Although I never actually watched the movie, I have the impression that the release of the movie Bridges of Madison County was attended with some controversy, and it required strenuous efforts on the part of the intelligentsia to assure us how empowering (or something) adultery was for women. But I strain to recall having seen or heard about subsequent movies whose female protagonist cheated on her husband and that the movie celebrated this. The movies I can think of – Unfaithful, Chloe – with unfaithful wives uniformly carried the message that adultery was, you know, bad; those two in particular carried the message that it was dangerous, much in the way Fatal Attraction presented the dangers of male adultery.
Has the zeitgeist shifted more decisively in favor of adulterous wives? It may be coincidence, but I happened to have caught two movies in the last couple of months that celebrated adulterous heroines: This Is Where I Leave You, with Tina Fey cheating on her workaholic husband with the high school boyfriend she broke up with when he was brain damaged in a car accident; and The Best of Me, with Michelle Monaghan cheating on her workaholic husband with the high school boyfriend she broke up with when he went to prison. I note that in neither movie was the wife intending to divorce her husband (although both movies make the eventual outcome ambiguous). She just wanted a little extra-marital action.
Neither of these movies are very good. TIWILY presents its progressive family as the cliché I identified back in this post, and it strains unsuccessfully to reconcile its approval of Fey’s adultery with Justin Bateman’s character being the victim of his wife’s adultery. TBoM, meanwhile, avails itself of almost every movie cliché every invented, and it’s kind of distracting when you can see the plot lines coming a mile away. But the point is that the movie presented this kind of behavior as okay if it makes women happy.*
Neither of these movies generated even the least bit of controversy that I heard about, and this strikes me as something new. Mrs. Φ said she is surprised that I’m surprised at the moral degeneration of popular culture. But I see enough of it to know when it ratchets downward.
* Popular culture – or at any rate its purveyors – doesn’t seem to extend this indulgence to men. I can’t even think of a recent movie celebrating the adultery of a married man. Relatedly, I have the vague impression that media opinion was really on the fence about the Ashley Madison hack until Gizmodo revealed that virtually all of its distaff accounts were zombies. Ashley Madison was only cool when it was “empowering” women; now that it’s a hangout for desperate men, it suffers the obloquy of being a late-nite punchline.