Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Series that Wasn’t, Anti-Plucky, Goodnight, Elizabeth!

As it turns out, that series I said I was going to do last week? I’m not going to do after all. It’s a readiness issue and an implications issue and a privacy issue, and I’m not as prepared as I thought I was for it. But the contemplation of it led to interesting questions about personal privacy, fairness, and objectivity. I do talk about personal things on this blog, but I try to be careful to protect others who may not be as willing to have their lives shared on a public forum. And I’m cautious here regarding what I share about myself, for personal and professional reasons, although at times I wish I didn’t feel that need. At times, I wish I could be as free-wheeling and open as, say Susanna Brisk, and just let every little thing hang out. (She’s marvelous!) But I can’t. Maybe one day, I’ll give up on life, get a neck tattoo, move to Venice Beach, and live as a full-time eccentric, but for now, I have to maintain the polite fiction that I’m holding it together.

Google is celebrating Laura Ingalls Wilder today. I know many young girls were captivated by her Little House books, but I didn’t care much for the books or the TV show. It probably doesn’t say good things about my character that I found the story of a long-suffering pioneer family tiresome and condescendingly preachy. I’ve never enjoyed endurance narratives. I don’t like plucky characters, tales of hard working regular folk living off the land, or the trope of good, moral women surviving diphtheria so they can  go on to work themselves to death to ensure their children’s survival. (I also get  irritated when they “bravely suffer” giving birth in one-room cabins.) I found the overly-wholesome character of Caroline on the TV series irksome. Who’s that good? Seriously, could she not once bitch, whine, nag, or throw their good china through the window? Could she not have one nervous collapse, or a bout with alcoholism, or get seriously pissed off at Michael Landon and set his clothes on fire? Just one thing to show she’s a human being? Ugh.

But I was, perhaps hypocritically, fascinated with the show “The Waltons”, which came on right after “Little House”. They had Elizabeth, the only red-headed child I had ever seen on a TV show (she was the center of that bizarre poltergeist episode, which I loved), and the son John, who wanted to be writer and was in constant conflict with his practical, hard-headed father about it. Although Olivia Walton was a little bit too saintly for my taste, she still seemed more human than Caroline. And all of the children had their own distinct personalities, conflicts, and dramas. They had tough times, but they were also opinionated and willful. They got angry. They were stubborn and at times, selfish. They made stupid blunders. They were interesting. And of course, I adored the goodnight sequences at the end of each episode. “Goodnight, Mary Ellen!’ “Goodnight John-boy!” “Good night Elizabeth!” “Goodnight, Erin!” And then lamps going off, the mournful harmonica, crickets chirping, and a long shot of the beautiful starry night sky. The world would be a better place if everyone’s bedtime began exactly like that.


--Kristen McHenry



1 comment:

Steven Cain said...

Loved 'The Waltons'.