broken families.

| Thursday, December 17, 2009
Hm, I like the theme music idea from my last post. I might make a habit of that from now on. Just pop 'er open in a new window while you read, and there ya go! The trick will be hoping there are enough videos out there to cover my very extensive and very wackadoodle musical tastes.

Oh, who am I kidding. Everything's on YouTube.

Today I wanted to wax on a bit about a topic that is close to me: broken and dysfunctional families. I'm the product of one, like so many millions before and after me. They appear fairly often in film and literature, and with good reason - they're pretty common. Stories in which the hero or heroine is dealing with dead/absent/oblivious/abusive family members speak to me. Not that I had absent or abusive parents - not at all - but there is a little glimmer of connection with characters that come from non-nuclear families.

I do hate the term "broken family." I get that it's referring to a family that's been (in theory) split apart, but what a pejorative term. Bleh. My parents may have divorced, and it may have been super hard and caused a lot of bad feelings all around, but we weren't broken people. True, our polished four-person family image was gone forever, but the sense of family didn't go away. It only changed, along with my perception of what "family" meant.

I admit that my own experience and perception of family largely colors how I read and write about families. I don't dislike stories where the parents are still together and actually get along, or the siblings aren't at each others' throats. I do find them more difficult to relate to, though. I never had a squeaky-clean everybody-gets-along kind of family. Nor did I have a horribly screwball family. We had our ups and downs, our struggles and falling outs, our tears and support. There were times I thought my family members did some messed up crap (still do, sometimes), but at the end of it all, we were good people and we loved each other. Not everyone can say the same.

I always enjoy books that play with the idea of family and make us question our perceptions. Why is an awful, abusive, cold person you happen to be blood-related to more "family" than someone that doesn't share your DNA, but truly loves and supports you? Are these bonds psychological, biological, societal, or all of the above? Can we break them? Why is it so difficult for us to sever ties with a toxic person when said toxic person is our mother, our brother, our cousin?

What gets me is the idea that any family that isn't comprised of one happily married couple with X number of biological children is an "atypical" family. Personally, I consider them all just families. Nothing normal about being a certain way or abnormal about being another, not when the variety is so myriad. Maybe this is why it seems like there are so many "unusual" family situations in fiction, when in reality they're no more unusual than the ideal. Family is what we make it, in life, fiction, or otherwise.


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