Sunday, April 22, 2007

Enduring Classics

I just finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird. I enjoyed it. I had studied it in high school, and I guess because it's such a well-crafted story, details have stuck with me, even though it's been twenty years since I read it. So the whole time I was reading it, it was familiar to me. That took away from my enjoyment of the book, because I generally like to go into movies and books as blind as possible, avoiding conversations about them and detailed reviews. I like to be carried away by the story. I had to separate the classic icon status of the Mockingbird story and let myself just enjoy the words, the story, the history, and the characters on their own merit.

While Mockingbird explores the change of a culture's ideals, mostly through the change of a new generation's experience, Leave it to Beaver stands as an icon of the perfect 1950's family life. Amanda and I have enjoyed watching it on TV Land recently (along with the Munsters and I Love Lucy), and I think that I had overlooked some truth about it in exchange for letting it stand as a bastion of old-fashioned ideals. Yes, yes, June Cleaver really did wear pearls and appear perfectly coiffed in every episode, and Ward put on his suit and went off to work as the breadwinner each day while still wearing the pants in the home as well. So, while it seems familiar in theory, when I really let myself experience the show, I made some observations:

  • I saw Ward get up from the breakfast table and pour his own coffee. He didn't expect June to do it, and she didn't jump up to do it for him. I couldn't help but think that this is hardly an issue today, because most families don't sit down at the breakfast table together. When we do, we are so taxed by the myriad of roles that we share--breadwinner, caregiver, housekeeper--that we each feel that we should be the ones being served, and not serving. . . .
  • Beaver's school called home about some trouble he had gotten himself into and needed to see a parent right away. June called Ward, and he agreed to go since she was late for a lunch meeting with her friend and had no way to get in touch with her. Today, supermom June would have called her friend on her cell phone and canceled her lunch date so that she could rush to deal with her son's problem.
  • Beaver's trouble was that he had worn a gruesome monster sweatshirt to school. His trouble was compounded when Ward got there, because he had told him to change out of the shirt before he went to school. I thought it was interesting that they would allow him the leeway of wearing it at home, but he was expected to dress appropriately for school. Today neither parents nor principals take a stand on something as mundane as a dress code, or parents want to control every one of their children's choices with no room for them to make their own decisions.

Both this TV show and that book have earned their titles of classics. The issues of racism and small-town culture have not changed that dramatically since To Kill a Mockingbird was written in 1960. The targets may change throughout time, but dealing with differences is always going to be something that our society faces. I'm also going to make a point to keep watching the Cleavers--not just as corny icons, but as real parents who are doing their best to raise some pretty good kids. Fifty years later I can still learn from them if I look beyond the familiar and allow myself to really see.

10 comments:

Dianne said...

Very interesting observations. There's not much on TVLand I watch, but I can always watch Leave It to Beaver. I know people make fun of it nowadays, but really, that wasn't such a bad era, was it?

angeleyes Blue said...

I am partial to 'Little House on The Prairie' myself. Until last year I was able to entice my children into humoring me and my crazy tastes for TV. That was before FULL BLOWN TEENAGEHOOD. Hopefuly they will remember those lessons from before.

Have a great day All :)

blestwithsons said...

When we had cable, I LOVED watching Leave it to Beaver - especially for the relationship between Wally and the Beav. Ratting out a brother?! UNTHINKABLE! I'm still trying to teach that one here...

(exceptions being threat to life, limb or property- then you rat 'em out)

L.L. Barkat said...

I like your observation that the targets change but not the issues. To study history is to really grasp the truth of this profound statement. (Oh, I love studying history as part of my homeschool job.)

Andrea said...

I throughly enjoyed reading TKAM again this year after not reading since high school. (about 15 years for me ;)
I especially liked it paired with the newish biography her (unauthorized of course) entitled Mockingbird It brought a new dimension to the story.

It's been so long since I've watch Leave it to Beaver. I know my kids would like it. Perhaps Netflix has it. Good observations on it.

Im intrigued by your statement that parents or principals do not care about dress code or they want to control children's decisions about dress codes. Could you elaborate?

Jennifer said...

Andrea--what I meant is that many parents don't put their foot down about dress code at all (I'm sure that you don't need this explained if you have eyes and any tween/teens around you), and schools follow suit.

But in the other extreme--there are parents who want to control everything--I wasn't only discussing dress code here. This statement was probably out of place in this whole post. I am reading a book that I will review that I think is shaping my opinions about this, so I will remember to elaborate on it. The book is called Grace Based Parenting.

HipWriterMama said...

Thanks for your observations. I loved To Kill A Mockingbird, and must confess I haven't read it in some time. I'll have to read it again to see what I find this time. And Leave it to Beaver. Loved it as a kid.

Thanks for the memories.

Katrina said...

I appreciated your thoughts and observations here. I tend to have preconceived notions about those "cultural icon"-type things myself, and it's always good to engage them with a fresh eye. We've been enjoying TV Land occasionally here as well -- Camden likes the "old-fashioned"-ness of it all.

Always Jen said...

I find your observations so interesting and it is evident that because times have changed with technology, we actually stretch ourselves thinner because we feel a larger sense of control from all of it.

Thanks for stopping by my blog with a warm welcome..just love yours!

Kelli in the Mirror said...

This is really interesting! I wouldn't have noticed a lot of those things, I think.

As a former sixth grade teacher though, I can tell you that an exhausting amount of time was spent enforcing the dress code. Among things to watch out for:

Pants with a leg diameter of more than ten inches at the bottom, because that means the whole pant leg is wide enough to hide a shotgun.

White t-shirt with khaki pants. Hispanic gang uniform in the district where I taught. Never mind that it's the most basic of outfits- I still had to send everyone to the office to change.

Not to mention the general "that skirt is too short take those wheels out of your shoes why am I seeing your belly button?"

I love homeschooling!!!!