Friday, August 7, 2009

The Election 5/5

Election day! Mary is giving a speech about how honored she is by the nomination. She references the conversation she had with Pa regarding campaign promises and refuses to make any. “If you do vote for me, I’ll appreciate it,” she says meekly. Mary Ingalls sucks at stump speeches. Hmm, the class disagrees with me on that one since they give her a healthy round of applause. Nellie is up next. See Mary, Nellie actually stepped onto the dais that Miss Beadle’s desk is on to make her speech. Oh, but she blows her goodwill by referring to her classmates as “fellow Americans.” Miss Beadle actually has to look down to stifle a chuckle. As Nellie confidently blah blah blahs, Laura whispers to her sister that Nellie is really giving a list of reasons to punch her in the nose. Hehe.

Meanwhile Elmer, still muddy from the bay of pigs invasion, is walking up to the school. He stops when he reaches the steps and considers whether or not to enter. He decides to walk in just as Nellie is finishing her speech. “And finally,” she says “you should vote for me because my mother will give a party if I win.” I’ve always been dubious about student government and this is pretty much why. When Nellie steps down, the only person to applaud at first is the girl who seconded Nellie’s nomination. A few other people catch on and politely clap, but it is not as rousing as Mary’s support.

Elmer finally enters the classroom and Miss Beadle is shocked by his appearance. The kids laugh at him. Shut up, children. The teacher asks what happened, but instead of telling the truth Elmer opts for the “Luka” defense and says he slipped and fell. Miss Beadle asks if the other boys were responsible but Elmer is all mum. She tells Elmer to go home and get cleaned up before making his speech, offering to postpone the vote until the afternoon. Elmer thanks her then says he isn’t going to run for president after all. He goes on to say that he is now in on the joke and he’d rather not waste the time. The kids laugh and Miss Beadle tells them to stop. Elmer says it’s fine since he knows that they don’t think much of him anyway. “I don’t even know what a class president is supposed to do,” he says. I bet if you ask your fellow candidates they wouldn’t know either, Elmer.

Elmer goes on to say that he does know what’s right and wrong and that he doesn’t think the older kids should be picking on others. It looks like Joel is taking the words to heart but Kenny still has a stupid look on his stupid face. “And it ain’t right to give someone something to make ‘em vote for you,” he says directly to Nellie. She promptly makes her bitch face (no, the other one). He adds “no pushing people into mud” to the list and that finally makes Kenny reflective. “My mother made me this shirt because she loves me,” Elmer says. “You probably all think that’s dumb. But that’s what’s wrong around here: people don’t pay no mind to other people’s carings.” Ooo, establish that narrative. My government professor from undergrad would be pleased. Laura is starting to get choked up and Mary is already glassy-eyed. Oh, there’s the tear.

Miss Beadle, who is also choked up, thanks Elmer. Mary raises her hand but Miss Beadle says the time for speeches has passed. Mary says she doesn’t want to make a speech: she wants to withdraw. Mary then throws her support behind Elmer. “I know you’re not supposed to run,” Mary says, “but you have to cause you’re the only one that really knows what a president should do.” First off, “not supposed to run”? Based on what criteria? Second, unless a president is supposed to shame people for their bad behavior, I fail to see what Elmer has done to demonstrate a total grasp of the job specifications of the nebulous “class president” position. Anyway, Elmer thinks about it for a moment and decides to stay in the race. Time to vote.

Laura gets her Jeff Probst groove on and tallies the results. The last two votes are for Elmer, making the final tally twelve for Nellie and twelve for Elmer. Ooo, now we get to see a fire-making challenge. Miss Beadle declares a tie, but Mary says there should be twenty-five votes. Nellie points out that Willie went to the outhouse. He couldn’t have voted before leaving the room? Or they couldn’t wait until he came back? Willie comes back in and everyone stares at him. Miss Beadle asks for his vote. Nothing like a secret ballot. Laura tallies the last vote: and it’s for Elmer. Nellie asks how her brother could betray her like that and he says “you’re always picking on me and Elmer won’t let you.” Nellie screams and runs out of the classroom. I just don’t get Minnesota politics. The class cheers for Elmer.

After school, the Ingalls girls rush out of the building and make a bee line for the mill. They cannot wait to tell Pa the news about Elmer’s victory. Mr. Dobkins is at the mill and overhears the story. Laura is beaming that Elmer beat Nellie despite the candy-based disadvantage. Elmer is now walking towards the mill and sees his Pa. Mr. Dobkins excuses himself to meet up with his son. They stare at each other for a moment before Pa Dobkins takes off his hat and says “Congratulations, Mr. President.” They both smile and hug. Aww. Congrats Elmer! This is your first step on your way to becoming Super Nintendo Dobkins!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Election 4/5

That evening, Mrs. Dobkins is getting ready to iron some clothes as her husband enters the house. He compliments the shirt his wife is holding and she says it’s the shirt she tailored for Elmer. Pa asks where his son is and is not surprised that the kid is in the barn taking care of the animals. The stray animal count is up to six – I’m not sure if that includes baby squirrels or not. Pa heads back outside.

Elmer is practicing his speech for a chicken and a rabbit and his stuttered opening has already lost his audience. He starts again but he seems to be battling a case of writer’s block. I give him credit for having the sense to practice ahead of time. Meanwhile, Pa walks into the barn and asks to have a talk with his son. Before Elmer agrees, Pa goes ahead and asks what the boys were doing to Elmer in the schoolyard earlier. Elmer turns around and doormats that the boys were “just making jokes.” Pa isn’t buying it for a second and tells Elmer that those boys are not his friends. Aw, Elmer actually looks wounded when he hears this. Poor kid. He doormats some more and his Pa is getting tired of it. He asks who, if anyone, fed Elmer worms, assuring his son that he won’t get into trouble unless he lies. Elmer contemplates the rabbit hutch for a moment before admitting that Joel was the feeder. This confirms Pa’s theory which lays the groundwork for the truth of the whole election situation: that Elmer was nominated for exploitation purposes only. Ugh, Pa goes back to the chicken flock metaphor again. We get the point show, move along please.

Before he leaves the barn, Pa declares that he will talk to Kenny and Joel’s parents in the morning. Elmer begs him not to saying that it will just make things worse. I never get tired of that plot construct because there is so much truth behind it. TV shows fifty years from now will probably still be able to use that type of conflict and it will likely be just as effective. Pa doesn’t watch TV or has little imagination because he doesn’t understand how things could get worse for his son. Elmer doesn’t offer any specific examples but knows that Koel will find a way to make life that much more hellish. Pa finally agrees, but instructs his son that he is to withdraw from the election. Elmer accepts this and turns around to share a sad with the rabbit. Pa walks up to his son and gives him a hug.

The next morning we see Ma Dobkins fixing the collar on Elmer’s new shirt. She is really happy with how her son looks, but the males in the room seem a bit resigned. Elmer didn’t even know he was going to get a new shirt. Ma says it was so he would look extra nice on election day. Oh, I guess Pa didn’t tell her what happened in the barn. Pa still doesn’t reveal that little tidbit, reminding Elmer to remember what they discussed without specifically saying what was said. Elmer takes his things and heads off to school. Once the door closes, Ma asks her husband what that little reminder was referring to. Pa keeps it vague, but Ma looks as if she is figuring things out.

We rejoin Elmer on his way to school. He is walking along until he hears Kenny and Joel complaining about an upcoming test. That kid has great hearing since the sound is clear as bell despite the fact that the other boys are a couple hundred yards away. Kenny, the proverbial red-headed step-child, grabs a rock and throws it at a tree. Instantly he says that if a bird was on the branch it would have been killed. Uh oh, bird metaphor. Run Elmer! No! Don’t sit down under a tree! The boys spot Elmer and walk over to torment him. The boys pretend to be nice by complimenting the new fancy duds, but Elmer says that he isn’t running in the election. The boys tell Elmer that if he doesn’t run, then they don’t have a candidate. Well, that’s what happens when your platform is “Anyone but the XX chromosomes”. Kenny is all “you don’t want a girl for president, do ya?” Honey, when has any class president done anything of any import in the entire history of education? Joel tells Elmer that it is okay if Elmer doesn’t want to run and that they will still be his friends. Elmer is confused by this turnabout. They get up to walk to school together.

Joel asks if Elmer has seen the new piglets at the Stinson place. Kenny adds that one of them has a bad leg. They decide to go check on them on the way to school. Hmm, my spidey sense is tingling, and it isn’t weaving TEERRRRIIFFIICCCC. Elmer looks at the drove of piglets but doesn’t notice anything wrong at first. He straddles the fence to get a better look but still sees nothing. Joel suggests that Elmer get even closer. Once Elmer swings his other leg around the fence, the boys push him into the mud. They laugh and run off. Hey, campaign managers? Mudslinging – ur doin it wrong.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Election 3/5

What’s this? Nels is handling this week’s egg transaction? Oh, it’s Mary who brought the eggs instead of Caroline so Harriet’s cattiness is unnecessary. Anyway, Nels counts the eggs and starts some chit chat about Nellie’s upcoming party. He lists every fabulous aspect of the event but Mary just looks at her shoes. Nels supposes that every girl in the school is invited until Laura, who is browsing in the hip wader section, clarifies that the Ingalls girls did not receive an invite. Mary tries to be diplomatic by suggesting that maybe Nellie forgot, but Nels isn’t buying it and invites the girls. I don’t think they elect Secretaries of State in class elections, Mary. Laura is all “thanks, but no thanks,” and fibs that she and Mary have chores to do at the time of the party. Again, Nels isn’t buying it but he doesn’t press the point. The girls leave as Nels shakes his head in disappointment.

As the girls walk through town they pass by Elmer who is sitting on a bench near a tree. He greets them and they join their fellow candidate. Elmer observes that a number of girls are hanging out with Nellie in the Oleson’s yard. “Boss Nellie Tweed is at it again,” Laura says. Elmer doesn’t get the reference so Mary explains that Laura’s joke was a callback to Boss Tweed, a New York politician. Elmer is all like “oh,” which is fine: even if you get the reference Laura’s joke wasn’t funny. Laura goes on to accuse Nellie of stealing votes. Mary excuses the tactic by saying that Nellie is just having a party. That’s fair, considering the Ingalls girls are planning on doing the exact same thing. Elmer asks why Laura and Mary aren’t at the party. Laura begins to sulk as she explains why. Elmer says he hopes Mary wins but she replies that Elmer has a good chance to win also. The boy disagrees since he already suspects that this might be another Koel prank in the making. Laura reminds Elmer that he can vote for himself, but he believes that one vote doesn’t mean much. Tell that to Paul Metzler. The conversation reaches another awkward lull, so Laura uses the opportunity to say that she and Mary need to go home.

Back at the Dobkins’ house, Ma is mending a shirt while Pa is looking through some papers. Ma mentions that a squirrel that Elmer is caring for is about to give birth while Pa is complaining about the price of seed. The conversation starts to focus on how Elmer is better with animals than with people, which Ma thinks is a good thing but Pa is not so sure. Somehow this circles back to their concerns about the election. Ma is still supportive of the idea and is going to fix up a shirt for her son for election day. Pa suggests using one of his old shirts and trimming it down for Elmer’s size. Oh good, it sounds like Pa is coming around to the idea. Yay!

Breakfast time at the Homestead. Pa asks Laura who is coming to the election party. Laura says everyone except Nellie and Willie is invited. Pa, surprisingly, is in favor of the turnabout/fair play ratio. He goes on to say that he suspects that these election tactics are setting the stage for an Elmer win. Pa explains the math and Mary is less than ecstatic about this revelation. Laura asks what they can do to rectify this situation but Pa is all like “uh, you’re stuck, monkey butt.” I’m paraphrasing.

Later on, Laura and Mary are leaving the storage house with ears of corn as they see Elmer approaching the house. They run down to meet him. There’s some awkward chit chat before Elmer asks if the girls are expecting a lot of guests. He goes on to explain that there was a group of girls ahead of him on the road but they got intercepted by Nellie and Willie who had free candy available. Laura accuses Nellie of buying votes again. Uh, Half-pint, what exactly was your plan with all those ears of corn again? Elmer assures the girls that not everyone is going to vote for Nellie but Laura doesn’t seem convinced. They are still going to have their party regardless of the turn out.

We join Mary and Laura in the barn with Pa. He is polishing a saddle as Mary works on her campaign speech. They toss around some campaign promise ideas. Laura asks if it is even possible to keep all the promises one makes and Pa tells her it isn’t very likely. Mary asks if that is kind of like lying but Pa corrects her by saying it is lying. Hmmm, yes and no. Most campaign promises are actually framed as goals (except for the ones stupidly beginning with the phrase “I promise to…”). If you set a goal and fail to meet it, that is not a lie. Either way, Mary is quickly becoming a fifth party candidate in a three way race. Laura asks if candidates call each other names because she has a few good ones for Nellie. Pa gives Laura a warning not to head down that path. Pa sends the girls to bed. On the way out, Mary says she is going to list the things she thinks would make the school better and make a speech. Yeah, long lists always make great speeches.

The next day at recess the girls are jumping rope while Kenny and Joel kick around some kids on the teeter-totter. Joel then spots Elmer off by himself by the schoolhouse steps. The boys get stupid smiles on their stupid faces and head over to torment the boy. Joel asks Elmer how he is going to win the election. Joel tells Elmer to get on the see-saw stump (say that three times fast) and make a speech. Elmer isn’t interested, but his self-appointed campaign managers grab him and force him onto the stage. As the candidate is dragged to the center of the crowd, Pa Dobkins happens to be driving by and watches what is happening to his son. Joel and Kenny keep jostling the boy as they make a bunch of promises of the “eat one worm for every vote” variety. But what about tort reform? Social security? What is his stance on human/animal hybrids? These are the questions that need answers! Before those questions can even be asked, Miss Beadle exits the school and tells the boys to stop. She asks what they are doing and Joel says they’re campaigning. Miss Beadle tells them to stop and ends recess. Way to go, jerks. As the kids file inside, Pa Dobkins hangs his head and drives away.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Election 2/5

As the kids are leaving school, Nellie is admonishing the girl who seconded her nomination for not doing it fast enough. The girl is all like “whatever, just keep the candy coming.” Following them are Mary and Jim, the former thanking the latter. “It’s nice, you being a boy and all,” Mary says. I have to wonder if Laura would have nominated Mary, unless nominating goes against Leviticus or something. Regardless, Jim says he just wanted to be fair and I’m not really sure what that is supposed to mean in this situation. Mary thanks him again despite this little logic lapse and heads home. Jim sticks around to reconvene with the prankster set. Oh, it turns out that their plan is to not only split the girl vote by having two female nominees but use Elmer to prove that he can beat the smartest kids in the class. Does it count as schadenfreude if you plan for it? That doesn’t seem right.

That evening at the homestead, Laura and Mary are busy working at the table. Laura puts down her crayon and shows Mary the campaign poster she designed: “Vote for Mary (underlined in red) The best cantitate [sic].” Mary says “no”, obviously, but Laura says the kids won’t care. It’s sad that almost 140 years later that would still probably hold true.

As Mary evaluates the poster some more, Pa enters the house. “Pa, you’ll never guess,” Laura says. Pa takes a couple stabs at Laura’s news: “You got 100 on an arithmetic test. You got a zero on an arithmetic test. Your sister Mary got nominated for class president.” Laura accuses her father of peeking, but he says he heard about it from Nels. Pa congratulates Mary and calls her Madame President. Mary says he should be congratulating Nellie, but Laura calls herself Campaign Manager and says that her sister is going to win. Carrie (you remember her – the one who falls down the hill all the time?) says that she’ll vote for Mary. Pa believes that more than the Ingalls girls will vote for Mary, but the candidate doesn’t think so since Nellie is going to have a campaign party. “Nellie invited all the girls to her house except us for ice cream and cake tomorrow,” Laura says. I guess Mary is running as a candidate for the Pity Party. Pa goes against the party’s mission statement by suggesting the girls host their own event the following weekend.

Meanwhile, Elmer is at his place tending to the chickens in the coop. As he takes particular care of one chicken, Elmer’s father enters the barn. He greets his son who reports that the chicken’s neck is looking a lot better. Oh, I get it. The wounded birds are a metaphor. That’s one of the tricks of the trade I’ve learned in the last couple of weeks: anything that seems heavy handed or cannot be easily explained can just be described as “artistic vision” or a “metaphor”. Try it in your day to day life: it is amazingly liberating. Anyway, Elmer asks if the other chickens will attack this bird again if he reintroduces it to the flock. Pa says that they might and it’s just in their nature. I’m just waiting for a spider to weave “Some Pig” over Elmer’s head. Pa tells Elmer it is time to wash up for supper. Elmer says he just needs to feed his rabbit and then he’ll be done. Please let the rabbit be named George, please. Lenny would be even more awesome.

Elmer changes the subject before we learn more about the rabbit. He tells his Pa about the nomination. Rather than congratulating his son, Pa asks who nominated Elmer. “Joel and Kenny,” Elmer replies. They also appointed themselves as Elmer’s campaign managers. Pa doesn’t like where this is going and checks to make sure that Elmer is talking about the kids that pick on him and not some other Joel/Kenny combo (Koel? Jenny?). Elmer is being all Pollyanna about the whole situation which doesn’t seem to sit well with Pa. He doesn’t say anything at the moment and decides to remind Elmer that supper is almost ready.

Pa goes back into the house where Mrs. Elmer’s Mom is setting the table. The parents chit chat about what Elmer is up to in the barn. Ma likes that he takes such good care of the animals, but Pa is concerned that if they aren’t careful there will be sick stray animals all up in their business. At least the kid has aptitude in some area. Pa walks over to Ma and tells her that the “dag burn Turner boys” were the ones who nominated Elmer. Ma reminds her husband to remind Elmer that he should not count on winning. Wait, why are these parents being realistic? Don’t they watch this show? I don’t have a Good Mommy/Good Daddy tag.

Ma walks over to the kitchen to do final dinner preparations as Pa draws out the wounded bird metaphor. This is also where they confirm that Elmer is a little slower than the rest of the kids, just in case that wasn’t already clear. They also reflect on whether it was a good idea to keep Elmer out of school for a couple of years after a bad experience in Springfield. Pa wonders if maybe they should have kept him out of school in Walnut Grove. “He wants to go, Sam,” Ma says. Sam contemplates this as he stares at a fire in the hearth. Ma gives her husband a hug. Aww, don’t be sad Dobkins family.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Election 1/5

A wide shot of a hillside opens this episode as we watch a boy traipsing along the crest. He slows down as he approaches a tree and begins to crouch towards the ground. He’s found a baby bird struggling in the grass. Fortunately the bird has developed a little bit so it isn’t those ugly slimy creatures that you sometimes see splattered on pavement. The boy looks up and sees the nest that the bird must have called home a few minutes earlier. The boy climbs the tree and places the bird in the nest and tells a nearby bird that he didn’t hurt the chick before he continues on his trek. We don’t see if the mama bird nudges the chick out of the nest again.

The kids are playing outside before school begins and there are a couple of older boys, one with dark hair and one with red hair, running around interfering with everyone’s activities. The boys end up wrestling over by the school house until they notice the Birdman of Walnut Grove approaching. “Did you bring ‘em?” the dark haired boy asks the redhead. The kid says yes but he isn’t in the mood to get into trouble. “Aw, you fret too much,” dark hair says. When was the last time you heard anyone under the age of 18 use the term “fret”? Anyway, the redhead produces an earthworm for dark hair. The boys walk up to the arriving kid and greet him by the name of Elmer. Dark hair says to Elmer, “open your mouth and close your eyes and I’ll give you something to make you wise.” Ooh, a remix (I’m used to the “big surprise” version). Elmer obliges and promptly gets a mouthful of worm. The boys laugh as Mary and Laura look on, scandalized. Elmer tries to rationalize that worms aren’t so horrible to accidentally ingest, but no one is really buying it. The redhead then dives behind Elmer so that dark hair can push the kid over him. Hmmm, Elmer needs to work on his reflexes.

As the twerps run away, Laura jogs over to help Elmer. “If I were you I’d give them both black eyes,” Laura advises. Elmer says that fighting isn’t very Christian like (um, YMMV) to which Laura responds “Oh, I’d do unto ‘em” while brandishing her fist. I do enjoy feisty Laura. Elmer seems a bit blasé about feistiness, claiming that the boys are his friends. Almost immediately the redhead calls over saying “Elmer is the dumbest kid in Walnut Grove.” See, friendly. Yeesh.

Inside the school Miss Beadle announces that during civics class that afternoon there will be nominations for class president. There is some excited chatter after this announcement until the redhead, Kenny, raises his hand and declares that the girls don’t get to vote since women don’t get to vote. Yeah, I can just imagine a progressive like Emma Beadle not allowing females to vote. Shut up, Kenny. Fortunately, since women in 1876 could vote in Wyoming, that will be the precedent Miss Beadle will use to justify the female vote. Some of the boys actually start booing while Nellie screams “And we’ll win!” Sing it Sister Suffragette! Oh, she goes on to say that it is simply a numbers game since there are more girls than boys in the class. Still, you gotta find progress where you can.

During recess we see Nellie and Willie run over to the Mercantile. Inside we see a close-up of the jelly bean canister getting emptied and pull out to find that it is Harriet and not Nellie doing the emptying. She asks her daughter if that will be enough but Nellie mentions that a couple of the girls are partial to sour balls. Willie tries to cash in on the candy giveaway, but Harriet says no way since he is going to vote for his sister anyway. Willie is all “nuh-uh”, so Harriet gives in and fulfills his candy requests.

At this point Nels comes down the stairs and tells the kids to stop raiding the candy. Harriet says it’s alright before sending the kids back to school. “You know what the dentist in Mankato said and I paid dearly for the words,” Nels reminds his wife. Harriet explains that the candy is merely a contribution to her daughter’s political campaign. Harriet leaves to check on the roast in the oven and Nels starts to mumble something about the kids borrowing Harriet’s teeth. Harriet asks if he said something and he bluffs his way out by saying something about the roast being a good piece of beef. Hehe.

Back at school it is nomination time. “We’re going to hold our election just like the national election, the one that gave us Rutherford B. Hayes for our new president,” Miss Beadle explains. Oh jeez. I truly doubt that she is going to establish an Electoral College in the classroom so already it won’t be like the national election. Also, the election of 1876 was a political wrangling nightmare. First off, Samuel Tilden, the Democratic candidate, won the popular vote. However, results were disputed in four states – three of which were in the South (including Florida) where Reconstruction was the status quo. The validation of electoral results had to be determined by congressional committee. This resulted in the Compromise of 1877 which included bringing what some historians believe was the premature end to Reconstruction. Have I mentioned yet that this era of American history (the Gilded Age) is my favorite? Also, if you ever find yourself on I-80/I-90 between Cleveland and Toledo, I highly recommend the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center (exit 91).

So yeah, nominations. Miss Beadle opens the floor and Willie instantly nominates his sister. It takes a while for anyone to second the nomination and Nellie has to “psst” one of the girls sucking on a sour ball to do so. Miss Beadle writes Nellie’s name on the board. Nellie then proposes to close nominations. The class erupts into angry chatter before Miss Beadle calmly reminds her that more than one candidate is needed for an election. Kenny turns around and slaps the blond boy sitting behind him to remind him to nominate someone. This kid, Jim, nominates Mary. Mary is quietly surprised while Laura is ecstatic about this development. Another boy seconds the nomination. After Mary’s name is on the board, Kenny nominates Elmer Dobkins. All the kids laugh as dark hair seconds the nomination. “We need one boy to run against the girls,” one of the pranksters says. Hmmm, I wonder if Elmer’s slogan will be “Choo-choo-choose me!”