So Wrong with The Brady Bunch?
By Kimberly Brittingham
revulsion wasn't true enough and the hatred didn't last. Deep down,
I wanted to be a Brady. I wanted siblings who, for as much as they
relished teasing me, would stand by me when the going got tough.
I wanted parents who took an active part in my welfare. I wanted
to know I could go to my parents when I was troubled -- with the
timid, respectful poking of my head into their bedroom and a soft
"Mom? Dad?" -- and not only get their undivided attention,
but some tender background music, too.
My mother perpetually ironed my stepfather's interview shirts while
I watched the Brady kids each take responsibility for breaking Mom's
favorite vase. They were trying to protect Peter from getting grounded
so his weekend camping trip could go off without a hitch. Suspecting
Peter's true guilt, his parents put him in charge of doling out
punishments for his siblings who'd "confessed." Mr. and
Mrs. Brady were gratified but unsurprised when Peter's conscience
won out and he admitted he broke the vase.
Suddenly my mother stopped ironing and lit a cigarette. Shaking
out the flame of her match, she enlightened me -- informing me carefully,
succinctly, and in no uncertain terms, that "Real families
don't act that way."
I turned and looked over my shoulder.
"You mean, our family doesn't act that way."
My mother's eyes glossed over with a disconcerting vacancy. No,
my parents never furrowed their brows over coffee, brainstorming
together to end nightmares and calm neuroses. I have a therapist
now who gets paid to do that.
These days, I can't pass up a lucky stumble onto a Brady rerun.
There's something about those familiar segue melodies, and the shallow
rattle of the flimsy Danish-modern front door slamming behind a
briefcase-bearing Mike Brady, that feels like home to me. Funny,
I never saw a box of Entenmann's doughnuts under Mike's arm, although
he did occasionally come home bearing tickets to Hawaii. Maybe I'm
sensing my mother's voice -- bitter and critical, weaving itself
between the oft-repeated lines and haunting the well-known plots
-- mocking a sense of home.
The Bradys obviously irked my mom, and I'm sure she resented my
devotion to them. I can imagine Carol Brady cocking her head understandingly
to one side, pleading to my mother from beyond the blue glow of
the television: "Please don't hate us because we're functional."
It's true that no family can be Brady Bunch-perfect, and
real-life problems are not solved in tidy half-hour episodes. And
sure, I acknowledge that The Brady Bunch was occasionally
far-fetched and silly. Even Robert Reed, who played the Brady patriarch,
was known to object so emphatically to the absurdity of certain
episodes that he'd allegedly stalk off the set. But was the show
all that worthy of my mother's ire? What's so terrible about The
Brady Bunch? More specifically, what's wrong with being happy
and well adjusted? Does the fact that the Bradys were a carefully
scripted, make-believe family necessarily mean they had it wrong?
I have to wonder if society scoffs at the ideal of the Bradys because
collectively, we're so accepting of dysfunction in the home. Some
of us were taught that a harmonious nuclear family is a fairy tale.
I think that's a tragically sad and cynical point of view.
Can negative ninnies like my mother, who raise their families in
dark, sneering realms of impossibility, be taught to embrace the
possible? I was made to feel naïve and foolhardy for believing
in The Brady Bunch. But when I look at the abundant flow
of love and respect in my adult life, I know I'm no fool. A healthy
dose of self-generated idealism has served me well. I refuse to
accept that contentment has necessary limits. I refuse to foster
chaos under my own roof. I reject the yammering of miserable people
who criticize healthier examples of living -- whether real, or as
imagined by Sherwood Schwartz.
Maybe they should look to Molly Weber, the quiet, mousy classmate
Marcia Brady took under her wing. Molly didn't believe in anything
more for herself than a drab and dateless life, but Marcia showered
Molly in that endless Brady optimism. And Marcia didn't mislead
Molly -- oh, no. Molly learned that her life could be just as charmed
as a Brady's, but she would have to do the work. Molly willingly
went through the rigors of balancing books on her head, snagging
her hair on curlers and hiking her skirts above the knee. She came
to believe in a unique set of possibilities for herself, and worked
towards them. Before the semester drew to a close, Molly had become
a hot ticket -- a '70s teen dream.
Regardless of its glossy television veneer, Molly's story holds
a universal truth. If we all believed in better lives for ourselves
and took the appropriate action, every last one of us could go to
the senior banquet on an astronaut's arm.
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