The content of this episode of Pioneers of Television weighs on my heart in such a fashion that I’m having a difficult time forming words and sentences. I’ve never seen Roots, Rich Man, Poor Man, or The Thorn Birds… but the impact of the interviews with cast members placed me right in the middle of America in the late 1970s and 1980s. Without a doubt, this episode was an effective way to end the series — from hilarious ladies to men in tights to the difficult and inexplainable situations in life, PoT covers the change and transformation of television and culture surrounding the medium.
First of all, I will always find that writing about race is difficult. A year ago, I wrote a film article on Cabin in Sky (1943), an American musical with an all-black cast. The film was, perhaps, my first exposure to the stereotypes of African Americans and assumptions made by upper class white male studio moguls. In 1943, an all-black cast was a feat —there had only been one other musical previously, Hallelujah!, in years preceding. To a twenty-year-old white woman in 2013, the film harbors offense towards people of colour even though the up-and-coming director, Vincente Minnelli, tried to handle the cast and subject matter with gentility. If I were a twenty-year-old white woman in 1943, however, my feelings, unfortunately, may have been influenced by the culture of the film medium. It’s hard to place myself in that era because it feels so distant… and especially when I realize that Civil Rights was still a major issue and would be for years to come.
Roots places marginalization in a new perspective since it came along after the Civil Rights movement. The narrative halted the nation and forced them to experience a mere morsel of the genuine agony that slaves felt through a true story of a man’s ancestry dating back to Africa. Honestly, I was a little annoyed when they wanted to place the sympathetic Ed Asner character in the mix because executives worried it would be too brutal for audiences… it seems like another attempt to dilute history. I think Roots is such a progressive move towards “another day” as Fiddler would say and was much needed for audiences in 1977.
Rich Man, Poor Man was not relatable for me in the slightest… sorry, fellas. Boy, oh boy! Ed Asner was on top of miniseries wasn’t he? I hardly recognized him. Rich Man aside, I was elated to see an older Barbara Stanwyck in The Thorn Birds. Although the plot seemed highly melodramatic, I find the dynamic of the priest battling with his love for something “of the world” versus his love for the Church and God to be an interesting plotline.
Overall, I loved Pioneers of Television and the program was carefully constructed. If you missed any of the episodes, they can be found online. Of all the episodes, Funny Ladies and Miniseries were the most impressionable — so, if my opinion means anything… just skip right to it! Until next time…