Monday, December 12, 2016

Making A Good Point Without Rubbing It In Your Face

Bison, Yellowstone National Park
Canon 40D, 500mm 1.4x

CBS did the nation a favor Sunday night -- showing two colorized episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show.  Most of us have either forgotten or never knew what it was like to have a television program make a point in troubled times without being graphic, tacky or beating you over the head.

Rewind to 1963, one year before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law.  The cutting edge comedy show then was Dick Van Dyke's in which the iconic actor and a newbie named Mary Tyler Moore played Rob and Laura Petrie, suburban white dwellers in suburban New Rochelle.  Rob was a writer for a fictional comedy show starring Carl Reiner.  Laura was a suburban housewife who while young and attractive had a mind of her own.

In this particular episode Rob was recalling coming home from the hospital with Laura and newborn son Richie.  The show starts off with Rob being weighted down by all the gifts and paperwork to bring home from the hospital, some of which was meant for another couple.  This was in good humor until Rob begins freaking out over the possibility that maybe the hospital goofed and sent them home someone else's son.

Slapstick turns to paranoia as Rob increasingly adopts a marginally plausible theory of how this could have happened culminating in a telephone conversation with the other dad, a Mr. Peters who also lives in New Rochelle.  Rob begins to lay out his mixup theory and Mr. Peters says that he's nearby and will be there in a few minutes.

The doorbell rings.  Moments later Rob and Laura and welcoming Mr. and Mrs. Peters, a well-dressed affluent young black couple, into their home.  The conflict is, of course, immediately resolved but our lesson doesn't stop there.  Mr. Peters tells Rob that he didn't disclose the dispositive truth over the phone because he wanted to see Rob's reaction.  They do the 1963 equivalent of a fist bump and amicably part ways.  There's more.

The program ends with Rob telling his friends that Richie and the Peters boy are classmates and while Richie isn't the brightest student in the school the Peters boy aces everything.

Wow  In the space of a minute or two we've had a bushel of bricks dumped on us and never felt any pain.  The anxiety was felt by Reiner and the writers because CBS didn't want to go there but they convinced the network that if the studio audience liked it the scene would stay in.  The audience did.

53 years ago we didn't see blacks being treated as equals on television and here we have not only a couple that rival the Petries but also the black husband got the last laugh.  Actually, two because we also had a black child attending a suburban school where he's the head of the class.  There were no lectures, graphic videos, guilt trips, intimidation ploys or whatever.  Just some ingenious writing with a message that could be just as viable today.

Ah, but now there would have to be something ugly, salacious, indecent or profane for television to pay it attention.  They would have to rub our noses in it.  Some people would find it offensive enough to tune it out or else dissociate because they cannot relate.  Our consciences wouldn't be so engaged.  Nor our minds.

It isn't always easy to get people to think -- or do -- the right thing,  But it's easier when they feel good about thinking and/or doing it.

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