Sixty-five years after a double-edged sword of a movie called Child Bride of the Ozarks professed to indict the custom of underage marriage – while courting a leering, voyeuristic audience, naturally – the issue remains urgent. Last month’s raids upon a polygamist sect in Texas demonstrate that such persistence, involving girls scarcely into their teens, belongs as much to the presumably Civilized World as to the more thoroughly well-hidden corners of the planet: The Yearning for Zion Ranch had hidden in plain sight, a Third World concentration camp, bunkered in alongside Mainstream Amerika.
Meanwhile in the Dominant Culture, a Florida-based plastic surgeon named Michael Salzhauer has published a cartoon-storybook testament to female objectification called My Beautiful Mommy (Big Tent Books) that purports to “[guide] children through Mommy’s [cosmetic] surgery and healing process in a friendly, nonthreatening way” – nonthreatening, that is, until one grasps the deeper message: Looks are everything, and you get what you can pay for. The greater objective would appear the preconditioning of a next generation of face-lift addicts: Better start saving up now, girlie, and maybe develop an eating disorder as a prelude.
So which sector, or sect, is the less civilized? The backwater zealots who propose to wait out the Apocalypse in round-robin conjugal confinement with “brides” young enough to be their granddaughters? Or the proponents of glamour-at-a-price?
Dr. Salzhauer’s idealized Beautiful Mommy, as pictured on the cover of that scrofulous little book, calls to mind nothing so much as an over-glamorized Britney Spears or Miley Cyrus, perhaps a Bratz-meets-Barbie: Never too young to aspire to such artificiality, never too old to lay claim to it, given a loaded checkbook. Photographs from the Yearning for Zion round-up suggest nothing so much as some 19th-century agrarian-society re-enactment, but the forcibly modest attire of the young women involved conveys an aspect more ominous than bucolic.
About that movie…
My lingering impression of Harry Revier’s Child Bride of the Ozarks has hinged more upon featured player Angelo Rossitto (1908–1991) than with any social-agenda implications. Rossitto, a pioneering dwarf player of Old Hollywood, had reminisced fondly about Child Bride during a series of late-in-life interviews for the Forgotten Horrors film-history books. George Turner’s and my chapter on Child Bride in Forgotten Horrors 2, in turn, deals as much with Rossitto as with the picture itself.