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November 7, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Of all the many articles written objecting to the sculpture “A Real Birmingham Family,” by Gillian Wearing, none is better than this one (Telegraph, 11/3/14).

The sculpture, cost £150,000, at least some of which came from public coffers.  It portrays two adult women and two children.  One of the women is pregnant and each woman holds one child by the hand.  It’s based on two actual women who live in Birmingham and their children.

The storm of outrage that followed its unveiling could have been predicted.  Among other things, one Birmingham dad, Bobby Smith draped a sheet over one of the adult figures and superimposed himself and photos of his two sons over the other three figures.

The point of the protests being that we shouldn’t be glorifying adults raising children outside the optimal arrangement, i.e. an intact, biological family.  Of course a single work of art, however dubious its value as such, can’t be said to do or say anything beyond what it is.  No work of art is broad enough to cover all the possibilities of even its own subject.  We should never criticize a work of art for what it’s not, for failing to be something other than what it is.  Criticizing Crime and Punishment for not being The Brothers Karamazov is silly.

At the same time, no work of art exists in a vacuum, much as certain artists might like to pretend otherwise.  Each work exists within a cultural/political/economic/societal/etc. context and will reliably be viewed therein.  Indeed, failure to do so may well result in a misreading of the piece.  Trying to fit Delacroix into Neo-classicism won’t help you understand either.

So Wearing’s work, like all others, exists in a place and a time and says something about both.  And what it says is that the United Kingdom of the current day is experiencing a wholly unprecedented and destructive breakdown of the family.  There are countless ways an artist might make that point, but Wearing quite clearly celebrates the fact.

Ms Wearing, who hails from Birmingham and attended Dartmouth High School, said: “A nuclear family is one reality but it is one of many and this work celebrates the idea that what constitutes a family should not be fixed.” 

Indeed.  Wearing’s notion of familial equivalence is altogether common in public discourse and in the reality of families across the English-speaking world and beyond.  According to her uninformed view, one family is pretty much like another.  Single-mother household?  Fine.  Foster family?  Fine.  Two moms?  Fine.  Who knows?  As far as Wearing’s concerned maybe even two fathers would be acceptable.

But whatever the case, her brief for families of all stripes being pretty much interchangeable is just flat wrong, much as the political correctness of the past 50 years might wish it otherwise.  During those 50 years, we’ve had the opportunity to gather actual facts and analyze them rigorously.  And that process has produced rock-solid conclusions that the likes of Gillian Wearing can’t refute.  In case anyone’s interested in children’s welfare, they might pause to notice that children of all races and creeds, all classes, all religions, all levels of education do better on every standard we measure when they’re raised by two biological parents.

Can two women raise healthy children?  Of course they can, as can two men.  Can single parents?  That too is possible.  But the odds overwhelmingly favor the children of intact biological families.

We live in a time in which some 33% of British children have essentially no contact with their fathers, a fact Wearing either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about.  Courts, in thrall to precisely the concepts espoused by her, routinely award child custody to mothers and shove fathers to the curb.  Not by choice, those children go from one type of family (intact biological) to an entirely different type (single mother), but, since all families are equal in this brave new world according to Wearing, it’s of no consequence.

Meanwhile, the writer of the linked-to article, Neil Lyndon, makes some pretty apt observations about the artistic merits and demerits of Wearing’s work.

[W]hy must her representation of an alternative to the nuclear family be so boringly and bone-wearyingly conventional? The shock of the new? Far from it. A picture of family life that excludes a man/father does nothing more than to fit in with and duplicate the presumptions and diktats of our women-centred society as they have developed and taken hold in our time.

The exclusion of the father has always been a driving force in modern feminism, going back to its very origins. In her 1970 book The Female Eunuch, Germaine Greer dreamt of creating a communal collective of well-heeled young mothers at a farmhouse in Italy “where our children would be born. Their fathers and other people would also visit as often as they could...The house and garden would be worked by a local family...”. Charming. In an issue of Shrew magazine in 1973, a contributor asked "Are Fathers Really Necessary?" and concluded “they are more trouble than they are worth and likely to abuse children sexually."

That sort of contempt towards men and marginalisation of fathers rings down the decades of the last half century and it finds non-stop expression and repetition everywhere you look in our mainstream culture – from children’s stories and TV soap operas to mass market advertising, newspaper columns, Woman’s Hour and the rest.

It exerts an operational hold on our institutions – most grievously in the routine separation of children from their fathers by the family courts which is the single most shameful abuse of human rights in our own society, in our own time…

Even so, the version of “A Real Birmingham Family” that Bobby Smith has improvised is infinitely more radical and emotionally-charged as a work of performance art than the stultified vision of Gillian Wearing RA, OBE. Perhaps somebody ought now to run up a T-shirt featuring Bobby Smith with the motto “This is what a genuine campaigner for sexual equality looks like”.

Just so.  The idea of a father as part of a family has indeed become so radical, so dangerous a notion that latter-day Yippies like Bobby Smith must assert the idea in secret and then run before the authorities catch up to him.  Truly, this is what we’ve come to.

Wearing’s statue is life-sized bronze.  That means it’ll be with us for centuries.  As such, it’ll provide the people of those far-distant times the opportunity to assess our culture through the lens of that particular piece of art as well as other applicable contexts.  What will they say?  Will they shake their heads in wonder that we could be so stupid as to believe that all would be well, that the society could exist happily and productively along with the wholesale destruction of the family?

Or will they, having continued with our policies of family destruction and the massive expansion of government necessitated thereby, find nothing remarkable about it?  Will maternal and child poverty have become such an indelible aspect of society that it never occurs to people that anything else is possible?  Will all the deficits associated with fatherlessness have become social “givens?”  Will heightened crime rates and drug and alcohol use be so common as to be unremarkable?  Will miserable performance in school, high rates of unemployment and psychological damage be the same?

Or, as yet another possibility, will what’s now the English-speaking world have become something else entirely, dominated and subsumed by cultures that knew better than we did?

Who knows?  But what’s certain is the here and now in which families are indeed changing for the worse.  We are in fact discarding them despite our certain knowledge that no culture has ever thrived without a firm family structure.  And many people, like Gillian Wearing, “celebrate” our doing so.

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#art, #GillianWearing, #familybreakdown, #fatherlessness

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