THE SEARCH FOR THE TEA PARTY’S “GOLDEN AGE” IS OVER!
I FOUND IT ON SUNDAY!
I’ve never been able to figure out just which “Golden Age/Good Old Days” conservatives want to re-create for us here in America. The Tea Party seems to think that the good old days were the 19th Century when average lifespan was 39 years and only two newborn children out of five lived past the age of five years. Was it maybe the Roaring Nineties, the last decade of the 19th Century when industrialist robber barons forced their workers – including children - to work 12 hour days?
Even Trump’s “Make America Great Again” begs the question. The U.S. is still the worlds largest economy, still outspends the next seven nations combined on defense, recovered from the Great Recession of 2008 while many European nations are still suffering it’s aftereffects, and we are nearly energy self-sufficient after thirty years of dependency on imported oil from the Middle East.
Driving back from Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the lowlands between the Atlantic Ocean and The Chesapeake Bay, I happened to catch a radio program extolling the virtues of the 1950’s television show, “Gunsmoke” starring a manly James Arness as Dodge City’s sheriff and a muscular Burt Reynolds as the town’s blacksmith. It ran from 1955 until 1975 and is the longest running American TV show in history.
As the radio commentator went on discussing various issues the program raised and the solid, upright characters it presented, it suddenly struck me that "Gunsmoke" was aired during the same era as “Leave It To Beaver,”(1957-1963), “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett (1952 – 1966), “I Love Lucy” (1951-1957), “Lassie” (1954-1973), “The Lone Ranger” (1949-1957), “Bonanza” (1959 – 1963) and “Make Room for Daddy” (1953-1964). All the men were honest to a fault, the woman kind and cheery to a fault, the kids were angels who might commit funny pranks but never got into real trouble, families solved problems through rational, discussion and life never involved anything more dastardly that the next door neighbor’s dog invading Ozzie and Harriet’s trash cans. No one did drugs, (in reality, Wally, the Beav’s older brother, was a drug user), no one cheated on their spouses, no one got arrested for public drunkenness and no one ever missed a mortgage payment.
These are the television shows that accompanied me as I grew up. The very same shows that the entire Baby Boomer generation grew up with and in a flash of lucidity I realized that this is the era the conservatives and the Tea Baggers want to recreate for us as a nation. Yes, America’s Golden Age, the 1950’s. Except, of course, there is one tiny problem: they weren’t real. If fact, not only were they not real, they hardly represented the America of the times that the family shows depicted nor the times of the Old West that the Westerns depicted.
As for me, I loved the shows, all of them. But nowhere was there anything even close to my family, with my brother constantly in trouble at school and a drug user, nor anything like my working class neighborhood in suburban Rochester, New York. No, in fact my neighborhood, and I would call it very typical of the life in the late Fifties where post World War II families left the city and bought single family homes out in the suburbs (Thanks, by the way – at least for White folks – to the GI Bill and the Home Loan Administration for those who believe that government is simply evil personified.)
What was the reality of life in Greece, New York while I was growing up? Well, the wife of my neighbor across Mill Road had a years long affair with a husband down the road about five houses beyond me. Another married neighbor woman had lots of mail delivered every day, at least apparently so because the Mailman’s truck typically spent an hour or two parked in her driveway. Just a few houses down from me was a mentally ill women who would lock her 5 and 6 year old children outside in the snow without a stitch of clothing on. (My Mom called the police one night when they were locked outside during a snowstorm). Wife beatings were common knowledge among the neighbors. It wasn’t until several years after I’d left my storybook neighborhood, that I learned that Mr. Swanke had molested nearly every young girl on Mill Road between North Avenue and North Greece Road. And the Scoutmaster of our local Boy Scout Troop was arrested on a morals charge just as I graduated High School after having sexually molested half a dozen of his young charges, including me. So, this was, in fact, the reality of growing up in my typical, white, suburban post-war neighborhood.
There are, of course, many similar tales of this idyll of a community during the 1950’s and 1960’s. No, all the un- “Leave It To Beaver” and un-“Make Room For Daddy” happenings in the neighborhood weren’t discussed openly but they were real. They happened. And my neighborhood was certainly not unique. It was the quintessential, post war, prosperous, on the rise community at the edge of the city like so many thousands upon thousands of other such communities around the country. The “feel good” vibes of “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett” certainly weren’t what we experienced every day. But they held out an ideal of behavior and inter-personal relationships and that, I suppose, was a good thing since it did provide a standard of family life to strive for even if such a goal was an impossibility.
But this picture perfect world of the 1950's TV shows was never reality. Not even close. There were so many of my neighbors who suffered, who needed help, who could not avail themselves of assistance because such help simply didn’t exist back then. So when the Tea Bagger types long for, pine for, that simpler time when America was friendlier, when families stayed together, when neighbors took care of one another, when everything was good and everyone was happy, they are actually longing for a fictional televised existence that never existed except through electrons beaming across a glass screen forming fantasy images in black and white.
Like so many other conservative themes (“cutting taxes creates jobs”) based not on facts but on slogans and propaganda, this one too, bringing back the Good Old Days to make America great again is also based on a fictional picture of what life was like back in those days. So when you hear such talk, such expressions of “nostalgic wisdom” about how good it was somewhere back then, sometime in the past when life was good and wonderful, happy and carefree, they are longing for a fantasy as unreal as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” or “Beauty and the Beast.”
Have a good day!