Not so long ago I seriously considered suing Ladies Home Journal, Redbook and McCalls for the way they lied to me when I was growing up (I didn't know that they'd lied until I was on the brink of midlife crisis).
I honestly believed that all I had to do to live happily ever after was to:
Be reasonably attractive and fairly intelligent.
Learn how to make 101 main dishes from a pound of ground beef.
Save myself for the man I one day would marry.
Serve homemade cookies and milk to my children after school.
Know when to be a good listener and/or a sparkling conversationalist.
In a word:
As luck would have it, just about the time I began wising up, so did my favorite magazines. For them, however, wisdom didn't come slowly. Overnight -- or so it seem -- they were obsessed with a single purpose: To fill me with Truth. And their zeal to Tell Me All -- about mothering, wife-ing, careering, asserting, divorcing, affairing, coping, relating -- has become slightly overwhelming. Frankly, I think their reality has gotten out of hand.
Don't get me wrong: I don't want to regress to all of the mindless pleasantries of the past. But now that I'm gagging over countless chronicles of Margaret Trudeau's casual guest for self-fulfillment, all those '50s articles about Doris Day's virginity (and her passion for vanilla milkshakes) don't seem all that bad.
Nor is rampant reality confined to the neighborhood newsstand: The movies also seem determined to ply me with Truth.
Just the other night, I saw "An Affair To Remember." For the 37th time. (Kleenex sales attributable to that movie alone probably kept Kimberly-Clark in business for years.) Such simplicity. Such sap. Such bliss.
For anyone too young to remember or too old to care, the movie is about a man and a woman who meet, fall in love, overcome adversity, then finally fade into the sunset where we presume they lived happily every after. Pretty silly, huh?
If the same movie were in production today, you could bet your last box of Kleenix that the script would include: a jilted husband or wife -- or both; at least 5.4 maladjusted kids; a vicious fight; hysteria over a secret vasectomy ("But I longed to have your child") or an unwanted pregnancy ("But I thought you longed to have my child"); 47 (count 'em) references to a meaningful relationship; a marriage contract spelling out every intimate detail of a me-first commitment that will require years of "hard work."
The movie moguls, along with the rest of us, should listen to George Burns. He has said he never understood what people meant when they talked about all of the "hard work" it takes to make a good marriage. Burns' logic: "To me, hard work means sweat. And what when you sweat, you don't smell good. And if you don't smell good, who wants to be around you anyway?"
And if somehow I manage to avoid magazines and movies, there's still the daily newspaper to contend with. It, too, is counting on reality to bolster sagging sales: So far as I'm concerned, to peruse page one for information on crime, kooks, and congressional cover-up is one thing; to have it all clarified in the comics is another mater entirely.
Don't misunderstand: Doris Day and Pollyanna never were my idols, nor in '80s parlance would I want them to be "role models" for my daughter. But I am not expecially thrilled that at age 12 she convinced that the world is an utterly depressing place. And I'm not getting much help in convincing her otherwise.
I fondly remember a time whtn parents were able to convince their children that things always were getting better. Now, however, we've tossed out silver linings and replaced them with plastic pessimism.
That's what is missing in all this realism -- a little thing called hope.