My Mommy isn’t June Cleaver

I interviewed my mom, she grew up in Stillwater, MN with an older brother and her adopted parents (what were her aunt and uncle, who adopted her when she was 4, so they were the ones who raised her.) It was pretty clear that my mom (at least as she remembers it) consumed media like a good American, regularly. Most of her TV experience was in the 70’s, after she went to college she “didn’t have time.” 


My mom watched a lot of TV, they weren’t a big movie family. Primarily she would watch TV with her mom, and her dad was often in the room reading the paper. Even at this phase my mom was very much a “passive watcher” of television, she would often lay our her homework and do it “while the TV blared.” Their TV habits were very structured however, instead of watching whatever came on, my grandma would look at the next weeks television lineup in the Sunday paper, (my mom is proud to say “she was one of the first of her generation to make good use of a yellow highlighter.”) 

My mom teased out the shows she watched with her mom by genre, as she couldn’t remember too many specifics. My mom watched a lot of wild west shows, she specifically Gunsmoke, Bonanza and Chaparral. Specifically she remembers how her and a lot of her girlfriends loved “Little Joe” from Bonanza. She says that she really didn’t buy into the whole “weak woman” thing, her Mom started a successful printing business in Stillwater and was always a smart woman, my mom wanted to be a lawyer from a young age. “Frankly, I knew I was smarter than most of the boys I was going to school with, but all of them were too weird looking to date, so I got my fantasy boyfriends from TV.” 

The whole “fantasy boyfriend” thing extended into a love of police and detective shows. Hawaii Five-O was a “good place for young women to realize their boyfriends were unattractive.” She did say however that many shows had female counterparts, but while they carried guns, they didn’t really do much. This observation was very consistent with the Gauntlett reading, but my mom noted that Charlies Angels were three “very well formed and intelligent police women who worked undercover,” she did however say that one of the major attractions of the show was its “steaminess.” (once again she goes into the fantasy boyfriend thing) 


By far the funniest memory my mom had was hearing my grandma say “he can put his shoes under my bed anytime” in response to Anthony Quinn in Lawrence of Arabia, (which my mom says she never understood until years later.) 


These were the sorts of shows that my grandma would highlight in the newspaper, but there were the daily and religiously watched variety shows. Dominantly she remembers Dean Martin who was “always portrayed as a ‘harmless womanizer’” which my mom remarks to by saying “the idea of a harmless womanizer is something so completely absurd now, but in reality, it was a pretty common identity back in those days, in pretty much every show.” This idea is very much like James Bond, though she says that even he was a bit less “harmless.” Mostly she didn’t even notice that Dean Martin was a “womanizer” until she got older and could reflect on it. She didn’t watch the show because it was steamy, (like a police drama or western) she watched it because there was “lots of music, dancing, glamor and fun.” 


She also read a lot of advertisements in the newspaper with her mom, which I found particularly foreign. Now I just have a general knowledge of the products on the market because they are hazardously thrown at me from every direction, but up in Stillwater, which was just far enough from Minneapolis to miss that bombardment, my mom read the ads to know what was out there, and of course what was on sale, (she remains to this day an avid coupon cutter and sale hunter, even though she has no need (monetarily) to cut many corners.) She said there were things she “just needed to have, like steam rollers and eyelash curlers,” but those gadgets were brought to her attention more by her girlfriends than advertisements. 


It is pretty funny to see my moms “I was a strong independent woman” argument fall apart during the interview. She was, infact, a strong independent and very intelligent woman, (she’ll brag all day about being valedictorian,) but she still was very effected by the media she consumed. She might not have been impervious to the media she was consuming, but she clearly didn’t want to become June Cleaver, or anyone like her, and any prejudices she adopted were more enforced by her parents and her girlfriends than the media. If anything her “parents had more effect on the media than the media had on [her.]” The TV shows that were on were around because they “showed my parents what they wanted to watch.” 


The most eye opening was that she was indeed a “smart consumer” in many ways, and she says that the idea that people were more susceptible to advertisements was “just plain stupid.” In her eyes, the way people read into things was really more about what they wanted to see, just like it is today. “People today just want to see different things.” 


One thought on “My Mommy isn’t June Cleaver

  1. I am DYING re: the Lawrence of Arabia comment. But I also really liked your point about how women of this age might have to negotiate their visions of themselves, today, as strong, independent, even feminist women…and the realities of their childhood. Heck, I even find myself doing that today.

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