Good Parents Wait a Few Decades For a 'Thanks, Dad!'

There is a public service announcement that runs on TV from time to time, I can’t remember what organization it is for, but it goes like this:

A man sits in his easy chair reading the paper. His tween-age daughter comes downstairs in a skimpy outfit and tries to walk out the door. The father says sternly, “Young lady-you’re not going out dressed like that. Get back upstairs and change your clothes.”

“Dad!” she says, then angrily heads back upstairs to change.

Next, we see her dressed more conservatively, walking out the door. She still looks angry, but turns suddenly before going out. “Thanks, Dad!” she says.

Cut to the dad smiling as the voiceover intones: “Be firm with your children. They will appreciate it.”

Please. In real life, the girl does not say, “Thanks, Dad!” in the doorway.

I like the message of that PSA, but it’s not realistic. I don’t buy the simple, happy resolution.

When I was 13, the movie “Bonnie and Clyde” was aired for the first time on TV. The broadcast was promoted with a warning: “Violence may not be suitable for younger viewers.” Of course, I desperately wanted to watch it. My parents wouldn’t let me. I pleaded with them.

“I can handle it!” I protested.

But it wasn’t the guns and blood that my parents objected to. It was the fact that it glorified a life of crime. In this movie the bad guys were the heroes.

“But I’m thirteen!”

They didn’t relent. I was not allowed to watch “Bonnie and Clyde.” I was furious. I swore I would never forgive them.

O.K. Never is a long time. I forgave them; it just took about thirty years.

This is why that father/daughter public service announcement bugs me. It claims that parents can expect to see the results of their tough decisions right away. It’s not that easy. Sometimes it takes decades.

Now I understand why my parents wouldn’t let me watch “Bonnie and Clyde.” They didn’t like the messages of these new, morally ambiguous Hollywood films that were all the rage at the time. Luckily, they didn’t have to police my TV watching that often. In most of what was available on TV, it was easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

I was thinking about this as I read this interview with Disney executive Gary Marsh in The Hollywood Reporter. (Note: I think Gary Marsh is one of the good TV executives. He is responsible for creating fairly wholesome stuff like “That’s So Raven” and “High School Musical”) But I found this exchange interesting:

THR: What did you watch as a kid?

Marsh: At the risk of dating myself, I really liked “Dennis the Menace” and “The Rifleman.” What’s frightening is “The Rifleman” passed for appropriate television for kids.

THR: You’re worried about guns? I saw “Aaron Stone” and that was much more violent than anything on “The Rifleman.”

Marsh: I don’t think that’s true. There’s a pretty big difference between fantasy adventure and gun violence.

The funny thing is that Gary Marsh didn’t as much date himself as reveal his geographic location. His statement had the ring of someone who has spent too much time living in the vicinity of zip code 90210.

Gary Marsh reduces “The Rifleman,” a show about family, honesty, law and order, justice, and all that other good stuff, to simply “gun violence.” This coming from the head of a new cable network for adolescent boys! Doesn’t he remember we tuned in to “The Rifleman” because of the rapid-fire gunplay in the opening sequence, but we stuck around for the good lessons, like Lucas McCain telling his son, “A man doesn’t run from a fight, Mark, but that doesn’t mean you go looking to run to one!”

Why is it “frightening” that a show like this “passed for appropriate television for kids”?

My parents didn’t make that mistake. They allowed me to watch “The Rifleman,” but not “Bonnie and Clyde.” As a result they were willing to make their son very angry and didn’t expect a “Thanks, Dad!” in return.

Here’s the thing. My parents might have been wrong. By the time I was thirteen, I probably was ready to watch “Bonnie and Clyde” on TV. I had been raised on enough “Rifleman,” “Gunsmoke,” “Batman,” “Bonanza,” and “Dragnet” to know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. I was ready to sit through a few hours of moral ambiguity, and come out all right. But they didn’t want to take any chances. And who can blame them for that? Not me. Even if it took thirty years.