Epic Beaver Cleaver

My critical thinking skills have been pushed to their limits, straining under the intellectual weight of all the columns and commentaries explaining the mythic undertones and cosmological complexity of the ongoing "Star Wars" phenomenon.

It's not unusual for movie fans to justify their enthusiasm for a film by invoking literary and philosophical metaphors. But anyone conducting an intense search for iconographic significance in popular entertainment should not focus entirely on a space saga that happened long ago and far, far away. Myriad examples can be found much closer to home.

I submit that television critics have committed an enormous gaffe by failing to discern the numerous totemic themes woven throughout six memorable seasons of "Leave It to Beaver." Long regarded as bland and superficial, the show cleverly encrypted epic story lines within its carefully crafted suburban setting.

June Cleaver, ostensibly a typical housewife and mother, was in fact a domestic embodiment of the goddess Athena. Remaining calm amid household tumult, she provided crucial guidance to her sons while shielding them from nefarious outside influences with a matronly force of will that symbolized the power of Aegis.

Her protection was frequently needed against the pernicious intrigues of Eddie Haskell. His impulsive, selfish behavior evoked obvious parallels to the disruptive, malevolent schemes of Loki, the Norse version of evil personified. For crafty Eddie, each day was one more step toward a modern Ragnarok, the twilight of the adults, which would herald his ascension to neighborhood ruler.

Looming above the weekly clash of characters was the monumental presence of Ward Cleaver, a Solomon-like figure of quiet dignity who dispensed parental justice tempered with understanding. But perceptive viewers knew his furrowed brow and clenched jaw were hints of serious inner turmoil, clearly reminiscent of the anger toward society and unfulfilled economic dreams that tormented Willie Loman in "Death of a Salesman."

Central to each episode was the interplay between big brother Wally and little Theodore. Their boyish attempts to navigate the social currents of school, girls, and adolescence were often tinged with frustration and loneliness.

These disquieting emotions were obvious references to the dark experience of cultural alienation that Nathaniel Hawthorne explored with vivid clarity in such haunting tales as "Young Goodman Brown" and "My Kinsman, Major Molineaux."

In addition, their brotherly conversations about loyalty, popularity, and family integrity provided striking similarities to the dialogues of Lord Krishna and Prince Arjuna concerning self-knowledge and spiritual wisdom as expressed in the Bhagavad-Gita.

All this pontificating about a simple sitcom is not meant to demean anyone. There is nothing wrong with setting sail into the world of dreams and imagination as presented by Hollywood studios. I just think all voyagers should be careful not to go overboard.

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