Sure, it’s easy for me to say that now but mortifying to say as a kid growing up in the 70s.
I recently read a piece by one of Oregon’s great writers, who is now an expat living in San Francisco. The piece detailed one of the traditions of his youth in Hillsboro, namely Fonzie Day. As Calahan and I went back and forth in his comments section, I was reminded of the TV viewing rules of my youth.
It was really embarrassing to my insecure 12-year-old self to admit I had no idea what Vinnie Barbarino had said last night on Welcome Back Kotter. No idea what Chrissy was wearing on Three’s Company. I did not see the Fonz and Ralph Malph Tuesday night at 8:00. I can go back even earlier, I didn’t see the Partridge Family perform “I Can Feel Your Heartbeat”.
“Why is that Maggie?” you ask.
“My Dad”, I reply.
My father was born in 1924. WWII vet. He was 16 years older than my mom and was a serious hard ass. He was really, really smart — he entered college at 15. He was well-read, probably had a photographic memory, witty and one of the most unreasonable people I have ever known.
Dad had some
bizarre fascist strict rules regarding the O’Connor children’s TV/movie viewing habits; matched by equally bewildering “go ahead and watch it” decisions.
Growing up, my siblings and I watched TV downstairs in the “big room”. I remember getting our first color TV. As a matter of fact, I remember a few of the early color TVs my family had. There was a small Sony with wood paneling on the sides. A very 2001 Space Odyssey white Toshiba one and there was the old hulking (probably RCA) television that was the kids’ TV in the big room.
The kids’ TV had a short in it, so whenever someone touched it, said someone received an electrical shock right up the arm. Those were the days before remote controls for television. In order to change the channel (and there was no cable….three networks, PBS and a local station), the viewer or whichever one of us was bullied into changing the channel, had to stand up, walk over to the TV and turn the dial. In the O’Connor big room, we had to stand up, walk over to the TV, put on the orange rubber men’s work glove that my parents gave us to prevent our being electrocuted, and then change the dial. Not kidding. The solution to preventing the children from being electrocuted by a TV set was…”Hey kids, put on this glove, make sure you are grounded before you touch that live electrical current”. My mom also used to put frozen meat in the dry cycle of the dishwasher to thaw it, but that’s a story for another post.
Banned TV shows in the O’Connor household:
Partridge Family — David Cassidy’s hair got too long.
Happy Days — Hoodlum Arthur Fonzarelli wore a black leather jacket.
Laverne and Shirley — Hoodlums Lenny and Squiggy in black leather jackets. Shirley Feeney’s voice.
Three’s Company — Jack was gay or maybe not gay but living with two floozies in sin. Mr. Roper wanted to be gay with Jack. Don Knotts showed up. I don’t know.
Welcome Back Kotter — Inner city youth. Drug use? I have no idea. I didn’t really care whether or not I could watch this show but I will say it has one of THE best theme songs, EVER.
Maude — Maude was a liberal. Adrienne Barbeau was a shockingly bad actress.
The Jeffersons, What’s Happening, Good Times — black people. We might have turned black.
Saturday Night Fever — My father was against gang rape and white suits.
Grease – pesky black leather jackets again and John Travolta. Maybe that was the problem with Welcome Back Kotter…John Travolta.
Allowed TV shows:
All in the Family — Carroll O’Connor’s last name was O’Connor. My dad LOVED this show. There is no way this show would be aired in the politically correct world we live in today. AITF was ground breaking and then the ground closed back up.
Talk about a great theme song and a general idea of what my dad looked like
Laugh In — Hilarious show, risqué, my dad LOVED Flip Wilson, a black man. It would have been okay to be Flip Wilson or Lena Horne. My dad really liked Lena Horne.
The Cosby Show — Rich black people were okay. My dad was a big Cosby fan.
The Exorcist – I saw on video when I was probably 15 or so, in the big room with a German Shepherd and a butcher knife.
Apocalypse Now — My dad took John to see this in the theater but deemed it inappropriate for girls. I just saw it for the first time a month or so ago.
10 — once again, we saw in the theater. This movie is hilarious. I need to watch it again.
Jaws — My first PG movie.
I have been emailing John, Katie and Molly (the siblings) regarding this topic and we are not for sure on some shows. The twins are six years younger than I am so there may have been some shows they couldn’t watch but I could.
Katie seems to remember restrictions on Love Boat and Fantasy Island but I know those two shows were integral to my Saturday nights in junior high (obviously I was one of the cool kids). I don’t know if I wasn’t allowed to watch Charlie’s Angels due to rampant bralessness (of the Angels, not me) or because it was on at 10 on Wednesdays, so too late on a school night. I do know that I would sneak down and watch it, sitting just inches away from the TV with the volume waaaaayy down and I would have a note pad with me to count the number of outfit changes per Angel. Jaclyn Smith was my favorite.
I think Katie and Molly had to watch MTV in the same manner, up close enough to distort vision and volume low enough to require hearing aids. The reason for the close proximity is you had to be close enough to change the channel to PBS and leap back onto the couch if you heard my dad coming downstairs, thank God for creaky houses.
We were also known to sit down to dinner with the TV on or on with the sound turned off or sometimes my mom put her foot down and the TV was turned off. Proper dining programming included NFL football, Hee Haw, Lawrence Welk, and 60 Minutes. And if my father was in the mood to torture me and John, we would be forced to watch Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. That would entail us sitting in chairs, sighing loudly, hanging over the sides of the chairs, looking at the ceiling, general histrionics from televisionally-abused children.
Ahhh… Happy Days.