“Castle” shows us marriage in America, a fault line between our past & future

Summary:  The TV show “Castle” shows us the mad nature of marriage in 21st C America, and suggests why we no longer work the machinery that drives our vital institutions (this the alienation that social scientists warn of). We no longer believe reforming America requires understanding what’s happening and clearly seeing how we want to live. This leads to folly. Society must be built on rock, not sand.

“… a world-without-end bargain.”
— William Shakespeare describes marriage in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (c. 1595).

Beckett's bridal gown


  1. In her marriages, Beckett is everygirl.
  2. In their divorces Castle is everyman, Beckett everygirl.
  3. A useful conclusion about marriage.
  4. History of marriage.
  5. Other posts in this series about “Castle”.
  6. For More Information.
  7. Tom Tomorrow gives us A Brief History of Marriage.


(1)  In her marriages, Beckett is everygirl

We watch hit TV shows because they speak to our dreams, fears, goals, and conflicts. Romantic comedies like “Castle” focus on marriage, one of our foundational institutions. It’s a major theme of the series “Castle”, both of the main characters’ arcs and the individual episode.  How people select partners, the ceremony, marriage, divorce, and post-marriage life.

Richard Castle has married twice, a conventional middle-aged American practicing serial monogamy, hoping that the third time is the charm.

Beckett has more interesting history, illustrating the several irrational elements to our social system. Married in a drunken fling while in college, she could not cope with the resulting cognitive dissonance between her logical decision to divorce and her self-image as one who marries for life (“I’m a one and done sort of girl”). In this she is everygirl.

She resolves this is an all-too-human way: she just ignores the marriage. That’s not an obvious FAIL, since there are no central records for marriages in the US (as there are in all other First World nations). The Centers for Disease Control explains why

Information on the total numbers and rates of marriages and divorces at the national and State levels are published in the NCHS National Vital Statistics Reports. The collection of detailed data was suspended beginning in January 1996. Limitations in the information collected by the States as well as budgetary considerations necessitated this action.

A 15-year old Vegas marriage might easily remain secret. Background checks, even by the FBI, don’t query the marriage records of every State — and seldom investigate more than 10 years of history (except the basics, such as birth and education).

But Beckett points us to a deeper conflict in our system of marriage. One we all see, but consider too horrific too mention.

(2)  In their divorces, Castle is everyman and Beckett is everygirl

Katy Perry as a Bride
Here come the brides.

“… to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.”

Castle and Beckett will go to the altar (eventually, perhaps figuratively), as millions of Americans do every year. For many it is the capstone ceremony of their lives: a lavish and expensive event, staged before families and friends, at the climax of which they look into each other’s eyes and lie.

They recite their vows with full knowledge that they can divorce, and have high odds of doing so. It’s one of the great irrationalities in our lives, and these clashing concepts of marriage probably generates massive conflicts in our minds. Future generations might watch wedding scenes in our films and laugh at our hypocrisy.

Castle and Beckett nicely illustrate this. Beckett recites her vows on a drunken fling. Castle conventionally recites his vows twice before large audiences.  All are, in a sense, shams.

In this “Castle”, as it often does, goes one step beyond the obvious. In season 6’s “The Way of the Ninja” Beckett worries that they’ll become bored with married life, and with each other. Castle responds with …

“Let’s put it in our vows; a promise to each other that even though we’re married, it doesn’t mean there is no more romance, and we will never ever be boring.”

It’s a commonplace these days. Since the vows are not serious, why not inflate them to even grander levels? Marriage vows have become street theater.

Wedding rings
They can as easily come off as go on.

(3)  A useful conclusion about marriage

“Swear allegiance to the flag
Whatever flag they offer
Never hint at what you really feel.”

— “Silent Running” by Mike and the Mechanics (1985)

We investigate these hit TV shows seeking to learn why we no longer work America’s political machinery, putting the Second Republic (founded on the Constitution) in peril. This series suggests that the answer lies before our eyes: we no longer believe in America and its institutions.

We participate in American society as a fish swims through water (what else can it do?), but its institutions no longer match our values. They’re no longer consistent with our thinking, the calculus by which we steer our lives.

It’s a commonplace of history. Change runs at different rates in society, and the outwards forms are often the last to change. The Roman Empire retained the facade of being a republic for a century. Often people can acknowledge their new system only after it has become well established.

We build a New America each day. If we remain unaware of the process, and allow others to do the design and heavy lifting, we might not like the result. But we and our children will live with it.

(4) History of marriage

The history of marriage in America illustrates our amnesia about our past, and our semi-conscious drift into the future.

Marriage customs vary widely throughout the world’s history, ranging from no marriage — free pairings — through polygyny (multiple wives, like the patriarchs in the Bible). But rarely polyandry (multiple husbands). The most constant feature of marriage being that, one way or another, men in the elites get several hot women.

Marriage often required no consent from the woman (or women) involved. Nor did divorce (e.g., Deuteronomy 24 and the Islamic ṭalāq).  Both marriage and divorce might even take place simultaneously, as in wife selling (see Wikipedia).

Which one of these men radically revised the nature of marriage in America?
Which of these men ended traditional marriage in America?

Our version of marriage has few historical precedents: serial monogamy, a series of monogamous pairings with the pretense of being for life. It’s operationally complex (especially in the legal and financial dimensions), and often psychologically painful for the participants and involved off-spring. But it’s very popular.

This is one of the most radical social experiments in history, begun when Ronald Reagan signed the Family Law Act of 1969. This abolished — retroactively — the core of the marriage contract, as no-fault divorce allowed one party to unilaterally void the contract by stating the existence of “irreconcilable differences”. By 1984 only two States had not yet adopted some form of no-fault divorce.

As with most experimenting to restructure society, the results were unexpected. But there is no going back.

(5) Other posts in this series about “Castle”

  1. Spoilers for “Castle”: explaining the finale & season 7. It’s a metaphor for America.
  2. The TV show “Castle” challenges us to see our changing values. Most fans decline, horrified.
  3. “Castle” shows us marriage in America, a fault line between our past & future
  4. “Castle” shows us a dark vision of Romance in America
  5. “Castle” helps us adjust to a new America, with women on top
  6. Beckett shows our future. She chooses wisely & marries Castle, but dreams at night of her alpha ex-boyfriend.
  7. “Castle” shows a future of strong women & weak men. As for marriage…
  8. Wrapping up the series: Lessons for us from the TV show “Castle”.

(6)  For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about women and gender roles, about marriage, and especially these…

  1. What’s the future of the family in America? How will that change our government?
  2. Men are “going Galt”. Marriage is dying. Will society survive?
  3. Do we want to bring back traditional marriage? What is traditional marriage?
  4. When marriage disappears: rising inequality as the threat to the family.

(7)  Tom Tomorrow gives us A Brief History of Marriage

Tom Tomorrow: marriage

4 thoughts on ““Castle” shows us marriage in America, a fault line between our past & future”

  1. http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0005044.html

    For all the hand-wringing often made about divorce rates, they’ve been declining for years. Granted, marriage rates have gone down too.

    But there’s more factors at play than just no-fault divorce laws. The birth control revolution, legalization of abortion, and the increasing financial independence of women as they entered the workforce may have played an even bigger role in divorce and marriage rates over the last half-century.

    1. ch1kpee,

      First, you are misinterpreting this post, which is about changes in the institution of marriage. The divorce revolution started by Saint Reagan has played a large role, but largely run its course in helping to produce this new institution — misleadingly also called “marriage”.

      Second, you cannot look at demographic data without adjusting for changes in society’s distributions by age and income. Doing so generates spurious trends.

      Last — To see the actual trends, look at the posts listed in the For More Information section. These give the data and links to research reports.

  2. Just general thoughts about the ending of the Castle series:

    I saw the wheels coming off the wagon starting back when Andrew Marlowe and Terri Edda Miller left or were forced out. The direction of the show shifted from solving the weird/odd case to long drawn-out storylines involving the nemesis du jour. I kept watching hoping that the show would get back to its roots and it seemed to do that in a few episodes.

    I never was a ‘shipper, a Caskett devotee. I was more interested in the story, the humor, and the mystery. I always hoped, though, that apart from the romance , Castle and Beckett would become friends who consistently respected one another. I saw glimpses of that, but I also saw the good natured ribbing directed toward Castle turn into bullying and insults. I never understood why Perlemutter hated Castle so much or why Beckett routinely let his put downs go unchallenged. If Castle contributed so much to solving cases, why put up with all that snarkiness? Why not-at the very least- just cut Sidney off and ask for his findings? Yes, I was aware that Sidney was attracted to Beckett and that Beckett wouldn’t want to alienate him but still. Where was that loyalty to the person you consider to be your work partner -let alone your marriage partner?

    Which leads to your observation about marriage as depicted on Castle: To me, TV marriage with a dominant spouse or lover is the usual way marriage is depicted. Looking back to the first runs and re-runs I saw growing up, especially on sitcoms of the 50s and 60s, I saw women in extended childhood roles. Portrayals of partnerships in marriage were rare. Husbands yelled and scolded a lot. In I Love Lucy, Lucy was always getting into trouble by doing what Ricky had forbidden her to do. In Bewitched, Darrin routinely yelled at Samantha. The fictional couples may have loved each other, but did they like each other? Did they value each other? There were exceptions later on like the relationship of Hart To Hart , but usually one partner is hopeless and the other has to then “fix” things.

    In real life, I’ve seen true marriage partnerships where the couple sees each other as each other”s best friends and those usually last. Then there are the rocky relationships where -at best – the participants learn to tolerate each other. Or it’s a relationship where spouses have to ask for permission for things like joining the birthday fund at work. Divorce is no longer a huge shock or an admission of failure. I heard from a friend that a couple we both know were divorcing. When I expressed my dismay, my friend sighed, “No, it’s okay.” Marriage sometimes is seen as just for now, until something better comes along.

    1. Heather,

      Thank you for sharing your observations about Castle!

      I agree, and would go a step farther. The oddity of the Castle-Beckett relationship was there in embryo-form from the start — with Beckett’s physical abuse of Castle. Not only was this inappropriate for a police officer (it’s battery, done in public!) — but no man with a shred of self-respect would tolerate it. Imagine this with the roles reversed, Castle twisting Beckett’s ear so that she was bowed down pleading for mercy.

      As for marriage on TV, I disagree. “I Love Lucy” was an outlier, exceptional in this respect. In Betwitched, Darrin yelled at Samantha as children yell, childishly. He was clearly presented as not just a beta, but the show’s butt-monkey vs his dominant wife. All in the Family showed a another version of this, in which the husband yelled like a child at his wife — who was superior to him in judgement and temperament.

      More common in the 1950s were fairly egalitarian marriages, such as on Leave it to Beaver and The Donna Reed Show. Both man and women had points of strength and weakness. This evolved over time starting in the 1960s into the Earth-mother wife and her bumbling husband that dominates TV (both shows and, more extreme, commercials).

      The dominance of that model in Hollywood is seen in Castle, as Castle evolves from the dynamic alpha into a whining “sub”. I suspect the show burned away its male audience, and so died (its smaller audience unable to support the show’s cost).

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