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 DailyMotion here.

See also full DVD release available from Amazon.

* * *

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:

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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!!!

* * *

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.

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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