Friday, May 05, 2006

The Bunkhouse Beats the Ranch House

Finally, a moment of authenticity on PBS's Texas Ranch House. In the last hour of the series, wannabe ranchero Bill Cooke cheated one his hands out of a promised horse, and then fired him. That led the rest of the bunkhouse boys to quit, leaving Cooke and his puppet-master wife to finish the task of rewriting history all by their lonesomes.

This show of loyalty by the ranch hands demonstrated that they, at least, had learned something from the experience. Sure, they were disrespectful to the women and were sometimes lax in carrying out their duties, but when the bull chips were down, they did their jobs as though the calendar read "1867" and comfortable lives were not waiting for them just off-camera. And when push came to shove, they did what any cowhands in 1867 would have done when the cattle drive was finished and the boss proved himself a cheat and a coward: they abandoned him.

As I suggested earlier, there are better ways to connect with one's ancestors than dressing up in their clothing and acting out their chores. I'm never more in touch with my Finnish heritage than when I'm eating a slice of nisu—a sweetened bread flavored with cardamom. But I have no desire to eat lanttulaatikko—a turnip casserole. Both are authentic Finnish fare, so what's the difference? The nisu is made from my great-grandmother's recipe, and tastes just like the bread I remember eating when I was a kid. We were never forced to eat lanttulaatikko, and trying it now would likely conjure up more nausea than memories.

Likewise, I'm never closer to my Yankee heritage than when I'm working at some necessary task outdoors like bucking wood or (to use my earlier example) fixing a stone wall. It's the necessity of the tasks that brings the desired connection. I don't know that that sort of connection can be manufactured on a TV show, but I suspect that the cowhands on Texas Ranch House felt something like it.

As for the Cookes ... I hope they had a nice summer vacation.


The Cookes didn't really embrace their history or try to live like a real 1867 ranchers family. And the Maura the 'girl of all work, along with Mrs. Cooke seemed to want to rewrite history with their feminist agenda.

I enjoyed the show but, it would have been better without the Cooke family.


Chris, great article again! I watched "Texas Ranchhouse" for the first time after reading your last article about it.

I have to wonder, if it is really possible to relive our ancestors lives. Everything said and done on the T.V. show is performed within a mental reference of today, knowing full well the life style is not forever. No matter how well "immersed" they are in the location and physical scenery of the 1860s, the Cooke family carry with them hidden baggage: a "modern" concept of the world, interpersonal roles, and attitudes, which would simply not have existed in the 1860s.

Do I want to relive my ancestor's lives.. um no thanks. Most of my ancestors had large families, 10 or more kids per. I leave that sort of thing to the people who enjoy it.. and settle for one heh.



Last year, there was a reality show on MTV that required the participants to speak and act as if it were the 1970s. Anyone caught using post-1970s references could be voted out. Maybe they should use this gimmick on the next PBS project, and kick off anyone who, say, introduces the pizza to America in 1867.


Chris!! what a brainstorm you had. A reality show based in the past, and anyone using or demonstrating a more modern mindset is "voted off"... now that is a show I would watch...

What would we call it (the show)?



How about we make it a Miss Historicity pageant, complete with period bathing suits? Some ideas for the talent competition: needlepoint, butter churning, and barefooted childbirth.

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