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'Dad Camp' - A New Low in Anti-Father Popular Culture
The latest entry in the 2010 Misandry Sweepstakes comes courtesy of VH1. You can view the first episode here. It's a new "reality" show entitled "Dad Camp," and it's all about how irresponsible dads are and how, with enough tough-love therapy and exposure to their pretty much faultless girlfriends, they may be redeemed. Stay tuned and find out! The set-up is this: six couples - none of them married, all of them young - have experienced an "unintended pregnancy." The women are all preparing to have what seems to be the first child for each; the guys are all absurdly immature, not ready to be fathers, not ready to give up partying and cheating. They all get together at a large house hosted by Dr. Jeff Gardere whose mission it is to change these guys into responsible fathers in 30 days. To paraphrase Conrad, "Ah, television." This comes with a context which is explicitly stated at the start of the episode - President Obama's crusade against irresponsible dads. That context of course includes some very dubious assumptions, and what it leaves out is at least as important as what it includes. For example, one assumption is that the primary reason for the absence of fathers in children's lives is that dads are irresponsible when it comes to children. Some of course are, but at the very least that fails to inquire into why they are. So any narrative of paternal irresponsibility that doesn't address the many things like popular culture (like Dad Camp), welfare policy for the past 50 years and many aspects of family law that actively promote that very thing, fails to deal adequately with the topic. And that, one concludes, is the point. That is, narratives of paternal irresponsibility don't aim to deal with why some dads don't take responsibility for their children, because they're not interested in that. What they're interested in is condemning fathers and when that's your goal, you don't inquire into their real human motivations. This being popular TV, you wouldn't expect to find the program long on depth, subtlety or nuance, and Dad Camp isn't. So if you're making a "reality" series about irresponsible dads, you're not going to break your neck finding sympathetic guys, and sure enough, Dad Camp found some real losers. Of the six guys, apparently only one has a job. The rest seem to do nothing all day except look at porn and presumably sleep off the night before, which apparently consisted of drinking heavily, smoking pot and hustling women who aren't their pregnant girlfriends. The women, by contrast, are all paragons of virtue. Have they ever taken a drink? Smoked pot? Cheated? If so, it's a closely guarded secret. It's abundantly clear who wears the white hats in this show. But when you deal with actual people, easy categories of vice and virtue, good and bad break down pretty quickly. So when you're making a series and want to maintain those categories at all costs, you can't give too much information. So, for example, we're told that all of these pregnancies were "unintended," but not what that means. Neither the man nor the woman of any couple is asked to flesh that out. Do some of the guys suspect they were duped into fatherhood? The question is never asked, but it would be surprising if it never crossed anyone's mind. So when Dr. Gardere lectures about "trustworthiness" in relationships, he's just talking to the guys. As far as he's concerned, the women are presumptively trustworthy. How does that compare with everyday life outside of Dad Camp? What also doesn't get brought up is what the women did when they learned they were pregnant. Did they ask the guy for his input? Did they care what his feelings were? Did they ask him "do you want me to have this baby?" We don't know. The fact that they're carrying their babies to term is presented as a fait accompli that he's supposed to deal with whether he likes it or not. Dad Camp considers those questions irrelevant to its preferred narrative of male perfidy and female virtue. Interestingly enough, there is one couple who might present some real issues to deal with. Brian is the guy with the job, and it sounds like a pretty good one. He's a sales manager and, while the show is at pains to tell us each guy who doesn't have a job, it neglects to mention whether his girlfriend, Christine, has one. That is, if a guy doesn't have a job, he's irresponsible; if a woman doesn't, she gets a pass. But the issue between Brian and Christine is that she wants to live in Tennessee because she has family there, and he doesn't. What's also true is that he travels a lot for his job. Now, spinning Brian as irresponsible seems a bit of a stretch to me, but her desire to decide where they live despite his wishes and despite his job has the potential to raise some real issues. We'll see how Dad Camp deals with them. The kicker to Dad Camp is that, at the end of the 30 days, the women will decide whether the men are worthy of them and the children to whom they're about to give birth. I'm not making that up. The idea that the dads might have some say in the matter is never mentioned. According to Dr. Gardere, the women will decide and that will be that. What if one of the dads disagrees with her decision? Apparently it's his tough luck. And of course that's perhaps the single biggest problem with family law and much of our concept of family functioning. We doggedly cling to the notion that mothers should exercise power over fathers' rights. We see that all the time and yet it never occurs to us that it might have anything to do with paternal irresponsibility. Beginning at conception we tell fathers in countless different ways, "you're not important; you don't know what you're doing; you're dangerous to your children and their mother; she can get along fine without you" and then we're outraged when fathers learn the lesson.