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Life lessons in black & white

My childhood was not, shall we say, typical.  Few cartoons or childish shows; no high-end expensive new toys or lavish play sets.  (I was the hand-me-down kid.)  But what I had – that few of my friends could ever dream of – was black and white TV.

Yes, there was a colour set in my parents’ bedroom.  And if I was good, and was willing to rub my dad’s sore back, I could watch The Incredible Hulk actually turn green, instead of grey.

But even on a real colour TV, I saw more black and white than other kids – especially on the weekends. TVO's Saturday Night at the Movies was a staple in the Gardiner home.  Consequently, I was confused come Monday morning when the kids at school had not seen The Man in the White Suit or known who Jimmy Stewart was.

But with my Dad, they were part of a well-rounded education.  Through Saturday Nights with dad and Elwy Yost, I learned about Hitler, war, segregation, and The Depression.  Afterward, dad would often try to discuss these topics with his wide-eyed seven-year-old daughter before she could escape to her Lego’s, so that she might understand their history and social context.

I also discovered his weakness for music – specifically, the musical.  Between big production numbers, I learned about passion, rhythm, self-expression and happy endings.  While they hardly required the same post-game debriefing, it was clear.  This was how I should live my life – with passion, with music, and with Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly.  The ostrich feather dress was purely optional.

The irony of the black and white movies was that their message was often just that:  black and white.  So while some may say these movies were a little too mature for me, the simplicity of their morality was often perfect for my young and impressionable mind.

Today’s movies and television allow for a lot of moral ambiguity.  We question “who really is the bad guy?” as we argue both for and against every act and character flaw.  No surprise many of today’s biggest hits have serial killers and drug dealers as the hero!  So I have to wonder if those ever-present shades of grey are allowing us to justify a lot of bad behaviour in our own lives.

Personally, I found a lot of comfort in the black and white.  The hero always saved the girl and the day.  And the small town boy always helped his neighbours – sometimes out of his own back pocket – especially if Mr. Potter was around.

Perhaps Dad was a little idealistic.  Perhaps he was a bit of a throwback.  Or perhaps he knew that life was going to get very complicated very fast and wanted to make sure I had a firm grasp of the basics before I grew up.

Don’t worry Dad.  I got it.  It was all there in black and white.

In memory of Alan G. Gardiner (1931-2011) who had the honour and soul of the black and white, but lived his life in bright, bold colour.