I’m Not Allowed to Watch That

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.

I have the orange glove, take me to your downed power line.
I have the orange glove, take me to your downed power line.

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.

I'm a really good actress. Why else would they hire me?
I’m a really good actress. Why else would they hire me?

The Jeffersons, What’s Happening, Good Times — black people. We might have  turned black.

Banned Movies:

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.

Yeah, I'd like a massage. I promise to behave.
Yeah, I’d like a massage. I promise to behave.

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.

Allowed movies:

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.

Wait, no….

63 thoughts on “I’m Not Allowed to Watch That

    1. I just made that. I started making up reasons while writing this b/c I have no idea what his thought process was sometimes. I have yet to see Saturday Night Fever, although my brother and I won a dance contest in jr. high to the song Night Fever, think Monica and Ross.

      1. Don’t watch it. It really is a bad movie. The music is fun, but the I found the whole sexual violence thing to be less charming. I’m a snob, though, so what do I know?

          1. If you can track it down on Youtube, there is one great scene in the movie where Travolta’s dad hits him in the head at the dinner table, to which Travolta replies, “You know, I spend a lot of time on my hair and he hits it. He hits my hair.”

  1. Funny that All In the Family was allowed – how about Barney Miller? I remember being afraid of watching Fantasy Island at times (I’m 42 now) when I was young…but we watched all those movies – my father would get upset if any kissing was going on (for the 2 minutes he stood still to ‘watch tv’ before moving off to putter around)..but violence, that was A-OK. He took me and my brother to see “The Amnityville Horror” when I was 8 years old (bro 12); we slept at the foot of my parents’ bed for a week. “The Exorsist” SCARED THE CRAP out of me and I was 17 when I saw it. NEVER AGAIN…and I loved horror movies at time of my life. Dad also took us to see “Jaws” when I was about 6 or 7 at the Drive-in on the beach… that was magnificent…but I wasnt’ afraid from that movie – my brother was 🙂 ….

      1. Yep, Barney Miller was fine, one of my mom’s faves. MASH was okay but he wasn’t a big fan of Alan Alda. Hoodlums and long hair, gay people, blacks, not so fine. Violence, swearing, fine. Dirty Harry movies were encouraged.

  2. Funny memories Maggie!
    I’m the oldest sibling so I got to watch Mannix when my parents went out and I babysat. I thought that was pretty cool. When I was a kid I lived in the south and I was the only one of my friends that was allowed to watch the original Star Trek series. I was a badass. Whenever I watch football (like this weekend) I always remember my two brothers and my dad hanging out in the living room. We laughed at dad because he got so excited and yelled at the tv, and our favorite trick was to start screaming whenever he went into the bathroom so he would think something was happening in the game. We would wait until we knew he was “busy” and then start hollering. We cracked ourselves up.
    Thanks for the reminder…

    1. I really liked your dad blog. My brother would get in trouble for crying when the Cowboys lost (he was probably 4 at the time). We could watch Mannix, MacMillan and Wife, Cannon, Columbo, Ironside, any crime show was okay.
      Those were the days!

  3. LOL! OMG!!! The orange rubber gloves! That’s hysterical!!!
    My sisters and I were allowed to watch almost anything. Sometimes I, Lisa, actually felt like Laugh In, Charlie’s Angels, Sonny and Cher, etc. was too risque. Most of it having to do with the costumes. I could feel my innocence slipping away. Like your dad, mine was strangely okay with war movies and the Exorcist. What the…?
    My dad loved All in the Family and Flip Wilson (maybe it was an Irish Catholic thing?)

    Strange times…
    Great post, Miss Maggie. Love it when you take me down memory lane.

    1. These kinds of posts are the most fun to write. The comments are also reminding me of other shows we could watch, we watched The World at War all the time because apparently actually fighting in WWII wasn’t enough for my dad, he had to watch it all over again.

        1. That’s a good one. I believe we spent a year using pliers to turn on a bathroom sink or we just didn’t have use of that sink after he fixed it. “fixed” it. I’m going to have to email siblings on pliers because that is ringing a bell.

          1. I just emailed my brother to see if he can remember but you definitely have jiggled a memory for me. My kids hate that they don’t have the kinds of stories we do. Their lives are too padded now, it’s too easy in so many ways and so much harder in others.

          2. Addie

            I agree. Their stories, although amusing, are not as action packed as ours are. For example, my dad whistled to call us home. If you weren’t home by the second whistle, don’t bother. I always swore I had an older brother who was late, and figured life as a hobo was easier than facing the old man.

          3. We had what we called a dog whistle, just a regular like gym teacher whistle. Our neighbors had a cowbell. I think one had a triangle. Everyone had a different sound so kids knew who was calling them for dinner.

            Now we just text them :(*

  4. unfetteredbs

    70’s were a wacky time especially for parenting.Mine pretty much had the same philosophy as yours. TV’s and paneling an interesting combo right?

    1. I believe at some point the paneled sony was shipped to me in college, god forbid they buy a new one for me. Someday I should write about the car they got me. 1975 Monte Carlo.


  5. I remember when the Exorcist came out. My Mom told me if she heard of me seeing it, I would be grounded. We had to burn our Ouija board after that. Then I watched it years later as an “adult” and I see why. It scares the shit out of me now. I watched all those other shows, though I think. When there was something on and we couldn’t watch it, my parents would just say, Go to your room and we did after arguing. Its hilarious now how those shows seem so tame, right? I don’t anything about those rubber gloves although I do remember aluminum foil on the antenna.

    1. I never watched the Exorcist again. We didn’t have foil on the antennae but I do believe we would make my little sisters stand and hold them to keep the picture straight…. the joys of being the eldest!

  6. Hilarious – this was one childhood ordeal I never went through – No TV until I was 18 .
    We had to settle for the radio,
    But actually we were never allowed to listen unless the parents were listening, which meant a steady diet of boring things like’ In Town Tonight’, an English middle class ritual,
    Since I was doing homework most of the time, and then it was bed-time, I was just reduced to reading by the crack of light below my bed-room door, coming from the hall..
    .I was so deprived I never even had a torch to read by !!!!

  7. I totally feel your pain. I ruined Eva Dellers birthday slumber party by being the only kid not allowed to go see Grease. It had pelvic dance moves and other forbidden acts! We went to see a Benji movie and I was the plague for many weeks afterward……oh, the emotional scars!

    1. OH nice! I didn’t see Grease until I was in college. Sorry about Eva’s party. I’ve got to go read your blog. That movie has so many good lines…. take a shower, you look like shit.

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  9. My mom was strict about tv too.. I wasn’t allowed to watch soaps,jerry sprinter or Beverly hills 90210. My siblings and i used to do it anyway while one of us kept watch!

  10. So this post begs the question: what did you forbid your own children from watching, if anything?

    I think today’s TV (and I run the risk of sounding like your father now) is much more awful than anything you or I could have seen back then. Reality shows especially. If I had young kids now, I am sure I’d have a Forbid List. Starting with MSNBC! 🙂

    1. You know what’s funny is that my kids were well into grade school before they realized there was prime time TV. We are definitely an MSNBC-free zone. Now that they are teenagers, I don’t really regulate their viewing that much. One of them doesn’t care for TV and rarely watches it and the other is a lost cause 🙂 Although she will probably be the one that we see on TV someday.

  11. My father and grandmother, his mother who lived with us, were big TV-watchers. I did watch TV, but I found many of the programs that they loved pretty dull, so I was more often than not in my room blasting my music and doing my own thing. I do recall one program that would have detonated your dad that I really wanted to watch. It was a made for TV movie that was broadcast in 1976 on a series on PBS called Visions. The movie was called “The War Widow”. I told my dad that I really wanted to watch this film. He was fine with it. It just happened to be about two women in New York in WWI. One was a married mother of a daughter that was about six. Her husband was an officer in the war in Europe who wrote his wife the most heartfelt letters. The other woman was a photographer that had a studio. The married woman asked the photographer to photograph her and her daughter so she could send the picture to her husband. The two women fall in love, the married woman leaves her kid and husband and takes off with the photographer. Until that film, it always ended with one half of the gay equation committing suicide. That film blew my mind. My family was shocked. PBS repeated it a few more times. I had to see it every time.

    My father decided the time had come when I could have my own TV.

      1. By today’s standards, that film is very quaint. There was no significant display of physical affection, but the fact that a mother would leave her daughter for her same sex lover before women even had the right to vote was amazing to me.

        My grandmother was horrified, but my dad, to his credit, said, “What the hell?!” But then he piped down. He knew I was gay plus we were living in San Francisco. My dad’s always been pretty open minded about people.

          1. Brokeback Mountain is one of my all time fave movies…gay or not. I sobbed during that one. I will go look up Bound. By the way, Barbara is opening here this week.

          2. Is Rust and Bone playing by you yet? If I only see one foreign film before the New York Film Festival next fall, that’s the one that’s sky high on my list. I saw Amour at the NYFF.

  12. Isn’t it weird, what our parents deemed appropriate and inappropriate? My parents didn’t ever forbid me to watch certain TV shows or movies, but my mother had very particular ideas about what foods were healthy and weren’t healthy. We always had all kinds of Oreos, Twinkies, soda, etc, in the house, but she would NOT buy Pop Tarts. Pop Tarts, apparently, were much more unhealthy than Twinkies. She also wouldn’t buy Hawaiian Punch or Hi-C, even though Coke was okay.

  13. Oh my,,,your father and mine are brothers! Must be an Irish thing! It sounds like a page out of my childhood! Same TV shows and for the same reasons.

  14. Tough times. I wasn’t allowed to watch Austin Powers or, o god what’s that film called? I think it’s Quentin Tarantino. Um. John Travolta. Um. Begins with a P… Maybe Uma Therman. You see?! You see what has happened to me. Not only can I not join in conversations about these films, I don’t even know what they’re called?!

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