The myth of good housekeeping
By Patricia Baer
Over the years Hollywood and television have been guilty of selling us many negative notions and false myths. Distorted body images are beautiful, violence is entertainment, oil rig drillers can save us from the apocalyptic doom of an asteroid impact, etc. But of all these dangerous concepts, the one that is quickly climbing my chart of egregiousness is that myth of the perpetually clean home.
It is that time of year when we all put a little extra effort into our weekly cleanup as we prepare for holiday visitors and houseguests. I find myself becoming frustrated with maintaining a presentable habitat that lives up to the imagery promoted in movies and on television. Seldom do audiences see main characters scrubbing their bathtubs or scraping at that mystery stain found towards the back of the refrigerator.
In the heroine’s world, the housekeeping gnomes are busy working to keep her house spotless while she deals with enticing or rejecting Matthew McConaughey. The dust bunnies do not gather at her house, seemingly out of respect for her work to expose the latest government cover-up. Her home is always photo shoot ready no matter what dilemma she encounters.
This does not happen in my world. In my storyline, while I am preoccupied with my life’s activities—or pursuing Mr. McConaughey—the dishes stack up on the kitchen counter, unread magazines smother the coffee table, and laundry overflows from its hamper with a threat of invading additional bedroom territory.
The dust bunnies colonize and establish a community center under the furniture to make social gatherings easier. Cameras are not permitted on the property.
Hollywood’s depiction of cleanliness in perpetuity makes the immaculate “pop-in” seem realistic, another moment in cinema that invokes feelings of inadequacy. A character stops by the hero’s home unannounced, and all the lead needs to do is move a magazine or two in their effort to make the space presentable.
Never do we see a character at noon, still lounging in his pajamas, surrounded by baskets of unfolded laundry, while the remnants of takeout pizza lie cold on the ottoman as this unexpected guest appears on his doorstep.
If we did, it would be only to indicate to the audience that the character was suffering from a mild depression, a setback in their quest, or developed an unhealthy obsession with finding the truth/killer/antidote to an alien virus.
It is never because he just spent the day trying to prevent a psycho from blowing up Sandra Bullock’s bus and could not find the energy to wash the dishes or because she did not have time for vacuuming in between saving national landmarks from terrorists.
Lack of good housekeeping is used as a sign of mental or emotional collapse.
I wish I could say I have decided to embrace this cliché’s version of breakdown, but I do have those holiday guests arriving later this month. However, I am resolving to free myself from the myth that my home can attain cinematic perfection.