It’s Time to Send Monogamy Packing in Favor of Laid-back Polygamy, Serial Monogamy, or Some Other Living Arrangement or Combination of Arrangements More In-tune with the Demands of Consumer Culture
If you are not one of the few, the proud, the Stereolab fans, perhaps I should explicate the origins of the title borrowed for this essay before dashing off into the swirling eye of my modestly apportioned idealistic haze. It was taken from one of the band’s songs from their wonderful early 90’s album Transient Random Noise Bursts with Announcements, a strangely dadaist and transcendent album title if there ever was one, not to mention the overall eerily exuberant French-dadaist-on-copious-handfuls-of-downers feel of the work. Yes, my darlings, there can be exuberance in chemical suppressants, vast exuberance. I am not one to advocate drug-use, being an ardent Puritan and all, but firsthand experience of the aforementioned phenomenon would prove me anything but an exaggerator.
If you’d like know what I’m talking about in regards to Stereolab, and not the chemicals- you are on your own there, see this url- http://play.rhapsody.com/stereolab/transientrandomnoiseburstswithannouncements/packyrromanticmind?didAutoplayBounce=true; or just buy the damn album or track somewhere.
But I did not come here to praise Francophonic electro club jazz saturated with DIY punk sensibility. I came here to talk about something altogether different, and perhaps bury a decrepit idea that many folks in our society just won’t let be pried from their cold dead ideological hands. I’m talking here about relationships, particularly monogamous marriage, and the sad state of affairs [yes, guffaw, guffaw- and indeed, people should have more of them] in which we have found ourselves.
The whole idea for this little rant and the above said title popped into my demented little head this evening when reading a passage in Riesman, et. al.’s The Lonely Crowd:
…Many people, both men and women, are troubled by the so-called disintegration of the family and look longingly back to the family structure of societies at any early point on the curve of the population. They usually fail to see that the current divorce rate is, in part, an index of the new demands made upon marriage for sociability and leisure by sensitive middle-class couples [Emphasis mine]; that these demands not only begin high, in the choice of a mate, but, as Margaret Mead has observed, include the expectation that each partner grow and develop at approximately the same rate. [See, The Lonely Crowd; Riesman, et. al.; 1961 Edition, pp. 280-281 and Mead, Margaret, Male and Female]
Yes, folks, in short, what Riesman and company are saying is that romance, and the notions of romance and “togetherness” that are endlessly flogged like an intransigent horse as the “be all, end all” of existence by the human and electronic megaphones of our obscenely wealthy consumer society, is not only weighing down marriage, but has managed to virtually crush it. And if any of you are like me, and I’m sure there’s no small number of you, you’ve experienced this first hand in a relationship if not in marriage itself. This is especially true for the guys.
You’re not putting forth any effort in this relationship!
You’re not evolving with me!
You’re not meeting my expectations!
And the whining litany goes on…
What? Excuse me? Did you say something that didn’t relate to you sexually pleasuring me? Huh?
Now let’s remember, Riesman’s passage was written more than 40 years ago. Our predicament has done nothing but accelerate since then. Marriage and sexual relationships have themselves become consumer products wrought with lofty expectations from all involved parties. As per the case of the Rosencheck children below, even the fruits of the marriage are expected to be bound by the new suffocating demands. It is as though partners are boxes of detergent pulled from the shelves of the marketplace then are expected to be a Porsche automobile or some sort of magical pixie dust able to solve all problems at the wave of a hand.
This whole notion of marriage and family as a consumerist notion owes no tiny thanks to television and other mass media who hold up a simultaneous window/mirror regarding how everyone should look and behave. We begin by looking into the window and all too often we imitate what we see through that window until it becomes a mirror.
The nuclear family, once a nice, neat authoritarian structure, has now disintegrated. People at one time were dedicated to the moral upbringing of their spawn. Being an old codger over the age of 40, I vaguely remember those days with just a wee tad of nostalgia and sentimentality. Now, however, the family is all about consumption and the personal satisfaction of the parents who view their children not as the future of our culture, but as extensions of themselves, a part of the overall bourgeois image they project into the world. It is the tendency of way too many parents, especially those of upper-middle class rungs and higher to view their kids not as independent human beings, but as two-legged status symbols donned in the latest Baby Gap fashions. One chilling case in point of this new consumerist attitude toward children is illustrated in today’s LA Times. The title and sub-slug pretty much sum-up the attitude I’m describing: The Kids are All Right– High chairs? Finger guards? Door stoppers? Forget it. Some parents refuse to compromise their style and shun child-proofing extremes that turn showcase homes into plastic playhouses. Heaven forbid that a fashionable home yield to the demands of the next generation.
The article begins as follows:
SHORTLY after learning “ma-ma” and “da-da,” Ginger and Ruby Rosenheck said “bye-bye” to their high chairs.
“They are the lamest, ugliest, most restraining things in the world and when you have twins, high chairs just take over the room,” says their mother Cindy Capobianco. “So at 14 months, we got them their own table and chairs.”
“It took a few days to teach them to sit — and eat — there,” says her husband Rob Rosenheck, who dines nearby with his wife in Ikea metal chairs at an 18th century colonial table. “But now they do and it’s so damned cute.”
It appears that Ms. Capobianco [I find it humorous and tellingly appropriate that this roughly translates into “Whitehead”- as in a zit on the face of a nation] and her spouse care more about how their children “look” than how they “are.” As long as the parents can gaze upon their children from the comfort of their trendy chairs and antique table in a perfectly feng shui room, what’s best for children be damned, “we look so chic!” All the better to be interviewed by the Times for just how trendy we are.
One can only hope that little Ginger and Ruby wake up to the shallow graves they have been shoved-into by their parents sooner rather than later, and that they find the first minivan out of the suffocating yuppie hellhole. May they have a hovel near an ocean cliff, a nice survivalist camp in Northern California, or equally rustic digs in their not-so-distant futures. At least in those scenarios they’d be able to breath.
Another nightmare example of parents not willing to cede themselves to the demands of their children is Austinite Neil Pollack’s rather controversial book, Alternadad, in which Mr. Pollack details his strategies for remaining “cool” despite being balled and chained by a squalling infant. It is the more down-scaled artist-chic side of the same coin on which the Rosencheck children’s self-absorbed uber-yuppie parents reside.
Now I know I’m being a little harsh on all the cool parents. I’ll admit that I don’t know the whole story with these folks, and honestly, I’m not anyone to deny any other god, allah, buddha or other entity-fearing American human being his or her national entitlement to pursue the insanely demanding dream of “self-fulfillment” and self-satisfaction. Hell, I’m guilty of pursuing the whole American dream myself with some gusto every once in a while for a few years before getting really grumpy and having to take a nap for a month or two before waking up and starting the whole crazy race over again.
There has been much scuttlebutt lately regarding how marriage is under attack from feminists, abortionists, and gay marriage advocates. This whole “marriage under attack” notion is ludicrous. Such crusades of braying televangelists and righteously indignant papists and other sectarian stripes leave me cold, if not completely without amusement. I have never seen anything particularly spiritual in marriage. Sexual conjugation itself can have such a quality, but as anyone knows, you don’t need a license and a big fat ring to experience such.
The odd conundrum about the whole “marriage under attack” ideology is that the family values and market values held so nearly and dearly by social conservatives seem to be canceling each other out. The wild and free market of rampant consumerism is antithetical to the settled communitarian milieu in which families are commonly believed to thrive. Neither gays, feminists, communists, child-haters, nor blood-thirsty trolls are attacking marriage from the outside. The disintegration of marriage is happening from within in no small part due to the internalization of market values which place a premium on consumption and image at the expense of emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being. More consumption has come to equal more happiness in the twisted logic of our consumer society when, in fact, quite the opposite is true, and romance is nothing but a means of compelling consumption and an act of consumption in and of itself. For an excellent examination of the how market forces are eroding marriage and family, see The End of Marriage at savageminds.org.
Lately, I have been pondering the historical secular and cultural necessity of monogamous marriage. The nuclear family has served western culture quite well for some time – oh say 100 or so years per a very liberal estimate- functioning initially as a production unit before devolving into its present state as a loosely associated consumption unit dominated by state and corporate institutions. [See, “The Socialization of Reproduction and the Collapse of Authority,” Part VII of Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism for more on the replacement of patriarchal and familial authority by external institutions] Marriage was for a short time a means of perpetuating the culture through reproduction and acculturation back before insane wealth shocked society’s systems and men and women were actually dependent upon each other for economic as well as social reasons, and children themselves were considered assets [they could work the fields], and not liabilities and tax deductions. However, as Lasch and many others have noted, the nuclear family has pretty much disintegrated into so many unruly electrons thanks to the invidious nature of rampant free market consumerism.
But rather than mourn marriage, or try to save it, perhaps we should all accept the cold hard reality that the institution of marriage is no longer necessary, and is, quite simply outdated and incompatible with the wealth and leisure-seeking inclinations of our society. New paradigms of social relations need to be developed and normalized.
In regards to child-rearing, maybe, since external institutions are now basically raising the kids anyway, we should cut out the middle men and women and opt for the fertility and incubation facilities of Brave New World, which is basically what the nuclear family is doing now in a rather inefficient way. Now, I’m not suggesting farms of test tube babies as the best alternative, but as one. Maybe some smart people out there have some better ideas regarding how to perpetuate the race and the culture. I have had a crazy flash of the concept of the Nanny Farm where children are brought to be raised and inculcated into the culture after their cuteness wears off and their parents begin to find them boring or vice versa.
Since nuclear families don’t have much control over the culture or themselves any more, perhaps it is time that men and women free themselves from the prison of monogamy. If people are going to be so insistent upon having so many romantic and consumerist expectations met, it will have to be done in a new setting, or, more accurately several new settings.
It is far from fair, and even further from reasonable, to expect so many high expectations and needs to be met by one person. As Reisman, et. al. suggest, and Lasch echoes a decade later, such demands are put upon the achievement of fulfilling relationships that instead of being a haven from the the workaday world, they become jobs in themselves. Husband and wife tend to be co-employers/co-employees, and not just in the realm of making sure the kids are fed and the bills are paid, but in the maddening maintenance of a certain image and standard of living as a facade to present to their friends and the world in general. The economic and social demands are ridiculous, not to mention the psychological toll and stifling of creativity in an environment that demands conformity and complete control at every turn. I commend those who thrive in such an environment and would by no means wish to deprive them of their contentment. For me, and I am far from alone, such a living arrangement would be a living death.
So really, what’s wrong with changing the structure a little. Throwing traditional marriage out the window will really hurt no one but divorce lawyers. If there are those daring enough, they can give it a whirl. I’m not talking about outlawing it, just dropping its deification.
And really, when its all said and done, you don’t have to pack your romantic mind, just your notions of how your romantic wishes will be fulfilled.