I’ve cast a disdainful eye on television in the years I’ve been blogging. I’ve referred to it as “Tee Vee” and taken a position that it’s like a termite chewing through the gray matter of the nation’s collective brain. Regardless of what I think about the current state of “Tee Vee,” with its preening weather puppets and veneer-toothed news readers, once upon a time I watched it. Once in a while, even now, I watch it at Handy’s house.
But I only watch it in controlled doses and with no particular pattern. Like my occasional viewing of the 1960’s television western series The Big Valley.
I don’t remember watching the series as a small child; it ran for four seasons beginning in 1965. Barbara Stanwyck stars as Victoria Barkley, the widowed matriarch of a wealthy California ranching family. Her children, Nick, Jarrod, Heath, and Audra live at the ranch with her and manage the family’s land and business holdings. Given their prestige in the big California valley, someone is always showing up at their doorstep, trying to cast a shadow on the Barkley name. Like most Tee Vee shows prior to the post-modern era, such dilemmas were generally resolved in the 60 minute time slot allotted and if not, there would be a two-part episode.
All you really need to know about the Barkleys is that they were as pure as the driven snow and always looking out for their many friends and neighbors.
Last week, I watched an episode called “Target” which originally aired on October 31, 1966. Josh Hawks, a politician running for governor of California, rides into Stockton and says the Barkleys are thieves and their land holdings were stolen from the people of the valley. His statement, entirely false, grabs headlines in the local papers; his strategy is to ride out of town on the wave of publicity and move on to another town to run a similar scheme.
The old “shake a beehive and run.”
Hawks’ campaign manager is pleased with the popularity surge which results from the lie, but urges his candidate to quickly move on to another town and another libelous scheme. Fortunately, for the Barkleys and the state of California, Josh Hawks has a problem with booze. A series of drunken missteps leaves him dead in a courthouse explosion and truth prevails like a bee sting. The Barkley name is restored as the dust from the explosion clears and peace returns to the big valley.
Aristotelian theory holds that art imitates life; I’m not saying The Big Valley is art, but the second season’s Halloween episode had a spooky and prescient resemblance to our current political maelstrom.
As the daily thump on the front porch provides my thin packet of “news” I’m going to close today’s blog post with some thoughts from my Aristotelian philosopher friend, “At Your Service.” We were talking about the past, and how quickly we stuff it in the drawer for the promise of the present and future.
“What is more interesting still is the constancy of man’s attitude to the present; it is always pushing the envelope of human existence, the now, the best, the most engaging, the important, the significant, that to which all must pay moral and political homage –lest we perish!
Whatever it was then, it’s of little interest now, relegated to microfiche, stored in the dusty bins of history, no longer the object of amazement and fear. Maybe we do learn something from the past; it’s just like the present will be.”