About a year ago, I jumped on the “Yellowstone” bandwagon. I watched the first four seasons over a couple weeks. Was I addicted to the dramatic story lines and the breathtaking scenery? You bet. Did I get a little too invested in the lives of the Dutton family? Indeed. Did I enjoy watching those first 39 episodes? No. Absolutely not.
If you aren’t watching “Yellowstone,” here’s the gist… the Dutton family—father John and adult children Jamie, Beth and Kayce—try to maintain control of their larger-than-some-Northwestern-states ranch by fighting with each other and anyone who endeavors to change that. As John Dutton said to a group of tourists from Asia, “This is America. We don’t share land here.” (He conveniently forgot to mention that this land he won’t share was actually stolen from Indigenous peoples generations ago.)
I’ll be the first one to admit that I understand the appeal of “Yellowstone.” The cinematography is absolutely stunning. The dialogue is sharp and meme-worthy. The plot lines are titillating and addictive. Oh, and the acting ain’t half bad either. (Kevin Costner and Kelly Reilly are real stand-outs.)
But despite my intrigue and curiosity about what happens with the Duttons, I cannot watch another episode.
Though it appears I’m in the minority on this, with a record number of viewers tuning in for the Season 5 premier last weekend. So let me explain my abandonment of “Yellowstone” at the apex of its popularity.
I binged the first four seasons, but as the show progressed I grew increasingly disheartened with humanity, angry at just about everyone. I started to wonder what was wrong with me. Why isn’t anyone else talking about Dutton family with the same disdain as the Roy family in “Succession”? (A show I love, by the way.)
In “Yellowstone,” women must be cruel to be deemed powerful, strong and worthy. Haven’t we moved beyond this outdated trope? In some misguided lesson about what it means to be a strong woman, Beth’s mom (who died shortly after this little “heart-to-heart”) tells her:
“After being treated like you’re weaker long enough, you’ll start to believe it, too. That’s why I’m going to have to be harder on you, honey. I have to turn you into the man most men will never be. And I’m sorry in advance for doing it. Because you’re going to hate it, sweetheart. I know I did. But I look back and I know my mother was right. It was the best gift she ever gave me.”
Guided by this parental “wisdom,” along with the trauma of her mother’s death, Beth Dutton’s cruelty is absolutely breathtaking. Yet, for some reason, she’s portrayed by fans and the media as some kind of characterization of feminist power. What?!? Doesn’t anyone else see that she is the epitome of hateful brutality? Her witty retorts might be amusing but her overall nastiness is downright embarrassing.
Teaching women that in order to be seen as strong, they must be mean and heartless isn’t feminism. It isn’t even strength. And it’s a terrible message for young girls and grown women alike. And Beth Dutton’s desperate devotion to her dad shows just how damaging this mentality can be.
As the patriarch, John Dutton is everything that I don’t want to be as a parent. He isn’t just an overlord to modern-day fiefdom. He isn’t just greedy and selfish. What angers me most is the way he demands loyalty at all costs, including his own kids’ happiness (and in some cases, their life and safety.)
Sure, Monica and Kayce are good parents, and some might say that John Dutton is a decent grandparent. But Monica and Kayce’s role as parents isn’t given nearly enough recognition or airtime for it to counter-balance the toxicity of the rest of John Dutton.
Let me be very clear: I’m not abandoning “Yellowstone” because of the violence, the drama or the terrible behavior. I’m definitely not a “good vibes only” viewer. In fact, I love me a show with some well-placed revenge, spite and generally nastiness. There are plenty of tv shows and movies filled with cruelty, violence and a heaping side of bad parenting. (“Succession,” I’m looking at you.) But few shows celebrate toxic parenting and cruelty the way “Yellowstone” does—all under the cloak of “loyalty.”
Our goal as parents should be to raise children who are independent and confident in their own abilities. To raise children who follow their own dreams, even when it might conflict with the dreams we have for them, knowing that they have our unconditional love. To raise children who make the world a better place by seeking justice and being good global citizens.
Related: 15 TV shows about kindness for kids
John Dutton would be wise to watch this viral TikTok where mom Lisa Pontius explains why kids don’t owe their parents.
“It’s a parent’s job to provide for their children,” Pontius says. “It’s a responsibility. Not everyone rises to the occasion, but that’s like the bare minimum, taking care of your kid’s physical and financial needs. The level above that is their emotional needs, which good parents do, but all of that is not a contingent relationship. You’re not loving and providing for your children with the expectation that they will blindly obey and do whatever you say as adults.”
Is it wrong for adult children to be close to their parents, to care about their needs? No, of course not. But it should not come at the price of their own happiness. It is a relationship, not a dictatorship.
Of course, “Yellowstone” is far from the only show to normalize toxic relationships and terrible people. And I’ll admit, I enjoy many of these shows. The real reason I can’t watch “Yellowstone” anymore is because I hate the way it makes me feel. I love shows with complex anti-hero characters, but the way Beth and John Dutton’s cruelty and inhumanity are excused and glamorized is stunning—and very confusing for me. Whereas “Succession” is a dark comedy that gives viewers a chance to delight in the shenanigans of despicable people in power, “Yellowstone” is a drama that strives to create compassion and understanding for this same despicable behavior. And it is succeeding.
Doesn’t anyone else see how toxic and terrible they all were? Why are people sharing Beth Dutton quotes as powerful motivators for go-get-‘em women? And how is John Dutton’s attempt to hold on to family land at all costs—including his relationship with and the life of his own son, Jamie—not seen for the selfish (and white supremacist?) greed that it is?
“Yellowstone” glamorizes toxic familial allegiance. It excuses viciously cruel parenting. It mischaracterizes feminism as ruthless brutality. This isn’t surprising for a tv show or movie. What is surprising is how few people see it as toxic, cruel or brutal. Most people seem to see it as loyalty, conservatism and strength. And I just can’t stomach it anymore.
Some might say that “Yellowstone” is the acclaimed show that it is because of how relevant it is. This is the reality of the world we live in, some might say. And I won’t argue with that. But that is not the world I want to be a part of. That is definitely not the world I want my kids to live in. I refuse to celebrate a feminism that portrays kindness as weakness. I don’t want to see toxic parenting glamorized as loyalty just because the family is filthy rich. But mostly, I don’t want to feel so angry and demoralized at the state of humanity anymore.