Saturday, May 06, 2006


Texas Ranch House - Dilbert On The Range

For anyone who is curious what would happen if you applied 21st century management techniques in a mythic American context, tune into Texas Ranch House, which is now showing on PBS. It plunks a bunch of folks - a rancher, his family, and an assortment of cowboys - right smack in the middle of the West Texas wilderness. There's Injuns our thar, 'n' heat 'n' rattlers 'n' broncos to bust. But do they bond with each other? Do they at least band together against the inclement conditions? Heck, no. Their social relations become the usual contemporary blend of discourtesy and hypersensitivity, as they alternately offend and take umbrage at each other right and left. Not exactly Shane, not exactly Bonanza or Big Valley either.

For me, the most appalling bit was the rancher's management style. His spoiled daughters loll about virtually in their undergarments, letting their house become so filthy that flies infest it, too lazy even to reap the vegetables in their garden while the ranchhands are starving. But The Man turns a blind eye to their valley girl lassitude, and berates the people doing the real work - his malnourished ranchhands - for not spending every moment in the saddle. His approach is, quite literally, all stick and no carrot. He cares about profit at the expense of community, which would have been deadly on a small and isolated ranch in Indian territory.

When one of his ranchhands is captured by the Indians, he is more concerned about getting his livestock back, and refuses to deal for the life of this human being who works for him. When payday comes, the rancher cheats the ranchhand out of the horse he bought fair and square before his kidnapping, but which the rancher claims he reappropriated through his deal with the Indians. The ranchhand refuses his pay and takes his horse anyway. All the other ranchhands, including the foreman, take his side and quit as well, leaving the ranch with no one to tend it through the fall and the winter. The rancher says he can hire all the ranchhands he needs, whenever he needs them - even though the experts know that ranchhands were scarce in the 1860's. It is most rare to see the blinkered imbecility of the profit motive shown up for the deluded selfishness that it is - much less in the John Wayne world of the simulated Old West. When you watch it, you will see your bosses for what they are, and you will wonder why they haven't yet been shot in the back...

New York Times review
PBS web site

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