Moms in Pop Culture – A Few Favorites

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There’s my mom, there’s your mom, and then there’s Mom. She’s our portal into life, and she’s where we all want to be when our lives go south. Maybe our individual mothers were all-stars, maybe they weren’t, but capital-M Mom is always in our souls. She’s the warm presence we first sense in this world, the benevolent Queen of a land where all edges are soft, all food is mush and it goes right down, and forgiveness pours down free like sunlight.

It’s in our popular culture where we most often see the “Mom” I’m talking about represented. The idealized one, the one we share in our collective memory. I’m trying to pinpoint the perfect pop culture mom here, the one who most truly represents what we want Mom to be – but also maybe who she really is.

Well, there are the obvious ones: Clair Huxtable; Forrest Gump’s mom; Bambi’s mom (“Man is in the forest,” she said); Mildred Pierce (on the page, or on-screen as – take your pick, it’s a wash – Crawford and Winslet); there’s Gertrude (Hamlet’s mom) and Medea (not Tyler Perry in drag).

But let’s leave those male-birthed mom-fatales out of the equation; in song there’s “My Happiness”, Elvis Presley’s first recording, a painfully sincere love letter to his fabled mother; there is of course Marge Simpson, who brings nobility and warmth to wicked satire (while sometimes succumbing to it); there’s ‘Mother Nature’ from those old ‘Don’t Mess With Mother Nature” commercials that used to scare the crap out of me. That one was a vestigial throwback to a pre-modern and perhaps more sensical era of early human history wherein all the power figures and all the myths surrounded the mystery of women and motherhood; and, yes, there’s even “hot mom” – who manages to be a mom and an object of desire at the same time, a mean trick on a planet run by Freud-fearful savages.

I’m going to pick two moms as my favorites in popular culture, and they’re mother and daughter, to boot: Aurora Greenway and Emma Horton from James L. Brooks ever-brilliant film of Larry McMurtry’s “Terms of Endearment”: Painfully headstrong and independent Aurora and her as-willful daughter Emma, played by Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger respectively. Both display many of the qualities we want from Mom, but they also know a lot about lower-case “mom.”

Aurora is too vain to admit she’s a grandmother — angry at her daughter for being young, for having a myriad of choices in front of her. And Emma, married to the cheating Flap, concurrently cheating herself, distancing herself from her kids as she flirts with John Lithgow in the supermarket parking lot. These are real women who did not become Mrs. Claus when they produced a child.

But they’re both also “Mom”: Aurora sharing details with Emma of her giggly affair with the astronaut next door, madly demanding Emma’s medication when her daughter has fallen ill and is late a dose — unable and unwilling to care that there are other sick people there, too as none of those people are her daughter. And Emma, as she lay dying, trying to confer a lifetime’s love onto her two confused and angry sons in just a few moments – “I love you as much as I love myself,” she tells her boys, and there it is – the selflessness, the savior, and also that our mothers had lives before and after we came along. Emma Horton is a daughter and a woman and a mother – just like your mom and mine.

Who are some of your favorite moms on the big and small screen or in literature?

About the Author

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Yancy Berns is a screenwriter and TV producer living in Los Angeles.

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