TV Cowboys and Me

The car in front of me had an agenda–a bumper sticker I had to read because the light was red: KILL YOUR TELEVISION

220px-Gabby_Hayes_&_Roy_RogersI don’t have a problem with television. Or I don’t have the same problem with television as most people do–a waste of time or too much sex or violence. My concern is that television is such a powerful storytelling medium it can replace the real storytellers–our own families.

I was in the third grade when television made it to my part of rural Idaho. My grandparents bought a set as soon as we knew TV was coming. For weeks I watched the screen with fascinated anticipation when the only thing being broadcast was a test pattern for three hours a day.

200px-GeneAutryOf course, as soon as the local station was up and running, I did what everyone my age did. I ran in from school, flopped down on the floor and watched TV westerns. The power of that visual medium was such that I began to think of the American West the way it was being presented on TV—a place of strong men and few women. Never mind that I was growing up on a working ranch that included horses, dogs, sheep, cattle, and three generations of women who had run that place from its beginning. What’s more, this wasn’t ancient history for me. I knew all these women, even my great-grandmother, but the reality, outside my back door, was so different from what was coming in on the television set that I didn’t connect the two. I didn’t assume that they were supposed to be the same.

Our stories are important because they’re “ours.” If we don’t keep telling them, we might find ourselves without stories, just television.



Filed under cowboy story, Family Stories, History, Television, Uncategorized

3 responses to “TV Cowboys and Me

  1. I have similar memories of wanting to be a cowboy when I was little, but certainly not anybody who worked on my parents and neighbors ranches. More important though, I have begun to gather and write down some of my family’s stories. The generation that grew up on television doesn’t know these yarns so I fear that if I don’t record them, they’ll be lost.

  2. Exactly! Thanks for the comment.

  3. And now some of our stories are about watching television! The old TV shows from the test-pattern era are firmly tied into specific memories: Fireman Frank, a Captain-Kangaroo style kids’ show out of San Francisco; I was 8 years old and I know the front of our apartment faced west because the afternoon light made it hard to see Fireman Frank and his carrot puppet. And think about theme songs (Father Knows Best) and tag lines (Hi-yo, Silver!) I like to tell my grandkids about how TV signed itself off with Kate Smith singing “God Bless America,” and they goggle: “You mean TV just closed like it was a store or something?” I answer, “Yep, back in the olden days . . . blah blah blah.”

    Thanks for this fun and memory-provoking post, Jerrie.

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