cinema review: Frontier House, PBS, 2002

Dear PBS
I'm not sure if I should thank you or complain to you for bringing to the viewing public the real life experience of The Lord of the Flies. Frontier House seems to embody everything William Goudling conveyed in fiction. Well, maybe not everything, but we saw plenty of flies and a pig was sacrificed though not idolized. We also didn't witness physical violence, but Jesus considered anger as bad as murder (Matt 5:21, 22). "Lyin', cheatin', hurtin'" were all writ large, it was like an extended video for the Led Zeppelin song, Your time is gonna come.

You gave us the wealthy Clune family, who demonstrate how to obey the letter of the law and ignore its spirit at the same time. Is this how the rich get richer? He is a CEO of a family aerospace manufacturing company, which sells many military products. They felt justified in going off the reservation for trade with modern families and acquisition of non-period luxuries such as a box spring. He also has his company manufacture for him a period still so he can make some home brew, which he teaches his teenaged daughter and niece to run. He also lets the adolescents smoke his pipe, since they worked hard. It seems he finds the appeal to 18th century morals convenient for some poor choices and the needs of 21st century life conveniences for other. Queerly he carries his extra large family Bible in at the beginning and out at the end acknowledging that he didn't open it much. While he was carrying it in his wife and children were bringing in their contraband. Nevertheless, this family seemed to hold together well over the 5 months. Perhaps the common opposition to the producers added a dimension to their bonding that the other family did not have.

The other family. I will complain that showing us a family breaking apart was wrong. The Glenn family needed its church. It needed clergy to step in and help them work through their control and jealousy and insecurity issues. Of course the most religious person was also the most bitter and dysfunctional on the show. One of my most favorite songs is "Jesus is for losers" by Steve Taylor, lyrics, video. Taylor sings,
If I was hoping/Hoping respect would make a sturdy footstool/I am a fool
Bone-weary every climb/ Blindsided every time
Just as I am/ I am needy and dry/ Jesus is for losers/ The self-made need not apply
Just as I am/In a desert crawl/Lord, I'm so thirsty/Take me to the waterfall
I don't consider them hypocrites, but works in progress and I'm glad to call tehm brotehr and sister. Karen and Mark embraced the rules but couldn't embrace each other. Mark was her second husband. After the show he was her second ex-husband. Were there no clergy visiting the pioneers in Montana in 1873. Yes divorce was commonplace then but so was disease and the show provided a doctor to assess Karen's tendinitis. She paid for that doctor but the wealthy Clune family didn't have to pay for their doctor visit to assess his dehydration, although that physician also saw the other families for free, but did Gordon Clune's agitation bring him in? Over and over again their attempts at the Golden Rule fell short or expired. They couldn't maintain life under that Rule. It's demise came at their show's festival at the end when they offered their pig for a community party, despite the pleas of their eight year old son Logan who had raised the pig for a few months. I'm not sure why one of the many lambs available were not offered by the third family, who had no children.

The third family had no bizarre quirks and hence didn't make good copy for the show in contrast to the Clunes and Glenns. Nate Brooks who built a cabin with his father in time for his wedding day grew up on a self-sufficient farm and had been an Outward Bound instructor. He took very easily to Frontier life. His wife, Kristen, had more culture shock but she was finally back in the arms of her lover after several months apart. Incidentally, their religion, if they had any, did not make an appearance.

I think, dear PBS Producers, you learned something from this experience as you included someone from the clergy in your subsequent show, Colonial House. The dysfunction of the participants was not as great an issue on that show, but was there. I found I enjoyed that show more than Frontier House. Shortly I will see Ranch House. I don't see any clergy in that lineup so my expectations are lower, but at least the population is greater. Perhaps you should subtitle these shows "Lord of the Flies 1, 2, and 3."

John Umland


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