How old television reruns scarred a generation

How old television reruns scarred a generation

I am completely sick of writing about politics. That’s it; I’m done. I’m going to stop writing about politics and pandemics and murderfires and write about whatever I like. Right now, I like writing about old television shows that scarred me as a child, so that’s what you’re going to get.

One of my more vivid childhood memories is the collected time I spent home sick from school, whether from minor colds or chickenpox or something between. There was always a rhythm to it; I curled up under a blanket on the couch in front of the new 13-inch color television set with a bowl of chicken noodle soup—it always had to be chicken noodle soup—and waited, miserably, for the good television shows to come on.

See, when some of us were kids, back in the fashion dystopia of the late 1970s, we didn’t have your fancy 12 million television channels. I grew up in one of the larger metro areas of the country, and we had it pretty good. We had three major networks, a PBS station, and maybe two independent stations. And that was it. That was all you got, you peon. You looked in your TV Guide to see which of six things was on at any given half-hour of the day, and you either watched one of those six or sat alone with your thoughts. And nobody wanted to be alone with their thoughts because that is how we collectively decided bell-bottoms were cool.

In the morning, it was always soap operas. Unwatchable. Then it was game shows. The Price is Right was meh, and all the others were roughly the same. You watched everyday American stiffs battle it out for some small respite from the plodding atrocities of life in the ‘70s, usually for the privilege of owning new household appliances. What a time to be alive. If you lived in the immediate area of the studio, worked hard, and sabotaged the efforts of a few other Americans you’d never met, you too could live the dream of owning a new refrigerator. A refrigerator that didn’t have the latching metal handles that turned all previous refrigerator models into giant child coffins.

Then, in the hours between game shows and (frequently racist) cartoons, was The Void. The Void was when stations rebroadcast old shows that may once have been flagship enterprises, but were by then simply the cheapest possible programming to fill afternoon dead space.

I’m now going to rate these shows solely based on my fragmented and feverish memory of them, devoid of any Google searches to tell me if I’ve gotten the basic premises wrong and based solely on what the good people of the six(?) working television stations of 1970’s San Diego could find in their closets. These shows had medical effects, and if you claim otherwise, you’re lying. Some shows would make you feel better when you were sick. Some would make you feel worse, no matter how you felt at the beginning.

This was what it was like being a sick child with a newish 13-inch color television, and if you don’t like hearing about it that’s just too bad. I’m sick of talking about politics, so I’m not going to even … hang on, I’ve got an email.

All right, it has come to my attention that I am still expected to write about politics even if I don’t want to. That’s fine. You think that might break me, but it won’t. Without further ado, here are the weird too-old reruns of my chicken soup childhood AND the Very ImporTaNT POLiTiCul LEssOnz I LeARNd from them. 

Gilligan’s Island

Everybody knows Gilligan’s Island. It wasn’t good. It wasn’t bad. It was simply there. A three-hour boat tour from Hawaii somehow runs into a nightmare storm nobody saw coming, gets shipwrecked on an uncharted island that is either a half-mile from end to end or vast and creature-filled, depending on that week’s plot, and the crew and survivors look to stay alive. But in a funny way, of course. Nobody actually died; that would have screwed up the theme song.

Gilligan’s Island was a fluffy affair, but even a child could find its plot holes, and no amount of slapstick could cover up what would have been a really dark story in any other context. You might have heard viewers debate whether Mary Ann was hotter than Ginger, or the rather more heated arguments over how the two most competent characters could be called “the rest” in the show’s opening musical number. But in the end, all of the arguments are wrong and miserable and everybody is wrong but me. The real lesson of the show is that rich people are assholes.

What I learned: Wealthy people are not just passively useless, but an active drain on those fulfilling society’s most pressing needs.

Here is the only correct ranking of character usefulness among the seven shipwreck survivors depicted in the show. By inverting this list, we get a clear-cut answer of who should have been eaten—and in what order—when things started to go south.

The Skipper and Gilligan. This pair represents the entirety of this crew’s seafaring experience. If you want off the island, you’re going to need the guy who knows how boats work, and the guy who doesn’t know how boats work but at least has a prior working relationship with the guy who does.

The Professor. The Professor proved his value time and time again, whether it be in concocting anecdotes or fashioning primitive machinery. You need him if you expect to live past the first two weeks.

Mary Ann. A farm kid, Mary Ann may be the only person in the group both willing and capable of doing manual labor without screwing anything up. There’s simply no question about this. Want a sustenance farm? Mary Ann. Need a hut constructed? Mary Ann. This whole operation collapses into a heap if your only source of manual labor is a guy with university tenure. Mary Ann can survive on her own. Mary Ann is the only one who can survive on her own.

Ginger. Is not Mary Ann. Has no skills not related to acting. No acting skills are required here, so she’s dead weight.

That brings us to “the millionaire and his wife.” After four decades of thinking about it, I am convinced that “the millionaire and his wife” were meant to be the central characters around which the show’s life lessons would play out. (remember, this was the black-and-white television days when “millionaire” signified real wealth and actual class, not a bunch of toxic clownboys who demand drinks on Southwest Airlines flights) were absolutely useless in all ways, at all times.

They were nothing but walking protein stores, and this seven-person survival team isn’t so flush with resources that it can afford to feed and keep jewelry-owning livestock. This was a shocking injustice to show a feverish child while the parents were off doing parent things.

So how did the completely useless rich couple manage to make it through each episode with the rest of the survivors covering for their share of the labor, doing the extra foraging necessary to feed them, or riding on the professor’s pedal-power inventions to provide power for a record player so that these two deadbeats can listen to music while lying on hammocks woven together by Team Knot-Knowing? Money. Not even money, but the implication of money.

Thurston and Lovey Howell made it through each day without becoming smoked jerky because they were rich and they assured everyone else on the island that there would be a reward coming their way if their fellow survivors ever managed to get them back to civilization. It was never because the pair had money, because money was useless here. The mere promise of future monetary compensation was enough to keep the rest of their seven-person society in line and willing to cater to rich person sloth. Sound familiar? Yeah, it’s how the very rich keep everyone in line. A half-century later we would elect Thurston’s unfrozen evil pedophile half-brother rapist and stuff him in the White House, because apparently nobody around here remembers Gilligan’s Island.

Now even at the time, it was clear to 102-degree me that the Howells were never going to hand out significant cash if a rescue was successful. The whole show made that clear. The Howells intended to get back to civilization, give everyone ten bucks, sue each of them for tens of thousands for island-based trauma, and bury them in lawyers until their fellow survivors all drank themselves to death. That is the way of the rich person. 

So yes, I believe Gilligan’s Island was a major contributor to the great social awakening that would soon follow and, in fact, a direct precursor to Occupy Wall Street. This was a very communist show that promoted communist communism in a way that even feverish kids could understand. In this extended essay I will—

Chicken soup rating: Mildly positive. Wouldn’t cure your nausea, but wouldn’t send you into a depression spiral either. That was really the best you could hope for until afternoon cartoons came on.

The Beverly Hillbillies

A family of, yes, ragged “hillbillies” strikes it rich when oil is discovered on their property, upon which the dad packs them up to move to a Beverly Hills mansion because sure, whatever. Ha, look at the rural folk trying to fit in to the soulless, dead-eyed ultrawealthy of Hollywood-adjacent high society.

It’s a mystery how this ever got made, or why it ever got a movie afterwards, or who the intended audience was, but every week was basically a half-hour insult to everyone on the planet. These were odd times.

What I learned: Poor people are stupid. Rich people are evil.

The basic lesson of The Beverly Hillbillies is that absolutely everybody is terrible and our American way of life is doomed to certain collapse because c’mon, just look at it. The seemingly intended lesson of The Beverly Hillbillies is that poor people are ignorant but wise, while rich people are smart but evil. Which, sure, why not go with that. It’s probably a better lesson than “If your wife is a practicing witch, your life will be filled with nagging and hijinks,” or whatever the other nightmare fuel of the era was trying to say.

Here is how it went. In every episode, rich people would try to trick the newly rich Clampetts out of their newfound oil money while the Clampett family did kooky nouveau-riche things like stocking the swimming pool with fish or wrasslin’ visitors. The “good guys” of the show were the Clampett’s banker and his assistant, stiff-lipped types who were as baffled by the Clampett’s behavior as everyone else, but still scrambled to block swindlers from bankrupting the dumb jus’ folks family at every turn.

Sometimes the schemes would be foiled because Pa Clampett wasn’t nearly the rube everyone took him to be. Sometimes the schemes would be foiled because a Clampett kid would come down the stairs with a new pet apex predator they just bought from the Beverly Hills Apex Predators Boutique. Sometimes it would be because the Good Bankers would foil the schemes without the Clampetts ever knowing. I think? It’s all a blur.

But the important point was that the Good Bankers weren’t actually good. They didn’t want to keep this newly rich family from being cheated by swindlers out of intrinsic kindness, they just didn’t want this mountain of new Clampett money to leave their bank. They were making huge money from this deal! It was now such a vital component of their financial stability that the bank could afford this two-person pair to do little else but race around the poshest parts of town as personal fixers for a single ultrarich family.

There wasn’t a healthy relationship anywhere in this show, and don’t try to tell me otherwise. If Gilligan’s Island was a crash course in the tensions between a socialist common good and capitalist manipulations of that good, The Beverly Hillbillies was a black-and-white peephole into Dante’s Hell.

Chicken soup rating: Mildly negative. Really just an uncomfortable experience, when viewed from a tacky late-1970’s couch. It was a broadcast reminder that society absolutely hated you if you were poor, and would never accept you if you got rich. Now do your homework, kid, or you’re not going to learn your state capitals.

The Munsters

This one was on less often than the others. I don’t know if it had fewer episodes or if it just made the station heads uncomfortable because monsters were sort of like imaginary ethnic people. The Munsters was, put simply, a version of The Addams Family for people who thought The Addams Family was too edgy. The Munsters was the stripped-of-darkness version. A family of monsters led by a Frankenstein-type and with a vampire grandpa and God only knows how the genetics of all this was supposed to work, but anyway everyone is a scary movie monster but actually goofy and lovable and, oh, the daughter is a perfectly normal high school-age human girl.

What I learned: Never go to a friend’s house. Ever. Just don’t. No matter how normal a friend looks, go to their house and you will be assaulted by different foods and different values and different cultural norms, causing you to run away in fear because you are a good American child who shouldn’t be stomaching any of these things, not with Soviet Communism lurking just over the horizon.

Or maybe the father’s clear disfigurement was meant to get us used to a post-nuclear future in which if you were damn lucky the worst that happened to you was that a pair of metal bolts got permanently embedded in your neck but you still had some hope of having non-mutated non-neckbolt offspring. I don’t know. After watching The Beverley Hillbillies I was no longer willing to take any of these shows at face value, as far as I’m concerned they were all CIA plots to indoctrinate sick kids.

Chicken soup rating: Neutral. Not exactly high cinema, but there was a certain catharsis to watching a never-ending parade of Normal Everyday Americans flee in horror when confronted with, I dunno, some guy who likes spiders or something. Take that, normal Americans. While you’re running away, we stay-at-home counterculture kids were learning about dinosaurs or whatever passed for rebellion back then.


That’s about all I can fit here this time around. You thought I was joking, didn’t you. The editors, the proofreaders—you all thought I was joking about making a whole entire essay about the shows I barely remember during days I stayed home sick in the late 1970s. But I wasn’t joking and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it! Ha! Ha haha! Ha ha ha—hang on, got another email. Hmm? Hmm.

Upon further reflection, I would like to point out that this is actual political content, for real, because I have inserted life lessons here and talked about the socialism inherent in merit-based island hierarchies. If you don’t agree, maybe you’re the shallow one.

And I’m going to do it again in Part 2. Darn straight there’s a Part 2. Next time includes a show that I genuinely think I only dreamed about because there’s no way it could actually have existed. I think. Probably.

From Daily Kos at Read More. This article is republished from DailyKos under an open content license. Read the original article at DailyKos.

More News Stories


More Political News