Note: This column appeared in the Barrow Journal on February 1, 2012.
Last year when my husband brought home the DVD box sets of Little House on the Prairie, I laughed. Little House on the Prairie? I said. It’s for the kids, he said.
I was surprised he would be willing to watch Little House even if he did love it as a child. I did too. I remember wishing Michael Landon was my father and that I could run around on a farm like Melissa Gilbert’s character, Laura Ingalls.
But as an adult, memories of Little House conjure up words like “sentimental” and “idealistic.” Not to mention Michael Landon’s perfect hair.
But when we started watching it, I once again started wishing Michael Landon was my father (the one he played in TV – not the one in real life), and I wish I could be the spunky Laura, sticking up for what’s right in the world.
As a child, the television show was good entertainment, but as an adult, I realize that it was a show that attempted to deal with serious issues, and because of this, I have a newfound respect for it. Watching it now, I realize that I probably acquired many of my values from that show.
Yes, the Ingalls portrayed the ideal family. The mom and dad, Caroline and Charles, are wonderful people. Their children are wholesome and good. They love their parents and want to please them and even contribute to their family’s welfare when things get tough.
I don’t see many flaws in their characters except perhaps for Charles’ temper, which only seems to flare up when I – as a viewer – want it to. And you can hardly call Laura’s spirited character flawed. When she gets in trouble, the viewer is usually cheering her on.
The show supplies the quintessential antagonists – the haughty storeowner Mrs. Oleson and her daughter, Nellie. They look down on the Ingalls and do everything they can to let everyone in town know that they are more sophisticated and have more money.
Are these well-worn stereotypes and clichés? They certainly are, but I’m not sure they would have been back when the show aired from 1974 -1983. Watching it again, I find it fun and refreshing to watch something that clearly marks the line between good and not so good.
Despite Michael Landon’s perfect hair, the show still offers a view of life in the 19th century. My five-year-old started asking questions like “Didn’t they drive cars?” and “Don’t they have a television?”
The show did a good job at depicting some of the harsh living conditions for early white settlers in America, including a snowstorm that almost killed the character of Charles, the death of Charles’ and Caroline’s baby, and what happened when crops were ruined and the family couldn’t pay their bills.
It’s been a good opportunity to introduce my son to that life in the “olden days.” He has even gotten the connection between life depicted on that show and the real-life and well-preserved William Harris Homestead, which we visit often. (www.harrishomestead.com)
As was typical of a family like the Ingalls, they were churchgoers and had a deep faith in God. Whether you’re religious or not, I don’t think anyone could argue with the lessons that Little House on the Prairie was trying to teach, which is why I think it’s a great show for young viewers. I like that Charles always had a different perspective than his sweet, devout wife, and I like that Laura is a girl with a strong and defiant spirit. She tries to do what is right even if it means getting in a little trouble.
In one episode, the residents of Walnut Grove have to deal with some “bullies” that try to settle there, though bully is too kind of a word for them. In anger Charles says to the preacher, “Don’t go telling me there’s good in all people.” The final lesson was that while we should give everyone a fair chance, there’s a time when you have to stand up for what’s right.
The show alternates between these serious topics and more light-hearted stories and watching them affirms for me the idea that what makes any story – or television series – stand the test of time is when it deals with universal topics. The scenarios on Little House are still applicable today, and I’ve sure met my share of Mrs. Olesons.
Today television scriptwriters may do a better job of painting more shades of gray, but in the end, we always like it better when the good guy wins. In a world with many bad endings, I’m glad we still have shows like Little House on the Prairie to watch and remember.
What shows did you love to watch when you were a child?