October 28, 2007
Theodore Cleaver, better known to the world as “The Beaver,” turns 50 this fall. Although I was too young to watch it when it came out - I was born during the first season of the series - I've been watching reruns since I can remember.
For some reason I've always liked this show, especially when the Beaver was younger. There were so many great characters - Wally, Lumpy, Eddie Haskell, Gilbert, Whitey, Larry Mondello, and the rest of the gang. Beaver could get into mischief, but nothing too devious or destructive. By the time the episode ended everything had worked out, often because Ward, the Beaver's Dad, resolved the problems.
Ah, those were “the good old days,” back when “things were simple.” Dad worked and Mom stayed home. While Ward would come home and change from his suit coat into his sweater, June always wore a dress - even when she was gardening. Yes, those were the days!
Of course that was a mythical world - a world dominated by middle-class WASPish values. As you think back to the show, remember how white and middle class it was. In this portrayal, life was simple and the streets were safe. Watching the reruns on TV Land, we're tempted to think how nice it would be to return to the “Good Old Days.” Back to the 1950s, back when Ike was president.
But is this picture an authentic one, or is the camera aimed too narrowly?
Living as we do in troubled times, it's not surprising that many want to take refuge in such a mythical golden age. It offers an escape from the realities of daily life and offers a retreat into a state of innocence. As attractive as this picture might be, there's a reason why the 1960s happened.
Without a doubt, the 1960s was a time of change. During this tumultuous decade, the stifling rules of American life were questioned and in many cases thrown out. This was especially true in regard to issues such as gender roles (June would be freed from her dress), race (a more colorful world emerged from the shadows), and war (it became OK to question). Myths of a national consensus were revealed to be just that - myths.
I thought about these myths as I recently watched the wonderful movie musical “Hairspray.” This movie, which features wonderful performances by John Travolta as Edna Turnblad and Nikki Blonsky as her daughter Tracy, uses humor, song, and dance to remind us that the good old days might have been “peaceful,” but they weren't necessarily just. The walls that divided remained in place and could prove difficult to scale.
A theme runs through the movie: that it's good to question conventional wisdom. It's appropriate to protest and remove the walls that divide us. Stereotypes need to be challenged, and roles assigned by society that are unjust should be overturned. The 1960s might have been an age of chaos and rebellion, but do we really want to go back to the time before this transitional era to a time when everyone had their place and knew it? Do we really want to go back to a time when we trusted our leaders to such an extent that we allowed them to lead us blindly into places we'd be better off not going? As I reflect on that last question, I wonder how far we've come in that regard!
The present has its issues, and the future is full of uncertainty. It's easy to take refuge in the past. But it's the future that stands before us. It's the future that will ultimately mold us. As a parent of a young man who is soon to graduate from high school and take his place in the world, I'm just a bit anxious about his future - that's normal parental concern - but my hope is that the world he will enter is a better place than the one I was born into 50 years ago!
To dwell in the past is to live in fear of the present or the future, but to live in hope is to put away fear and embrace the life of faith. As a person of faith in the God revealed in Jesus, I choose to live with my eyes and my heart pointed forward into the future, for that is where God is truly present.
Dr. Bob Cornwall is Pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Lompoc (www.lompocdisciples.org). He blogs at http://pastorbobcornwall.blogspot.com and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o First Christian Church, P.O. Box 1056, Lompoc, CA 93438.
October 28, 2007