The Universe and Me

Monday, July 17, 2006

Little Poop on the Prairie

PBS series: Frontier House. When we were considerably younger, my sister Linda used to exchange a word in popular TV shows with poop. Hence this post's title. She never foresaw how appropriate it would be in describing this series where three families are sent back to live as they did in 1883. Two of the families clashed immediately in training and their attitudes and behaviours towards each other never improved. Some of it was warranted. I was often offended by the Clune's too. Some of it seemed based on the ugly psychological trait of jealousy, particularly Mrs Glenn's. Taking every opportunity to diss the Clune's and saying with honesty she would "die if her bread didn't win the fair" did nothing to endear her to viewers. Or her husband, sadly. One wonders why these people signed up for this project. Was it merely a way to be on television? The continual whining about how difficult it was made that seem the case. As Carolyn asked me, "What did they think they were signing up for?" Has everyone bought into the romanticised Hollywood version of the past and lost sight of the tremendous hardships and sacrifices these people faced? How unrealistic is it for a participant to say, "I thought it was gonna be fun"?

Right from the beginning I had to roll my eyes at Mrs Clune for crying hysterically because she wasn't allowed to wear makeup. (She looked much better without it, actually.) And her teenage niece and daughter for trying to smuggle in mascara. Mr Clune was unhappy because he didn't have a life. Neither did the real homesteaders! He expected it would be romantic. Maybe he should have researched a little in advance. Several times he whined about not being allowed to hunt. I suspected, perhaps like the show's producers, that if he had, one or both of his young sons would not have returned to their palatial Southern California home. Saying they would have survived the winter because they would have hunted was ignorant coming from a man who'd only ever mowed his lawn once. And playing up his weight loss (due to hard work and dehydration), saying it was due to lack of protein was a slam against his nutritionist wife, though she didn't seem to notice or felt collusion was the best course.

The Clune's deliberately breaking the rules was offensive too. A still was illegal at the time and what Mr Clune thought his wife and four children would do if he was sent to the hoosegow, I don't know. Plus I didn't think the children should be around alcohol. Their trading with outsiders was somewhat understandable and I could have forgiven the kids watching a little TV until that box spring was discovered in their cabin and Mr Clune was positive homesteaders would have used it too. The small problem that box springs didn't exist in 1883 didn't trouble him. Luckily the project evaluators saw through all his little games and pointed out that IRL, he wouldn't be able to bend nature's rules.

Mrs Glenn seemed to view the project as a competition between the families and this was her undoing because it turned her into a mini-dictator. (Mr Glenn: "My wife has turned into some kind of Hitler.") I wanted to like her because she was determined to live the true pioneer lifestyle, but I doubt that would have included bossing around her husband to the point of ruining their marriage. Was she like that IRL? Seems he would have noticed. Her competitiveness never lessened. She never learned the real competition was against the land and weather, not the neighbours. So she couldn't bake up an Entenmann's showcase like Mrs Clune. Neither can I. But I can appreciate Mrs Clune's domestic skills and, like the Brooks family, would have found a way to trade something for that peach pie. Wow, that looked mighty tasty.

I finally mentioned the Brooks family. Have to say, Nate and his father couldn't have been more charming. They seemed to grasp the concept of the project and set about working to complete everything they needed to. They treated the other families graciously, respectfully and were willing to help and accept help. Nate's strength of character and sense of humour really shone through in what must have often been difficult and awkward circumstances with the Hatfields and McCoys.

Something this and the other PBS House projects really show is how difficult daily life was for women without modern appliances, running water, and electricity. They were stuck cooking and cleaning from the moment they got up until they dropped back in bed at night. It makes me grateful I was born in a time where women have more than a slavish existence. Conversely, the frontier seemed to be a man's paradise. Except for the average life expectancy being 40 part. The women were so happy to leave, but all the men started to choke up and even cry at the thought of leaving. It seemed as if the Clune women learned a lot from their experiences. Back home, Mrs Clune was lamenting the 21st century isolation from her children. The girls said they were tired of going to the mall every day and seemed bored. If nothing else, Mrs Glenn learned "people won't go to the doctor because they know they're gonna get knifed in the back" with bills they can't afford. What everyone should have learned was that survival makes you a winner. Not to take anything away from Nate's cleverness, but the best line was one of the girl's proclaiming that her "bonnet made her look like a mailbox."


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