Don't Blame Your Famous Parents

When you are the child of a famous person, media outlets will sometimes ask you to write about that person. This can go a few different ways.

There's the Allegra Huston route, where you write about how even though it was kind of weird that your dad-dad was John Huston but your bio-dad was a guy named John Julius Norwich (apparently very famous in Britain!), they both loved you and you loved them and basically everything was great! From her Daily Beast piece on the subject:

John Julius' visit, his very existence, was never mentioned between us, and I loved Dad more for treating the biological reality as trivial, irrelevant. He loved me no less than his other three children.

At the other extreme, some memoirs expose the horrifying truth behind the glitz — see for instance Mackenzie Phillips's High On Arrival. Then there's a middle path, where the writer isn't accusing his or her parents of anything truly terrible, but clearly still has some bones to pick. Here we find Molly Jong-Fast (pictured), daughter of Erica Jong of Fear of Flying fame.

Writing on Salon, Jong-Fast argues that her relative traditionalism makes her the family black sheep: "Both sets of my grandparents had open marriages. I have a closed marriage (that's where you only sleep with the person you are married to)." Then there's this:

All this railing against familial nakedness begs the question: am I a prude? Well, I dress like the Orthodox (long skirts, no wig), have been held up by Wendy Shalit as a role model, and have been married (to one man) since I was twenty-four. The short answer would be yes. Yes in the eyes of Erica Jong, I am a prude. (Of course Erica Jong did have a threesome with a certain hideous feminist author who could be described as MC Hammer if MC Hammer were a white lesbian. Portia de Rossi she is not. Hell, Andrea Dworkin she is not.)

Quite a blind item, that. But Jong-Fast does have a more serious point to make. She writes,

[M]y mother's generation needed to rebel, to free themselves. Whereas my generation was already free. There was no need for us to fight the power because we were the power. We were the advertising dollars that the consumer goods industry fought for. We had all the rights we needed and possibly more. We didn't need to fight for birth control. We didn't need to fight for the right to choose. We didn't need to fight for the right to vote. There was no reason for us to feel guilty about having sex before marriage. There was nothing to fight against.

Jong-Fast's piece has the strange status of being an act of rebellion sanctioned by the very mom being rebelled against — it appears in an anthology of sex writing edited by none other than Erica Jong herself. The two must have come to terms with the fact that Jong-Fast kinda sorta blames her MC-Hammer-fucking mom for the excessive permissiveness of modern society. I, however, did not have to grow up with Erica Jong walking naked around the house all the time (my parents probably would not have stood for this). And so it's hard for me not to bristle at the idea that my generation (Jong-Fast is five years older than me) has never needed to fight for birth control or the right to choose, that we may actually have more rights than we need.

Everybody has to separate from their parents sometime, and doing so in print can make for entertaining reading. I'm sure I wasn't the only one disappointed by the lack of conflict in Huston's piece. At the same time, when the parent is famous, there's the temptation to make him or her stand in for larger cultural forces, forces he or she may indeed have helped shape. There's no doubt that Erica Jong has had a big influence on the way Americans — especially women — think and talk about sexuality. But she hasn't, sadly, ushered in an era of full and uncontested reproductive freedom. And if Jong-Fast has some quibbles with how she was raised — who doesn't? — she should be careful not to let them blow up into generalizations. Many of us who aren't Erica Jong's daughters like our rights just fine — and could maybe stand some more of them.

Life As A Hollywood Love Child [Daily Beast]
Being A Prude In A Family Of Libertines [Salon]