Politics & Policy

Jennifer Aniston in the No Spin Zone

Romantic comedies go sperm for the summer.

Bill O’Reilly was fully occupied with Barack Obama and other familiar “Friends,” but then along came Jennifer Aniston, making comments about modern motherhood that didn’t score well in the “No Spin Zone.”

During a recent O’Reilly Factor segment, the Fox News star hosted a “culture war” debate involving actress Jennifer Aniston’s recent comments about women and motherhood, which related to her new artificial-insemination comedy co-starring Jason Bateman, The Switch.

During a press conference about the movie, Aniston explained: “The point of the movie is, what is it that defines family? It isn’t necessarily the traditional mother, father, two children, and a dog named Spot,” she said. “Love is love, and family is what is around you and who is in your immediate sphere. That is what I love about this movie. It is saying it is not the traditional sort of stereotype of what we have been taught as a society of what family is.” She said that “times have changed, and that is also what is amazing, is that we do have so many options these days, as opposed to our parents’ days, when you can’t have children because you have waited too long.”

“Women are realizing it more and more knowing that they don’t have to settle with a man just to have that child.”

O’Reilly pushed back against that message. “She’s throwing a message out to 12-year-olds and 13-year-olds that hey, you don’t need a guy, you don’t need a dad,” he said. “That’s destructive to our society.”

The entertainment blogs immediately seized on his comments, spinning his words as Bill O’Reilly’s announcing that Jennifer Aniston is destructive to society, and caricatured his criticism as ridiculous.

You may be experiencing 1992 Murphy Brown flashbacks. Only now we’ve — evolved doesn’t quite seem the word — from sleeping with our ex-husband and getting pregnant to discovering a drunken sperm switch. But Dan Quayle was right back then and Bill O’Reilly is right now.

It is, of course, a fact that there are alternatives that exist today for women — especially women of means — to have children in ways that their grandmothers and even mothers didn’t have. But it doesn’t follow that we should necessarily embrace them.

Aniston is right to say that “there are children that don’t have homes that have a home and can be loved. And that’s extremely important.” There are, absolutely, occasions where a child needs love, doesn’t have it, and someone is able to provide it in an unconventional way. These exceptions, however, are not reasons to toss out everything we know to be true about moms and dads and the need for them. And this, also, isn’t what we’re talking about in we-women-can-have-babies-however-we-like comedies.

This column is not a review of The Switch. I haven’t seen it but expect to, despite Aniston’s synopsis. It’s put together by some of the people behind Juno, which was a messy story about responsibility and redemption. That’s art. Too often, though, what passes as art today is just an affirmation of mistakes. Instead of inspiring, it seeks to issue an official, collective “It’s all right” about decisions we used to have some healthy sense of shame about. A Hollywood imprimatur only plays a role in covering up what’s not all right.

Another movie this summer, The Kids Are All Right, lets this slip show. The Kids Are All Right is a story about a lesbian couple, their two kids, and the sperm donor who gets a phone call from an 18-year-old in need of a father. The kids, in short, are not quite all right.

My Daddy’s Name Is Donor, a recent study from the Commission on Parenthood’s Future, found that children born after a sperm-bank commercial exchange suffer more feelings of loss, confusion, and isolation than do kids raised in a household with a mom and a dad. And “to fill the paternal hole in their soul,” they often turn to drugs and alcohol, or get in trouble with the law, as commission member W. Bradford Wilcox explains. Further, he says: “The offspring of maverick moms are 177 percent more likely to have a problem with substance abuse and are 146 percent more likely to report having had a run-in with the law, compared with offspring of two biological parents.”

Are twelve-year-old girls going to run out to get artificially inseminated because Jennifer Aniston points to it as a perfectly mainstream option for a modern woman? Of course not. But might a look at a movie trailer just be another cultural influence telling them that Chelsea Clinton’s getting married is just a throwback to an old custom we used to have? That mom and dad and kids are really now but a “stereotype”? Maybe a Fox News hang-up, too?

As my colleague Richard Brookhiser wrote in response to the Quayle speech: “Culture affects behavior. Dan Quayle isn’t the only person who believes this. Every feminist who applauded Thelma and Louise, every parent who wonders about the effects of cop-show violence on his kids, every aging rock critic who credits Elvis with jolting America out of the sexless somnolence of the 50’s thinks culture changes hearts and minds. The question is: In what direction?”

This was the question Bill O’Reilly was asking. This is the question Dan Quayle was asking.

Back in the infamous speech, Quayle said: “It’s time to talk again about family, hard work, integrity, and personal responsibility. We cannot be embarrassed out of our belief that two parents, married to each other, are better in most cases for children than one. That honest work is better than hand-outs — or crime. That we are our brothers’ keepers. That it’s worth making an effort, even when the rewards aren’t immediate.”

That moment has not passed. The traditional family is not a “stereotype,” but civilizationally foundational. And it is not too late to remind twelve-year-old girls of who they can be. And that they can even want to be it.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. She can be reached at klopez@nationalreview.com. This column is available exclusively through United Media. For permission to reprint or excerpt it, please contact Carmen Puello at cpuello@unitedmedia.com.

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