joreth: (Super Tech)
I don't have any kind of TV signal at my house, other than what my rabbit ears can pick up (and trust me, with the weather in Florida, that's not much). I have a shit ton of DVDs, access to Netflix and Amazon, and other entertainment-viewing venues, but not much in the way of "live" programming. And I like that kind of programming. I really enjoy just leaving my TV turned on all day and set to one or two channels that play sitcoms or sci-fi or whatever, just to see what comes on. It's the same reason I still like listening to the radio, even though I hate commercials on both.

One of the TV stations that comes through (barely) is a classic TV station - showing nothing newer than the early '80s and some stuff quite a bit older. Late at night, they stick mainly with the '70s. So I've been watching a show I had seen before but wasn't a major portion of my viewing rotation because I was just a bit too young to be really interested in the plot back then - One Day at a Time‚Äč.

I really like sitcoms, but I'm kind of particular in my sitcom viewing. I like watching shows that are groundbreaking in some way and that are, by their very existence, social commentary. Whatever other flaws that show might have, it had an important message that shaped the society I grew up in.

This show is about a divorced mom trying to raise her two teenage daughters in a "liberated" society that she was never a part of. She grew up conservative and traditional Italian Catholic and married young. But her husband had an affair, so she divorced him - a radical enough notion at the time. To make matters even more shocking, she didn't go home to her parents to help her with the kids, she chose to get an apartment in New York and live alone with the kids - no man or family to protect her or help her.

That alone makes the show worth praising, to me. But every time I see an episode, I'm bowled over by the complexity of the situations and the nuance of the responses. It really was a terrific show. I'd like to sit down with the DVDs sometime and really do some thorough reviews on specific episodes, because there are some gems in there.

For instance, the episode I saw a couple of nights ago had the husband trying to back out of child support because he over-extended himself with his business and his new wife and was now facing financial trouble. This is a really easy situation to get black-and-white about - too fucking bad, it was your bad choices, you owe those kids their money because a single woman in the '70s with no college education couldn't get the kind of job to support the three of them without help, and it's your fault they're on their own in the first place.

To make matters worse, the father wasn't just facing financial hardship due to the economy or not making enough money from his company. He sold the kids' childhood home to buy a mansion with a pool and to hire a full-time maid to live in the lap of luxury. So it seems like a no-brainer that the dad is the bad guy and the solution is to sell the damn house, fire the maid, and live more frugally if he can't support his lifestyle.

Although these points are all made in the show, it doesn't stop there. In the course of the arguments over the child support, the mom figures out that the new wife doesn't even know about the financial hardship, and that the dad wants to quit child support because he wants to maintain his lifestyle so that his new wife never has to find out. The *reason*, he says, is because the new wife isn't "like [the mother]" and "can't handle it". She's accustomed to a life of luxury and wouldn't be able to cope with living a more meager existence.

The mom, here, has a perfectly justified opportunity to say "tough shit, that's part of what being married is all about". Instead, she stops her arguing, stunned that the new wife doesn't even know. She points out that the husband is being patronizing, and orders him to go home immediately and talk to the wife - to give her a chance to be an equal partner in their marriage and how to address the situation. Her sympathy in this moment, goes to the new wife, when the rest of society would have seen the new wife as a homewrecker and not deserving of sympathy.

Repeatedly, as the mom argues with the dad over the course of the series, she sticks up for the wife and insists that he treat her better than he ever treated the mom. She does not let him get away with being the same chauvinistic, overbearing, dismissive prick that he was to her.

And then the show goes one further. The daughters, when they find out all the details, turn to their father and say "Daddy, I know you want to support us, but you forget that we're supposed to support you too. That's what family is for. We'll work something out. Let us help you." Without compromising the kids' well-being or letting the father off the hook from his responsibilities, they insist on pulling together as a family, even though they're not a traditional family anymore. The support and respect isn't a one-way street.  In fact, it's an excellent example of support through accountability without becoming a doormat.

In the end, there are no Bad Guys, just people who make mistakes and have messy feelings, who learn from each other and help each other out. The family is changed to match the needs of the people in it, and even though there are growing pains about it, everyone is better off living in a non-traditional family structure which gives each of them opportunities to be their best selves. And they consistently live up to that, stumbling and tripping along the way, but always climbing upwards.

I wonder, since these are the kinds of influences I had growing up, what our society might look like if we still made such programming. And I wonder, since I wasn't the only person to watch and be influenced by shows like this, why I seem to be one of the only people to have absorbed these kinds of lessons.

I find it interesting that the vast majority of the lessons that influence how I do poly and that form the basis for my various activisms, come from mainstream, monogamous, heteronormative culture. I recommend re-visiting these old sitcoms, or visiting them for the first time if you missed them back in the day. Many of them are partially responsible for the adult I turned into, with lessons in empathy and consideration and intentional family and non-traditional choices.  Sometimes wisdom comes from unexpected places.
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