Last night someone most dear to my heart got me to watch part a movie that is to them most treasured : To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). I got through about the first third and then I shat all over it, irascible and blinded to its racial objectives by its presentation of a redemptive fantasy of the father as hero.
I am not American: I didn't read this book in high-school. I often fail to "get" the significance of American Greats. I have spent some time this morning googling why the Harper Lee novel and the film with Peck and Duvall are such big deals . . . it seems to boil down to Lee's daring presentation of conscience as more important than social norms, and of her paralleling of different kinds of ostracism, and of course she's dealing with some hot-button topics in addition to race (rape, alcoholism). I should watch the rest of the film.
Context matters to my skewed reaction: I came to this film after finishing Mad Men (2015) (Betty Draper is dying) and after watching Fly Away Home (1996) (the mother dies), and had a wild flailing feminist response: why does the mother always have to die? Is that really the most interesting thing a woman can do? Get out of the way so that the man can be hero and sensitive, transformative parent?
On the one hand: 1960s, 1990s, 2015s . . . 50 years of the mother being irrelevant? Bite me! I am a mother. (And I am separated from the children's father. AND I wasn't with my kids the nights I was watching these shows, so perhaps, ahem, my nerves were especially raw.)
Still: what am I supposed to learn from these representations? Get out of the way, please, and the man will do a better job, of everything? It would be better if you were dead?
But what about Weeds? It has an alive mother . . . But she's a mess, people! Hardly a heroine. Sigourney Weaver is a great astronaut in Aliens, but not a mom. In Gravity, Sandra Bullock goes into space because her child has died. Is Lorelei a heroine in Gilmore Girls? Perhaps. And maybe I should actually watch The Good Wife.
On the other hand: perhaps men really need the redemptive father fantasy? It is only relatively recently that the norm in divorce and separation is that the fathers have 50-50 custody. For decades, centuries even, it has been more typical for the father to leave if his relationship with the mother failed, and for the children not to see him again. Maybe boys, men, children, need this vision of the father-hero as a possibility, an inspiration?
Maybe I am just sick of male heroes because they get to mess up, and drink too much, and make bad choices now and then but come through in the end as The Best Men: solid, reliable, dads with consciences.
It's all about me, obviously. I would like to be a hero-Mom. (Or maybe I would like to be a hero-Dad even more.) One who isn't currently a mess, and whose past mistakes are forgiven, overshadowed by her present towering greatness, her moral clarity, her utter competence, her sensitivity to and love for her children, her emotional balance and her rationality.