Remember when the average American actually gathered ’round the dinner
table at dinner time and talked with each other? You don’t? Me neither.
I myself have spent the last 20 years or so balancing my dinner plate
on the arm of the couch while trying to watch American Justice. But
hey, that’s just me. But in case you’re just dying know what a dinner
table actually looks like lets go back to another dippy short film from
the 1950’s and learn all about this quaint little ritual and the proper
etiquette that goes with it.
This film (featuring no dialogue by the uncredited actors and
lifelessly narrated by none other than Hugh "Ward Cleaver" Beaumont)
features a pair of teenagers, brother and sister, arriving from home
school, excited about the fabulous feast that awaits them. Sister helps
with the meal while Brother finishes homework. Um, doesn’t Sister have
any homework? Well, why should she worry about silly stuff like getting
an education when she’ll get married right out of high school and be
housewife? Right? RIGHT? Anyways, there’s a great line from the
narrator stating how "the women" feel they owe it to "the men" to look
refreshed and attractive at dinnertime. And what do "the men" owe "the
women". Um, I guess their manly presence is good enough for the gals
because "the men" don’t do jack as far as preparing the meal is
Uh-oh. Dad will be home soon. Mom and Sister continue to slave away in
the kitchen. Dad arrives home. Oh joy! The patriarch has arrived! All
is right with the world again! Brother and Junior (the suspiciously
younger sibling. Something tells me that Mom forgot to get her
birth-control refilled) go to greet their square-jawed father. And now
from the narrator comes the greatest proclamation of them all: "These
boys greet their Dad as though they were genuinely glad to see him, as
though they really missed him." Is it just me or does that make it
sound like the boys are lying about being happy to see Dad, as if they
are trying to get out of some kind of punishment by sucking up to their
old man. Remember folks, when Dad comes home make sure you’re happiness
to see him is genuine or else you get no dessert.
Time to chow down. Plates piled with pork chops and mashed potatoes are
passed around. The family says grace before the meal just like any good
Christian nuclear white-bread middle class American family would. Now
things start to get a little hinky. First and foremost, nobody and I
mean NOBODY starts eating until Mom starts. With the all bluster behind
this comment I half expected to see one of the kids pull back a bloody
stump. What if Dad starts eating before Mom? Does she spear his jugular
with a salad fork?
Anyways, now it’s time for the all important rules. Rule #1: Don’t yak
on and on endlessly. All right, nothing too severe here. Talking over
everyone else is a tad bit rude. But then we get a shot of Sister
babbling on a mile a minute while everyone rolls their eyes. Dad shakes
his head while visions of shipping his daughter off to a convent dance
around his brain. I suppose telling her to just shut up would be too
much of a hassle.
Rule #2: Don’t discuss gruesome sights or sounds. Here Brother and
Junior are describing a fight while Mom looks mortified. Judging by her
reaction you’d think her boys just confessed to the Lindbergh
kidnapping. While I agree that this kind of subject could wait until
after dinner, the boys wildly animated drama at the dinner table just
adds to the flakiness of the whole scene.
Rules #3 and #4–they kind of blend together. Don’t make unkind
comparisons to your standard of living and don’t make crass remarks
about your sibling’s friends. Just to be safe don’t say a damn thing
and just eat your potatoes in a cold stony silence.
Ah, everything is on an even keel again. Isn’t that better? Time for
cake! Of course, Sister serves dessert. She’s a woman. Isn’t that her
job? Anyways, the family gobbles down cake while Dad boozes it up. The
Just remember these few rules and dinner will be an event every night:
Pretend you’re happy. Have the women cook and serve everything whether
they can make toast without burning it or not. Don’t talk about your
feelings, wants, needs, ideas, observations, or ideas. And for crying
out loud, make sure you are presentable to your men. Oh, and Mom eats
first or else she will disown you. Any more questions?