Leave It To Beaver has four central characters, all of them members of an
idealized nuclear family- in order of importance,
- Dad – the great white patriarch, Dad is the voice of benevolent authority. A
large percentage of the episodes center on Dad oversimplifying some concept
to Beaver and Wally, and chaos that ensues
when they embark on their implementation of this concept,
based on their flawed understanding.
Dad wants to do the right thing but bats about 500
when it comes to a victory in each episode.
- Beaver is the title character.
He is the innocent and the protagonist. Most of his lines are motivated by
an “isn’t that cute” Family Circus-type sentiment. Note both Beaver and Wally
address all adult men as “sir” and adult women as “ma’am.”
- Wally is Beaver’s older brother.
This is a show from the 1950s, so he says things like “golly!” and “gee Dad!” a lot.
Wally is a bit of a weasel and makes a lot of excuses to avoid work.
- Mom – almost an afterthought, Mom does pretty much all the work
around the house and is always in a good mood, speaking in her stylized baby voice.
She rarely “loses” and of all
the characters is the most idealized. Her whole existence centers around
being a housewife. This is not a progressive-friendly show! For any drinking
game revolving around this show, a shot when Mom says the word “supper”
is an essential rule.
- Eddie… ok I lied. Eddie is not a member of the family,
he’s a friend of Wally’s. Eddie is not a central character and gets very little
screen time, but nevertheless fulfills an important purpose:
Eddie is the source of chaos from outside the family and
sort of a sleazeball. When Wally gets bad ideas, or the plot is motivated
by a misunderstanding, these complications will generally
have something to do with Eddie. Ironically, in real life the actor
who portrayed Eddie went on to become a police officer. Occasionally Eddie’s complicating role is
fulfilled by Beaver’s friend Larry.
Dad decides they need to paint the garbage cans.
Wally agrees to do it for fifty cents a can, for a grand total of one dollar.
The deal is Dad will buy the paint on his way home from work.
The evening comes, and Wally is psyched to paint the cans.
However, Dad has had a long day at work, and has not bought the paint.
Basically Dad flaked. Wally is very disappointed.
The next day Dad brings the paint- but Wally has flaked and is off playing baseball.
Dad decides that Wally should paint the cans the next day.
However, on the way home from their game,
Eddie tells Wally that his dad had their cans painted, by a stranger ,
for $3 rather than just $1.
admit it- at dinner that night he finds an excuse to not paint the cans
right away. Wally escapes to his room to avoid being pressured to paint the cans,
and Beaver, wanting to help, volunteers to paint the cans for free. Dad tells
him that he can get the same dollar that Wally would have earned. The next day, Beaver makes sure Wally is going to be away playing baseball again, and proceeds
to paint the cans. However, Dad sees that Beaver is not doing as good a job as
he knows Wally would have done. Wally comes home and discovers Beaver
painting the cans and violence ensues. Beaver holds Wally off, who goes to
sulk in his room. Dad makes the compromise
that they can both paint the cans and earn fifty cents each. In the end of the episode, Dad flakes again and Mom ends up painting the cans herself.
She extorts a new purse out of Dad.
First of all… what the hell. I know I already said this, but who paints a garbage can?
And why is Wally so enthused about painting them? I guess we can blame that on greed.
Management (Dad) employs Labor (Wally),
embarking on a verbal agreement to pay for two cans of labor for a total of a dollar.
Management plans poorly on the contract and the requisite supplies are
not available for the completion of the job- however Labor is ready and waiting for work.
There is no agreement with Labor for time spent waiting,
so they are left uncompensated and
have to wait for the job to materialize.
In the meantime they go off and find other jobs.
During the idle period of the contract,
Labor has learned the value of their work
on the open market is higher than the wage
specified in the contract. They decide
to strike for higher wages.
Management locates a secondary source of labor for the job-
represented by Beaver.
The scabs are not as qualified,
but they will work at the initially-agreed upon price
of one dollar for two cans. Presumably this will allow management to
complete the contract on its initial budget and please the shareholders.
The striking Labor force sees the scabs and are justifiably upset.
They attempt to run off the scabs but are unsuccessful.
The initial Labor force negotiates the return of their jobs- however
management definitely gets the better end of the resulting deal,
by splitting the same amount of work
amongst twice as many workers (the workers
who were initially on the contract as well as
the scabs that were hired in their absence). Note the
contract is still at the same wage as before the strike.
The workers end up doing half as much work and taking home half as much money.
That’s not the end of the victory of Management over Labor.
On paper, management breaks even, because the same amount
of work is valued at the same amount of money-
however since twice as many workers are doing the same
amount of work, it will take less time, possibly even half as much time.
If this is the first of many production cycles of the product, management
has cut the delivery time of the product greatly, and they can save money elsewhere,
for example on interest payments on loans taken out to pay for
It is implied that the inferior work of the scabs
is somehow acceptable to management
if there are only half as many badly-painted cans.
Maybe management realized the consumers of the product
didn’t notice the change in quality- or maybe the loss in sales
wasn’t large enough to offset the higher margin resulting
from cheaper labor.
Whatever the reason, the labor market is glutted
and management shrewdly
uses the employers’ market to improve their margin.
To complete this metaphor, what Wally should have done is
convinced Beaver to walk out with him- if they both refused to paint the cans
and hold out for a higher price, they could have gotten the same amount of
money for half their agreed-upon amount of work… possibly three times
as much, in this instance. Wally would have said
“Beaver, if you refuse to paint the cans with me, I can get
Dad to pay us a dollar fifty each and you’ll only have to paint one can.”
It’s the strength of collective bargaining.
However, this need not be a Socialist example.
If Wally was a slightly more devious capitalist than Dad, he could have
just told his brother “Beaver, if you refuse to paint the cans with me, I can get
Dad to pay you a dollar fifty to paint the cans instead of just a dollar!” Then
when Dad is forced to negotiate, Wally could still negotiate for three dollars- taking
a dollar fifty for himself for merely negotiating the deal. Since Wally is doing very
little work, he has the flexibility to eat into his own profit for the sake
of the deal- for example taking only fifty cents for a total labor charge of
two dollars, still a lower price than the rival source of labor.
Where does Mom fit into this story?
She doesn’t really fit the Management/Labor metaphor very well- except possibly in the context
of a larger corporation. In this instance she would be a rival faction
of management with access to an internal labor pool-
seeing the other division (Dad) flub the contract
and endanger the welfare of the company, she swoops in at the last minute
and completes the contract with her own resources, causing embarrassment
to the rival manager and achieving a political coup.
Maybe I should write a bunch of these and publish them as a book,
“Everything I Know About Business I Learned from Leave It To Beaver”
Leave It To Beaver and collective bargaining