made in America 12, 126, 146–7, 149 Maid in Manhattan 155, 165 Mamma Mia! 154–5 Manchurian Candidate, The 55 Marvin’s Room 47, 127 Meet Me in St. Louis 16 Meet the Fockers 5, 19, 21–2, 30, 32–3, 35, 36–7, 38, 49, 141 Meet the Parents 20–21, 24, 38, 50, 139 series of films 15, 32–3, 38 melodrama 11, 48–9, 106–8 mom-coms 149–50

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new Black cinema 130 Next Best Thing, The 8, 161, 162–166 Obama, Barack 113, 134–5 Object of My Affection, The 8, 161, 162–7 One Fine Day 151, 152, 153–5, 165, 172 One True Thing 10, 49, 156 Panic Room 152 Pay It Forward 12, 127, 128, 172 Philadelphia 160 Poseidon Adventure, The 102 Prime 55 Pulp Fiction 144–5 Pursuit of Happyness, The 127 Rebel Without A Cause 17, 107, 108 reproductive technologies 4 Rio Bravo 31 Rio Lobo 31 River Wild, The 10, 43, 62–7 Searchers, The 111 Sex and the City 170 sexually active parents 37

Singin’ in the Rain 165 Sky High 5, 71–2, 74–5, 76, 78, 79–83, 9–92, 96, 97 Sleepless in Seattle 152, 153, 154 ‘social problem’ films 129 Spiderman (character) 88, 90 Spiderman 79 Spiderman 3 73 Spy Kids 5, 74, 75, 76, 77–9, 85–7, 90–2, 94–5 series of films 71–2, 84 Spy Kids 2 86 Spy Kids 3 77, 83–84, 88–9 Spy Kids: All The Time in the World 76, 95 Stella Dallas 48, 108, 109 Step Up 129 Stepmom 155–9, 177 Streep, Meryl 42–3, 60 Superman (character) 90–1, 95 Switch, The 12, 171–4, 177

INDEX

mothers as object 53, 57 daughters, and 54 sexuality, and 54–5 subjectivity, and 50–1, 68 Mrs Doubtfire 155–9 My Best Friend’s Wedding 160, 161

Take the Lead 129 teenaged parents 179–80 Terminator 2: Judgement Day 36, 49, 65 Three Men and a Baby 37, 47 Towering Inferno, The 102 True Lies 105, 107 Twister 19 War of the Worlds 5, 103–5, 110–11, 118 What to Expect When You’re Expecting 173 Where the Heart Is 179 Wild Hogs 137, 140

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