Throughout December, we're talking family - what even is it, how does it affect our writing, and how do we feel about it?
Today Angie Holst tells us about the TV family that most resembles a typical family - the Bluths, from Arrested Development.
Actor, director, producer and ginger extraordinaire Ron Howard started his career in the perfect family. In Happy Days he played sweet natured Richie Cunningham, son of patient, kind and loving parents Howard and Marion. The Cunninghams loved each other, loved their kids, and even loved the random forty year old bikie called ‘The Fonz’ who inexplicably lived above their garage. Ron Howard became famous for being part of this iconic American television family. And then thirty years later he cut the crap, created Arrested Development and delivered a real family for television viewers: the Bluths. Here’s what we really needed - a family built on backstabbing, petty jealousy, sibling rivalry, adultery and tax evasion. Now you’re speaking our language, Ron.
You see, the Bluths offer us an extraordinary range of family member ‘types’ to showcase how we ‘normal’ members of the family are shaped. Because let’s face it, you and I are totally Michael Bluth: we’re well rounded, good-natured sons and daughters, down trodden by the nutters in the rest of our families. Who of us hasn’t felt the delicious rush in upping the ante with friends in a good game of Who Has The Crazier Family? Who of us hasn’t used ‘the screwed up family’ yellow card to explain moodiness, bad manners, inability to find / keep / procreate with a partner, succeed in business, or intuitively know that the drink three drinks ago should have been the last? We all think we are in a family of Bluths. And that’s what’s so good about Arrested Development.
Let me lay down my case.
Every family needs a hard-nosed matriarch to keep therapists in work, vodka sales in profit, and small fluffy dogs in vogue. Upon being presented with Lucille Bluth, I was plummeted back to my own days as daughter to a hair-sprayed, matching wool suited, thin as a whippet mother. This was a woman who would spin around to look at my painstakingly groomed ensemble, glance up and down, and exclaim ‘What, you’re not ready yet? Aren’t you going to do your hair or makeup?’ as I slunk back to reapply more with a trowel. At a family event a gaggle of sticky fingered, pre-school aged cousins ran towards her to give her a hug only to be met by a flattened palm in their faces, and the husky warning: ‘I am wearing cashmere!’ When asked about her fitness regime Mother would raise her eyes to the sky in a bid to remember her last solid meal in 1987, and would put her slender frame down to black coffee, a briskly busy lifestyle, and a few jelly lollies ‘to keep up energy’ throughout the day. Don’t get me wrong, this is all good. There’s a real place for the Lucilles of the world, not only in keeping daughters like myself and Lindsay Bluth Funke away from complex carbohydrates, but also in presenting an old school ‘eat your young’ form of childrearing which breeds tough female foreign ministers, super models and celebrity personal trainers. I wouldn’t be surviving in Sydney if I hadn’t been raised by a Lucille: I pity those poor girls who were told they should just be themselves and eat what they want by their soft hearted, big bosomed mothers. Really?
And what of Job and Buster Bluth? I defy anyone who says that there is not an advantage in having a loser sibling, or two if you’re lucky! These are the brothers who take the heat off your own misguided career choices by becoming professional magicians and accidental Army enlistees. Every family needs that brother who is still living at home in his late twenties to give the other siblings the opportunity to deride his life choices, use his free accommodation as an axe to grind, and declare him Mother’s escort to golf club functions for all eternity. Let’s face it, that loser sibling who you huff about staying at home rent free will be the one left driving Mother to the doctor to refill her HRT script. Be thankful for that loser. You need that loser.
Of course, while that loser sibling is taking care of Mother, the rest of you will have to deal with the father figure who expects ‘high standards’, but won’t let you know exactly what that ‘high standard’ is, despite merrily letting you know that your siblings are absolutely beating you in getting to that ‘high standard’. Pitting siblings against each other is a time-honoured paternal blood sport, and George Bluth Snr excels at it. Despite this, George Snr represents the best type of dad: one with a twin brother who can step in while the old boy is off with his mistress, or raising a cult in prison. In fact, I think having a parent with a much nicer twin is a solution for all of us. Like when my own father picked up a university essay I had bought home with a mark of 97, and seriously queried what I did wrong with the other three marks. I could have really done with his hippy twin at that point to look me in the eye and say, ‘Angie, that’s ninety seven reasons why you’re great’. Alright, that could get tired pretty quickly: let’s stick with the passive aggressive criticism to strengthen academic resolve.
The perfect family structure needs a few ring-ins as well, to divert attention away from the inner circle’s crimes and misdemeanours. There will always be a brother-in-law who raises eyebrows: what about Tobias Funke and his hazy sexual orientation, aspirations to be a B grade actor, and folk singing predilection? It doesn’t get much better than that. Because when you’ve screwed up and all accusing eyes at the Christmas luncheon are on you, you only need to question brother-in-law’s Leather Daddy outfit to handball the hate. Mistresses are fair game as well, especially when they start to infiltrate the family circle at social gatherings. We’ve had a mistress in our family of the Blanche D’Alpuget variety for at least thirty years: hating her has given our extended family such familial unity that we regularly bring up her lacquered blonde helmet and coral lipstick in gloriously seething terms when drunk at christenings. And the perfectly imperfect Bluth-style family provides you with a cousin of similar age, the opposite sex, who is strangely attractive in a closer-than-genetically-comfortable way. Enter Maeby Funke, with her crazy beautiful hair, and lying ways. Sexuality 101: the Bluths had it covered.
So who would you rather be? A person who merrily announces that they came from a happy, healthy family or someone who can declare Michael Bluth-style that they have triumphed against adversity to become a magnificently thick skinned, emotionally scarred titan? Ron Howard knew who you’d rather be. You’d rather be Bluthed. Then you can face any of life’s challenges and be ready to take on the adult version of family: the screwed up work team. Parks and Recreation department?
Angie Holst is a Sydney based writer. Her novel Expectations was published in 2013, and she blogs on books at projectedhappiness.blogspot.com.au. The Arrested Development character she most identifies with is Annyong: a quiet observer, crack spy and largely misunderstood soul. Just kidding – she’s a Lucille Bluth in training. Follow her @awoo75.
Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.