Monday, May 08, 2006

Judging Reality

After my post last week on Texas Ranch House I found this article. It contains a transcript of a call-in show with the show's producer and participants Lisa Cooke and Nacho Quiles. Both Lisa and Nacho confirm what I suspected, that the TV show is not a totally accurate view of reality. Lisa complains that on their first night the cowboys brought them dinner then left them alone to settle in. The show presented it as the Cooke's decision not to eat with the hired help. Nacho complained that he prepared much more variety than was depicted with fresh meat once a week. He also complained that his kitchen was much cleaner than depicted and pointed out that he didn't have the fly problem. (Note - Mrs. Cooke said in the interview that the kitchen was even worse than shown.)

I think that the producers wanted to have a story-line. They wanted to show us how things led to Nacho being fired and to the cowboys quitting. Accordingly, they included lots of cuts of people complaining about Nacho's food and even more cuts showing friction between the Cookes and the cowboys. The Cookes and Maura the maid complained quite a bit about their treatment by the cowboys but we never saw a single instance of this. Since it made the final evaluation, it is hard to imagine that it was all in the Cooke's imagination. So the producers must have cut it to make the cowboys more sympathetic.

Probably Robbie the foreman caused some trouble himself. There was a cult of personality around him because he was the best and most experienced of the cowboys. This led him to make some statements about bringing in Maura. He was upset that Mr. Cooke hired her, feeling that this should have been his decision. When the cowboys left, they said that they felt like they worked for Robbie, not Mr. Cooke. In fact, they did work for the Cookes and Robbie was only their supervisor.

On the other hand, it is hard to let the Cookes off the hook. Mr. Cooke could never gain the same type of respect that Robbie had but an employer gains respect by how he treats his employees. We saw the Cookes being inconsistent and dictatorial.

At one point Cooke called the cowboys together and read them the riot act. According to the narration, this happened immediately after their most successful roundup to date and happened because his wife was mad about drinking and not bringing in the goats. If true then the timing for this talk was incredibly bad. Worse, he didn't try for any buy-in. He didn't lay out the problem - not enough cattle - and ask for a solution. Instead he told them that they were not working hard enough.

Had I been one of the cowboys I would have agree to whatever was said and change nothing about how I worked. While the Cookes insisted that they saw improvement after this, the cowboys insisted that they did not change their behaviour.

The final pay-off was handled very poorly. Some of this was because of the set-up of the show. Everyone knew that they were in their last couple of days. Had this been real, Cooke would have tried to keep on most or all of the cowboys. He might have offered some sort of signing bonus or increased pay for the ones he wanted to keep. Instead he offered them horses at inflated prices and belittled them when they made honest offers.

Then there is how he treated Jared. While I understand 21st century logic about not bargaining with kidnappers, it gave the cowboys the impression that he didn't care about their safety. He was taken in by the Indians - given three new horses plus the one Jared was riding when he thought he was buying four new horses. Since the Indians had sold him Jared's horse, Cooke announced that it was his and Jared was out both the horse and the money. This was the wrong thing to do for several reasons.

First, even in the 1860s, buying a horse that you knew had been stolen from someone else did not give you title to it. It made you a horse thief.

Second, if anyone besides Jared had been involved or if Jared had been riding a different horse then Cooke would not have tried to take recoup his losses at the cowboy's expense. he should have treated it as a cost of doing business. As the evaluators pointed out cattle were replaceable.

Third, If Cooke had intended all along that the horse was his then he should have informed Jared earlier. As it was, he got Jared's services for a cattle drive under false promises. As word of this spread he would have found it impossible to find new workers.

Finally, everyone was paid at the end of the cattle drive. In order for Mr. Cooke's logic to hold, he would have had to have paid Jared prior to the drive. The impression given was that Jared would take a horse rather than pay at the end of the drive. This means that the horse was still Cooke's property until payday. The fact that he incurred extra expenses in keeping the horse was his problem, not Jared's.

This made Cooke look bad. Mrs. Cooke telling him that he did good made her look worse. Cautions by Mrs. Cooke that the cowboys, especially Jared, were a threat to her daughters made her look even worse and these were scattered through the series. No wonder the cowboys didn't talk to the girls.

Surprisingly, there was little complaining about how hard life was. Maura was the only one to voice such feelings. At one point she even worried that she was losing her identity. One wonders what a woman like that expected? She went into the show thinking that she might be a cowboy and instead was a lowly maid. That has to have been exactly what the producers were looking for - they set her up by casting her in a role she would be uncomfortable in.

Which brings me back to my original question - what is the point of the show?

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