"THE ENDLESS END OF FRONTIER MYTHOLOGY: PBS's FRONTIER HOUSE 2002"

By Edwards, Leigh H. | Film & History, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

"THE ENDLESS END OF FRONTIER MYTHOLOGY: PBS's FRONTIER HOUSE 2002"


Edwards, Leigh H., Film & History


"THE ENDLESS END OF FRONTIER MYTHOLOGY: PBS's FRONTIER HOUSE 2002"

Depicting three families of modern-day "time travelers" who immerse themselves in the rough and tumble culture of 1883 Montana, PBS's Frontier House (2002) series provides a critical, self-reflexive intenogation of romanticized visions of the U.S . nineteenth-century life on the frontier. Not simply a melodramatic retelling of history as escapist fantasy, the series reflects on trends within public history to attempt to represent history with multiple viewpoints.1 As it portrays how modem participants experience discomfort with the gender, race, and familial norms of the Montana territory as they try to reenact, the series explicitly debunks the romance of "Wild West" Hollywood films or TV shows like Little House on the Prairie. Producer Simon Shaw notes these romantic media visions prompted him to launch the series and motivated some participants, and that the harsh living conditions forced everyone to abandon these fantasies.2

Yet at the same time, even while it tries to offer less idealized versions of history based on the cast's lived experiences of material conditions, the show nonetheless ends up reinforcing frontier mythology, specifically an on-going investment in the idea that the American West establishes American exceptionalism by fostering freedom, individualism, and opportunity (just as Frederick Jackson Turner theorized it in the 1890s).3 The series' narrative continually returns to a vision of liberal pluralism, one that privileges an AngloAmerican cultural legacy even as it critiques the excesses of Manifest Destiny or the history of racism. The show thus offers an updated version of frontier mythology in the context of television's current dominant ideological mode of address, liberal pluralism, and in the context of recent popular culture versions of what critics have dubbed "corporate multiculturalism."

The status of the American family is one of the main thematic cruxes where this process of demythologizing and simultaneously making new, updated mythologies is evident. Utilizing the techniques of literary analysis, specifically attention to text and context, or historicized textual analysis, this article examines these issues in the program's narrative, themes, and character development. The series' form and content both contribute to these ideological themes.

MYTHS DEBUNKED

The show's production history and context illuminate the series' recurring narrative focus on debunking myths. The opening tag line of each episode promises to show viewers the "real frontier" behind the "romanticized mythologies." The concept for this most American version of an historical reality series followed upon the success of the British House series on the BBC, a suite of programs including The 1900 House (1999); The 1940s House (2001); The Edwardian Country House (2002), called Manor House when it aired stateside on PBS; and Regency House Party (2004). While those series were joint productions by Channel 4 and Wall to Wall Television, Wall to Wall came to the U.S . and partnered with the PBS station, Thirteen/WNET in New York to produce Frontier House and later Colonial House (2004). Other production companies have used this format, including a CBC series called Pioneer Quest: A Year in the Real West (2000) in Canada and a German series called Black Forest House, both about the nineteenth century.

Going into production in 2001 and airing in 2002, the series followed three families for six months as they tried to survive and provide for themselves on their assigned homesteads in the Montana wilderness, securing food and shelter, caring for farm animals and growing crops, and making ready for the winter. The historical focus involves the Homestead Act of 1862, a bill Abraham Lincoln signed into law stating that public land belonged to the people and could be given free to citizens; homesteaders could claim up to 160 acres by filing a claim, living there at least half the year for five years, improving the land ("prove up"), and then getting the deed at the end of that period. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

"THE ENDLESS END OF FRONTIER MYTHOLOGY: PBS's FRONTIER HOUSE 2002"
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.