Thursday, December 15, 2011

Keeping House in Hollywood

One of the many reasons that I ultimately grew tired of the TV series Chuck in the second season was the casual way in which it attempted to pass off "shacking up" as a natural, matter-of-course stage in the evolution of romantic relationships. Yes, I get that many people do it; no, I do not accept that this is now the dominant cultural mode.

So I have some appreciation for the way the new television series Whitney is handling the issue of premarital cohabitation, as for instance in this clip:

The remarkable thing about this series is that the two principal characters begin the story already in this arrangement.  While shack-ups are no stranger to television (a recurring sitcom theme from Cheers to The Big Bang Theory), they usually begin and end in the course of the series.  This is the first series I can recall in which the shack-up is baked in at the get-go.

It will be interesting to see how the series progresses.  It will be much more difficult for the writers to have the characters break up a-la Chandler and Rachel without a significantly altering the dynamic they’ve created.  But will Whitney and Alex ever get married?  I guess we’ll have to see.


Anonymous said...

Yes, I get that many people do it; no, I do not accept that this is now the dominant cultural mode.

Oh, I really strongly disagree, Phi, with the usual caveats that it may depend on geography and education, etc. At least where I live, at least among the well-educated 20 to 30-something set, premarital cohabitation is absolutely the norm, and "marriage" truly is a much later afterthought, a formality to be undertaken after the couple is "settled". The idea that anyone might refrain from living together before marriage for moral reasons would garner laughs from almost everyone I went to school with.

In fact, the very phrase "living together before marriage" would seem hilariously quaint to this cohort, because "living together before marriage" is simply what people do. I mean, am I conveying the extent of this, or what? I don't watch TV, but I have to say I would find it weirder, and more contrived, to see a show featuring a young couple who had been together for a long time and *weren't* living together.

To beat an utterly dead horse, this is why I'm not quite as upset about "gay marriage" as I could be. Barely anyone is really, ardently in favour of it. Most people who say they support it just don't really have a sense that any sexual arrangement is wrong.

Dr. Φ said...

Well . . . it may be the cultural norm among the class of people from which the entertainment industry is staffed. it's an empirical question.

Anonymous said...

It depends on how you define dominant. It might also depend on how you define "cohabitation." According to this USA Today article, two-thirds of married people lived together premaritally. I'm not sure how many were engaged before they did so, however.

And anecdotally, I'm with Samson. My wife and I did not cohabitate. Though embraced by our respective parents, it was mostly viewed as an oddity among our peers. More than once I have been told (by people who don't know that's the route I took) that it is irresponsible not to live together first. Granted, I do not have a particularly religious set of peers, but I also do not have the sort of peers who need to cohabitate out of necessity. Among the people I know from more humble backgrounds, it's more common rather than less.

And, not to say that the world revolves around me, but my peers and I actually tend to fit the mold of characters on TV (and not just their writers), from a SES/Cultural perspective. If anything, my demographic profile is more conservative. So, in that sense, I think that plots such as Chuck are actually rather indicative of attitudes on the matter.

If you have empirical data to the contrary, I'm open to it. I'd be happy to hear that I'm not alone out there!

Dr. Φ said...

Trumwill: I guess my impressions are based on my own anecdotes, or lack of them. That's not to say that nobody I knew cohabitated, it's that people almost never talked about it formally (although they gossiped about it endlessly), and I never heard anyone announce "We're living together!" in the same way people announce "We're engaged!" like it was part of the natural evolution of a relationship.

As I sat down to write this comment, I almost wrote that "nobody I knew cohabitated", but that's not really true. One of my uncles did. (He passed away 15 years ago, and I had kind of forgotten about him.) And one of my neighbors across the street did (although I think they're engaged now).

And yes, definitions are important. Expanding "cohabitation" to include already engaged couples would include one more of my uncles and one more of my neighbors (again, that I know about). That's not especially ideal, but it's not the same thing as the try-it-and-see attitude most cohabitating couples take.

Likewise, "dominant". I mean to capture more than "most people do it." I would say that it is much more the dominant mode in your social milieu than mine, where it is attended with more hypocrisy.