Performing Paternity: Clinton, Nostalgia, and the Racial Politics of Fatherhood
By Donna Peberdy
Peberdy begins by providing an historical context for societal expectations of masculinity in the late 1990's and early 2000's. In particular she cites Bill Clinton's assertion that fatherlessness was "the single biggest social problem in our society." Fatherhood was no longer seen as a fundamental part of masculinity, but an identity to be proved and performed. Clinton shifted emphasis from the "traditional" father to the "responsible" father, and "family values" increasingly became a political tool, although what exactly those values were was not always clear. Bad fathering was considered a national issue rather than a private one. In addition, the idea of "breadwinning" has become central to the identity of the father, which is only possible when one has a family to govern.
Peberdy explores these concepts by looking at nostalgia of the 1950's nuclear family in Pleasantville and Far From Heaven. In both of these films, the performance of wives affect their husband's performance of normative masculinity. This emphasizes the general per formative aspects of the traditional family. She also looks into the role of race in fatherhood, using The Pursuit of Happyness and John Q. to show that traditional fatherhood roles, such as breadwinner, are reserved for white men. She concludes by saying that "fatherhood is not a given or essential right but something to be proved and acted out."
This is one chapter in Peberdy's book "Masculinity and Film Performance: Male Angst in Contemporary American Cinema." This source provides a particularly interesting viewpoint because it is the most recently published of the research I have done so far. Since the films I plan to focus on are contemporary, it is good to have a more recent exploration of fatherhood, and in particular how this is represented in film. One concept that I think will be important for my paper is the breadwinner requiring a family to govern. In many of the films I have considered for this paper, the father-monster is threatened by another potential father figure, who could take away their family and destroy their identity as father.