I recently watched an episode of the original Sonny & Cher TV show on Youtube. I was only about 10 years old when I had watched the show back in the early 1970s. The show was a great success for the couple that, until then, had been struggling to achieve superstardom. Part of what made it so attractive is that it seemed to prove that the hippy culture could produce a successful marriage and family. The Bonos were young, attractive, rich, famous and hip. However, after only a few seasons on air, their marriage imploded, the show ended and they went their separate ways. They reunited only as business partners to re-launch the show in the later 1970s but the fantasy was over. Audiences could not connect to the divorced entertainers.
By Hollywood standards, Sonny and Cher’s relationship had lasted a long time. They had been together since 1962 and formally tied the knot after their child Chastity was born in 1969. When Cher was only 16, unknown and inexperienced, she met Sonny who, at 27, was also unknown. But he was ambitious, hard working, had some important entertainment contacts and some knowledge of the business. Cher had always wanted to be a star. So she, who had never liked taking orders, willingly submitted to Sonny who acted as a father figure and a mentor. The power balance shifted after they achieved superstardom. Cher was now rich and famous. Why should she continue to submit to a controlling husband?
Sonny & Cher’s biggest hit song was I Got You Babe. It expressed the free love philosophy of the mid-sixties – a young, inexperienced couple could have a successful relationship without the moral hang-ups and traditionalism of the past. All they needed was love. That philosophy, once so radical, has become mainstream. Today, couples generally do not wait for marriage to have sex, often do not bother to get married and, too often, don’t stick it out for better or for worse. Like Sonny & Cher’s, modern marriages end when one or both partners is no longer getting what they want.
Today’s 50 percent divorce rate is rooted in the 1960s counter-culture and is one of our major social problems. It breeds economic difficulties, poorly adjusted children, heartache, depression and cynicism. Part of what made the original Sonny & Cher show magical is the same magic that occurs every time a young man and woman marry, have sex and procreate. But the magic ends when egoism, immaturity and selfishness destroy the marriage. Lasting marriages are built on religious faith, a strong sense of duty and good morals. These virtues may be out of style but until they again come to dominate our culture, we may as well accept our high divorce rate and the social ills that go along with it.