“I could really use an Odd Couple right now,” said my eleven-year old son after a bad day–and my heart sang!
I heard Jay Dyer say recently on Our Interesting Times that he was nostalgic for things he wasn’t even alive for. I have expressed the same sentiment myself. I look back at the innocence of times past – not that there weren’t terrible injustices resulting from privilege and prejudice – but those were times when at least the existence of objective right and wrong was acknowledged, aspired to and rewarded. Dignity, respect for oneself and others, charity, honesty in business, were expected not derided. A profound sense of loss grips me when I reflect upon seeing our culture change in many (though not all) ways for the worse, and when I see old movies or TV shows, or old styles of dress and decor, I am overcome with what my father, when he got choked up, would call with masculine restraint, “extreme nostalgia.”
I think this feeling is what has me loving mid-century modern furniture and watching ’70s shows. Paradoxically, these styles were the new styles, the harbingers and catalysts of the change I am lamenting, but they remind me of a time of innocence where you see “modern women” still expressing a profound femininity (and in fact a sort of ancient feminism) they don’t even know they were meant to usher out.
My father, on the other hand, hated all things modern as he recognized them for the portents they were. But I myself am conflicted. I love femininity and masculinity, but I am also well-aware that my mother was trapped by a role that nearly crushed her (nine kids, little money, no help and nowhere to turn) and that I am not; I am a libertarian (not a libertine), who acknowledges and respects the rights of individuals to love whom they choose and hope they conduct their relationships in mutually respectful ways that are good for themselves and their communities; and I’m an individualist who abhors the evil of government-enforced segregation and all the other laws then and now that mandate, by use of force, different treatment for different people based simply on what group into which they were born.
Perhaps I love those transitional styles and shows because they symbolize elements of both worlds–the good from the past and the good from the present. But waves of sadness overwhelm me when I recognize that exposing the ills of the past was merely a device used by a subversive shadow elite to do away with the elements of our culture that made us strong and kept their power in check, while corrupting the new by taking liberties to grotesque extremes (for example, by promoting objectified sex and reckless drug use) possible only when consequences are disconnected from behavior in no small part by a malevolent welfare state that breaks up families and subsidizes self-destructive lifestyles.
For all my conflicting feelings, however, in the end I adore the moments I can recapture that feeling of old good & new good I get from some of the great shows I grew up on. I have written in the past about Bewitched. Unfortunately, only the first two seasons of that show are worth watching – in the third season it throws the baby out with the bathwater and loses all humor as it abandons the standards of the past for the gratuitous self-righteousness of the counter-culture. The Odd Couple, in contrast, just gets better every season. The TV show was funnier than the movie and the series itself improved every year. And boy did we need a laugh back then–the ’70s were not for wimps! Granted, I wasn’t tuning in for the original broadcasts, but even the reruns I was raised on brought unbridled mirth to our resource-strapped and over-crowded little home.
I think it would have done Tony Randall’s heart good to know that, and how I wish I had told him when I had the chance! I was once at an event at Madison Square Garden and Mr. Randall was there. My husband urged me to go shake his hand but as one New Yorker to another, I couldn’t bring myself to intrude on a stranger, even a famous one. Now, though, I wish I had told him how much joy he brought our often heavy hearts. (Another Odd Couple near-miss occurred when my sister and I were working at a restaurant in Nyack, NY, on New Year’s Eve. Jack Klugman and his son came in looking for a table and didn’t want to wait. My sister, the hostess, told them how much we loved Oscar Madison, but that it wouldn’t be fair for the other customers who had been waiting. Boy did I admire her for that! She wasn’t being a jerk, she just couldn’t bring herself to bestow privilege over justice. What a woman! What a New Yorker!)
But I digress…Even today, I enjoy Randall and Klugman in their iconic roles. I happily discovered The Odd Couple on MeTV and noticed my kids drifting in front of the television whenever I turned it on for myself. I still laugh uncontrollably at the gags–that Felix really tickles my funny bone! It’s such good, clean fun. So clever, so comical!
Murray the Cop is another one who cracks me up. One day we were watching and I said, I wonder what happened to Al Molinaro after The Odd Couple and Happy Days. I wonder if his weight got him. So I wiki’d the actor only to find he lived to the age of 96! But he sold his career short because he refused to appear in movies or shows that used foul language: A man has to live with himself, he said. Gotta love it. (This may sound hypocritical because I use foul language beyond what I could ever justify, but I sure do admire a person with standards and integrity!)
This is the kind of cultural nuance I love and miss, though I was only present for its passing not its prime. I get saddest thinking that our standards, our culture–silly and TV-oriented as it already was when I was growing up–is being overwhelmed by extreme violence, unloving sex and pervasive rudeness. That our children are being raised by screens (not that I wasn’t!) and that those screens are vehicles for what I believe to be the intentional fostering of bad over good, especially upon the most vulnerable of our youth–the lower-income two-parents-working or single-parent kids who are disproportionately influenced by pop culture.
So when I hear my own matrixed kids laughing hard at The Odd Couple, I just smile all over, and when after a bad day, my X-Box-hooked son comes home wanting nothing more than to forget his troubles by watching Felix Unger’s antics, well….my heart sings!