A Wrap on a New Hollywood Rap
Below you will find Mitch Pearlstein's response to the recently released report titled “The President’s Marriage Agenda for the Forgotten Sixty Percent” featured in this year’s issue of State of Our Unions, a journal published by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values.
13 other scholars and opinion leaders from across the country also offered their expert analysis. FamilyScholars.org invites you to read all of the responses and add your comments.
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Any project that’s the product of the five authors of “The President’s Marriage Agenda for the Forgotten Sixty Percent” can’t help but make a significant contribution. And when it comes to the series of which it is a part—The State of Our Unions—I take it as a second truism that it routinely warrants at least as much applause as that garnered by that other State of the Union in January every year.
Yet if I were to offer one criticism of this important document it would have to do with its large missed opportunity in regards to what the entertainment industry might do in strengthening marriage in the United States. Instead there’s a single sentence about how the President and other leaders must “engage Hollywood in a conversation about popular culture ideas about marriage and family formation, including constructive critiques and positive ideas for changes in media depictions of marriage and fatherhood.” This might be fine for a stage setter, but we need another scene.
So let me suggest a page or two of script. Imagine, if you will, a movie with someone like Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, or Denzel Washington saying the following to a young man or young woman purposely considering bringing a baby into this world outside of marriage or too easily settling for divorce.
“I assure you,” one of the Oscar winners opens up, “I know life can be terribly unpredictable and difficult. In fact, it usually is. This is especially the case when it comes to the most personal and treasured things going on in our lives, starting with our children and other people we love. It also can be especially the case when it comes to people we may not love very much anymore at all, if we ever really did. And I very much assure you as well that I’m far from the best person in the world to talk to you about these matters, as my own life has been jammed with mistakes and disappointments.
“You might say what we’re discussing are holy matters, but my interest in being holier than thou or anyone else is zero, and to the extent I may come across as presumptuous or arrogant, I’m truly sorry. But whatever the risk of intrusion on my part and discomfort on yours, we each owe it to everyone we love, and everyone we’re obliged protect, to consider several uncomfortable facts about current American life, most of all those facing and holding back young people.
“In simplest and starkest terms, the United States has one of the highest out-of-wedlock birth rates in the world. We also have one of the highest divorce rates in the world. These stubborn patterns and trends are the opposite of good news for any group, but they’re particularly bad news for boys and girls, as they diminish their well-being now and undercut their future. Does single parenthood always hurt kids educationally and in other ways? Of course not, is the answer. But the fuller and unavoidable answer is that children’s odds of doing well are measurably better if they grow up under the same roof with their married mother and father than if they grow up in any other setting.
“Children are the most joyous of blessings. And I deeply appreciate how enormous numbers of Americans believe that siring and bearing them are the most meaningful things they ever will do in their lives. But I’m afraid we’ve reached a stage in which we must recognize that while the happiness and hopes of adults are surely important, the health and prospects of children must be understood as more so, as far too many of them are doing poorly on their often unduly rocky road to adulthood.
“For millions of kids, more specifically, trying to grow up with holes where both their parents should be is a very big reason why this is the case. Or more specifically still, unless we change and start bringing far fewer babies into this world outside of marriage, and likewise, unless we divorce and separate far less often, our children will not do nearly as well as they otherwise might and as we all hope and pray.
[Cue the richer music.]
“Mothers and fathers have always sacrificed for their children. It’s what they’re supposed to do. But we’ve come to a time and place in which parents, as well as people who are not yet parents, must think first and foremost about boys and girls they’re responsible for or someday may come to be. One way or another, both men and women—and especially teenagers—must better commit to not having children without first being married. And if and when married, they must better commit to building unions that are loving and respectful and lasting.”
Mitch Pearlstein is founder and president of the Center of the American Experiment in Minneapolis.