Wild Kingdoms

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The old black and white TeeVee sat on top of the even older bullet refrigerator. The thing was an antique when I was young. A real monster of a machine, weighed a ton, I am sure, or at least the kid me thought so. I was told it was in the house since 1957. May as well have been a million years for my kid mind, I didn’t know 1957 except that it was eons ago.

In those olden days there was only thirteen channels and something called UHF (maybe it was VHF) which was all the channels that made all kinds of loud noises that differed with the type of snow on the screen. I think once we got in a channel on that station and were freaked out. It may have been a religious network.

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Switching channels was not a simple task. Not in those days. One had to manually turn the nob. This was made more difficult as the TeeVee was on top of the fridge and we little ones were… well… little. So we had to move one of the metal chairs we used in the kitchen in order to climb up and switch the channel.

I grew up watching that TeeVee. I didn’t see a colour TeeVee until I was ten. Not that they didn’t exist but we knew a lot of families who either didn’t own a TeeVee or watched them when we weren’t there since back then, when company came over you didn’t have the TeeVee on and back then, you had to schedule your watching according to certain times. It was a frightening time when you could actually miss your stories if you got caught out somewhere else.

Of the stories we watched, I remember we were forced to watch a lot of things on the public channel.  Educational things for adults  Learning things for kids.  And frightening things about space.

We also had our Saturday Morning Cartoons (kids ask your parents what those are). And Saturday night was also a sacred part of our viewing since it had quite a line up.

First there was Dr. Who. We always missed that and always said we would watch it next week, but being kids and not having any adult in our life who didn’t also live in a blur of existence, we always forgot but always remembered in order to catch the last few mysterious moments and then the frightening worm hole credit sequence (kids, ask your parents what a credit sequence is). Later there was In Search Of. For those who don’t know this programe, use The Googles and see if you can view it. Best 1970s trash TeeVee ever. It had Mr. Spock who played Leonard Nimoy, an older man in a turtle neck sweater and dark suit who said things like “ this series presents information based in part on theory and conjecture the producer’s purpose is to suggest some possible explanations but not necessary the only ones in the mystery we will examine.”

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It is from this show we kidos learned the Facts of Life: Oh shit, ghosts are real! Shit if you are a biracial couple you will be abducted by aliens (1961). Oh shit, Big Foot, Nessie! I am never going in the woods or a lake again. UFOs! They could be anywhere. Invisible teeth biting people! Teeth! You can’t see! I think the show was sponsored by Con Edison since we kept the lights on more than we needed to in order to make sure we weren’t abducted or otherwise brought into the Unknown. We kiddies didn’t know the word “schmaltz” nor did we understand the complex words of the disclaimer at the beginning of each and every show. We ate it up every week however.

M.A.S.H. ended our Saturday binge of morning and evening stories. We always liked the opening song, but after that… Booooooorrrrrrrriiiiinnnnngggg.

Now, wedged in this binge of cartoons and programes to frighten stupid people, was Mutual Of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

Of all the shows we watched this may have had the most impact. True, it did not lead us to turn on the lights at night, but it was a very solid show, very safe show, there as something reassuring about the structure, the nice grandfather zoo guy, the other guy who could have been our father, and that format from opening act to the closing thought which was always something depressing like…

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And yet, man’s encroachment is forcing the [cute little animals] to [basically up and die] but we can always learn more and restore this habitat so that despite [the post colonial civil war or ethnic cleansing or poaching since the Chinese thought the penis of the animal cured Beijing’s smog problem] this magnificent creature will be preserved for generations to come.

Yes, we had yet to learn about the Western Curriculum, or White Privilege, or Imperialism. To me, to us, it was a kind zoo keeper, just him, his strong handsome friend, and cute and amazing animals out in their wild kingdom. In ignorant bliss there is some modicum of safety and comfort. Children enjoy the predictable and we didn’t know we were being made children forever, by the Imperialism of grandfather and the manipulation of Mutual Of Omaha.

….is people….

… people you can count on and depend on and trust… or something like that.

While it took years to learn how far we had fallen from the wild kingdom of Eden. How in my lifetime we would not solve those environmental issues but see worse ones. How we would lose almost 40% of our wildlife and habitat since I was born. How I would be taught in college to hate those Great White Hunters/Zookeepers for their racism, sexism, anti communism, homophobia, hetro normativism, exoticism, middle classism…. Etc. &c….
Despite my education, I continue to have a very soft spot…. nostalgia actually. For Wild Kingdom.

So here I was. Finally in Omaha. I knew nothing about the place other than it was where Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom (MoOWK) came from. I didn’t know that the show had such an impression on me. Like the strange sexual proclivities that may arise from a chance encounter in childhood, seeing an erotic advertisement… catching a friend naked for a moment…. watching WGBH’s Nature program and seeing conception from the egg’s eye view… yikes…. I had a strong attachment to a city I’d never been I had ideas about what it was like based on no actual knowledge other than the memories of a teevee show so long ago.

So MoOWK had made a deep impression on me as an environmentalist, a lover of animals, and a respecter of Omaha. While I did not go into zoology or science, I did for a time try to be a learned person….
I did the academic thing before I failed out. But, I still respected those professorial people.
I expected Omaha to be full of those people too. I figured it was a city of Martin Perkinses and Jim Fowlerers all tall and fatherly and honest and rational and deeply committed and official and practical and honest. Things my parents could not offer me.

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And on the streets of Omaha I am sure all those things once existed. However, I have seen the Omaha after man’s encroachment has forced the [Dead White Male] to [basically die] but we can always learn more and restore this habitat so that despite [the Chinese making cheep shit and our ruling class selling out the middle class in toto] this magnificent [city] will be preserved for generations to come. Or can it.

I enjoyed my time in Omaha. Perhaps dealt with a few of my ghosts and issues more to do with my own personal memory than any deficit of the city. Which, as a city is fine. Quite nice, perhaps. The Warehouse district has food and drink and company. The other areas have their own charm, of sorts. However, it is another hollow Amerikan city, the type I find where at 7PM one could lay down on the main street and nap for perhaps an hour before having to move from oncoming traffic and the sidewalks even more vacant.

As I walked the streets I could only look to the the towers of the city. To think of the old power of MoOWK and the Men who once ruled the earth. Who worked at zoos, who traveled to Africa, who warned us, so long ago that we had just so many wild places in the world and it was up to us to preserve these… or live in a quieter and flatter earth. For all the faults of those Dead White Men… Martin and Jim had a message that should transcend our Post Modern and Post Post Modern disagreements.

We could all use a little more wonder about the world. As we had as children. And we should all have a little more urgency at Man’s encroachment. And our saving those magnificent creatures. Because while Mutual of Omaha is people who you can trust. They can’t always be there at all times to save the earth.

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