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Jewish World Review May 3, 2002 / 22 Iyar, 5762

Diana West

Diana West
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Pioneering television | The press of calamity in this still-new century may turn thoughts of even the most progressive to a quieter time, an earlier era when the "pioneer spirit" was not just a metaphor but an indomitable reality transforming endless wilderness into a brilliant new nation. Long ago, no later than 1880, say, 1883, to be precise. In the summer of 2001, PBS recruited three families to help re-create that year for "The Frontier House," a reality-TV series airing this week.

No tawdry tropical flesh-fest here -- this is educational television. These couples are married. Meals include homemade scones and chokeberry jam. (Hold the maggots.) Cast costumes feature period corsets, eyelet lace and yards of blue gingham (no sarongs). With amenities that boast the purple mountains majesty and fruited plains of a lush Montana valley -- and with the added bonuses of no CNN, no Britney, and no "peace process" -- was 1883 just about heaven on earth?

Not exactly, according to California wife and mother of three Adrienne Clune, 40, who discussed the making of "The Frontier House" in Victoria magazine. "My expectations were so far from reality," she told the fetchingly decorative periodical. "I dreamed about having all this time to do quilting and enjoy the countryside."

Uh-oh. Sounds like a spot of trouble in paradise. "Chores immediately consumed the family's daylight hours," Victoria explains. "Just doing laundry took two days a week." The mundane fare of salted ham and potatoes wore on her children, who missed burgers and sodas and candy.

Frontier life, even stage-managed, make-believe frontier life, didn't agree much with family patriarch Gordon Clune, 41, either. On the PBS Web site for the show, Mr. Clune contrasted life on and off the range. "This year his birthday will be celebrated in a small log cabin in Frontier Valley, but last year, he says, he fondly remembers renting a villa in Tuscany, where his wife and friends drank fine wines, watched the Italian sunset, and ate incredible quantities of fantastic food." Gee. Sounds like the year 2000, not 1883, constitutes the good old days for these PBS pioneers.

Likewise, daughter Aine Clune, 15, couldn't wait to rejoin the 21st century. Why? As a Web site biographical sketch explains, "she's been living with her family in a small log cabin and has to do chores every day." Talk about cruel and unusual. The Web site elaborates: "Eating the same foods, wearing the same clothes and seeing the same people each day can be tiring," she says, and she's gotten so bored with her life that she is even looking forward to going back to school." It's that bad. All that got her through the ordeal was the thought of her new home being built (in Malibu), as well as "the idea of shopping at the mall for all the things she's missed."

Maybe the real clash of civilizations has been going on right here in the heartland. Fortunately, not all the Clunes were homesick. In his Web site bio, 9-year-old Conor waxes enthusiastic about his time-travel, fondly recalling the bow and arrow his older brother Justin whittled for him. Meanwhile, the lad can't "wait until he turns 15, when he can apply for his own deer-hunting license." The sketch continues: "He says that hunting is 'a part of nature,' and it makes him feel good, because he can use his skills to feed his family. His favorite part of living on the frontier has been the puppies, climbing all the mountains and trees, and seeing all the wild animals that live around the area."

Sigh. The pioneer spirit lives.

JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Diana West