Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas past meets Christmas present on Antenna TV

WADL, Channel 38.2 here in Detroit is home to Antenna TV, which broadcasts classic television shows.  I love classic TV, especially shows from the '70s when I was growing up.  Two of my favorites, "All in the Family" and one of its spinoffs, "Maude," are icons of an era when TV as a medium was pushing our boundaries.  By covering topics from racial prejudice, to feminism, to abortion, the shows made us uncomfortable -- and they made us think.

It was a different time -- or maybe not so much.

I found a case of Christmas past meeting Christmas present when WADL 38.2 ran holiday episodes of the classic shows during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I happened upon an episode of "Maude" titled "The Christmas Party," specifically, Season 4, Episode 14, original air date: Dec. 22, 1975.

Maude Findlay, played by the late Bea Arthur, was the fictional depiction of a strong-willed, liberal feminst woman at the heart of the '70s women's movement.  She was created as the antithesis of Archie Bunker, the ultimate blue collar, conservative patriarch of "All in the Family."  Maude was the cousin of Archie's wife Edith.

In this episode, Maude's old friend, Stephanie, a feminist writer and activist, comes to visit.  Maude's husband, Walter, is worried that feminism might not make and appropriate topic for his Christmas party with his employees.  Take a look (forward to 5:45):

While I respect Stephanie's passion, we do have to pick appropriate moments to express our views, especially with friends and family who we really want to see the importance of our cause.  Even Maude starts to squirm here and later tells Stephanie to "just relax for once."

However, I find it interesting that 36 years later, in 2011, we are still talking about the same issues Stephanie mentions:  male images as subtle put downs of women, feminism referred to as "women's lib jazz," or the like, and references to women as "guys" being passed off as "just an expression."

But there's more.  Here's the conclusion of "The Christmas Party":

 Here we see Stephanie, in the midst of a barrage of stereotypical jokes about women being "nags" and "hags," trying to make the point that language matters.  "Language reflects the way we think," she says.  She's right.  But the guests retaliate by calling her a "party pooper."  Even Maude calls her friend a "militant flake."

But in the end, Maude defends Stephanie saying that she has worked hard to defend "our dignity and our future as women."  The two friends embrace and Stephanie gives in saying she has no more righteousness left in her.  Everyone sings a carol around the piano and has a merry Christmas after all.

And 36 Christmases later, we could do the same show with an updated wardrobe.  And that really makes you think.

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