Can lessons of 1970s TV ease today’s woes?
The juxtaposition of headlines on the front page of the Sept. 14 Dispatch couldn’t have been more jarring.
“Deadly year in York County,” read one, followed by the subhead: “Total homicides have already topped most full years since 2013.”
Directly below that dispiriting account ran this story: “50 years later, messages from ‘The Waltons’ still resonate.” Perhaps, but evidently not widely or deeply enough in York County.
“The Waltons,” for those not approaching retirement age, was a 1970s television drama about an extended Depression-era family overcoming challenges and learning life lessons through love, hard work and faith in God. If it were something of an antidote to the more boisterous or pointed prime-time fare of the day, like “All in the Family” or “Three’s Company,” well, it was a popular one, regularly landing among the nation’s top 20 most most-watched programs.
“Over the show’s long run,” read the Associate Press story, “the Waltons and their neighbors learned valuable lessons about overcoming differences and treating everyone with love and respect.”
It’s hard not to agree with actress Ami Cotler, who played the youngest Walton daughter in the series, that those lessons “are perhaps even more relevant today.”
That would especially seem to be the case in York County, where the homicide count has already reached 23 this year — 16 of them in the city of York. The weapon of choice has, not surprisingly, been guns. Shootings have taken place in businesses, in homes and on the streets and include at least two murder-suicides.
With more than a quarter of the calendar remaining, the county is on pace to surpass its recent high of 27 homicides in 2017. It’s a distinction no one wants to see; unfortunately, there are no easy answers as to how to prevent it.
County Coroner Pam Gay said there isn’t any one overriding factor to account for this year’s spike in homicides.
“It’s usually a mix of things,” she said.
Some of those things are well-documented. The easy availability of firearms; the increasing popularity of so-called “ghost guns,” which can be ordered in easy-to-assemble kits and skirt even the flimsy existing gun laws regarding background checks; and the chronic refusal of federal lawmakers to pass meaningful gun-control legislation (this summer’s welcome but minor gun-safety reforms notwithstanding).
Frustrated local leaders are casting about for ways to counter the violence, such as in the York Central School District, where they are seriously considering taking the York City School Police up on the suggestion that a weapon-sniffing dog be brought in to patrol the halls.
Of course, Gay hit on another aspect of the problem when responding to the aftermath of a particularly violent weekend this spring that saw six shootings leave three dead and seven wounded.
“It just seems like people are trying to solve their disputes with guns right away or with their hands,” she said this past May. “I just think we’ve lost the art of being able to discuss things with each other in a calm nature.”
We sure have. Between the increasingly divisive nature of our politics, the preoccupation with personal profit over the common good and the tendency to promote ill will on social media, encouragements to respond to disputes verbally rather than physically are in ever shorter supply.
Yes, it would be naïve to suggest that a 50-year-old television program is going to hold any sway in today’s society. But the message of that program, the idea that we should strive to treat one another with decency and respect, certainly deserves — in the words of the television industry — a reboot.