Seriously. It’s even worse than it sounds.
I’ll stipulate that Dalrock is on the fringes and that he harbors some asshats and kooks in his peanut gallery, but his reviews of Fireproof (also here and here) are rather calm and understated given the sheer derangement of the film. He watched it and reported back so that the rest of us might spare ourselves. It’s like Siskel and Ebert Go to the Movies for the manosphere. Actually, it’s not like Siskel and Ebert. That had to be the most boring shit to come out of Chicago since the early chapters of Sister Carrie. Its successor is on PBS for a reason. I’d rather that Dalrock didn’t disingenuously censor the f-bomb in “alpha fucks and beta bucks” (look: if you insist on using such a coarse aphorism as a key gloss for relations between the sexes, you ought to cowboy the hell up and own it), and there are some things about his tone and politics that I find objectionable, but these Fireproof essays are spot on.
There’s no exaggerating how bizarre Fireproof is as a film and as a cultural touchstone. It isn’t just a bad film with a bad message. It’s a bad film with an egregiously anti-Christian and antisocial message that was successfully marketed to Christians under church auspices. Plenty of vicious, anti-Christian things have been advocated or done under church auspices and in the name of Christ, but usually they amount to fits of reactionary pique. This is something very, very different. It’s a romantic movie advocating egregiously frivolous divorce in the name of marital love, and doing so overwhelmingly for church audiences in conservative, even reactionary, congregations for the ostensible purpose of promoting family values.
This is a truly amazing accomplishment. I can’t grok it. Somehow, Fireproof didn’t register with me around the time it was released. I vaguely recall hearing about it, but I also remember where I was when I heard about the Ceausescu double regicide, which happened when I was seven and only dimly aware of Romania. It was 1989, my thoughts were short, my hair a lot fuller than it is today. When Fireproof, itself significantly more fireproof than Nicolae and what’s-her-name, was released, I was in my late twenties and in regular contact with a number of conservative Protestant and evangelical types, both online and in person. Maybe I just wasn’t in the loop with the specific types of churches (nondenominational megachurches and the like, I infer) that championed the film. I certainly knew the gist of what various Christian conservatives were saying about marriage at the time, and across the spectrum from Catholic to happy-clappy I’m-about-to-get-my-worship-on, it was nothing like Fireproof.
When I read Dalrock’s descriptions of the film and its viral promotion in conservative church circles, I was floored. Its wild popularity was probably a function of churches without apostolic or episcopal structures being susceptible to destructive social fads, but only up to a point. Since Dalrock writes that Fireproof is “not a movie about Christian marriage,” it’s important to note that it is also absolutely not a movie about civil marriage between reasonable spouses of goodwill. By any decent secular standard, it’s way out there. Yet it somehow apparently passed gut checks with huge numbers of pastors, small group leaders, evangelical laypeople, and moralizing Christian media critics.
How atrocious is it? Think about this plot arc. A childless up-and-coming power couple run into marital discord and sexlessness when the wife, a hospital HR executive, falls head over heels in love with a physician acquaintance at work. In the course of completely shutting out her fire captain husband in bed, she discovers that he has taken to looking at internet porn and uses this “addiction” as a pretext to threaten, and then file for, divorce. Meanwhile, hubby has saved up $24,000 to buy a boat, an amount that wifey suddenly needs in its exact entirety in order to buy high-end medical equipment for her mother, who is recovering from a minor stroke. So far, we have two DINKY spouses, each of them employed in an advanced supervisory capacity, with a combined earned income well into the six figures (probably over $120,000 excluding benefits), no children to kill their vibe, and they’re fighting over discretionary savings equivalent to three or four months’ net pay and the husband’s porn habit while the wife tries to start an affair with a charming doctor who isn’t really into her.
Yes. This garbage was screened by church marriage ministries. And it gets worse. While the husband desperately tries to salvage his marriage with foolish, over-the-top displays of romantic sentiment, the wife pits him against her MD heartthrob in a let’s-you-and-him-fight arrangement. The husband debases himself to this level in part because his father has convinced him to do a “love dare,” which seems to be a subconscious euphemism for throwing money and overwrought expressions of love at the wall until something sticks, with an emphasis on money. To his relief and his wife’s disappointment, he wins the “love dare” by contributing the entire pot of boat money to his mother-in-law’s fund for unneeded medical equipment, while Dr. McDreamy contributes a paltry $300. But a dare is a dare, so she goes home, puts her wedding ring back on, and heads out to the fire station to say Wow Much sorry Such apologize to this husband whom she has been treating like shit in spite of his surprisingly genuine concern for her welfare, receive forgiveness for trespasses, and, by the way, arrange a ceremony to renew their vows.
And you thought Chicago Fire was trashy.
Describing this stuff as adultery or whorishness or avarice doesn’t do it justice. This wife, Catherine, is a fucking succubus. Calling her a whore is like calling Aileen Wuornos a whore: it’s true, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg, and most serious whores would be appalled by both of them. Catherine is borderline or close to it, and her husband Caleb responds by turning into a histrionic wreck in his own right. She has an unrequited obsession with a physician who has no interest in breaking up her marriage, or even, it seems, in giving her a non-family-wrecking taste of that strange, and she uses it as leverage to extort her husband, a man who has command authority over other firefighters in his professional life, into giving up on a boat that he was about to buy so that she can hoard medical equipment on her mother’s property.
This goes way beyond “two hundred an hour, hundred extra for Greek” or “how about we meet up at the Rodeway Inn for a quickie before I pick up my kids from soccer practice.” None of this is in the same quantum as ordinary prostitution or adultery. And these fights over money aren’t really about money. For crying out loud, this crazy bitch is only in her thirties and she’s hoarding medical equipment.
It’s the kind of disorder one would expect in a Faulkner novel. The point of Faulknerian literature, however, is to have the fucked up Southerners and their rural squalor serve as sources of dry entertainment or maybe object lessons: you know, check it out, this eccentric lady gets her husband to give her spending money so that she can keep buying piles of goddamned junk that she stores in her mother’s closets. The point of Faulknerian tales is that they’re about local color, which is cute in inverse proportion to how local and colorful it is to one’s neighborhood and family. The point isn’t that you should divorce your husband just because he looks at nudie mags and would rather spend his money on a new boat than on the endless stream of superfluous medical supplies that you keep ordering for your mother for no other reason than to spite him.
It’s unfathomable how the leaders of conservative churches came to such a bizarre and twisted understanding of marriage. It shouldn’t take more than one married pastor who isn’t out of his fucking mind to caution a congregation that marriage is not a steady-state emotional high: that it has ups and downs, money problems, problems with aging parents and in-laws, problems with children, rough pregnancies. Okay, maybe not problems with children and rough pregnancies if the marriage involves a DINKY power couple like Caleb and Catherine. And that’s a bad sign right there. A thirty-something couple with two stable, well-advanced careers but no children and apparently no plans to have children has been presented to religious couples, many of them parents, as a model worthy of emulation in spite of its abnormal, and probably unnatural, circumstances. Their very lifestyle revolves around an almost certainly deliberate barrenness. That is, wankery. Their marriage is a masturbatory fury.
Not surprisingly, one result is stupid, undignified spectacles like remarriage and recommitment ceremonies for spouses who were never divorced. At least Elizabeth Taylor married the same guy twice because she was a genuine, incorrigible hot mess. In this case, however, the couple needs another wedding because he was looking at internet porn and she was looking at that cute doctor. In a responsible, nonmasturbatory culture, the answer would be no, you don’t need another wedding, that would be crass because you’re already married, and if you’ve got a lick of sense between the two of you you’ll try to stay together for the kids and maybe fuck each other now and then when you aren’t totally on the outs.
Why couples aren’t being told something along those lines at church is beyond me. This is really basic shit.
Those who have qualms about same-sex marriage will want to think about these things, especially those who are disturbed by the gaudy spectacle that many same-sex couples have made of it. You can bet your ass that the queers weren’t the first to debase marriage in this fashion. Here we have a garbage movie that makes Eat Pray Love look like a hagiography of St. Francis of Assisi by comparison, and it’s being used by church leaders to encourage husbands to grovel to patently immoral wives who use their marriages as bargaining chips in extortion rackets. Because sex addiction to internet porn. Seriously, that seems to be the state of a large swath of evangelical thought on marriage. All a trashy, licentious, antisocial movie about a mentally disordered woman turning her own marriage into a bidding war between two men needs is a recurrent reference to a pseudoscientific moral panic, and it’s magically a tour de force of family values conservatism.
Maybe I can get Mariska Hargitay and eligible Canadian spinster Dagmar Midcap to fight over me in the lobby of the clerk-recorder’s office. In their underwear. In Jello. Nah, better yet, I’ll get Benson and real NYPD Detective Nicole Papamichael to have the Jello fight before breaking the news that I’m marrying the weather lady for immigration purposes. I won’t need $24k if I have landed immigrant status and #WINNING! Feel free to edit the resulting surveillance camera footage and show it in church as a tutorial on healthy marriages.
Wisdom, let us attend.