With the Golden Globes spinning past us a few days ago, and Oscar buzz all around, I thought it was good timing to take a look at the portrayal of stepfamilies in TV and movies.
I'm sure it's no surprise that it's difficult to find many TV shows or movies where stepfamilies are portrayed at all. It seems pretty weird considering that stepfamilies made up one out of eight couples with children in the 2011 Canadian Census, and that only 62% of children in the US live with both of their biological parents, according to the 2009 American census.
So, why aren't there more shows featuring stepfamilies, and why, when there is a show or movie about stepfamilies, are they more often portrayed in a negative way?
Some of our iconic children's fairy tales—Snow White, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel—all have an evil stepmother character. Even in recent years, the stepmother is rarely presented as a good person. The movie Stepmom with Julia Roberts in 1998 attempted to improve the image of the stepmother, but did it? I applaud the movie's efforts to show that a stepmother's job is never easy, and that we are all humans dealing with real situations—thankfully, there is no talking magic mirror in my home making me feel less attractive than my stepchild! However, the movie deemed it necessary to throw the ex-wife/mother's terminal cancer into the mix as a catalyst motivating the stepmother and mother to find some common ground. Was that really necessary? I know for a fact that many stepparents work really hard to have a good, or at least civil, relationship with their spouse's ex—without a terminal illness making them do so. Conversely, there are many stepparents who don't have a good relationship with either their stepchild or that child's parent, but that doesn't make them "evil."
I get why the Brothers Grimm created the evil stepmother villain, I do. It was shocking for that time period, yet not as unacceptably shocking as a "real" mother committing horrendous acts against their "own" children. It was scary. Back when the Grimm dudes were publishing their stories, death was a very real and big fear, what with the plagues and fevers sweeping through the world. So how better to scare a young audience than with the thought of a parent's death and the subsequent replacement parent being evil? I'm shivering even now, and I'm fairly confident my parents won't be hit with the plague any time soon, or that either of them will remarry some deranged new mate, even if they did.
So, the point here is that all the suits in Hollywood need to get with the program of today's reality. The Brady Bunch ended a long time ago, and TV shows Phineas and Ferb or Modern Family just aren't enough to represent how today's families are created. Stepfamilies need more representation in the world of entertainment, and not just the evil kind. Yes, there are some evil stepparents out there—my stepson better not be smirking right now—but that is NOT the only aspect of stepparenting or stepfamilies that should be portrayed for the world to watch. Stepfamilies have challenges, joys, heartaches, work, and fun, as much as traditional families do. With so many stepfamilies out there, why not provide some art-imitating-our-life?
What do you think? Would you welcome all types of families portrayed more frequently and more accurately on TV and in the movies ?