Bill O'Reilly's attention had been on Barack Obama and other national political figures for a stretch - until Jennifer Aniston opened her mouth. Her comments regarding modern motherhood didn't score well in the "no spin zone."
During a recent "The O'Reilly Factor" segment, the Fox News star hosted a "culture war" debate addressing Aniston's recent comments about women and motherhood, relating to her new artificial-insemination comedy with Jason Bateman, "The Switch."
During a press conference about it, Aniston explained: "The point of the movie is, what is it that defines family? It isn't necessarily the traditional mother, father, two children and a dog named Spot," she said. "Love is love and family is what is around you and who is in your immediate sphere. That is what I love about this movie. It is saying it is not the traditional sort of stereotype of what we have been taught as a society of what family is.
"Times," she continued, "have changed, and that is also what is amazing is that we do have so many options these days, as opposed to our parents' days when you can't have children because you have waited too long. ... Women are realizing it more and more knowing that they don't have to settle with a man just to have that child."
O'Reilly pushed back against that message. "She's throwing a message out to 12-year-olds and 13-year-olds that 'hey, you don't need a guy, you don't need a dad,'" he said. "That's destructive to our society."
The entertainment blogs immediately seized on O'Reilly's comments, caricaturing his criticism as ridiculous.
It is, of course, a fact that there are alternatives that exist today for women -- especially women of means -- to have children in ways that their grandmothers and even mothers didn't have. But it doesn't follow that we should necessarily embrace these alternatives.
Aniston is right to say that "there are children that don't have homes that have a home and can be loved. And that's extremely important." There are, absolutely, occasions where a child needs love, doesn't have it, and someone is able to provide it in an unconventional way. These exceptions, however, are not reasons to toss out everything we know to be true about moms and dads and the need for them as a single unit. And this, also, isn't what we're talking about in we-women-can-have-babies-however-we-like comedies.
This column is not a review of "The Switch." I haven't seen it but expect to, despite Aniston's opinions. It's put together by some of the same people behind "Juno," which was a messy story about responsibility and redemption. That's art. Too often, though, what passes as art today is just an affirmation of mistakes. Instead of inspiring, it seeks to issue an official, collective "it's OK" about decisions we used to have some healthy sense of shame about. A Hollywood imprimatur only plays a role in covering up what's not OK.
Another movie this summer, "The Kids Are All Right," lets this slip show. The movie is about a lesbian couple, their two kids and the sperm donor who gets a phone call from an 18-year-old in need of a father. The kids, in other words, are not all right.
My Daddy's Name Is Donor, a recent study from the Commission on Parenthood's Future, found that children born after a sperm-bank commercial exchange suffer more feelings of loss, confusion and isolation compared to kids raised in a household with a mom and a dad. And "to fill the paternal hole in their soul," they often turn to drugs and alcohol, or get in trouble with the law, as W. Bradford Wilcox from the commission, explains. Further: "the offspring of maverick moms are 177 percent more likely to have a problem with substance abuse and are 146 percent more likely to report having had a run-in with the law, compared with offspring of two biological parents."
Are 12-year-old girls going to run out to get artificially inseminated because Jennifer Aniston points to it as a perfectly mainstream option for a modern woman? Of course not. But might a look at a movie trailer just be another cultural influence telling her that Chelsea Clinton getting married is just a throwback to an old custom we used to have?
As my colleague Richard Brookhiser wrote in response to the Quayle speech: "Culture affects behavior. Dan Quayle isn't the only person who believes this. Every feminist who applauded 'Thelma and Louise,' every parent who wonders about the effects of cop-show violence on his kids, every aging rock critic who credits Elvis with jolting America out of the sexless somnolence of the '50s thinks culture changes hearts and minds. The question is: In what direction?"
This was the question Bill O'Reilly was asking. This is the question Dan Quayle was asking.
Back in the infamous speech, Quayle said: "It's time to talk again about family, hard work, integrity and personal responsibility. We cannot be embarrassed out of our belief that two parents, married to each other, are better in most cases for children than one. That honest work is better than hand-outs -- or crime. That we are our brothers' keepers. That it's worth making an effort, even when 'the rewards aren't immediate."
That moment has not passed. The traditional family is not a "stereotype," but a foundation of civilization. And it is not too late to remind 12-year-old girls of who they can be. And that they can even want it.