The TV Shows That Shaped Us

My parents had unusual ideas about what constituted good family TV viewing.

If you have read my post “There Are No Generations”, from November 18, 2020, you’ll already be aware that the article, “Baby Boomers: Five Reasons They Are Our Worst Generation” written by Mr. Gene Marks in 2013, supremely ticked me off.  As I pointed out in that earlier essay, the people described in Mr. Marks’ angry diatribe in no way resembled anyone I’ve ever known.

But one of the points he made in his unpleasant and inaccurate rant, far from causing me disgust or making me angry, left me laughing—laughing hard and long.  That point concerned his remarks regarding the television shows that, watched by Boomers during their youth, supposedly shaped their worldview. According to Mr. Marks, the television shows of that era created a belief system, shared by all Boomers, that women were intended to be housewives; that of all human races, Whites alone mattered; and that homosexuality was disgusting.  As an example, he provided the vision of then-youthful Boomers clustered around the TV for family viewing of shows like Ozzie and Harriet.

Uh, no.

At least, not in the household where I grew up.

My parents, if not precisely having better taste, at least had more varied ideas about what constituted good family viewing. I don’t recall that we ever watched even a single episode of Ozzie and Harriet.  I did take in just a few installments of Leave It to Beaver and Lassie, but, honestly, I thought both shows were pretty dumb.

But, as I say, my parents’ tastes were varied.  Tales of the Vikings, Kirk Douglas’s only venture into television, lasted only 39 episodes, but was our favorite family viewing. (I can sing the theme song to this day.) We clustered about the TV, enthralled by the amazing sets and costumes, and always cheering when swords inevitably clashed.

During the day, especially as she endured the boredom of doing the ironing, my mother regularly viewed a few soap operas, which she would not let me watch.  Nevertheless, she and I also spent summer afternoons together drinking in the much higher quality Loretta Young Theatre in the early 1960s.

But Westerns were the order of the day for evening viewing, and, as I commented in the blog post Wagons, Ho!, what still strikes me most about many of those old Westerns are the strongly contemporary themes. The films might be black and white, but the subjects they were tackling were anything but.  Racism. Spousal abuse.  Bullying.  Controlling or brutal parents. Societal expectations. True courage. Gun control.  Bigotry.  The way in which gossip, rumor and hearsay destroys lives. The use of religion to justify evildoing. The destruction of wildlife and the decimation of habitat. Kindness toward and acceptance of the different or disabled.  

The Rifleman, Paladin, Wagon Train, Have Gun Will Travel, Gunsmoke—all encouraged us not only to consider adult concepts, but to learn and practice ethical and moral ideals and behaviors.

Then we still-young Boomers grew a bit older, and true Westerns faded into Gene Roddenberry’s contemporary wagon train of Star Trek, throwing new ideas and concepts at our heads like errant baseballs.  A woman, a Black woman, as an officer on a starship? Amazing!  And an interracial kiss!  Wow!

From there we dove into the conflict, debate and generational discord of All in the Family.  Greatest Generation guys like Archie Bunker were being constantly challenged, on screen and in real life, and we then-young Boomers lapped it up, rooting always for the Glorias and Michaels of this world, and praying that the Ediths would stand up for themselves and find their place in the scheme of things.

Now, once more scanning Mr. Marks’ ridiculous comments about the TV programs that shaped a generation, I suspect that his misapprehension may stem from his misplaced certainty that reading about, and perhaps even knowing a few individuals who lived through a particular era, entitles him to draw generalized assumptions about an entire group.  But, as I learned several years ago to my dismay, that isn’t at all the case.

My enlightenment arose on the terrifying evening of 9/11/2001.  Still in the dark about who had committed this terrible atrocity against our country, we citizens were all simply reaching out to loved ones.  I called my Dad, saying to him, shaken, “Daddy, finally, finally, I really know what you went through on the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor.”

He was silent a heartbeat before he responded.  “No, honey, no. You don’t. This is completely different.  At Pearl Harbor, we knew who the enemy was.”

Perhaps it is true that the TV shows of our era helped to shape the viewpoints of the entire Boomer generation, contributing to our belief systems; molding us into the adults we would eventually become. I know that I was challenged by and acquired many progressive ideals from the programs I viewed.  But someone who did not actually live through those turbulent years can never have any more than the faintest glimmering of understanding, the merest glimpse into the reality of our lifetimes in that era.  They will never quite comprehend what the TV we watched really taught us.

If you enjoyed this essay, you might also like the post “Wagons, Ho!”, which  was published on April 6, 2018, and “There Are No Generations”, posted November 18, 2020.  Scroll down to the Archives to locate both.

There Are No ‘Generations’

§  Each so-called generation consists of individuals–individuals who differ greatly from one another despite their shared experiences.  §

As I mentioned previously in the essay, “The Kindly Neighbor and the Generations”, I am so very tired of generation bashing. Each so-called generational group consists of individuals—individuals who differ greatly from one another despite their shared experiences. Nor do any of these supposed groups have a premium on dreadful or world-shaking events.  War, financial collapse, pestilence—all these and more comprise the experiences of every human being, no matter their birth year.

So it was with utter dismay that I came across what was perhaps the opening gun in Boomer Bashing, when I encountered the article, “Baby Boomers: Five Reasons They Are Our Worst Generation” written by Gene Marks in 2013.

I sat reading the article in shock and consternation.  Hardest of all for me as I read Mr. Marks’ hate-filled diatribe was that I in no way recognized the people he described.  Born myself in the 1950s, my friends range in age from 40 years younger than I, to 10 years older.  But of all of them, not one even begins to resemble the “tanned and healthy”, golf-playing, pension-collecting parasites retiring to sunny climes “on the backs” of their children, as described in his  article.  Those people may well exist, but I do not know them.

I found Mr. Marks’ view of the Boomer generation to be so unlike the individuals I know that the dichotomy was incomprehensible. The Boomers of my acquaintance bear the scars, physical and psychological, of their sojourn in Vietnam (or, in fact, they do not, having been among the many who died by their own hands after enduring that dreadful conflict and coming home to be spit upon and called baby killers.)  They spent years paying off the parental loans that helped put their Millennial offspring through college—money that might have gone toward their own retirement, yet was willingly paid to give their children the education that, often, they themselves had been denied. They fought for Obamacare, yes–because they, and often their children, were among the millions denied health insurance due to preexisting conditions.  They instituted Earth Day to raise awareness of climate change, opened recycling centers, forced through legislation to ban CFCs.  They patronized health food stores, trying to break the “white bread and sugar” cycle of eating on which they had been raised by their Silent Generation parents.  Barely more than teenagers, they were the White faces dotting the sea of Black Americans marching with Dr. King.  They were the strong, unflinching women who endured vicious treatment, slander and sexism in order to break their way into corporate America and the armed services.

One of the most difficult things of all for me to comprehend was his blaming of Medicare on Boomers.  The Medicare program was instituted in 1966.  At that time, the very oldest of Boomers was a mere age 20—not even legal, as the saying goes.  They had no hand in creating Medicare; it was put into place by the politicians of the so-called Greatest Generation, for their own benefit.  But even worse was, perhaps, his claim that Boomers are the final hold outs in racist, homophobic, and sexist behavior.  That statement brought me to bitter laughter, culminating in tears, as I reviewed the photographs and news reports of recent, horrific events in our country.  No, Mr. Marks: racism, xenophobia, homophobia and sexism are alive and well in the consciousness of Millennials/GenX, as well as Generations Y and Z.

Even more laughable was, perhaps, was his claim that the newest generations have healthier lifestyles—when obesity is rampant, and deaths from vaping, idiotic social media “challenges”,  and drug overdoses make daily headlines.

Mr. Marks lamented that, unfortunately, Boomers can’t just be shipped off to an island somewhere (sounds shockingly like, “Send ‘em back to Africa”, doesn’t it?), but rejoices that the generation of his parents is rapidly aging and will be dying off soon.  One can only imagine the happy dance he was doing when Covid-19, at least initially, began wreaking so much havoc among those 60 and older, killing them off at disproportionately greater rates.

Examining the irreconcilable differences between Mr. Marks’ view of the various Generations and the reality of the individuals who comprise those groups leads me to but one inescapable conclusion: There are no “Generations”.  There are only people—individuals, personalities, entities, characters—some good, some bad; some environmentally conscious, others not so; some self-centered, others empathetic; some working to make the world a better place, within their understanding of how it might be so; others striving to maintain the status quo. 

Nothing is gained, no progress is made, by laying blame, be it on a fictitious construct of a generational group, or any other entity, such as government or business.  Every human being inherits the problems created by those who preceded her or him, and may, if they have the strength of spirit, work to better those conditions for all.  For that is the way the world progresses: not by hatred, blame, and censure, but by acceptance of the hard work that must be done if we, and our tired world, are all to evolve and improve.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “The Kindly Neighbor and the Generations” to be found in the Archives from April 1, 2020.