I fondly remember my television viewing days B.P. (Before Parenthood), when my television was not tuned in on Nick Jr, Sprout or the Disney Channel. The days where Bruce Jenner was known for his Olympic feats, his famous image graced the front of Wheaties cereal boxes and not as the straight man on the Khardashians.
When Reality TV made its debut, it was as mindless as it is today, very much like a Jerry Springer circus. Public Broadcasting Systems (PBS) tried to put a mindful and educational spin on reality television. They had a series of shows where people were put in a time warp so to speak. A group of experts design the environment to a known historic period, gather all the information on customs, attire, status, and work related to status. A group of volunteers are given a briefing of their roles and duties and are given the go ahead. However, no modern conveniences can be used. This series covered Colonial times in the Northeastern US, American Frontier Life out in the Western US, Victorian Era England, and 1940s England. My favorites were Colonial House and 1940s House.
Colonial House took place in a remote section of Maine. It was constructed to resemble Jamestown, Virginia in the 1600s. All manners of society were in place from the indentured servant and freeman all the way up to the governor of the colony. Early colonies were often sponsored by a Trading Company, meaning they were supposed to turn a profit. Goods would be grown, hunted or gathered and sent back to the old World. A reoccurring issue in this series as in many of the other series was that of poor leadership. In this series the Governor was rather weak willed and ineffective and his wife, an Anthropology Professor, was trying to control things through him. She was affectionately referred to by the new colonials as Lady MacBeth. The colony ended up running up more debt than profit. The expert advisors of the show recruited a man, who very much resembled Bob Newhart in look and demeanor, as the head of the sponsoring trading company. His job in real life was to turn floundering companies around. He was very effective and people started to see the value in their back breaking labor.
1940s House was set in a house across the street from where one of the German bombs fell during WWII in London. The family that volunteered to participate was comprised of a mother, father, their divorced daughter and grandson. What was memorable about this family is that they towed the line as to the rules and regulations that were present during war torn England. They built their own bomb shelter, participated in nightly air raid drills lived and stuck to a very strict rationing system. They learned what alternatives were available to things that were not available due to the need for metals, rubber and nylons for the war effort. Some worked well and others not so well. The grandson had to get used to life without video games. The grandmother, who the grandson used to refer to as a “Cool Granny”, learned to value personal relationships with the butcher, green grocer, etc. She remarked on how much we waste in our daily modern lives.
This series also brought to mind my ancestors, people made of pretty sturdy stock. My mother is retired and spends a good deal of time researching our family genealogy. Every time I visit with her, I get new insights into my heritage.
One ancestor came from Sweden in the early 1600s. He made the mistake of chopping down a royal oak tree to make combs for his horses mains. From what I have learned, oak trees were considered the property of the crown. They were used mostly for ship building. He was given a choice, either hang or go to the New World (New Sweden to be exact, located in modern day Southern New Jersey). He came to be a prominent citizen and had land holdings less than a mile from the house where I grew up.
Another ancestor was a member of the Continental Army and crossed the Delaware River that historic Christmas night in 1775 on the same boat as General George Washington. This movement of troops led to the surprise attack and victory at against the British at the Battle of Trenton. I can’t help thinking that in today’s society, would we volunteer to go? Or would it have been too inconvenient…
My grandfather on my father’s side came over from Germany in the 1920s to St. Louis, Missouri with one of his brothers. They both went back, but he returned and came to Brooklyn, New York on his own. He came to live the American dream. He apprenticed in Germany as a baker and he opened and ran a successful delicatessen in Brooklyn until a family tragedy caused him to close up shop. I was surfing the Internet one day and ran across an article about memories that people had had about their old neighborhood. Of the many good delicatessens listed, the man being interviewed said let’s not forget Bleiholder’s Delicatessen on the corner of Catalpa and Forest. Grandpa would have been proud.
So I ask you, do we have the same sense of adventure and sense of dedication that our ancestors had? Or have we been too easily influenced by a sense of entitlement that appears to be rampant in our society. What do you think?