As it happens, the second edition of "Our Times with Bill Moyers," the CBS News program that had a special premiere Sunday night, is even better than the first, perhaps because the subject matter, while perhaps less crucial than the end of the world as discussed on the first show, is more immediate and intimate: the casual destruction of the American home through the increasingly accepted process of divorce.
An old song, in fact, equates the dissolution of a romance with "the end of the world." Americans are finding it easier to end these worlds than ever, and Moyers visits the slippery new American cutting edge, Silicon Valley in California, to chronicle some premature marital sunsets and wonder why and what it means. Because of the president's news conference, "Our Times" will air at 9 tonight on Channel 9, following the second edition of "On the Road With Charles Kuralt."
Craig Leake, the producer of tonight's "Our Times," again demonstrates uncommon skill at putting nakedly honest moments on film, never intrudingly, always illustratively. Moyers visits Santa Clara County, California, 40 miles south of San Francisco, and roams a room in which divorces are doled out at one end and marriages finalized at another. He asks a couple planning to wed how they feel about the fact that other marriages are ending just a few feet away. They say they'll take their chances. In Santa Clara County, the chances aren't great; there are more divorces than marriages each year.
California's "no-fault" divorce enables Silicon Valley couples to enter Splitsville for $112 after a six-month waiting period. "I guess that's just the way things go," sighs a man whose marriage is dissolved when a judge's rubber-stamp signature is applied to a sheaf of documents.
At a recently established "divorce center," the object is not to reconcile feuding mates but to help them through an easy separation. Business booms. "You just sit back and wait for the phone to ring," says the manager, and the founder notes, "Every time someone is born, we have a potential customer." He says January is a particularly "good" month for divorces and that January 1 is "a bonanza day."
A divorce industry is emerging, Moyers says, and bustling. Divorce is being detraumatized, and any notions about marriage having "sanctity" obliterated. While the program doesn't really explore the effect on children, the faces and statements of those being divorced are pungently depressing enough. "If marriage can't be fun, then who needs it?" asks a divorce'. "Out here in California," says another woman getting a divorce, "it's kind of the thing to do."
And another woman, earlier, philosophizes, "I could say it's his fault, or my fault, but--things change." Moyers doesn't stand there and deliver a lamentation for old values and the American home; the haunting images of those interviewed on camera do it for him. Besides, there is here a sadness, a sense of loss, that is beyond words, which is one reason broadcast journalism can be as uniquely revealing and valuable as is this edition of "Our Times."