I Like Classic TV, but...

We watch a lot of classic television at our house. We have quite a few channels now, but we still spend most of our screen time watching MeTV and PBSkids. Memorable Entertainment Television showcases such classics as Perry Mason and the Andy Griffith Show. Though part of the reason I like to watch this channel is because it is relatively safe, more for me than for the kids, it is certainly not perfect. It occurred to me that when people speak of the good ol' days when everything and everyone was respectful and moral, on TV and in real life, they mean this era. They mean these shows, and it's just inaccurate.

Andy and Barney date several women; neither seem to have much inclination, if any at all, toward marriage. My kids do point this observation out from time to time as we watch this show pretty regularly. They think it's odd -- as they should.

When people speak of the good ol' days when everything and everyone was respectful and moral, they mean this era. They mean these shows, and it's just inaccurate.

I'm sure the fact that Andy returns to TV later as a rather dirty old man, attorney Ben Matlock, hasn't escaped their notice.

I don't think the kids are aware of anything amiss in the western Gunsmoke. It took me awhile myself to realize that Miss Kitty's establishment was clearly a brothel, and when she so kindly offers a job to a woman in need, it's as a prostitute.

And Marshall Dylan never marries her either. There's just some kind of perpetual understanding between them.

There are other issues one might point out about such shows -- the lack of racial diversity, for instance. One reason we like them so much is because they're not real, at all. So, subtler issues such as the narrow roles of women don't mean much and are in the same realm as their wagons and unusual way of speaking. Relational norms are trickier.

Why doesn't Perry Mason ever propose to Della? And don't look to Paul Drake to learn anything about interacting with women. Every one is a conquest to him -- and Hogan and Fonzarelli, not to mention Captain Kirk. And I can't quite figure out what's going on with Mary in the Mary Tyler Moore Show.

There are the obvious suspects, too -- Mama's Family, Lavern and Shirley, Cheers -- that we tend to skip. (We do like Mama's Family, though.) I hate it when Ginger, the movie star, does that thing she does with her eyes and her voice. And we've learned our lesson about leaving The Love Boat on.

I don't mean to put these old shows down; as I said, we like them. This is just a reminder. People are people, unrighteous and corrupt, and they were people fifty years ago. They were selfish in Mayberry and godless in Dodge. There's no escaping it -- not via time, anyway.

Why doesn't Perry Mason ever propose to Della?

The next time you start to nod at a nostalgic comment about days gone by, think again. It's probably a euphemism for some trivial cultural or racial difference instead of a reference to actual goodness that's been lost.

While writing this post a case in point has been running through my mind, the song "Mayberry" by Rascal Flatts. I like the song because I like it -- that is, I like the sound of it -- but the lyrics, the idea of it, never was all that appealing. I don't miss Mayberry. I have no special love for dirt roads; I've probably never been anywhere that wasn't named on a map. Now that I think about it, it wasn't until recently that I realized Mayberry must be in reference to the Andy Griffith Show and not a real town someplace. It's just one of those songs I sing without thinking -- like "Scatman (Ski Ba Bop Ba Dop Bop)" which I sing entirely at random.

There's nothing especially good about the old days. That's all.


I can't end this post without sharing my favorites. MeTV is full of gems. I watch Hogan's Heroes nearly daily. The kids are big Brady Bunch fans. I can watch the same episode of Columbo a hundred times or more. And Lucas McCain, the Rifleman sure seems nice.

There's nothing especially good about the old days. That's all.

I try never to miss the Last Laughs on Sunday nights. Felix and Oscar often have me bursting with laughter, and The Honeymooners is such a fun show. I grew up with my parents saying something about sending Alice to the moon. I always wondered what they meant. Of course, something could be made of a husband joking about domestic violence the way Ralph does, but I won't go there.