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Barbie and Ken Catholic: "Made For Each Other".

WHO KNEW THAT BARBIE and Ken were a Catholic married couple that mouth platitudes about their sexual relations? Did you know that for Ken, "Every Time we make love ... we're making life ... giving life ... it's not just sex ... I come alive, and there's a sense of forever in it." TMI, Ken. Unreported is what Barbie feels, but in traditional patriarchal Catholic theological terms her experience doesn't really matter anyway. The Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has commissioned a video, "Made for Each Other," which it calls "A Catechetical and Educational Aid on Sexual Difference and Complementarity." Let's just say it gives B movies a jump in the ratings. How bad is it? Let me count the ways.

Start with the video's logo, a painting of Saints Joachim and Anne, the Blessed Virgin Mary's mom and dad. Even though there is no mention of the pair in the canonical books of the bible, there is always a source for legends, this one being the "Protevangelium of James." No harm in going beyond the canon for sources, but how convenient to make the pair look as ideally matched as Barbie and Ken when in fact there is neither scripture nor photo to back up the image.


I begin with this rather pedantic critique to indicate the shaky scholarly foundation of this movie that is probably now standard fare in pre-Cana conferences. I bet the DVD is destined for the mailboxes of unsuspecting Catholics across the country since the bishops got another grant from the Knights of Columbus. They were the funders for Archbishop John Nienstedt of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. He sent out a video recently to his flock calling for Catholic support for a constitutional amendment in Minnesota to ban same-sex marriage. Save your money, gentlemen. The acting alone is so pitiful as to render this flick a loser, but the theological underpinnings are skimpy at best.

Ken (they call him Josh for that Everyman flavor) is a rather unsympathetic character. He is completely unconvincing when he says things virtually no human being has ever uttered to another, like "Making love and having children ... that depends on our difference." Barbie, AKA Carrie in this film, can parallel park, something Josh has never mastered. That is just to assure the fair viewer that not all differences are pre-assigned by gender. Just the important one, if you know what I mean. Wink.

Barbie tends the plants to Ken's bicycle repairs. He shows how a man takes clothes from the dryer and forgets to close the dryer door. He remedies his own problem with a click of his foot as if she has said, "Honey, close it," a thousand times. You wouldn't want him to be too good at housework because maybe then they wouldn't be different enough to procreate.

The operative concept in "Made for Each Other" is sexual difference that translates roughly into "a penis for every vagina" or something like that. This viewer felt like sitting poor Ken down and explaining the facts of postmodern life: "It's like this, Ken. Surprising as it may seem to you, people with the same genitalia make love just fine and your wife might thank you if you knew a little more about how. Not to steal your thunder, pal, bur we also make babies in our own ways and they are born like all the rest. Oh, and Ken, we foster and adopt kids just like you heterosexual people. Like you, we parent the best we can." But Kenny was so busy fixing his bike when he was not trying to get his wife excited that I was not persuaded he wanted to know anything outside of his narrow little view on the world in which he occupied the center.

If this video is the best they can do, the bishops are losing ground fast on the marriage front. Almost half of the 12-minute presentation is given over to a pottery lesson. Get it--God made us (for each other, don't forget) like a potter with clay makes a pot. So from the powder and water to the finished product we are treated to the various stages of creation. First you add the water; then you form the clay. More Barbie and Ken. Cut to throwing the pot on the wheel. More B+K, then some shaping of the pot. More platitudes. Then, voila, when Barbie and Ken are finished babbling there is a pot. This is all done to the kind of simpy music that makes me long for a good rap tune. No danger of an Oscar here.

"Made for Each Other" is expensive catechesis for little return: DVD, two discussion guides, website and a lot of apologies for looking antigay but not really meaning it, honest. No, the bishops' strategy this time around is totally positive: marriage between a man and a woman is "unique for a reason" and that reason is both essential to marriage and locked into the natural order. They wish. Who would ever think they are homophobic, heterosexist, bigoted or just plain misinformed when it comes to any other relational options?

If it were the case that marriage required one male from column A and one female from column B, one would think the bishops could prove rather than assert it, back it up with facts and show how the contrary is impossible. Instead, they, too, live in a world where human sexual relations happen in a wide variety of ways, where children are produced via in-vitro fertilization as well as the old fashioned heterosexual way, where nobody has a corner on uniqueness in that all of us are unique in ourselves. It is hard to make a case when there isn't one. In the face of same-sex marriage in many countries and a few US states, the bishops are reduced to relying on fundamentalist readings of scripture and the endless rehearsal of church documents to persuade by repetition. It does not work.

Even the analogies offered in the movie are pitiful: men and women are like hydrogen and oxygen that combine to make water; a male and a female are like a violinist and a cellist who play the same musical score. So this has what to do with gender difference? A male hydrogen and a female oxygen molecule, a female violinist and a male cellist? Not last time I checked, folks.

We are raising a video generation so the bishops are well-advised to use this medium for teaching. In fact, they promise a subsequent video in the same series that will deal with "Marriage in its service to human dignity and to the common good." Maybe in that one, they will get it right and include lesbian and gay couples, people of color, folks with disabilities, spouses whose age difference is significant, elderly folks who marry with zero interest in procreation-all the people who were left out of this film by design. Maybe they will continue to get it wrong, insisting on something that simply isn't true. In any case, hold the popcorn.

MARY E. HUNT is a feminist theologian who is co-founder and co-director of the Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual in Silver Spring, Md.
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Author:Hunt, Mary E.
Article Type:Viewpoint essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2010
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