Revisiting Petticoat Junction

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Looking back at cinematic horrors with a certain fondness

By John Pawlak

A horse is a horse, of course of course, and no one can talk to a horse, of course, and you’re definitely showing your age if you recognize that rhyme.  You also watched way too much television as a child if you can now hear the tune playing in your head.  
Yes, those were the days, back when dudes like Balaam debated angelic responsibilities with creatures of the genus Equus.  I find it oddly comforting to think back to a time when audiences could be entertained by a talking horse.
So come listen to a story about a man named Jed.  Or would you rather hear the story of a lovely lady?  Oh yeah boy, the way Glen Miller played!  
Okay, okay, I plead guilty as charged.  I watched truly horrible TV shows such as Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, Gilligan’s Island, Beverly Hillbillies, Mr. Ed, Alice, The Monkees, F-Troop - the list is long and every one of these shows almost certainly did irreparable damage to my brain.  I still wonder why the Professor could make a radio out of a coconut but couldn’t fix a hole in a boat.
Why do I find myself looking back at these cinematic horrors with fond remembrances?  Can I really say that my childhood was somehow better because it brought Cousin Itt into our living room?  Did either Laverne or Shirley help guide me through adolescence?  Were Good Times really that good? No, not really.  
Most of these shows had incredibly low budgets and even the least observant viewer could see the wires holding up Superman.  And what was with that guy anyway?  The bad guy would empty his gun and Superman would stick out his chest as the bullets bounced off.  Then the bad guy would throw the empty gun at him and he would duck.  Couldn’t they afford a soft gun prop?
But I digress.  How did television get this bad?  When I go to a bar, I’d get a little freaked out if everyone knew my name.  And I’m proud to say that I never loved Raymond.  Do we really have to choose between watching the Beverly Hillbillies or the Real Housewives of Trenton State Prison?  Would you welcome back Kotter into your life or would you rather spend an hour having pitchmen compete for who can scream at you the loudest?
Different Strokes for different folks makes for different television. Better perhaps, but not necessarily good television.  The Jeffersons were vile creatures, and despite best efforts, Three was not company.  The Dukes were an acting hazard and Chico never was the man.
My point is simply this: television of the past was horrible, simply horrible, and despite all probability to the contrary, it got worse. With desperate housewives fighting to see who can win Narcissist of the Year, I actually begin to believe that the Brady Bunch represented the best in family stability.  Or was it the Partridge Family?  Over the decades, they all kind of blended together. I suppose I should ask Dad.  After all, father knows best.
The tunes from countless terrible shows still haunt my brain.  Rolling, rolling, rolling (was that a show about doggies?).  The Love Boat (please stop me before I start singing!).  Da plane! Da plane!  When shows were aired in color, all we got was more colorful garbage.
With growing pains in a different world, I have to say Gimme a break Mr. Brewster, the shows of the past were greener acres!  Yeah, that’s pretty bad stuff.  But look at what we get today.  Paranoiac chefs competing to see who can make the best smoked turkey spleen soup.  Sociopathic cretins struggling to survive on “deserted” islands (complete with camera crews). Talentless young entrepreneurs competing to get fired by the worst hairpiece in history.  This is entertainment?
Let’s just accept the fact that America’s idle, nobody really thinks you can dance, survivors aren’t entertaining, there’s a really good reason he’s a bachelor, Paris Hilton doesn’t have any friends, America has no talent, the iron chef is overcooked, TV viewers are the biggest losers, and as a result most of us aren’t smarter than a fifth grader.

John Pawlak is a
teacher at LAHS.