If you grew up with grandparents or have held a conversation with anyone eligible to collect Social Security you know there can be a significant generational gap. The phrase things were different then is most likely used as the reasoning. I find these encounters endearing, entertaining–and always a learning experience.
My grandmother occasionally recounts tales of growing up “all around New York City.’’ She met her husband, had my father, lost her husband to leukemia shortly after, and migrated south to the sunshine state of Florida. Not much for drama, she tends to gloss over the struggle of being a single parent while working full time in a totally new setting. At a spry 72 years old, she stays busy shuttling grandkids to Little League and volleyball games and has picked up hobbies such as coloring–“It’s very relaxing”–and watching Blue Bloods— “I gotta catch up on the new season!”
As a child I remember sitting with her in her pink La-Z-Boy recliner as the opening theme for The Golden Girls blared through the speakers of the stereo television set. At the time many of the jokes were too complex for my tiny child mind– but I did pick up on the quick-witted digs at Rose Nylund’s (Betty White) air-headed stories. I thought the women on the show were old and funny and dressed the way my granny did when she went to work. Not much else seemed to stand out then, but reflecting on those memories while watching the show’s current 30th anniversary marathon brought a moment of clarity.
Now that I’m old enough to get the politically fused jokes and content, it’s clear The Golden Girls was way ahead of its time when it originally aired in 1985. All of the women were either divorced or widowed and except for the brash Sicilian Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty), still worked or volunteered. They lived together in the Miami home of Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan), who rented rooms to the other women. These were single women over the age of fifty supporting themselves and still playing the field. Blanche frequently boasted her sexual prowess over a cup of coffee or late night slice of cheesecake. Not many television shows today combat agism and sexism well, none that I know of do both.
On top of this, the four friends helped address issues of homophobia (Blanche’s daughter and brother come out as gay), AIDS (Rose fears she may have contracted HIV after a blood transfusion), and break down the stereotype of people in homeless shelters (after accidentally donating a jacket with a winning lottery ticket they spend the night in a shelter listening to the residences stories).
At times heart-wrenching, the show always ended on a positive and kept audiences laughing all while sending a good message. While my grandmother may have related to the women’s ability to carry on after the loss of loved ones, another her age may enjoy the references to the good old days. The beauty of the show is that it can and does appeal to people across all age groups for its well-crafted balance of humor, drama, and cheesecake.
The late Bea Arthur, who played the wry Dorothy Zbornak, once said, “I’m not playing a role. I’m being myself, whatever the hell that is.” Under all of the crazy schemes and layers of classy frocks this is the message that should be taken to heart. Stay true to who you are and hopefully you’ll meet people you can call pals and confidants too.