|Divorce and the Media
Mass media is our collective social barometer. Think about it: in the eighties, Reaganomics poster boy Alex Keaton made greed seem acceptable, even cuddly. In the early nineties, we got Seinfeld, a show essentially about nothing — a sure sign of the fierce irony of that decade. Well, here we are folks, brand new century and the entertainment industry seems to have caught on to the fact that a large percentage of Baby Boomers — an attractive demographic if there ever was one — are experiencing separation and divorce. It seems like everywhere you look, there’s divorce: in books, on TV and on the big screen.
Early last year, Castle Rock Pictures called seeking permission to feature this magazine in a major motion picture called The Story of Us and starring Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer. Remarkably, the characters don’t lose their inherent integrity and humanity because their marriage is in trouble. At its heart, this film poses questions that would ring true for many separated and divorced individuals, like “Why are the things that brought you together as a couple now the same things that are tearing you apart” and “who the heck would ever divorce Michelle Pfeiffer?”
So what happens if reconciliation tinsel-town style is not an option? Well, there’s always Divorce Court, a half-hour TV program in which participants … well … get a divorce. (Think People’s Court with property divisions.) As to why anyone would want their divorce televised, Judge Mablean Ephraim, who rules on the televised cases, says, ”The courts are so crowded that judges are just interested in getting to the bare- bone facts. The TV show gives them a forum to talk about the hurt and the pain.”
Also on the small screen, we have the aftermath of a divorce. Once And Again, is an ABC drama which highlights life after divorce and the awkward process of starting to date again. Lily Manning (Sela Ward) and Rick Sammler (Billy Campbell) have, between them, two ex-spouses, two careers, four kids, and one demanding sister. Good-bye spontaneous passion and reckless abandon, hello dating logistics that resemble military campaigns. ”Kids leave home for hockey practice at O-eight-hundred, pick me up at O-eight-fifteen. Now, let’s synchronize our watches.” And of course there’s the added pain of having your children replace your parents as the voices of disapproval. In one of the first episodes, Lily’s kids catch their mother and new boyfriend Rick making out on the sofa.
The series, while fictional, has a realistic take on learning to date and to trust in the aftermath of a divorce. ”Is this The One, but then again, I thought the my ex was The One and look how that turned out”. It also highlights the fact that divorced couples are parts of a larger collective and that as a result, their choices can have an impact on other members of that collective.
Why divorce and why now? Aside from the aforementioned desire to appeal to the Boomer experience, perhaps it’s because our society is taking off the rose colored glasses and acknowledging that divorce is a fact of life for 50% of all couples.
Or is it that, in our consumerist, disposable culture, we believe that everything has a limited life span? ”Together forever” doesn’t ring quite true in a global mindset that has seen the end of Communism, Eaton’s, Mad About You, Home Improvement, and Wayne Gretzky’s hockey career. We know that life goes on. So maybe it’s not so strange that the media, the electronic mirror of our collective unconscious is showing us these images of divorce. After all, a mirror can only reflect what’s in front of it.
Celebration for Separation?
By the time this gets to you, the party of parties — New Year’s Eve 2000 — will be over with. Of course, a new century isn’t the only cause for celebration. It’s a human trait to mark important occasions with ceremonies and/or parties: births, marriages and death to name a few. Now getting divorced is as good a reason as any to get down and get funky.
The folks at Comm Public Relations and Dick ‘s Last Resort in Chicago had what can best be described as the coolest concept in closure: a divorce party. Back in September, Ralf Boettger, the Chicago manager of Dick’s Last Resort, thought up the idea of having a party to “celebrate” divorces. Consider it something along the lines of a wake, for a marriage.
As points of closure go, this idea is not so new. There is, of course, the annulment ceremony by the Catholic Church that gives one a kind of matrimonial amnesia by denying that the marriage ever existed. And the Unitarian Universalist church has a “rite of divorce”, which involves a formal ceremony in which wedding rings are returned. The point here is to have some kind of definitive occasion to mark the end of a particular part of life. And a divorce party does this with a generous dose of humor.
Need proof? A recent divorce party at Dick’s offered “mind-eraser shots” (possibly a mixture of Vodka and relief), a breakup cake(like a wedding cake, but you are only entitled to half), and “Bobbit love sundaes” (er… figure it out yourself). Games included spousal photo shredding, and dating games, because for some people … well, it’s been a while.
Even greeting cards are not immune to this trend. At Separation & Togetherness ( a website), you can download a divorce card. In Toronto, Karen Cummings has come out with The Last Word — cards with lines such as: “All the world’s a stage. Time for you to make your exit.”
Divorce is about something ending — and it doesn’t involve walking into the sunset together. For all their silliness, divorce parties and cards are a way of saying to the world, “Hey my marriage may be over, but I’m still around. And if you ask nicely I might share my break-up cake with you.”