Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.
See also: http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart
My name: Brian Martin
You remind me of a man.
The man with the power.
Remind me of a man.
Member when kids were kids, even teenagers? I remember when they weren't, anymore. And the responsible party. That was the Fox television network and the year was 1987. Fox debuted the sitcom Married...with Children and, for variety (literally), The Tracey Ullman Show, on which could be seen the original shorts for what, a couple years later, would become The Simpsons. Bud, Kelly, Bart, and Lisa -- they changed the world. The kids grew up and the adults dumbed down.
So there's no misunderstanding, I'll lay my cards on the table. I've seen every episode of Married...with Children, even the awful ones. When it's good, it's sublime. The Simpsons, on the other hand, not so much. I watched it for awhile in the early days, and I enjoyed it, but that didn't last. Why? Well, (a) it's animated, and I have to be in the mood for that, and (b) it succumbed to the curse of extreme popularity: it became ubiquitous. A clear case of overkill, with me as collateral damage. It was not that I didn't think it was funny.
I'm not sorry, though, that I didn't grow up with these shows. I grew up watching re-runs of Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best. And I'm not sorry simply because I learned to enjoy my vegetables before moving on to dessert. From all I can tell, it's a much more difficult proposition the other way round -- if not for the consumers, then for the providers. And I think that's a shame.
The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer stars Cary Grant and Myrna Loy, with 19-year-old Shirley Temple playing 17-year-old Susan Turner. It's a pleasant movie about a sophisticated artist (Grant) who is essentially blackmailed into dating Susan as a way of quashing her crush on him. Meanwhile, the artist and Susan's older sister, Margaret (Loy), fall in love. The script, which has a number of funny lines, won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. And the scriptwriter was none other than Sidney Sheldon, who went on to create I Dream of Jeannie and write a bunch of bestselling novels. (I grew up on Jeannie, too -- not literally, regrettably. Don't believe anyone who tells you Bewitched was better.)
At one point in the film, Susan remarks that when Richard, the artist, is 60, she will be 42. We know she's 17, so that puts Richard at 35. How creepy is that? It's way above the half plus five rule. Yet the answer is, Not creepy at all. Susan isn't Kelly Bundy, she's not a pretty little liar, she's not a Monster High chick -- she's a kid. Temple is cute -- pretty, even -- but totally lacking any intrinsic fetishistic appeal. (What the viewer brings to the party is, of course, a different matter.)
If nothing else, it's refreshing. It's nice to see a kid who acts like a kid and who, yes, gets treated like one. I love the way the movie marks out its territory. There's the premise, for example. Five or six adults -- including two judges, an assistant district attorney, and a psychologist -- all sign off on the psychologist's plan to have Richard date Susan. But not one of them (and certainly not Richard) takes it seriously. The idea is to let Susan's crush die a natural death rather than to have it grow and fester because Richard is forbidden to her. In fact -- poor Susan -- the whole plot is a ruse by which the psychologist can get Richard and Margaret together.
Even if Susan knew the reasons behind it all, she wouldn't accept it. We learn early on that Susan's interests change on a regular basis, that she romanticizes everything, including destitution and crime, and that, while she is precocious, she isn't anything like the kids we see on modern sitcoms. Part of the film's humor lies in the the way she self-consciously tries to act older than her age while unconsciously revealing her 17 years. She doesn't even have the life experience to get Richard's jokes. If she knew what was really going on, she would believe that she could prove everyone wrong and stay with Richard forever and ever.
Which is actually very cool. Susan gets to try new things, go to basketball games and picnics, and learn about life the way a kid ought to: by experiencing it while under the care and protection of adults who love her and want what's best for her. Which is, I think, how things are even today, in the real world. It's just that it gets harder and harder to find that depicted in quite such a positive way.