Top 5 Retro Snow Videos from UK

Enjoy this ultra cool retrospective, plus discussion of The Twilight Zone, Doctor Who, Mystery Science Theater 3000, and The Bobbsey Twins. More Storm Emma too.
“Snowmen of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your carrot noses!”

Snowman figure with carrot nose at Mount Selwyn snowfields, New South Wales. Courtesy http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-08-15/snowman-with-carrot-nose-at-mt-selwyn-nsw/2840274

UPDATED! It’s no secret that I love snow. As we close out winter once and for all (a freak May Day snowstorm notwithstanding), I wanted to post these Top 5 Retro Snow Videos from the UK. I’d already stumbled on them when doing my earlier top snow videos post, themed on Storm Emma and Beast from the East. I hope you saw it, because in addition to some really beautiful snow scenes shot by everyday people, it also included a laugh-out-loud clip of Piers Morgan doing his Yorkshire and Hampshire accents, bringing ITV’s Good Morning Britain to a grinding (but hilarious) halt.

These retro clips have a different character, putting us in touch with snows that fell long ago on a different world. Why should we care about a snow that fell in 1947 or 1963?

Writing in an American populist vein, W.P. Kinsella — author of Shoeless Joe (later made into the film Field of Dreams) — suggested that “the one constant through all the years has been baseball.” A romantic notion that works fantastically well in the film, but may have less than worldwide appeal. Snow is another great constant, and as I wrote in Storm Emma and the Meaning of Snow:

There is an individual occurrence of snow, and then there is the archetype of snow. What we want to do is move from the individual to the archetype. Everything has its essential nature, and the nature of snow is that it is holy. Believe in this, and contemplate the falling snow as it blankets even one lone tree.

Viewing snow that fell long ago — before there were things like smartphones, Internet, Brexit, and Trumpkins — may link us with the past and invoke that universal archetype. (In modern parlance, Trumpkins are Donald Trump die-hard supporters; but of course, there was a dwarf named Trumpkin in The Chronicles of Narnia.)

Here then, are my Top 5 Retro Snow Videos from the UK:

The Midnight Sun – Before Global Warming Was a Thing

Science fiction is often good at predicting coming trends and reacting to them emotionally, politically, and sociologically. We are just entering the era of robots as a widespread form of replacement workers, but Kurt Vonnegut’s 1952 novel Player Piano is one of many SF works which dealt with the consequences of automation long before the reality was upon us. Even earlier were Isaac Asimov’s robot stories, nine of which were collected and reframed for the 1950 book I, Robot.

So it is with global warming, which wasn’t a thing in 1961 when Rod Serling penned “The Midnight Sun” for an episode of The Twilight Zone:

Here, the cause of global warming is not environmental abuse and neglect (nod to Scott Pruit), but rather a one-off event: a sudden change in the Earth’s orbit bringing it ever closer to the sun. Through this device, Serling mostly avoided the politics but dealt with the emotional and sociological effects of a superheating planet.

Scary Snow in Doctor Who

New Who famously takes things we think of as pleasing or comforting, and makes them scary — snowmen and angels being two examples. The Doctor Who 2012 Christmas Special (called, appropriately enough, “The Snowmen”) serves up this chilling view:

Richard E. Grant is only slightly less scary in Posh Nosh:

And not at all scary in Agatha Christie’s Marple:

MST3K and Space Technology

The idea of retro clips naturally calls forth its opposite: modern inventions which are offshoots of the Space Race. This riotous clip from Mystery Science Theater 3000 #401 (where the movie riffed on is Space Travelers a.k.a. Marooned) lists a bewildering variety of inventions supposedly spurred by the Space Race. “Swirled yogurt: essential for space flight!”

LibriVox vs. the Bobbsey Twins

No, it’s not a Japanese sci-fi title. LibriVox is a wonderful project that makes public domain audio recordings of classic literature readily available on the Internet. The Bobbsey Twins are characters from a long-running series of children’s books written under the pseudonym Laura Lee Hope.

As a child, I inherited a good many hand-me-downs from my aunt on my father’s side, whose cellar piled up with books and toys that her own children had outgrown. So I got an Erector set (an original A.C. Gilbert one), which the British and French would know better as Meccano. I also inherited an ever-burgeoning collection of Bobbsey Twins books, such as The Bobbsey Twins in Tulip Land — a title which promised amazing adventures to my young mind.

Much like myself, the Bobbsey Twins exist in a kind of chronological stasis, with the older pair of twins (Nan and Bert) frozen at 12, and the younger pair (Freddie and Flossie) perpetually 6 years old. I, of course, am perpetually 5, so still look up to my elder literary siblings. 😉

I don’t recall ever owning The Bobbsey Twins at Snow Lodge (1913), but it’s a title that does turn up on LibriVox. So here’s an audio-only retro snow clip read by Rachel and SuperCoconut:

Cute, but definitely riffable MST3K style! In her “7 Bits About the Amazing Bobbsey Twins,” Ann Silverthorn notes:

The Bobbsey family was in the 1%. The Bobbsey’s were blessed with the services of an elderly “colored” couple, Dinah and Sam, that had been with them for many years. Dinah did all the cooking for the family, including some tasty fried chicken, and Sam drove a truck for Mr. Bobbsey’s lumber business. If the family lived today, they’d never use the term “colored,” and they’d never remark that the couple had the “whitest teeth the children had ever seen.”

We’re not quite finished with Storm Emma…

I observed no palpable cheering up after my last batch of Storm Emma videos, so here’s a couple more I really like. I’m a city boy, and am moved to see how rural folk (including farmers) cope with massive snow. I also love seeing the seas grown all wild, breaching the borders which men have set for them:

If YouTube often appears to be a vast wasteland, yet it remains a medium for people to share homespun images which can move us by their honesty, and which present an unmediated view of nature.

As the weather heats up, I hope the snow-themed media clips will help you keep cool. I pity NYC carriage horses working when the temperature climbs to 99 in midtown; but they also have to work in snow, as my short film Salvation illustrates.

Michael Howard

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No More Stormenatti!

Please, my fellow liberals, stop treating Stormy Daniels like a civil rights hero, and stop booking Michael Avenatti on every show in the MSNBC lineup…

I get it. Daniels and Avenatti are going up against Donald Trump, so it’s tempting to welcome them as fellow travelers, or at least “enemies of mine enemy.” But if Republicans have become roundly unprincipled, liberals should stand up squarely for something better than the crass opportunism represented by Stormenatti.

I’m a liberal, but not a knee-jerk liberal. I tend to embrace causes of social compassion and human rights. I also try and see through all forms of propaganda and b.s. I just can’t take any more #Stormenatti on MSNBC, particularly on Lawrence O’Donnell, where Avenatti is given nothing but softballs to hit. It’s like a Bizarro World version of Fox News, but with liberal propaganda. It’s transparently bad journalism, and drives away principled people who might otherwise be allies.

Politics can be a mixed bag; it sometimes brings us insight, but other times asks us to put on blinders. Yea to the former but nay to the latter.

If you’re not just playing politics, but take a principled stand against Donald Trump due to his unbridled hucksterism, then you should also take a stand against Daniels and Avenatti — for the same reason. Not that I want their legal bid to fail; I just don’t want to see them dominate the news or be held up as role models.

Metaphorically speaking, Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels both inhabit the same grindhouse exploitation film — and the person they’re exploiting is you the viewer. They’re both in show business, both insatiable publicity hounds, and perhaps neither has much to offer beyond the brassy, artificially inflated personas they flash for the cameras.

I’m not suggesting a ban on coverage of #Stormenatti, but please don’t make it/them nightly attractions, and please practice basic journalism, like asking tough, skeptical questions about their means and motives.

What is the great civil rights cause championed by Stormy Daniels and her lawyer? That she ought to get paid more than $130,000 for having sex with Donald Trump and keeping quiet about it?

What are the underlying circumstances? Why were she and other porn stars hanging around the golf resort where Trump was staying? Because they were on the lookout for millionaires, hoping that an initial hookup might be bartered into a hefty wad of cash — which Daniels eventually got. Later, she made a self-interested business decision that if she could overturn the contract that netted her $130,000 for one night’s work, she could make millions as a celebrity in her own right. Gandhi, MLK, and Susan B. Anthony move over!

I’m not a lawyer, and don’t pretend to understand the legal distinction between “blackmail” and “hush money.” But if there is a legal distinction (and it may be a fine one), I see very little moral and ethical distinction. So, notwithstanding that I’m a liberal, it makes me want to throw up when I see the shrewd and rapacious Michael Avenatti blathering away on Lawrence O’Donnell as if his client were a cross between Joan of Arc and Harriet Tubman.

One can cover newsmakers from a liberal point of view while still retaining an iota of skepticism. The New York Times covers #Stormenatti, but with a tad of snarkiness that helps restore perspective. This they do by interspersing factual narrative with titles of films in which Daniels actually starred. My favourite (make-believe) ones are Bring Me Some Head for Alfredo Garcia and Three Days of the Condom (links are Roger Ebert reviews).

I’m always trying to refine my understanding, and to avoid saying what’s already been said better. So when researching this post, coming across “Stormy Daniels is a feminist heroine,” I assumed it must be meant sarcastically. I was gobsmacked to find it was a credulous (if rhetorical) claim by none other than Krystal Ball, who often appears on MSNBC.

My mind works in a discursive manner, so I can only say that I’m reminded of a scene from a DVD extra called “Dr. Forever! – The Celestial Toyroom.” It’s about the toys that Doctor Who fans had when they were kids. Some toys came in boxes of Weetabix wholegrain cereal — which was a terrific marketing coup, and had the side benefit of keeping millions of young Britons extremely regular. Sadly, Krystal Ball was not among them.

By all means, let’s treat all people everywhere decently, and let’s not be overly judgmental. The conservative right tends to apply hateful stereotypes to women who make certain less-than-ideal career choices, but the fallacy in Ms. Ball’s thinking is that she applies a syrupy inverted stereotype to the same women. In truth, Ms. Daniels is neither an untouchable sinner, nor a feminist heroine taking back power from the patriarchy one spank at a time. Like her lawyer, Daniels is just another huckster, not easily distinguishable from millions of other hucksters who dot American life, from telemarketers to folk selling quack baldness remedies on late night TV. May they one day find better wisdom.

As human beings, we are all of us more than we appear to be. In characterizing where some people presently are, I don’t mean to restrict, confine, or belittle them. We all have the potential to bring out deeper aspects of our selves — aspects which are in some sense truer. But that acquisitive instinct or spirit of hucksterism tends to be a stumbling block, making it hard for us to be our best selves.

If we recognize this greediness to be a stumbling block in human nature, then we would ideally choose as role models those who epitomize unselfishness and charity.

There’s a sense in which real estate magnates and porn stars go together. They are both found at golf resorts plying their respective trades or proclivities. But the world is so much bigger than that! America is a great and good nation, and the national attention should be focused on better things.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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Top 10 British Snow Videos

Coping with snow by channeling your inner Yorkshireman

It’s all too easy to give in to despondency when faced with round after round of inclement weather. Fortunately, these top 10 British snow videos will lift your spirits! Piers Morgan will help you find your “inner Yorkshireman” just in time for that dreaded sequel, Beast from the East 3.

Clearly, taping tennis rackets to your feet and drawing straws for who goes for the milk begins to get at that spirit of invention and unbridled heroism for which the British are famous. But for courage in its most unadulterated form, focus your gaze laserlike on the lone Yorkshireman who braves the harshest of elements, all for love, all for love…

The eccentricities of Dales folk were oft explored in the series All Creatures Great and Small:

But in rural areas of Britain, snow is no joke for the sheep, who must be dug out when they’ve sheltered in deep drifts:

More often, though, the Brits get scanty snow which leaves them wanting more:

Recent snows have known no borders, falling on Britain and Ireland alike. This Irish lass seems well pleased with the snow which blanketed Dublin:

The bare shelves emptied of bread raise the issue of survival in a snowstorm. Would you/could you pick up a gun and shoot something if you were hungry enough? Piers Morgan is a gun control advocate (bless him!), but if driven to starvation, would even he contemplate the rare avian visitor with murder in his heart? Could he take aim, and would you find him shooting for the rafters?

Mainstream media tend to run stories which treat snow as an inconvenience and feature lorry pile-ups. Their great error is in imagining that snow can be fit to their schedule, when the truth is that snow is something to be surrendered to.

Most good footage of Beast from the East/Storm Emma is amateur footage. I love the wildness of the sea in this raw clip from Sunderland. You can almost feel the white spray of the breakers surging up over the railings:

Also this lovely, leisurely sojourn through St. James’s Park, with the honking of geese and cries of seagulls:

This guy has the right idea about snow, which is to get out in it and really commune with it as far from civilisation as possible:

On the other hand, this boy’s world has room for both the beauty of snow and excitement of the video arcade. I love how in his kid world there are no adults (except as targets for pranking), and when he gets in the car, he even acts like he’s the one who’ll be doing the driving!

Coping with snow means recognizing it for the miracle that it is and being amazed by it. We love children because they help us see the world anew, with eyes fresh as new-blown snow. This dad clearly “gets it” that snow is all about being amazed. I’m willing to overlook some flaws in the production because his enthusiasm conquers all. As the great and good Sri Chinmoy said:

Enthusiasm, enthusiasm,
God’s main food;
He begs me to eat
For my good.

I’m reminded of a scene from C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia where a hansom cab driver named Frank is left speechless by the beauty of the new scene he suddenly beholds when transported to Narnia. That’s lush, that’s lush…

If you open your heart to them, these snow videos made by everyday people will bring you more joy than any Hollywood blockbuster.

Are your spirits lifted yet? Say yes, or I’ll be forced to return with more snow videos. 😉

Michael Howard


Sidebar: Doctor Who in Dungeness

Back in 1971, stuntman/actor Derek Ware adopted a “Mummerfordshire” accent when playing the part of Pigbin Josh, a strange character inhabiting the Doctor Who story “Claws of Axos”:

During filming, the Dungeness weather was so unpredictable they had to cobble together footage shot in sun, rain, snow, and fog. Later, script editor Terrance Dicks dropped in a bit of dialogue about “freak weather conditions” to cover the continuity cock-up. Katy Manning (who played companion Jo Grant) adds to the annals of Great British Freezes by describing how frozen actors, like pussycats, draped themselves over car engines just to glean a smitch of warmth.


Of Further Interest

Salvation
Storm Emma and the Meaning of Snow
Alice in the Snow I
Blogging Economics

Potent Quote

Piers Morgan on guns:

I speak as someone who loves America and loves Americans. But having been brought up in a country where there are no guns, the one thing that you’re completely struck by when you come to America is the amount of paranoia and fear that infests daily life in almost every sphere of American society because of the presence of guns.

https://www.pri.org/stories/2015-10-08/piers-morgan-gun-control-me-doing-nothing-unconscionable

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The Great Storm

From Charlie Chaplin to The Vicar of Dibley, the Great Storm meme has endured — sometimes in comic form.

I’ve had snow on the brain lately, due to the Beast from the East and Storm Emma, as well as nor’easters hitting here in the U.S. (the latest just in time for spring!). I’m still excited about completing my short film Salvation featuring people, sculptures, and horses in the snow. (My resources are limited, but with what I have I try to make a statement.)

There are many examples of snowstorms providing the dramatic or comedic focal point for memorable scenes from film and TV. A few that spring to mind are:

FILM

– The snow scenes from Fahrenheit 451 (original François Truffaut version), based on the novel by Ray Bradbury.

– The snow scenes from Slaughterhouse-Five, based on the novel by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

– The snow scenes from The Shining, based on the novel by Stephen King.

– The snow scenes from A Dream In A Different Key a.k.a. Four Seasons: Utopiano, a film rarely seen in the U.S. made for Japanese TV.

– The snow scenes from Fargo, the Coen brothers’ quirky crime dramedy.

TV

The Honeymooners s01e24 “Please Leave the Premises,” where for refusing to pay a $5 rent increase, Ralph and Alice end up on the street in the snow.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show s01e08 “The Snow Must Go On,” where a massive blizzard leads to wacky election night coverage at TV station WJM.

Taxi s03e07 “Call of the Mild,” where hoping to enjoy a relaxing week in the mountains, the guys get trapped in a remote cabin during a blizzard, with no food except what they may or may not agree to hunt and kill.

Taxi s05e04,e05 “Scenskees From A Marriage,” where snow and freezing weather lead Latka (Andy Kaufman) to make a critical life-or-death choice which he must later explain to his wife Simka (Carol Kane).

Northern Exposure s05e10 “First Snow.” This is a bittersweet episode which deals with death but also finds joy in winter, as residents of the mythical town of Cicely, Alaska wish each other “Bon Hiver” (good winter) with the coming of the first snow.

Doctor Who: “A Christmas Carol” (2010 special). When snow finally arrives on an alien planet, it signifies an end to an era of uncharity. Though obviously a rip of the Dickens classic, this off-world Whovian holiday chestnut has a charm all its own and is something old Charlie never could have dreamt of (with a unique take on debtor’s prison). SPOILER ALERT: The ending with a carriage in the sky drawn by a grateful shark is truly wonderful!

Note that in moving from Northern Exposure to Doctor Who, we’re moving from magical realism to outright sci-fi. Next stop…

ANIMATION

The Snowman, a beloved children’s fantasy also prized by adults, and popularizing the song “Walking in the Air.”

The Great Frost, a lesser-known animated short based on a passage from Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando, and presented as part of the PBS suite of animations Simple Gifts.

This list is hardly exhaustive, but does get the (snow)ball rolling. If it’s cold enough where you are, you can sit around a warm fire and play at listing all the snow scenes you can think of from film, TV, animation, and novels.

I don’t propose to do a complete monograph on the subject, but am pleased to share two clips with you, from The Vicar of Dibley and The Gold Rush:

Season 1 of Vicar of Dibley was quite good. This clip is from s01e04 “The Window and the Weather.” After banter about the Great Storm (or Storm with No Name), Dibley residents must try and recall what the stained glass window destroyed by the storm actually depicted. One of the funniest scenes ever! Takeaway quote: “Bloody odd library with five thousand sheep in it.”

Marc Chagall’s “great load of arty-farty froggy nonsense”

At the moment, some episodes of Vicar of Dibley seem to be up on Dailymotion in decent quality:

http://www.dailymotion.com/thevicarofdibley

But there’s a catch: the lip-sync is sometimes off. The workaround is to view certain episodes in VLC or SMPlayer. In VLC, under Tools: Track Synchronization: Audio track synchronization enter a value of 0.450s. Or in SMPlayer, under Audio: Set delay… enter a value of 450. Then you should be good to go. (The Slimjet browser can also be helpful when dealing with Dailymotion.) For the truly geeklike, these two links explain how you can permanently fix a video with poor lip-sync using either Avidemux or MKVToolNix:

Here’s How To Easily Fix Lagging Audio
Fix Audio Delays Permanently Using VLC & MKVToolNix

Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (first released in 1925) includes two of the classic snow scenes from early cinema. Chaplin was a genius, and it’s great that some of his films from the silent era are being restored to pristine quality. (I hope to post soon about The Immigrant.) I especially like the cabin teetering on the edge of a precipice, as it seems an apt meme for the Trump administration.

If you’d like to see the complete film, there’s currently an excellent print on YouTube here. It’s hiding among the many links which are either low quality, outright scams, or the dreaded talkie re-release from 1942.

Despite the snow, spring is bound to arrive soon! Until then, keep holding onto those springtime promises:

LINKS

The Snowman (YouTube)
Walking in the Air – Celtic Woman version (YouTube)
Simple Gifts: The Great Frost (YouTube)
A Dream in a Different Key – clip (YouTube)
Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol (Archive.org)

Two AHCA Memes: Mystery Meat and Dead Parrot

Everybody knows what the AHCA is: the American Health Care Act — but nobody knows what’s in it. That’s because like the famed “Her Majesty” from the Beatles’ Abbey Road album, it “changes from day to day.” Which AHCA are we discussing, the one that kicks 23 million people off their health care, the one that kicks 30 million people off their health care, or some as yet undisclosed variant whose spores are still being nourished in the bowels of White Male Senate reality?

Getting hooked up with the AHCA is like dealing with one of those Internet firms that changes its terms of service with each passing morn. Sure, you read the terms and conditions when you first signed up, but since then there have been 57 policy updates, and you barely blink an eye when you learn that you’ve agreed (by not opting out before last Tuesday) to turn over your first-born child, or have any legal dispute resolved in the jurisdiction of Tanginiqua.

The AHCA is mystery meat. What is mystery meat? Imagine you’re sitting in the school cafeteria, munching on some orangey-green, vaguely pastalike concoction in which bits of something meatlike surface now and then. Having been run through both the Deflavourizer and the Blandifier, this concoction as a whole cannot be identified by taste, no less its constituent ingredients. So you’re left to guess about the meat. It could be hog testicles and chicken bladders mixed with hyrdrolyzed plant protein, or it could be Stewie — that fat kid who was sent to detention Never To Return.

The AHCA is, thankfully, moribund — a fancy word for “almost dead.” Yet, Senate leader Mitch McConnell (a.k.a. “Mitch The Rooster”) continues to pretend that it lives on. This calls forth the famed dead parrot meme from the Monty Python sketch:

MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt: Leader McConnell, is the AHCA dead?

McConnell: Why no, it’s only pining. Pining for the fjords. Beautiful plumage, the American Health Care Act.

We can only hope, in the argot of Monty Python, that this is an ex-health care bill.

BREAKING NEWS: Donald Trump has just appointed Phil Niekro as the head of the Knuckleball Integrity Council. Mr. Niekro’s job will be to ensure that no knuckleballers load up the ball with vaseline, or use a concealed nail file to scratch it up so that it moves erratically.

In the same news dump, the Trump administration announced the appointment of Roger Delgado to head up the Doctor Who Regeneration Board. Also known as “The Master,” Delgado’s job will be to ensure that all future Doctor Who regenerations go as smoothly as possible.

Both Niekro and Delgado are expected to perform admirably, notwithstanding their decease.

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A Fishy Tale

Apropos of Bithika O’Dwyer, please enjoy “A Fishy Tale” — a short, funny documentary about Doctor Who in the 1960s. Full title: “A Fishy Tale: Making The Underwater Menace.” Memorable quotes:

“I’m a comic book. None of this makes any sense. It is entirely insane.”

“Of course it wasn’t believable! It was completely balmy, wasn’t it?”

“I wasn’t impressed.”

“It seemed to me sort of bizarre and fragmented.”

“This is a bit of a dog.”

“It is pretty awful.”

“It’s rubbish!”

“They must’ve got the giggles.”

“It was disgusting, and dirty, and smelly.”

“I just find it quite grotesque, actually.”

“It doesn’t entirely work. In fact, bits of it don’t work at all. It’s frequently a bit dull.”

Bonus: French subtitles, so you can learn how to say “Don’t forget your Long Johns” in the language of love:

Now, class, répète en français, s’il vous plaît:

Vous n’allez pas me transformer en poisson!

Mastering that phrase is the key to your survival should you ever be captured by French-speaking Atlanteans!

Special appearance by “Blind Lemon Troughton” in the market scene:

Patrick Troughton a.k.a. “Blind Lemon Troughton”

All in all, one of my favourite Doctor Who documentaries — far better than the underlying story.

Polly in the temple, from “The Underwater Menace”

Note: If the embedded video doesn’t play, watch directly on Vimeo here.

See also full DVD release available from Amazon.

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We’re Going on a Bear Hunt!

Children’s entertainers, performance artists, or simply lunatics?

Just before my winter hibernation, while foraging through YouTube looking for raw material for one of my mashups, I stumbled on these two vids:

Thank you to the New South Wales Centre for that inspiring presentation. 😉

Anyway, these videos do raise the conundrum posed in the subhead. On the one hand, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is a children’s story by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, first published in 1989. So there’s that. On the other hand, when performing it these artists seem to let loose their natural craziness and touch on aspects of the human condition as well as political realities.

I suppose the spiritual lesson is that some people go on the spiritual quest with a pollyannish attitude, assuming that nothing could possibly go wrong. Then, when they realize they’ll have to pass through various difficulties and that their nature will be tested, they end up running back to their bedrooms and throwing the covers over their heads! (I am not immune to this phenomenon.)

The political lesson is that just when you’re thinking “Oh no! They couldn’t possibly elect so-and-so,” suddenly you come face-to-face with a big orange bear and find that it’ll be living in your big white house for at least four years. The scream let out by Sophie in the first vid says it all…

Sophie Maletsky channels the collective liberal scream

Sophie Maletsky channels the collective liberal scream

Compare for reference The Scream, by Edvard Munch:

the-scream-by-edvard-munchMore scariness for children: Count Floyd

Count Floyd (played by actor Joe Flaherty) was a regular character on the old SCTV comedy series which aired in the 1980s. I suppose he’s funny on his own, but it helps to know that at one time in America, in small towns with only one TV station, the same guy who was the newsreader was also required to do double duty hosting the Saturday kiddie show, which typically ran a B-movie of the monster variety (such as Invasion of the Bee Girls, which was hardly suitable for children).

So if there’s a sad, desperate quality to Count Floyd, it’s because he’s really a reserved newsreader forced to make a spectacle of himself by dressing in a black cape and pretending that the incredibly bad movies they send him (or sometimes fail to deliver) would actually scare a child.

count-floyd-06

Count Floyd (Joe Flaherty), b. 1941

Such frightful multitasking was required even in large markets like New York, where John Zacherle (R.I.P.) came to ply his trade as a combination progressive DJ, weatherman, and “cool ghoul.” Not an unwilling conscript, Zacherle made a name for himself by combining horror, sardonic humour, and rock music, as in the 1958 novelty song “Dinner With Drac,” whose most memorable verse goes:

For dessert there was batwing confetti,
And the veins of a mummy named Betty;
I first frowned upon it,
But put ketchup on it;
It tasted very much like spaghetti!

John Zacherle, 1918-2016

John Zacherle, 1918-2016

Presaging the Donald Trump phenom, Zacherle actually ran for president in 1960, under the banner of Transylvania’s People’s Party. According to this New York Times obit, one of his gags was pretending to give lessons in conversational Transylvanian. (“The skull of my aunt is on the table.”)

Though less frightening than Nixon, he failed to garner the same popular support evinced by more recent political bloodsuckers whose names now drip from the headlines. By the way, has anyone checked Kellyanne Conway’s hotel room for vials of B-Negative? I’d also check the bedpost for bite marks. (There’s got to be a joke in here somewhere about lawyers who “pound the table.”)

Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway vamps it up a notch for her interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo. Lucrezia Borgia ring obscured by comfy chair.

Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway vamps it up a notch for her interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo. Lucrezia Borgia ring obscured by comfy chair.

For more on Zacherle, Count Floyd, and other purveyors of televisual horror, see fellow blogger The Impractical Cogitator here. Note that kiddie horror shows migrated to late night TV and were watched by adults. This helped pave the way for a show like Mystery Science Theater 3000, which has elements of a children’s puppet show, but where most of the obscure references are aimed squarely at adults:

(Any problems with video, reload page or try dropbox link.)

Children also watched the show and sent in drawings of Joel and the bots,

mst3k-kid-drawings_v05c

but I doubt many kids knew enough about the film version of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf to glom onto the whole Richard Burton thing. Adults, on the other hand, were soiling their Underoos listening to a dead-on Burton impression interspersed with references to Gamera turtle — the main character in the dodgy Japanese monster flick being screened that week (MST3K Episode 312, Gamera vs. Guiron).

mst3k-joel-and-bots-watch-gameraConclusion

So are the characters in question children’s entertainers, performance artists, or simply lunatics? The answer is D. all of the above! Particularly in the case of Zacherle, he no doubt had his schtick, but like comedian Andy Kaufmann perhaps needed to be a bit crazy to fully embrace and manifest it. This could easily lead us to a discussion of actors, artists, and sanity. I’m reminded of Werner Herzog’s documentary My Best Fiend, about the notoriously mercurial Klaus Kinski. Also Richard Curtis’s sensitive portrayal of Van Gogh in the Doctor Who episode “Vincent and the Doctor.”

But perhaps it’s best to go out on a comedic note. After all, the marriage of horror and comedy gives us the comedy villain. The late Douglas Adams was a master at writing such, like the Vogons who torture their victims by reading them bad poetry. (I always credit my mentors!) Douglas also wrote for Doctor Who, his first effort being “The Pirate Planet,” where Bruce Purchase and Tom Baker vie to see who can take it furthest over the top. Memorable quote: “Douglas had a strange relationship with parrots…”

(Any problems with video, reload page or try dropbox link.)

But one of the most entertaining essays on the comedy villain comes from an earlier epoch of Doctor Who, from the William Hartnell era:

(Any problems with video, reload page or try dropbox link.)

Kinda makes you wonder whether Donald Trump has dodgy feetTake all those illegal aliens to the security kitchen, or I shall be forced to have Kellyanne Conway throw flowers menacingly on the floor. Or would flowers simply wilt in her hand, as with Beatrice in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter”?


Oooh kids, it’s gonna be scary!

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

More TV/Movie Trivia

The Count Floyd skit (embedded earlier) showcases a “scary” movie called Whispers of the Wolf, which is actually a parody of Ingmar Bergman films like Cries and Whispers and Hour of the Wolf. It apes many of the cinematic devices found in actual Bergman films. See also SCTV’s Rome, Italian Style, which successfully parodies a number of stylish Italian films from the 60s and 70s, including The Tenth Victim.

The “Rappacini’s Daughter” clip is from a 1980 television production starring Kristoffer Tabori and Kathleen Beller. Beller often played an innocent, and the contrast is striking here between her innocent nature and poisonous touch. In 1987, she snagged a role in Bronx Zoo, a TV series which was arguably the prototype for Boston Public.

Beller played Mary Caitlin Callahan (her parents should only plotz!), a vegetarian, non-smoking art teacher who rides a motorcycle, but still struggles with her Catholic roots. It was one of her more sensitive roles, and Beller herself said it surpassed 90% of her feature film roles. Despite being married to Thomas Dolby, she clearly wasn’t “blinding them with science.” The science teacher was Victor Ginelli, played by Peter Hobbs. After Ginelli died, gym teacher Gus Butterfield (played by Mykelti Williamson) took over his classes.

* * *

Walking on Eggshells, and Music Appreciation

What can John Cleese and The Avengers teach us about human psychology? UPDATED!

Dealing with difficult people is like walking on eggshells. This fact is known to teachers, therapists, ministers, and gurus. Some people are balanced so precariously that, like Humpty Dumpty, they’re bound to take a great fall. What can one then do?

Alice (Kate Beckinsale) wonders whether Humpty Dumpty (Desmond Barrit) should really be sitting so high up.

Alice (Kate Beckinsale) wonders whether Humpty Dumpty (Desmond Barrit) should really be sitting so high up.

Sadly, sometimes not very much. Owing to their rigid rules and canalized thinking, some individuals stand little chance of getting off the conveyor belt which they themselves have set in motion. They are, at least for a time, ill-fated.

Such is the case with Marcus Rugman (played by John Cleese), an eccentric “egg man” who lives in perpetual fear that his collection of clown faces painted on eggs will come to harm:

(Any problems with the video, try dropbox link.)

This combination of obsessiveness and fragility reminds me of the main character in Rain Man. A consultant on the movie, Dr. Darold Treffert, writes:

A variety of persons, especially Dustin Hoffman, felt that the portrayal of an autistic person, with all the typical associated rituals, obsessiveness, resistance to change and relatively affectionless behaviours might make a more interesting character for Raymond Babbitt, one the public had never really been exposed to on screen.

“Rain Man, the Movie / Rain Man, Real Life”

Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man

Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man

Dr. Treffert goes on to explain that the Raymond Babbitt character is actually a composite of autism and savant syndrome. In the earlier Avengers clip (from Season 6, Episode 11), Marcus Rugman exhibits some of the same traits in comic form.

the-avengers-linda-thorson-john-cleeseHe’s clearly a savant on the subject of clown faces painted on eggs, but his rigid rules for entry into his world, coupled with his utter lack of warmth, mark him as a character destined to take a fatal pratfall. Then, as John Steed and Tara King remark: “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men…”

Of this episode, French critic Gérard Dulapin trenchantly observes:

The diversion of childhood imagery to conspiracy Mortifier has already been explored during Nothing goes more in the nursery. If the fancy burlesque predominates, an episode like Maille to go with the taties had already introduced the absurd in season 4, appearing like a predecessor, certainly mezzo voce, of this one.

— Gérard Dulapin, via Google Translate

Among (possibly) interesting egg facts: There was a real-life egg man, Stan Bult, who did memorialize clown make-up on eggshells. And while the goose egg is understandably unpopular among men and women of sport, it is prized in clown egg circles for its crusty insouciance. According to a site celebrating International Clown Week:

The collection continued to be lent out after Mr. Bult’s death but sadly most of the eggs were destroyed in an accident at one such exhibit around 1965.

Clown Bluey became chairman of Clowns International in 1984 and resurrected Mr. Bult’s practice of recording clown members’ faces on eggs. This time a professional artist was used and the faces were painted on china-pot eggs instead of chicken eggs. Over the years, many of the lost older eggs have been reproduced, and new eggs are added frequently.

In the U.S. collection, the faces are hand-painted on goose eggs (more durable than chicken eggs), and decorated with various materials (such as clay, wire, felt, tiny flowers, glitter, etc.) to obtain as accurate a representation of the clown face and costume as possible.

Though failing to mention Stan Bult (thus inviting a clown fatwa), Salman Rushdie has his own take on egg men in Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which — like all great children’s stories — is laced with jokes for adults:

Haroun noticed that among the crowd were many men and women who, like the man on the balcony, had smooth, shiny and hairless heads. These people all wore the white coats of laboratory technicians and were, clearly, the Eggheads of P2C2E House, the geniuses who operated the Machines Too Complicated To Describe (or M2C2Ds) which made possible the Processes Too Complicated To Explain.

‘Are you—?’ he began, and they interrupted him, for being Eggheads, they were extremely quick on the uptake.

‘We are the Eggheads,’ they nodded, and then, with looks on their faces that said we can’t believe you don’t know this, they pointed at the shiny fellow on the grand balcony and said, ‘He is the Walrus.’

‘He’s the Walrus?’ Haroun burst out, astounded. ‘But he’s nothing like a walrus! Why do you call him that?’

‘It’s on account of his thick, luxuriant walrus moustache,’ one of the Eggheads replied, and another added admiringly, ‘Look at it! Isn’t it the best? So hairy. So silky-smooth.’

‘But …’ Haroun began, and then stopped when Iff dug him hard in the ribs. ‘I suppose if you’re as hairless as these Eggheads,’ he told himself, ‘even that pathetic dead mouse on the Walrus’s upper lip looks like the greatest thing you’ve ever seen.’

As Haroun passed through the huge doors of P2C2E House, his heart sank. He stood in the vast, echoing entrance hall as white-coated Eggheads walked rapidly past him in every direction. Haroun fancied that they all eyed him with a mixture of anger, contempt, and pity. He had to ask three Eggheads the way to the Walrus’s office before he finally found it, after mazy wanderings around P2C2E House that reminded him of following Blabbermouth around the palace. At last, however, he was standing in front of a golden door on which were written the words: GRAND COMPTROLLER OF PROCESSES TOO COMPLICATED TO EXPLAIN. I. M. D. WALRUS, ESQUIRE*. KNOCK AND WAIT.

@CirrusStone tweet illustrating Walrus and Eggmen. https://twitter.com/CirrusStone/status/704173947797909505

Illustrator @CirrusStone tweets “I Am The Walrus” https://twitter.com/CirrusStone/status/704173947797909505

In Rushdie’s satire of good (or bad) government, the Walrus is the chief bureaucrat, and the Eggheads are the techno-geeks who actually run the place. As in The Avengers, Rushdie’s Eggheads are savants with not-terribly-winning personalities, kind of like Microsoft tech support peeps. (“You want to reinstall Windows? Okay, I’ll need a blood sample, your firstborn child, and you should take a half pound gefilte fish and swing it around your head while screaming like a chicken.** Then just enter these 42 lines of code at the command prompt.”) But I digress…

The second part of The Avengers clip sports a more cheery message: Two people who think they have nothing in common can manage to hit on a subject that lights up both their faces: Music Appreciation!

the-avengers-linda-thorson-music-appreciation

Actors Linda Thorson and William Kendall both agree that Bach, Hindemith and Brubeck are fab.

A more bittersweet exploration of the same theme is found in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, where Sandra Locke and Alan Arkin send each other muted signals:

(Any problems with the video, try dropbox link.)

And taking the premise beyond the edge of absurdity, there’s this classic sendup of “Mr. B Natural” by the Mystery Science Theatre gang:

There’s always a possibility that two people might manage to communicate across barriers which seemingly divide them, as when Linda Thorson first pokes her head in the door of the establishment where John Cleese keeps his clown egg collection. In David and Lisa, a 1962 film about mental illness, David (Keir Dullea) is afraid of being touched, and Lisa (Janet Margolin) speaks only in rhymes; yet their shared experience forms a fragile duet:

(Any problems with the video, try dropbox link.)

Conclusion

There isn’t any. This is one of those posts where I’m content to let things remind me of other things. Any wisdom to be found is in the journey itself, not the summing up.

Yet, like Marcus Rugman, we tend to spend a score or more years amassing a brittle collection of behaviours which comprise our lives, only to find that death breaks the shell we have so painstakingly constructed. Would it not be better to be more fluid and flexible in our approach to life, so that at the appointed moment we can dissolve gently into the wind? I am tempted to paraphrase the Christ, if I have the temerity to do so: This world is a bridge. Pass over it, but lay no eggs there.

Oh, and try not to prance about carrying a sousaphone…

Particulars

The Avengers episode in question bears the prolix title “Look – (Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One) But There Were These Two Fellers…” Airing in 1968, it was written by Dennis Spooner, who also wrote for Doctor Who. If the succession of comic wardrobe changes at the end seems familiar (and somehow Whovian), it’s because Tom Baker went on to do a similar quick-change in his premier episode as the Doctor (though Spooner didn’t write that one).

Janet Margolin later co-starred in a number of films, including Woody Allen’s Take The Money and Run (1969). Keir Dullea had a major role in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

*For further info on I. M. D. WALRUS, see the collected works of John Lennon.

**Recipe update: In response to reader feedback, please note that you can modify this recipe to use 2 pounds haddock and scream instead like a banshee. Be sure and split the haddock, though splitting haddock is rightly found under category “Ailments.”

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.


Sidebar: Sri Chinmoy Tells Two Egg Stories

The Ploughman Versus the Christ

There were two great artists from Florence — Donatello and Filippo Brunelleschi. Once, when Donatello was quite young, he made a crucifix of wood and thought he had achieved nothing short of perfect perfection. He invited his dear friend Brunelleschi to offer his wise comment. Needless to say, inwardly he was dying for the best possible appreciation, which he felt he so rightly deserved. Alas, his dream-world was shattered to pieces when Brunelleschi said to him, “I see a ploughman on the cross instead of the Saviour.”

Donatello was utterly mortified by this unexpected criticism from the older artist. He said, “You are a great judge! But let me see you do it yourself. You say I made a ploughman instead of Jesus Christ. Let me see your masterpiece of the crucifixion.”

That very day Brunelleschi began working on his crucifix. In due course, Brunelleschi completed his sculpture. One day, by chance, he met with his dear friend Donatello in a grocery. Brunelleschi said to his friend, “Tonight you will have supper with me. Please do me a favour. I have bought these items and I have still more items to buy. Will you be good enough to carry these items to my house? I shall be coming home shortly.”

Donatello gladly complied with his friend’s request, carrying a few eggs and some cheese in his apron. Upon entering Brunelleschi’s studio, he got the shock of his life. Perfection incarnate was Brunelleschi’s sculpture of the crucifixion. Utterly amazed, he lost his outer senses and dropped the apron containing the eggs and cheese. Everything was smashed and all was perfect chaos before the immortal sculpture.

On his return, when Brunelleschi saw the great calamity, he said to his friend, “What is the matter with you? What are we going to have now for dinner?”

Donatello said, “Sorry, I have already had my dinner. Your supremely great achievement has fed me to my heart’s content. I feel sorry for you that you have nothing to eat. Now, listen to my sincere heart. The difference between you and me is this: you know how to make the Christ and I know how to make a ploughman.”

— Sri Chinmoy, from Transfiguration and Other Stories, Agni Press, 2007

sri-chinmoy-tranfiguration-and-other-stories

Perseverance, Patience and Self-Giving are of Paramount Importance

Once two partridges, a husband and wife, were going out on a trip. Before they left, the wife laid some eggs near the ocean. Then the husband said to the sea, “We are going on a sea voyage. You have to take care of these eggs for us. On our return, if we don’t find the eggs, then we shall empty you.”

The sea agreed to take care of the eggs, and it kept the eggs safe. A few days later the two partridges came back, but they could not find the eggs. They began screaming at the sea. The sea wanted to give the eggs to them, but it could not find them anymore. The birds cursed the sea and started emptying it. The husband and wife each began taking out a drop of water at a time, throwing it onto the land.

“We are going to empty you,” they said to the sea.

Some little birds saw all this and they asked, “What are you doing?”

The partridges replied, “We are punishing the sea. The sea is very bad because it didn’t keep its promise to look after our eggs.”

The little birds thought it was a noble task and they joined the partridges. After a while, some big birds took up their cause. They were very sympathetic and self-giving, and they also started taking out water drop by drop. This went on for days and weeks.

One day, the Conveyor of Lord Vishnu, Garuda, came and asked, “What are you doing?”

The birds said, “Can’t you see? We are emptying the sea.”

Garuda said, “You fools, how long will this take you? You will never be able to do it. The sea is very vast, infinite.”

But the birds answered, “No, we have determination and perseverance.”

Garuda was very surprised and said, “Let me show them some compassion. Let me ask Lord Vishnu to help them. If Vishnu helps them, then certainly they will be able to find their eggs. If the eggs are still in good condition, Vishnu will be able to return them. But if they are destroyed, he can do nothing for them.”

He went to Vishnu. “Vishnu, I have never seen fools like these. If you really care for fools, then will you do them a favour?” Garuda then told him the whole story.

Vishnu said, “No, they are not fools. They are showing the spirit of patience and perseverance. This is how human beings must try to empty the ignorance-sea, drop by drop. It is what the seekers must and should do. Ignorance-sea is very vast. If sincere seekers want to empty it to replace it with knowledge-light, then they have to do it the same way, drop by drop. So I am very pleased with those partridges. I am commanding the sea to return the eggs.”

Garuda said, “The sea wanted to give them the eggs but it misplaced them and feels that they are all destroyed.”

Vishnu said, “I am using my own occult power to show the sea where it has kept the eggs.”

He used his occult power and the sea immediately found the eggs and returned them to the partridges. Then Vishnu said to the birds, “Perseverance, patience and self-giving all are of paramount importance to fulfil one’s divine task.”

— Sri Chinmoy, from Great Indian Meals: Divinely Delicious and Supremely Nourishing, Part 2, Agni Press, 1979
sri-chinmoy-great-indian-meals-part-2

Special thanks to Priyadarshan Bontempi and SriChinmoyLibrary.com for providing a great storehouse of Sri Chinmoy’s works.

See also “An Adventure in Eggs,” by Ashrita Furman, plus televisual record.

And here is where the — ahem — EGGS TERMINATE!!!

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A Question of Forgiveness

The question of how to deal with unjust attacks is an age-old one. Some people advocate a philosophy of total forgiveness. Others say that forgiveness should be tempered by an understanding of the real world and the nature of the individuals with whom one has to deal.

Some say that forgiveness should come after wrong actions have ended, but not while they are still occurring. A remorseful person should certainly be forgiven, but those who show no remorse and continue to do wrong actions may require justice rather than compassion, for their own progress. (See also “Making Sense of the Spiritual Life.”)

Once upon a time, some spiritual devotees were meditating in a church. Suddenly, they were distracted by the sound of breaking glass. Upon investigation, they found that someone was throwing rocks at the church windows, smashing them to bits. Others were calling for the church to be burned to the ground! The wrongdoers were worldly people whose minds had become agitated, and who had embraced an aggressive, destructive consciousness.

Some of the disciples said: “Let us pray for protection and meditate on compassion.” This was all well and good. But after awhile, either their prayer and meditation was not powerful enough, or else the situation required different handling. As the rocks kept coming and windows continued to be broken, another disciple said: “Let us call the police, since they also represent protection and it is their job to protect us.”

When the police arrived, they arrested one or two rock throwers, and others scattered into the night.

What can we learn from this story? In an imperfect world, there is no perfect solution to problems of harassment. Undoubtedly, compassion is a powerful force; but sometimes justice is required to deal with aggressive, destructive people, or else they may destroy spiritual things which are most precious and cannot easily be replaced.

This does not apply only to physical objects, but to abstract things as well. A person such as a spiritual teacher has only one reputation, which he or she has built up over many decades through innumerable acts of kindness and compassion. If crude people wrongly attack the reputation of a spiritual master and will not stop, the situation may eventually require justice.

The problem is aggravated when those who have become aggressive and destructive feel they can get away with anything precisely because they are attacking gentle spiritual people. While I definitely don’t advocate zapping anyone with a ray gun, this short clip from Doctor Who dramatizes the outcome when a destructive person mistakenly assumes that the only possible response to their destructive behaviour is one of mercy:

English majors please note: River Song’s use of the passive voice (“It died”) is not generally recommended, though used here to good effect. 😉

According to the varying mythologies of many cultures and religions, there are different kinds of beings assigned to perform different celestial duties. Their qualities and appearance are suited to the tasks which they perform, or they may take on a different appearance according to the circumstances.

The compassionate nature of the universe is reflected in that people usually have numerous opportunities to change their ways before they reach a final reckoning with justice. They see the face of compassion many times before they finally see the face of justice. It is up to them to choose how they want to progress. In the case of spiritual people around the world, they often make the same essential prayer to their chosen deity: “Protect us with Thy compassionate face.”

When we think of a snake, often we think of its destructive qualities: it may hiss or bite. Usually the hiss is a warning, and if we ignore the hiss then we get the bite. But what of a snake who has become a vegetarian, recited holy mantras, and adopted principles of ahimsa (non-violence)? If such a creature existed, how would it defend itself from predators? This question is addressed in a parable from the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda tradition:

“How To Deal with the Wicked”
http://ramakrishnaparables.blogspot.com/search/label/How%20to%20deal%20with%20the%20wicked

For those with little patience for spiritual parables, I will give away the punchline: I told you not to bite. I never told you not to hiss!

Some people demonstrate an impulsive nature lacking in wisdom and restraint. Perhaps they once knew wisdom and restraint, but have lost these qualities due to whimsicality, or because they abandoned their spiritual practice. In any event, they now do much harm. When we see the harm that they do, and their utter imperviousness to compassion, it is clear they need to be hissed at.

When compassion fails, some people may need a harsh word or Internet takedown or they will just go on attacking. This restores their sense of balance or understanding of cause and effect. “Oh, if I go on the Internet and attack someone, I too may be attacked.” Duh! Some people do learn from this, and others who have suffered feel vindicated when they see that justice is operating, and people who act cruelly and callously do get their comeuppance.

Worldly people are often obsessed with protecting their reputations, which are allied to their moneymaking activities; yet they think nothing of trying to destroy the reputations of spiritual people through libel. This points to a serious ethical imbalance, which occurs because worldly people (particularly apostates) tend to otherize spiritual people. They imagine that spiritual people do not enjoy the same rights to dignity, privacy, and protection of reputation.

In “Lying Isn’t So Bad If It Makes You Feel Good,” John Leo addresses “the postmodern notion that there is no literal truth, only voices and narratives. If so, who can object if you make up a narrative that expresses the truth you feel?” But see also: “Tawana Brawley Rape Hoax Leads To Defamation Damage Payout 26 Years Later.” One consequence of false confessions of victimhood is that they may do collateral damage to third parties. Contrary to the social trend, some people do value their privacy and resent being used as mere objects in someone else’s spurious public confession.

In “My Lie: Why I falsely accused my father,” Meredith Maran discusses how a “perfect storm” of influences including recovered memory therapy, feminist political theory, and social pressure caused her to claim that her father molested her. Years later, she realized it wasn’t true, and was surprised at how strong a role external factors like therapy, politics, and social pressure played in making her commit to a story which she knew in retrospect was a lie. Her father suffered greatly because of that lie, whose genesis was bad therapy and social/political faddism. Yet, she herself was not an automaton or passive agent. Looking back, she knew she had done wrong.

Anti-cult operatives take advantage of the current fad by persuading gullible individuals that the need for public-confession-as-therapy and the need to embrace a new identity as a “cult survivor” outweigh any loyalties, privacy concerns, or traditional ethical and legal constraints against libel. So, drunk with the heady draft of fellow “support group” members egging them on, these people proceed to tell the most extravagant lies about their former spiritual teacher or group. The best “whoppers” are then leaked to the press by anti-cult operatives, or posted on a remote website, devoid of any clue about the support group pressures which led to their creation. (See elsewhere my criticism of attorney Joseph C. Kracht for orchestrating or participating in such fraudulent activities, thus giving them his legal seal of approval.)

As I discussed in Part 2, a typical problem with ex-cult support groups is that members otherize spiritual groups whose beliefs and practices they formerly espoused. They experience a pathological loss of empathy for former friends, colleagues and mentors, and a pathological escalation of hostility. They no longer honour the social contract and no longer treat others with basic human decency. This leads them to commit unethical or even illegal acts against their former colleagues.

What we’re really talking about is a socially constructed view of the religious other as archetypal bogeyman. This view inherently implies that the other has no rights, so who could possibly object to false accounts on the grounds of libel, harassment, or false light invasion of privacy? Therapy culture plus Internet culture equals an unlimited opportunity to publicly shame people with whom one has some disagreement. This is the new emotional etiquette championed by some ethically rudderless psychologists and attorneys engaged in anti-cult advocacy.

— The author, from “Therapists, Hubris, and Native Intelligence.”

Boiling things down to a usable form: Don’t blame the fabled snake for hissing when harassed. Just pray it doesn’t remember how to bite! Those seeking mercy should demonstrate genuine remorse. Otherwise they are more likely to receive justice. When it is a question of forgiveness, the answer depends on the sincerity of the individual.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

* * *

 

Vincent Van Gogh: O Happy Day!

Lend me half an ear and I’ll tell you how I plan to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Vincent Van Gogh’s passing. I’ll revisit this slideshow of his work:

The song is by Don McLean, but the female vocalist is Chyi Yu.

I’ll also watch “Vincent and the Doctor,” an episode of Doctor Who often praised for its sensitivity even by non-Whovians. The full episode used to be embedded here, but try instead this review containing SPOILERS:

Like the Star Trek Universe, the Whovian Universe is mostly secular humanist. Even so, in one Trek episode Captain Picard manages to utter these few lines from Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!

Gods and angels have little place in Doctor Who; but what I find generally about the decline of faith and the advance of humanism also applies here: If we are made in the image of our Creator, then even having banished Him from our existence, we cannot help but mirror some of His qualities. And so, as human beings we discover compassion and empathy and take them to be human qualities, so vain are we.

Artists and other creative thinkers often discover transcendent qualities. They are no less transcendent even if mislableled. So, in “Vincent and the Doctor” it’s easy to spot compassion and empathy and be blown away by them.

SPOILERS: At the end of the episode, Amy Pond bounds up the stairs of the Musée d’Orsay convinced there will be hundreds of new Van Goghs because, after all, they changed his life, right? She’s so crestfallen to find that in spite of everything, he still killed himself at age 37. No new canvases.

In the final scene, the Doctor gives Amy some grief counseling about life being a pile of good things and bad things, and how “we definitely added to his pile of good things.”

Being an art documentary fanatic, I’ve seen quite a few about Van Gogh, but none seemed to capture so much of what we’ve come to feel about Van Gogh as this Doctor Who episode written by Richard Curtis. If there are comic flourishes to help offset the pathos, that’s to be expected since Curtis co-wrote Blackadder and The Vicar of Dibley.

So think of Van Gogh, watch “Vincent and the Doctor,” and if you’re moved to tears, consider that what you may be experiencing is God’s compassion refracted through the human mind.

And beware the goofy-looking monster! After all, Doctor Who is a kiddie show…

Putting The Wind Up Richard Dawkins (videos and commentary)

BBC Series like Doctor Who and The Rev. have had a go at Dawkins, and so has Victoria Coren Mitchell in The Guardian.

I don’t often write about Richard Dawkins, but doing so gives me a chance to drop in bits of British slang like “putting the wind up” and “taking the mick.” While taking the mick at the expense of Dawkins may not be ultra-civilised, it’s a leisure sport that some in the UK media can’t resist. And let’s face it, he kind of deserves it…

I previously quoted Victoria Coren Mitchell in The Guardian like so:

There is a new, false distinction between “believers” and “rationalists.” The trickle-down Dawkins effect has got millions of people thinking that faith is ignorant and childish, with atheism the smart and logical position.

I interviewed the comedian Miranda Hart recently. She told me she believes in God but was nervous of being quoted on it.

“It’s scary to say you’re pro-God,” she said. “Those clever atheists are terrifying.”

Aptly put, Miranda! Doctor Who also had a go at Dawkins in the episode titled “The Big Bang”:

This is actually profound stuff. (It helps if you watch both episodes in the story arc, beginning with “The Pandorica Opens.”) A very special little girl named Amelia Pond is growing up in an alternate time track — an Earth where there are no stars in the sky. But unlike most people, she remembers the original time track well enough to insist on painting the sky with stars, so of course a child psychologist has to be brought in to persuade her logically that “there’s no such thing as stars” — it’s “just a story.”

With the camera mostly on Amelia, her mum chats with the psychologist and confesses her worst fears: “I just don’t want her growing up and joining one of those star cults. I don’t trust that Richard Dawkins!” ROFL

The beauty of art is its varied applicability to the experience of the beholder. Those who’ve been following my series on “The ACLU and Religious Freedom” would perhaps make the connection that the psychologist is “deprogramming” Amelia of her irrational belief in stars. (Amusingly, the slogan of the Flat Earth Society is “Deprogramming the masses since 1547.”) Continue reading

Video

Doctor Who’s Tom Baker: Funny Story 1 (video)

Tom Baker (who played Doctor Who from 1974 to 1981) recounts how Michael Wisher (a.k.a. Davros) managed to be terribly funny by having no sense of humor.

It’s been said that Douglas Adams was the quintessential British nutter, but Tom Baker gives him a run for his money.

Quite a lot of the people who work with me are dead — particularly directors. The word has got out: Directors who work with me often die mysteriously afterwards, sometimes in agony.

— Tom Baker

Michael Wisher as Davros

Michael Wisher as Davros