Alex Blaze

Hulu Sunday: Edna Garrett on marriage

Filed By Alex Blaze | January 11, 2009 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: edna garrett, facts of life, marriage, religious right

Straight from 1982, here's the episode of Facts of Life where Mrs. Garrett discusses the meaning of marriage. I thought it would be illuminating because of the ways in which the Religious Right has constructed false narratives about the importance of marriage over the past few decades... and how "advanced" some people were in 1982 compared to many wingers today.

OK, I have a little more time to write something up about why I posted this show to the site.

I found a while ago but these shows won't play to audiences outside the US. So since I got back to Indiana a few months ago I started rewatching these old sitcoms, and I completely forgot that The Facts of Life, by today's standards, was uber-leftwing. Here you have four girls learning to be self-sufficient, powerful women, with a morality that's based on far more than what's between their legs. The topics they tackled, in the context of a show directed at tweens, teens, and gay men who love sitcoms (especially the old-school ones... they don't make 'em like they used to), require the characters to hold themselves to high moral standards, learn to accept difference, and eschew greed while protecting their own independence.

Also, I didn't remember just how lesbianic Jo was. She had a few boyfriends here and there, but, well, who was she trying to fool?

Anyway, this episode deals specifically with the issue of marriage, and the girls learning from their mentor, Mrs. Garrett, about how marriage isn't the center of life. This is the exact opposite of the Religious Right's message on pretty much every issue, that marriage is the highest dignity, that not being married leads to horrible consequences, and that the government should do everything in its power to ensure that people are creating little, Norman-Rockwell-esque families centered around patriarchal marriages (not sayin' all marriages have to be patriarchal, but that's the kind kind that the Rick Warren crowd is pushing for).

It's hard to escape this ideology nowadays, and there are far too many people who think that marriage is/should be everyone's ultimate goal, especially for women. Abstinence-only education's basic premise, for girls, is that having a good moral character is entirely, and nothing other than, keeping one's vagina "pure" for a future husband. For everyone, it's that there is a normal, one-size-fits-all life arc that everyone must follow to be happy, with marriage right in the center of that arc.

This isn't just the Religious Right, either. It's a central tenet of pop psychology, with folks like Bill Cosby and Dr. Phil pushing it. It's the implication of shows like The Bachelor(ette) and Bride-zilla. It's the idea behind those programs Bush funded to get women off state-assistance by getting them married. It's the reason Arkansas just banned adoption and fostering by households with unmarried couples in them. I've also heard quite a few LGBT people use this ideology to discuss the importance of same-sex marriage, which is particularly troubling, considering that when it comes to LGBT parenting it's usually up to us to show that a couple being married is not important for the welfare of the children.

Which is all surprising considering how in 1982 there was a sitcom, directed at young people, in which the presumed role model is obviously involved in a long-term, unmarried, sexual relationship with no marriage in sight. This isn't Two and a Half Men, where everyone's having sex but no one is respectable; Edna Garrett was in far more dangerous territory because she was addressing young people and letting them in on what should be a pretty basic truth, that love and marriage are two completely separate things, and one can exist without the other.

Either way, I love this show far too much. The acting can be pretty bad at times, but I'm still charmed by the ridiculousness of it all juxtaposed with the morals.

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Wow. Thanks for that blast from the past Alex. I forgot how much I loved that show.

I love these old sitcoms. I'll look to see if they have that doogie howser episode with Vinnie's gay roommate...