Popular culture usually portrays marriage as boring and sterile. Typically, men are either cast as Homer Simpson-like incompetent dolts, or as p-whipped, emasculated dads. Either way, the message is simple: If you want to be cool and have good sex, avoid kids and marriage. (Is it any wonder a lot of men are boycotting marriage?)
Fortunately, in recent years, we have begun seeing some more positive examples. Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler’s portrayal of Tami and Coach Taylor on Friday Night Lights, for example, was a huge step in the right direction. Here was a marriage portrayed as a partnership and a friendship between two talented and attractive people who truly respected each other (and yes, sometimes it was steamy).
Along those lines, ThinkProgress’ Alyssa Rosenberg is out with a smart piece on how Beyoncé And Jay-Z are making the case for marriage that conservatives can’t. “…Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and Jay-Z got on the Grammy stage last night and did what conservatives have been dying for someone to do for ages: they made marriage look fun, and sexy, and a source of mutual professional fulfillment,” Rosenberg writes.
“‘Drunk In Love’ is raunchy, fun and even silly. ‘Why can’t I keep my fingers off it, baby? I want you,’ Beyoncé sings. She teases her partner, who both in the real-life creation of the song and its narrative, is her husband Jay-Z, ‘Can’t keep your eyes off my fatty, daddy, I want you.’ It’s a song about flirting, about going out and partying, about having fantastic, adventuresome, totally enthralling sex — with your spouse. That’s a far, far better argument for marriage than the pseudo-scientific case for holding onto your oxytocin by not having sex before you say your vows on the grounds that such conservation efforts will make your first time better.”
To be sure, not everyone agrees. Frankly, I wouldn’t necessarily want my little kids watching everything on the Grammy stage — but not everything is meant for children.
At the very least, any young man watching last night can now think this: “Yes, it is possible to get married, have a beautiful wife and kids — and still be confident, successful, and cool like Jay-Z.” (For obvious reasons, I’m looking at this primarily through the lens of a man, but there’s no reason this wouldn’t be an aspirational example for women, as well. As Rosenberg notes, one message the couple sends is that “being a sexually attentive wife and loving mother don’t, in the world of Beyoncé, have to conflict with the lady’s professional success, either.”)
Role models matter. And from a PR perspective, Beyoncé and Jay-Z send a message about marriage that’s a hell of a lot more positive than most of what Hollywood is selling — and vastly more appealing than what the conservative movement is selling, too.
“If marriage is a product that conservatives desperately want to sell,” writes Rosenberg, “the smartest thing they could do right now is to hire Beyoncé and Jay-Z as a product spokescouple.”
She’s not wrong.
Alyssa Rosenberg and I had a terrific podcast discussion about this topic. If you’re remotely interested in how the media misrepresents marriage, give it a listen.
… Meanwhile, over at HuffPost, Ellie Slee takes issue with Jay-Z’s lyric: “I’m Ike Turner, turn up/Baby know I don’t play/Now eat the cake, Anna Mae,” noting that this is “a reference to a moment of domestic abuse displayed in the Tina Turner biopic What’s Love Got To Do With It when Ike forced Tina (who was born Anna Mae) to eat cake by shoving it into her face, and proceeded to assault an employee who tried to help her.”
“Screw the glamourisation of a marriage that required a wife to have corrective rhinoplasty to realign a nose beaten to a pulp over a period of years; of a wife who decided, in 1968, that suicide was her only refuge; of a husband so delusional that in his own memoirs, he stated, “Sure… There have been times when I punched her to the ground without thinking. But I have never beat her.”
“Beyonce: when you smile affectionately and sing along with that lyric, you are propagating a cycle of humiliation, of rape, of violence that is still horrifically real for women all over the world. The fact that Tina Turner broke the cycle by no means makes it acceptable for you to try to make her situation a sexy one.
I’ve never argued that Beyoncé and Jay-Z are perfect (certainly, I would take issue with their Cuban vacation), just that they make marriage look good — which is a rare portrayal in popular culture, these days. But Slee’s post raises concerns that should bothersome to both feminists on the left — and cultural conservatives on the right.
Once again, they are uniting us.