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in one episode of The Phil Silvers Show (aka Sgt. Bilko), Bilko buys a racehorse and wants to get rich by sponsoring him at the races. Of course, they had to feed the horse, and a fair amount of the comedy of the episode was based on the premise that all the men thought that oats were disgusting and only fit for horse food.

Today that seems very strange; they're a well-loved staple in America and elsewhere. And that's hardly a new cultural phenomenon, since oats have been grown as food for both man and livestock for thousands of years.

So why, on a TV show from the 1950s, was the contemporary audience expected to find the characters' discomfort at having to eat oats funny?

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2 Answers

When my dad was drafted into the Army during WWII, he said the only requirements for enlistment were that you could "Hear thunder, see lightning, and eat oatmeal." So I gather that oats were rather an overused staple in the Army diet and perhaps TV viewers in the 50s might be expected to know this.

That's aside from the plot elements in the episode in question.

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Bilko gets the oats by signing a "requisition form", but it turns out he signed a "volunteer requisition" for a personnel survival test.

The test is about "surviving on nothing but oats".

When Bilko points out that it was a mistake, the Major from the Medical Corps is dissapointed and orders the oats to be put back on the truck. But because Bilko needs the oats he quickly agrees to take part in the experiment after all.

So four of Bilko's men have to eat nothing but oats.

Oats [Source]

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