Monday, October 24, 2011

"The Wonder Years" and a Study In Realism

One of my favorite sitcoms growing up was "The Wonder Years." This comedy-drama ran on ABC for six seasons from 1988 to 1993. It, of course, documented the life of the main character, Kevin, played by Fred Savage during the height of the Vietnam War from 1968 to 1973 (exactly twenty years earlier). My interest in the show never wavered because it continuously meant something different to me at different points in my life. I used to watch the show purely for the pleasure of picking up little parallels I picked Kevin's parents, Jack and Norma, and my own and between Kevin's friends and my own at the time.

That was then, this is now. I have recently re-discovered the show not for any of the reasons listed above, but instead to fulfill my hunger for anything and everything about the Vietnam war, the anti-war movement and how the war split opinions across previously tight bloodlines. The episode "Private Butthead" dealt with Wayne and Kevin being forced to make a decision about what they want to do after high school. Wayne struggles while studying for the SATs and comes to the realization that he's not good at anything. When Wayne comes home from supposedly taking the SATs, he instead drops a bombshell on his family that he has enlisted into the army with his best friend, Wart. Both his parents are shocked and Jack doesn't like it at all, trying to convince him not to go. In the end, Jack can't stop him, but shows up at the recruitment center to find out that Wayne didn't pass the physical test for the army either. In a later episode, Wart, who was recruited, returns with post-traumatic stress disorder in a town that isn't familiar to him anymore.

These type of story lines and the emotions that comes with it, feel very real to me. I would venture to guess that the writers and producers of "The Wonder Years"were either parents themselves or growing up during this turbulent time and used their experiences for plots of episodes. They were able to capture the realism of two different generations of people during this time: parents and their children. Parents like Jack and Norma with plenty of life experience of their own before the Vietnam War tries to instill 1950s values into their children who are growing up in a very vivid and confusing decade. You have one generation that holds back and reserves and another one that thinks more openly and acts more impulsively. This argument is, of course, the definition of all parents and children in every era of time, but I think this divide has became much more evident in eras, decades and generations since the 1960s.    For my next post, I will try to chronicle the entire anti-war movement including it's beginnings on the UC Berkeley campus, some of the media clowns that came out of it and the true death of the Hippie: the New Right movement of the 1980s.

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