Is the Story of the ‘Happy Divorce’ Bad?

Kramer v. Kramer Photo: Columbia Pictures

Does Hollywood sugarcoat divorce these days? "We’ve developed a real talent for transforming neutral or negative events into triumphant rites of passage," writes Heather Havrilesky in this weekend's New York Times Magazine. Her article, "The Divorce Delusion," traces the history of divorce in pop culture, from Kramer vs. Kramer to today's cheerier tales, like Happily Divorced. The new sunny outlook on the end of a marriage does audiences a disservice, she says. "Stories of divorced couples peacefully co-parenting and becoming wonderful lifelong friends contribute to this expectation that, if we’re not emotionally overachieving with a person who usually feels more like a mortal enemy than a soulmate, that means we’re petty, unenlightened thugs of the lowest order," she says. This is robbing us of our god-given right — and need! — to wallow. Do these stories of strangely immediate triumph turn us into a nation of moral failures? Or is there something compelling about re-framing emotional disaster as a turning point? Do we really need movies and TV shows to encourage us to "eat big doughnuts in bed," as Havrilesky acutely describes periods of dismay? Or might we be better off buying into the idea of everything being for the best? [NYT]