Saturday, November 10, 2012

TV Moms, Part Six: Aunt Bee: Wholesome and Homecooked Mom-In-Effect

If there's one thing that can be learned from television, it's that there is more than one way to portray a family.

And sometimes, in these television families, the mother is absent.

Single dads aren't rare on TV. Phillip Drummond from Diff'rent Strokes, Russell Lawrence from Gidget, and even Full House's Danny Tanner and Arrested Development's Michael Bluth have been part of the television single-father tradition.

But one of the most famous TV single dads, who appeared on CBS from October of 1960 to April of 1968, was the sheriff of a a small town called Mayberry and still runs in syndication over fifty years after its cancellation.

Widower Andy Taylor and his son, Opie, though they had lost their wife and mother respectively, were not without a mother figure, even before the series began.

 The first episode of The Andy Griffith Show had Andy's housekeeper, Rose, moving out to get married and Opie being reluctant to accept a new mother figure into their house and his life.

And the woman that is brought in (brought back in, in Andy's case) into the Taylor boys' lives is Beatrice Taylor, or, as Mayberry and American came to know her, Aunt Bee.

Frances Bavier's Aunt Bee was the never-married sister of Andy's father. Though it's never explored very deeply in the series, it is stated flat out that Bee raised Andy and implied that she had raised a few other Taylors, also, though she never married or had children of her own (another tidbit that is never really explored in the show).

Aunt Bee is a very interesting character to me, especially when considered through the scope of her time and in the context of the modern audiences exposed to the show.

When The Andy Griffith Show first aired in the early sixties, the social stigma for unmarried women and the fact that the Feminist Movement of the 1960s was still in its infancy limited what they could do--working as housekeepers and in other "pink-collar" (or traditionally female) jobs such as teaching and nursing. And a woman never having been married was rare enough (check this pdf if you're interested in detailed 1960s marriage statistics). Even though Aunt Bee was established as an unmarried woman, her romantic life played a fairly large part in her storylines in the show. Though her actual life track is unusual for a woman on television in that time, Aunt Bee is very much like the other television mothers of her time--working inside the home and in the community by way of her church and being responsible for the care and upbringing of a child. The only differences Aunt Bee and mothers like June Cleaver are that Bee isn't married, and she didn't give birth to Opie.

There's something very encouraging, I think, in the fact that even in what was a considerably more conservative time, the idea that there are many different kinds of mothers-- Aunt Bee didn't physically carry or give birth to Opie, but there's no denying that she is a mother to Opie. Today, more people are considering adoption that in the 1960s, and it's interesting to me that, even fifty years ago, there was a postivie role model for people that are parents that didn't give birth themselves.

Though there are many ways in which Aunt Bee is relatable to modern audiences, there are, of course, things about the character that date her. While Bee lives with her nephew Andy during the series and, after Andy marries Helen Crump at the end of the series, with another widowed father, Sam Jones as part of the exposition for the spin-off series, Mayberry, R.F.D, in 2012, more single women are choosing to live alone than ever before. And, while Aunt Bee worked mostly in the home (though later in the series she did open a restaurant and record a cooking show), more women are working outside the home now than then, juggling work and parenthood.

Mayberry may have been a simpler time and place on the whole, and The Andy Griffith Show certainly portrayed more conservative values than many television shows today, it's interesting to see the modern thinking that got slipped into the narrative by way of Aunt Bee's unique representation of motherhood.

In the coming weeks, we'll start taking a look at single mothers and blended families with Brett Butler's Grace Under Fire and one of television's most famous mother, Florence Henderson's Carol Brady.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Video Follow-Up

I imagine everyone's busy voting today (or, at least, I hope everyone is), so instead of a content-heavy post, I'm just going to share this follow-up to the costumes discussion from my Halloween post.

You can also find a link to this video in the comments section of that post.

In this video, we see how people react to a (staged) argument between a parent and child--first a mom and son and then a mom and daughter--about costume choices. In both cases, the child wants to wear a costume that is "gender inappropriate."

For me, watching this video was pretty frustrating at first, but there was a nice turnaround in the end. Though I still wish that at least one person had been on the boy's side.

Thanks to Mandy for sending me the link to the video.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Wonderful World of Lucasfilm?

I had planned on continuing the TV Moms series today with a look at the title character in Grace Under Fire.

But then Disney bought Lucasfilm for 4 billion dollars. And it seemed like I ought to touch on that.

(You might want to watch for spoilers. In some of my examples, I'll talk about the ending of series. All of them are a few years old, but better safe, I suppose.)

I've heard all sorts of panicked ideas--reboots, Disney/Star Wars crossovers. Star Wars has both a huge and devoted fanbase, and it was, understandably, in a frenzy after the announcement--especially when the words "episode seven" began being tossed about. (And that is happening, by the way, in 2015--with an Episode VIII to follow two years later, and an Episode IX two years after that. And possibly more after that.)

To be honest, this whole thing is sort of a mixed bag for me. I'm not particularly worried that Disney will bastardize the Star Wars universe: a similar worry was voiced when Disney acquired Marvel, and that marriage has done a lot of good for Marvel in media outside comics--Avengers was hugely successful, Earth's Mightiest Heroes was pretty excellent as far as animated series go, and pretty soon there's going to be a S.H.E.I.L.D. television show on ABC. Disney's goal for the past several years has been to bring their level of popularity among boys to the same level as their popularity among girls. They're not going to mess it up by injecting glitter where it ought not be.

The issues that I have with Disney taking over Lucasfilm as a whole and Star Wars specifically are less about changes to the brand than they are about over saturation, I guess.

First of all, do you know how much stuff Disney owns? ESPN, ABC, Disney Theatrical, Marvel, Lucasfilm, Hyperion Books--they own a lot. A lot. There's nothing wrong with Disney having their hands in so many pies, I suppose, but it does make me uneasy. As with anything, when only one voice or one take on things gets heard, only half the story gets told. I'm a fan of a lot of Disney products, but they have specific areas in which they're strong, and there are lots of great stories that don't fit in to those categories. With Disney owning so many channels and so many production companies, it's harder for stories that Disney may not see a place for to get out there--television shows and movies that could be worthwhile might not get made.

The other issue I have that kind of goes along with this is that Disney is out for money. And, I know, every company is out to make money. I don't necessarily fault Disney for being focused on profit--it's certainly served them well for decades.

But Disney has a tendency to do something that really frustrates me as a storyteller.

As long as a franchise is pulling in profit, Disney will keep it going. They're not the only group to do this (Shrek, anyone?), but three Cinderella movies, a Monsters, Inc. prequel, and four Tinkerbell movies (not counting the two Peter Pan animated films) prove that Disney's pretty bad about continuing a story just for the money.

That might be a good policy for business--if Disney's any indicator, it works very well--but it's terrible for stories. This is a big problem in a lot of American media. It's how so many shows wind up lasting long past their prime and movies winding up with sequel after after sequel even after audiences have stopped caring. After a certain point, stories and characters are left with nothing to explore. While many Potter fans would love to see another Harry Potter book, Harry's fulfilled his destiny and there's no more to his story. An eighth season of The West Wing wouldn't have worked, and, as much as I was a fan of Aang, Sokka, Katara, Zuko, and Toph in Avatar: the Last Airbender, their story really ended with the defeat of the Fire Lord. When a story is done, it ought to be left alone.

I might be alone in this, but I feel like the core group of Star Wars characters--the Skywalkers, for instance--have told their stories in full.  We really don't need another movie about them. There are still other parts of that universe worth looking at, but  after a certain point, more Star Wars movies is really just using the brand for the sake of using the brand.

In the end, I don't think Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm is necessarily bad. It's just an interesting turn of events and, like any combination of companies or franchises, it could really go either way. I guess we'll see with Episode VII in 2015.