Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Of Jackie Gleason, Homer Simpson and James Bond

Television has been shaping the attitudes and views of children since its inception. Young minds absorb the images from the glowing box and emulate their favorite TV characters in dress, dialogue and actions. If the TV hero du jour fought for "truth, justice and the American way," while flying through the air with his cape flowing behind him, thousands of young boys tied towels around their necks, jumped off chairs and stood boldly with their hands on their hips. This was done, of course, with the hero's hapless villains bouncing rubber darts at his chest. If the hero du jour worked as a bus driver and threatened his wife with a one-way trip to the moon, thousands of young men grew to be husbands who also demanded their wives be subservient or they too would get a free trip to the moon. If the hero du jour worked in a nuclear power plant, drank beer and was self-absorbed with the moment -- ignoring his wife, children and neighbors -- then thousands of young boys felt empowered to talk back and live only for themselves.

Sometimes you will hear television writers maintaining the programs they create do not negatively impact societal values or conservative mores. Rather, they insist their programs are more like a mirror showing us who we are within our culture. The old question of "does art imitate life or does life imitate art?" seems to be answered in the first postulate. If that is true, I wonder what our society is really like in how men (husbands) treat women (wives).

It appears to me that for a long time the prevalent standard was that women were nothing more than second-class citizens designed for housework, mothering and waiting on their male counterparts. Women were viewed as weak, both in mind and in body. The show in which Jackie Gleason starred -- The Honeymooners -- regularly portrayed this attitude about women's supposed inferiority and servile status -- though Gleason's character, Ralph Kramden, did get his comeuppance on more than one occasion.

Then along came the 70s and the societal shift to the empowerment of women. Women were roaring as Helen Reddy sang to a nation. They were able to handle job, family and every other demand on their time and abilities. More recently, it's cartoons like The Simpsons and that family's patriarchal dolt who shows himself preeminent in being both incompetent and boorish. Such caricatures of men render them as self-absorbed dullards, needing women to care for them.

In today's culture a true "man's man" -- i.e. one who is confident, controlling, detached and self-preoccupied -- is the core stuff of movies and television programs everywhere. He is "the man" -- large and in charge. He's the brooding loner women whisper about, "the leader of the pack" who rallies lesser men, the alpha male who kicks butt and could care less about taking names, the super stud who drives women crazy and the attitude-adjusting biker who knows no bounds when delivering punishment.

Guys, I think we're more than a Jackie Gleason, Homer Simpson or James Bond. I think we are at our best when we honor our commitments, cherish our wife and are involved in the life of our children. I believe it is not the roar that gives us respect, but our role. It is our true, God-given vocation to be strong for our family -- not only with our muscles, but in our character.

Look around. There are dozens of examples we can follow, but only One is worthy of our attention.

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