Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Dog Fighting

I've been working my way through The Waltons on DVD--a show I never saw as a kid and one which I think is quite good. Sometime in my copious amounts of free time, I'd like to right a paper comparing the representation of fatherhood, power, and authority in The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie.

There was an odd little aside in one episode in Season 3, though, that got my attention. Mary Ellen has been given a fancy dress by a rich neighbor, and as she is showing it off to her family, someone says that there is no place around Walton mountain for her to wear such a dress. One of her brothers (I forget if it is Jason or Ben) says, "Maybe she could wear it to a dog fight."

I certainly didn't take from that exchange that dog fighting was something the Waltons approved of or even attended, but it was interesting to note that it was a practice common enough around rural Virginia for the kids to know it went on.

The recent events surrounding the indictment of Michael Vick for his participation in a dog fighting ring have created a spotlight into a subculture that many of us did not know existed. Some athletes, such as Clinton Portis, have expressed a difficulty in understanding the level of shock at these charges, a difficulty that I attribute not necessarily to their own affinity for the practice but from what seems to be a genuine surprise that people are only now professing to have learned that such practices exist.

I'm not condoning or defending dog fighting here. I am suggesting that the degree of repulsion or outrage we feel over practices might be affected by how familiar they are to us. One politician was recently quoted at SI.COM as saying he hoped there was a "special room in hell" for those who abused animals. Putting aside for a moment the question of whether or not "special" can mean particular (in which case one wonders if every room in hell isn't special in a Dantean sense), one wonders, from an anthropological perspective, what practices we disapprove of but don't stir us to outrage that members of a community that knows of dog-fighting might think warrant out own special rooms in hell.


Elizabeth said...

My suitemates and I watched the Waltons devotedly throughout college. We laughed at ourselves by calling them "the Walnuts," but we were fans, nevertheless. As family shows go, I'd agree it's one of the better ones.

One element of its success, I think, is the adult cast--Ellen Corby, Will Geer, Ralph Waite, Michael Learned. The children, few of whom were conventionally pretty, mostly grew in acting skills as time went on.

Kenneth R. Morefield said...

There is a kind of unconventional honesty about the show that I find refreshing (and ironic, given that it so often comes across as unconventional). Just when you think that an episode or encounter is heading into some cliched territory, there will be a slight difference.

When Erin has her dress ripped by a fresh boy, it turns into an "I'm proud of you" moment where Olivia tells her she acted like an adult. When John Boy observes a student cheating (played by a young Richard Masur), it is his companion that urges John Boy to turn him in. When Olivia tells John that her art professor kissed her, the couple actually acts like a couple that has been married for twenty years and has seven children--like a couple that knows each other and knows how to deal with conflicts.

I also think there is a generosity about the show that comes from humility. The Waltons are valued, but not perfect, and I appreciate the fact that others, even those whose values are not as consistently valued as the Waltons's are shown to be capable of flashes of goodness themselves rather than forever being demonized so that the family can look better by comparison.