Hollywood's Thanksgiving Family Values Bronx Cheer

The most popular movie over Thanksgiving weekend, perhaps our most family centered holiday, was a lighthearted romp amongst two families torn asunder by divorce. 

Welcome to family values, Hollywood-style.

In the comedy Four Christmases, an unmarried couple unexpectedly trapped in town on Christmas Day has no choice but to bounce like pinballs between his father's house (1), his mother's house (2), her father's house (3) and her mother's house (4).  The foibles of relatives – people normally avoided by the hero and heroine – are prime fodder for humor.  

Laughing about quirky family members is a comedy staple, but using divorce as the setting for humor crosses some kind of line.  Certain problems are too culturally destructive to be treated as laughing matters. 

Mike McManus, cofounder (with his wife Harriet) of the ministry Marriage Savers, told CMI that divorce started to become a massive social problem in America when California established no-fault divorce in 1969, during the early days of the sexual revolution.  Overnight, the most sacred covenant in human society became less legally binding than a refrigerator warranty.  Anybody could break a marriage contract at will, whether or not his spouse wanted to preserve the marriage.  McManus said 49 states (all but New York) now practice no-fault divorce, saddling America with the highest divorce rate in the world.

In addition to betraying innocent spouses, divorce is harming, even crippling, millions of American kids.  In his book, Twice Adopted, Michael Reagan wrote: “Divorce is when two adults take everything that matters to a child – the child's home, family, security, and sense of being loved and protected – and they smash it all up, leave it in ruins on the floor, and leave the child to clean up the mess.”

A most instructive paper by Heritage Foundation scholars Patrick Fagan and Robert Rector, “The Effects of Divorce on America,” finds that “half of the children born this year to parents who are married will see their parents divorce before they turn 18.”  According to Fagan and Rector, children of parents who divorce:

    Suffer more emotional and behavioral problems

    Have higher suicide rates

    Are more likely to commit crimes

    Are more likely to use drugs

    Perform less proficiently in reading and math

    Are more likely to drop out of school

    Are less likely to graduate from college

Another Heritage researcher, Samuel Sturgeon, reports that adolescents from “intact family structures” are less likely than other children to engage in sexual activity, report contracting a sexually transmitted infection, or get pregnant.

According to psychologist Judith Wallerstein, “it's in adulthood that children of divorce suffer the most.”  Wallerstein conducted a significant long-term study of children of divorce, following a group of 131 children for as long as three decades.  In her book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25-Year Landmark Study, Wallerstein observes that children from broken homes often fear commitment and do not know how to form romantic relationships and establish their own families.

On top of the human pain, the financial costs of dealing with the social dislocation engendered by divorce and single parenthood are staggeringly high.  Fagan and Rector reported that in 2000, “federal and state governments spend $150 billion per year to subsidize and sustain single parent families.”  McManus estimates that the costs nowadays exceed $200 billion per year, “more than the U.S. spends on the war in Iraq.”

As he works to rescue marriages and reduce divorce rates across America, McManus is also calling for the revocation of no-fault divorce, and legally requiring the parents of children less than 18 years old to honor their marriage vows unless both partners agree to divorce.  CMI applauds his efforts, and further challenges Hollywood to stop making movies that sugarcoat the bitter scourge of commonplace divorce in America

Brian Fitzpatrick is senior editor at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.