03 August 2008

Swing Vote - Where the Reality Hits Home

Election year messages. The comic message of the movie Swing Vote (and the audience I was in this morning was laughing out loud) is patriotic and obvious. Every vote counts and the far-fetched plot presents it with humor. Two choice bits of satire come in a Sierra Club about-face and a pro-life TV ad. There is much to chuckle over in Kevin Costner's new movie about how America votes.

But the reality lies in the homes. In contrast to the unrealistic big story are the realistic home stories of two kids essentially raising themselves. How the producers and director decided to include them is a mystery. (After all, the movie has mail bags of letters from "ordinary Americans" to drive home the message that plain folks are hurting.) To their credit, they included the stories without a single bit of commentary.

Children parenting their parents: It doesn't much matter that the children portrayed in Swing Vote live with their fathers, absent mothers. Gender of parent is not a factor. The story is in how the kids are coping. They get themselves to school, which is portrayed as a safe haven and a place where they are encouraged to think and become good citizens. They also take care of their fathers to the extent that is possible, short of earning the rent money themselves. We also are presented with another truth: parents who aren't coping well with earning a living and maintaining a home may nevertheless love their children dearly, want to hold them close, and enjoy being with them.

The truth behind absent parents: In this film, Mare Winningham appears in a short scene as the missing mother who is struggling with chemical dependence. (That's a leading cause for absent parents, the other being incarceration.) Winningham's portrayal of this mother is haunting and clearly differentiates from the fantasy of the movie's main plot. It also helps to put resilience into perspective: what your basic 12-year-old can cope with, and what she cannot cope with.

No homilies here. If there were easy solutions to helping families overcome such challenges, we would have done them already. Swing Vote doesn't lecture on this point or even highlight the theme. I appreciate that. I'm just pleased to see the reality of the children's home life in the film—but not part of the story treatment.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

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