The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Bad Mothers - The Ultimate Taboo?

With season seven of "Weeds" starting in just a few days, I thought I would take a look at it's deeply flawed protagonist, why so many people seem to despise her, but why find her to be a breath of fresh air. This post isn't about "Weeds" so much as it's about a larger and disturbing attitude in our culture towards pop culture.

Bad mothers in pop culture are few and far between. They exist, and pop up every now and then, but no where near at the same frequency as bad fathers. Look at Homer Simpson, for example. There are a thousand Homer Simpsons out there. And that's in comedy. In drama you have your Darth Vaders and your Norman Osborns. Bad fathers are a dime a dozen.

But fictional mothers always seem to be the moral centers in pop culture. Always. Look at Marge Simpson. Look at Lois Griffin (while I have long since stopped watching "Family Guy," I hear Lois has stopped being this, to the complaints of many people). Look at June Cleaver. Look at Carol Brady. Look at just about every single sitcom there is. Most dramas too. Disney practically invented the Missing Mom trope to create unidealistic situations.

Among the "Gargoyles" fandom, there is also this whole notion that Demona has to be redeemed just because Angela (her biological daughter) came into her life. Nearly the entirety of "The Gargoyles Saga" (the largest fanfiction project in "Gargoyles" fandom, maybe the internet itself) revolves around this. Demona has a practically overnight change of heart, stops trying to wipe out humanity, and becomes a good mother to Angela. And it's not just TGS, from what I used to read years back, almost every other fan author was doing this too. But, I've dedicated plenty of entries to Demona, so back on to the general topic.

Frankly, I'm sick of it. For me, the moment came a few years ago, when in film school, I pitched an outline for a screenplay I'm writing where the central character is pretty much the most evil mother on the planet. If I had a dime for every suggestion I got to "tone her down" or even, and this one makes me laugh every time I think about it, "make it the dad instead." I held my ground, which resulted in some pretty unhappy screenwriting teachers. Then, an accomplished writing professional who I am closely acquainted with encouraged me to go even farther with it than I already had. Of course, that particular friend of mine has written a particularly evil mother or two in his widely-seen works.

Which brings me to Nancy Botwin. I think the character is fantastic. She is a terrible mother, and while I do not advocate this in real life, that doesn't mean she isn't constantly a fun and fascinating character to watch. I think that Mary-Louise Parker said it well:

And she is right, she is 100% right. It is taboo, and I have seen people freak out at her character and other bad mothers in fiction, all the while letting bad father's slide. Let me share a couple of examples.

"Nancy Botwin is one of the most disturbing characters in popular culture. She is a borderline personality on steroids. She makes my skin crawl. She makes it impossible for me to continue to watch."

"Mary Louise-Parker's Nancy is now the show's worst offense. She started off selling drugs to support her family, then continued just for the, well, high she got from being in dangerous situations."

"Nancy Botwin has always been morally shaky, but, similar to Don Draper's current descent into depravity on 'Mad Men,' most of the fun came from rooting for a deeply-flawed main character. In recent seasons, Nancy is just someone who had a wild tequila night where she drunkenly stole the Worst Mother Award away from Betty Draper, turned it into a bong and beat her sons half to death with it."

"The repeat process of her being a bad mother is very grating....I understand it is part of her character, but seeing her always make this selfish decisions that poorly effect the family makes you lose faith in her."

There are many more out there, but you get the idea. And these aren't just internet commenters, I have seen such things from critics and writers. But again, none of these people ever complain about bad fathers. While watching "The Sopranos," all I ever heard was just what a badass Tony Soprano was. The only time anyone ever cried foul on him was when he killed his nephew, Christopher (who was the biggest degenerate in the entire series). I loved Tony too, but he was a worse person than Nancy. Was he a worse parent? That's debatable.

But, what it comes down to for me is, why are we looking to TV for examples on how to live? If you are relying on Showtime to provide role models for childrearing, then perhaps you should look elsewhere for the problem to begin with. You can enjoy a character, while taking them as a negative example. How not to live your life, so to speak.

It all comes down to the puritanical roots within this country, I think. There is a sexist undercurrent to all of this. Everybody needs to stop relying on TV to set an example for the rest of the world. Grow up and get a sense of humor! Obviously someone is doing something right if it gets a reaction, but that reaction is disturbing to me.

So now, I leave you with the Bad Mothers' Corps.



  1. For me, something like bad mothers (or fathers for that matter) comes down to a little thing called "context". For example in a sitcom like Scrubs per say, I don't mind seeing Jordan being a lousy mother if it's something based around a joke. But if you base an entire episode around her trying to get me to care about her as a mother, but then she does something stupid, then I'm going to care. Of course that ALSO comes down to what context it's going to be in.

    Of course I'm sure bad parents is also something that some people thinks comes across as unattractive being portrayed by women. The same way people probably think violence against women shouldn't be portrayed on screen as natural. I'm not 1 of them, just giving my view of what I THINK it might be.

    That's not to say that theres things women could get away with that men can't. I'm sure if a woman posts a picture on her facebook pics of her kissing girls we wouldn't think of her as homosexual right away, just because society seems to have accepted acts of lesbianism as "COOL". Where as if a guy does this, he gets his sexuality as a male judged ALOT quicker.

    Anyways I've digressed long enough, I'm sure you get the point, that I agree that bad mothers and their portrayal is skewed by what the public deems as attractive for females, and it's ridiculous.

  2. I really appreciate your view. I found it very interesting and thought provoking. I have been finding Nancy Botwin a very angering character. Then it hit me, she has classic borderline traits. If anyone has ever been around or knows about personality disorders,you'll see it and feel it. Reality is that there are mothers out there that reflect some of Nancy's behaviors. I know of a borderline mother that lead her children's father to suicide and proceeded to steal any cash inheritance that was allocated to them. It is very true that in our society it seems that it is 'ok' to be a lousy father but a taboo to be a horrible mother.