Yesterday I read a news story that reminded me of the most chillingly realistic portrayal of sibling relationships I’ve ever seen on network television.
The story was about a man named John Spinello, who cannot afford needed oral surgery. There’s nothing remarkable about that — except that 50 years ago Spinello invented the game “Operation.” The news story was that the inventor of “Operation” can’t afford an operation.
You no doubt will recall “Operation,” one of the greatest game inventions ever. Players drew cards and, using tweezers, had to remove humorous plastic pieces — like a piece of bread from the “Bread Basket” or a bucket from “Water on the Knee” — from a guy lying as if on an operation table. If the tweezers touched the electrified sides of the slot where the plastic piece was placed, a buzzer sounded and the guy’s red nose lit up. (Removing the pencil from “Writer’s Cramp” was the hardest.)
The strikingly accurate depiction of sibling relationships, of course, was found in the famous commercial for “Operation” — shown below — where a brother and sister are playing the game. The clumsy brother hits the metal side and gets the buzzer while his sister howls with laughter. She successfully removes the wrench from “Wrenched Ankle,” taunts the brother with it, and says, with an air of crushing superiority, “ha, ha, ha!”
In our house, the little girl’s “ha, ha, ha” became part of the family lexicon — because the Webner kids, like the children in every family, knew intuitively that a large part of life was figuring out ways to torment your siblings. Whether it was playing unfair practical jokes, smirking in the background while they got disciplined, devising mean-spirited nicknames, telling kids in the neighborhood an embarrassing story, or setting things up so that your sister always got the dirty tramp on the game “Mystery Date,” pranking your brothers and sisters was a crucial part of growing up. The “Operation” girl’s “ha, ha, ha” captured the whole process perfectly.