I was watching The Dick Van Dyke Show on TV last night. The episode I saw was called “The Bad Old Days“. In a nutshell, it went like this: one of Rob’s colleagues tells him about an article on “the decline of the American male”, and how men are becoming more subservient to their wives. This worries Rob, who starts to fear that Laura too often tells him what to do. The episode culminates in a hilarious dream sequence, in which Rob imagines himself as an overbearing, bullying 19th-century-style husband, who makes his wife do all the housework and forces his son to work in a factory. Of course, Rob wakes up and realizes that this wasn’t such a great way to live, after all.
It’s kind of funny to me, because you often hear this complaint of “feminized” men being subordinated to their wives these days, especially in conservative and “alt-right” circles. Often, the 1950s and early ’60s are considered the archetype of a more restrictive and socially conservative era, and to some extent the setup of The Dick Van Dyke Show is emblematic of that. I remember my blogger-friend Thingy contrasting Mary Tyler Moore’s accommodating housewife character on Dick Van Dyke with her independent, single, career-woman character on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the ’70s.
But then, here we have an episode of Dick Van Dyke from 1962 that addresses this same “men are too subservient to their wives” idea. So, it seems like that idea must have been in the air even back then. Which, in turn, suggests the possibility that perhaps there is an ever-recurring nostalgia among authoritarian men of every era, that they had it better in, as Rob says, “the bad old days”.
Well, that’s enough sociological musing! The point is, it was a very funny show. It does amaze me that the best thing on TV some nights is a show from 50 years ago, but there you have it.