Exposing the Culture in Your Own Backyard: Green Acres (TV Showcase #27)

There’s not much more charm someone can have than when they come from the country. We can probably all think of a stereotypical slick country boy with a Southern drawl, but who is a perfect gentleman, and who holds to higher standards. And in the same breath, we can also think of a million ways to make fun of the backwoods hillbilly. Why do these two completely different dynamics have the ability to describe the same kind of person? Well, we’re going to explore that today, with a dive in to the world of “Green Acres”.

“Green Acres” (GA for short) started in 1965 and ran for 170 half-hour episodes over six seasons, ending in 1971. The show focuses on Oliver and Lisa Douglass, a couple from New York who decide to buy a farm in the country, and who get much more than they bargained for among the customs of the country folk. The show is really a merge of two previous shows: “Granby’s Green Acres”, a radio show created by Jay Sommers, and “Petticoat Junction”, a show airing at the same time, created by Paul Henning (who also created “The Beverly Hillbillies”). So what does this show have to teach us from the sheer amount of time it was on television?

This show is about culture. But the interesting thing is is that it’s about different kinds of American culture. It’s about the culture we find in our own backyard (hence the title). “The Beverly Hillbillies” had this kind of culture clash, but the Clampett’s were always in the right, never really having to adjust to the culture of Beverly Hills. In GA, however, the Douglass’ must adapt to the culture of Hooterville. Now, at this point, dear reader, you may be thinking that this kind of thing is too easy for me to interpret, and that the show was just a sitcom. Indeed, if you’ve seen GA, you may think that this culture theme is very weak. But let me demonstrate ways that I’ve seen GA show its interest in other cultures.

Besides the obvious clash of New Yorker and Tennessean (presumably Hooterville is in Tennessee, but that’s too long of a sidetrack to get into now), GA also brings forth Lisa. Lisa is Hungarian, but became an American citizen, and she is now living in the country right along with her husband Oliver. What’s more is that she understands and gets along with the country customs way better than Oliver ever does. While there are a few episodes about Lisa in Hungary, I believe that the main reason for her presence is to accentuate the different kinds of American culture. It might even be interpreted as a social commentary, as Oliver and any of the Hooterville citizens are both American through and through, yet Lisa, who is from another part of the world, cliques with this bunch better than Oliver does. This is a huge statement of irony, and given Henning’s big emphasis on morals and values in his shows, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a hint at being kind to people who are different than we are.

Additionally, Oliver’s mother comes to visit on occasion. As much as she loathes Hooterville, she really likes Lisa, so she feels it her duty as a good mother-in-law to make sure the poor child’s not absolutely dying. Whenever Mother comes, however, there’s always a clash of cultures, but she brings a different dynamic than Oliver does. Oliver at least tries to work with the people in Hooterville, but Mother always treats them with disdain, as primitives, lesser people. This creates humour because the people of Hooterville don’t get that; they’re not trained to ever consider other people that way, so they often misconstrue Mother’s insulting words and actions to be a city person’s way of doing something good. But Mother never fails to act towards the people of Hooterville in the most distasteful manner possible, which makes the audience member satisfied to see her subjected to the most unpleasant customs that she could ever hope to go through. And this creates something special.

You see, when the audience becomes happy about Mother’s discomfort, or a joke played on Oliver, they suddenly realise that they themselves are the exact same kind of people as Oliver and his mother. This causes them to rethink their cultural surroundings and how they treat people of different cultural standings. Additionally, the fact that GA shows off two opposite cultures within America strengthens this conviction, and whether the audience member knows it or not, they’re rethinking the way that people who are different than them should be approached. It helps even more that the citizens of Hooterville practically bend over backwards to help the Douglass’ transition with ease, even though it usually doesn’t work. But the fact that these people could be set in their ways and yet often put a pause on their lives to at least talk to the Douglass’, and alot of times, try to help them out, really is the knock-out punch in symbolizing people of other cultures who may be all around us the audience.

So, through its ups and downs, “Green Acres” continually shows us how to and how not to treat people of other cultures and differences all around us, whether they be of the same nationality as us, or whether they come from a completely different lifestyle. What do you think?

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