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Where Have You Gone Ozzie and Harriet?
by David Flanagan
09/29/03
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Parenting has never been an easy job and most who have given life to a child say that it is the most difficult role they have ever played. The struggle to make ends meet, sorting out
the violence that permeates our world, a dearth of positive role models and other distractions make parenthood a profoundly challenging task.

In the 50’s and 60’s “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” allowed us to enter into the home of Ozzie Nelson, his wife Harriet and sons David and Ricky and to observe parenthood at its best as exemplified by the Nelsons, the “ideal” American parents.

A typical Nelson “adventure” featured Ozzie helping the boys solve a dating dilemma or Harriett gently persuading her loving spouse to borrow a cup of sugar from their neighbor. We knew that the Nelson’s lived an unrealistic family life but it filled us with optimism for our own families. We now know that the Nelson’s true home life was less than perfect but the viewer was spared the gory details about what happened after the cameras stopped rolling.

Prior to the advent of “reality” TV stringent sexual mores prevented characters from displaying any real affection toward one another and propriety and privacy were adamantly maintained. When the viewer did have a chance to peer into the character’s
bedroom he never saw a single bed but instead twin beds placed alongside one another impeccably made, never rumpled.

Flash ahead to 2003 and you will find that each week millions of viewers routinely tune in to watch The Osbournes, a “reality” show about an incredibly bizarre family, led by its patriach, rocker “Ozzy” Osbourne. This “Ozzy” has gained notoriety for his on stage antics which have allegedly included biting off the head of a bat. The Osbournes follows the adventures of Ozzy, his wife Sharon, daughter Kelly and son Jack as they curse their
way through each episode seemingly vying for the honor of most dysfunctional family,
ever.

Several years ago, The Osbournes debuted and quickly attracted a rabid following of viewers who have made the conscious decision that watching two parents who consistently subject one another, their children and neighbors to a fusillade of expletives makes for good TV. In each episode the Osbournes, treat one another and everyone else with an absolute disregard for common decency and the viewing public loves it.

Have I become so inflexible and pessimistic that I can no longer appreciate good, clean fun and a chance to laugh at someone else’s dysfunctional lives. Perhaps The Osbourne’s producers are simply lampooning the American ideal of the perfect family and are as surprised as everyone else at the show’s success. Maybe viewers just tune in so they can feel good about their own familial eccentricities as I did after viewing a recent episode.
My parenting skills leave much to be desired but at least I’m trying to set a good example.

My two sons have seen The Osbournes and reminded me that the profanities are deleted and that the show is truly funny. Apparently my wife and I have not been near vigilant enough about monitoring their television viewing habits.

Sitcoms such as Ozzie and Harriet may have been unrealistic but at least the characters treated one another and the audience with dignity. Contrast the feel good, nurturing Nelson family with the Osbourne’s and you wonder how we have gotten to the point where we have completely abandoned decorum and respect. Ozzie and Harriet lasted fourteen years but given the fickle nature of viewers today and our sound bite craving society it is unlikely that The Osbournes will have the same staying power.

Recently there has been a tragic decline in role models as a result of the highly publicized misadventures of our elected officials, sports icons, celebrities and business and religious
leaders. Most reasonable parents entered into that role with a desire to nurture their child, set a good example and prepare him to lead a meaningful, productive life.

We ruminate over whether our disciplinary style is too severe or much too lenient and question whether our kids will end up taking drugs, driving drunk or getting into trouble. As a parent trying to prepare my children to take their rightful place in our seemingly unbalanced world I shudder to think about the values the next family show will espouse.



























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