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.