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I was, frankly, a marginalized father figure type in a fundamentalist household for many years, and recent political events--particularly those involving the church/state nexus--have me rehashing my experiences.  James Dobson and his Focus on the Family media arm figured in a big way in our home in the `90s, though not always convivially.  Reading comments in Dailykos and other blogspaces of like ilk, I'm curious how aware the left/liberal/progressive crowd really is of how hard Dobson's media minions have been working to establish a robust taproot deep in the psyches of America's next generation.  People are getting a bit steamed up about the specter of "Jesus Camps" rearing up a generation of Christian jihadists.  But are they aware that something, in a way more insidious, was quietly happening in fundamentalist households during the `90s?  I left that household in 2001; is it still happening in the same way?

I lived near Dallas Texas for many years, and as one can expect, there's a dogged supersaturation of fundamentalist radio in the area.  My Significant Other (of the time) became addicted to religious radio, and consequently I regularly heard Focus on the Family programs.  Since we had kids in the house, she also saw fit to expose them to their kid show, "Adventures in Odyssey." This is well-produced radio theater, with generally laudable voice work and some clean narrative writing.

Odyssey could at times be genuinely heart-warming, if simplistic.  But quite often you saw a rather clumsy effort, in the midst of the Clinton boom `90s, to inoculate a new generation of kids against questioning authority; questioning biblical nonsense, cloak-and-dagger elitism, and general imperial, heavy-power behavior by their political betters.  It's strange to say, but it sometimes took on the appearance of direct reaction to `60s Berkeley, or `80s consciousness-raising over the contra question.

It may sound like I'm overstating, but I'm not.  Chubby, pink-cheeked li'l skeezers sitting around the radio in the `90s to find out what hijinx "Whit" and the gang would get into this week were not likely to possess the kind of cultural context needed to parse some of the political stuff they would hear; and their fundie parents were not bloody likely to provide it.  Sometimes it felt like the writers were purging their own demons of remorse over their own earlier rebellion against God's established authorities.  The results didn't always ring like a fine narrative bell!

In short, a significant component of the action in the `90s "Adventures in Odyssey" episodes seemed bent on explicitly redressing putative wrongs imposed on elites by "counterculture" revisionists.

Here's a sampling of some of these themes from past Odyssey episodes:

  • A little boy has intense fantasies about being a fighter pilot, like his father who died in action in Vietnam.  His fantasy is "shot down" by a history teacher who gives him a text to read which is apparently critical of our Vietnam involvement--though we never hear anything from the text that can be submitted to reasoned judgment.  The teacher is subsequently upbraided by "Whit" for failing to uphold the values of honor and dignified service--though we never get to find out what's honorable about visiting years of superior firepower on rice farmers, or what's dishonorable about a history text which (perhaps; hard to say) could plausibly seek to put Vietnam in some kind of a moral context.  The straw dog teacher crumples before Whit's posturing.  They also throw in flashbacks to another straw dog "hippie" character whose opposition to the war is pretty much indistinguishable from a wimpy, groovy, and generally out-of-it lifestyle.

  • A boy is questioning giving money in church to support missionaries, then has an extended, Scrooge-like vivid dream about visiting a struggling missionary to the Miskito people in Nicaragua.  You'd think the focus would be on Christ's legacy of serving people in need, but the piece turns out to be largely a Trojan Horse rehash of a strained apologetic for unquestioned support for Reagan's contras.

  • "Whit," an older, semi-retired man, runs an ice cream soda shop, and hands-on science and technology play-space for the kids of the town of Odyssey.  Oh.  Did I mention that he's also a spook on the CIA payroll who sometimes hands control to trusted underage employees while he's out on assignments whose purposes are not even hazily contoured in the scripts?  It was likely conjured up by the screenwriters to avail the ailing Hal Smith opportunities to get some needed R&R, but you have to admit it's a weird-ass dodge to choose.

  • But to show this spook angle was something of an idée fixe, there are two other adult characters in the scripts who are CIA spooks, fall deeply in love, and naturally, ardently seek to place these feelings into a scriptural context.  Sexy!  Again, we never learn what their assignments were.  So what is the metamessage behind these bizarre, otherworldly little vacuums in these plotlines?  If fleshing in these bits doesn't figure in to the scriptwriters' sense of narrative balance, who are you to think that official secrets are any of your business?  If concern about this even shows up on your screen, you may not be the good little soldier of God you think you are.  Mindlessly absorbing these subtexts is good practice for a placid future life blocking out perpetual outrages committed against the principles of civil government in some Christian police state--or could that be state in which we find ourselves presently?  The universal solvent that dissolves the salts of moral accountability would appear to be Jesus.  Our lesson for today?:  Jesus Christ gives you a moral free ride, which translates into never having to tell anyone what's really happening, or what you're really doing.  Bush's illegal spy program--and the harrowing reality that "Christian" middle America doesn't give a shit about it-- dovetails perfectly.

You may be asking, why did I let my kids listen to this pernicious stuff?  Well, the first reason is that my kids were also my wife's kids, and marriage is necessarily compromise.  In my defense, remember that she is my ex-wife.

Also, I recall an exchange with a fundamentalist brother-in-law who questioned how my wife and I could function as a parental team, what with our disparity of outlook on these kinds of issues.  I countered with the obvious:  If my wife and I were in total, "ideal" accord on such things, who would teach our kids certain valuable lessons, such as the necessity to develop as free, moral agents, continually and earnestly evaluating the barrage of messages from authority figures, using one's best lights.  In the words of my eldest, when I told her, "Question authority!" she said,  "Why?"

See?  It worked!

Anyway, the reason I sat down to pen this stuff is because I suspect there are very few progressives out there who know anything about Dobson & Co. beyond the occasional sound-bite belligerence from the muckety mucks.  But I think people need to be aware of this other ugly aspect of FotF; the world where they furtively seek to strip the next generation of the skills needed to evaluate state pronouncements and behavior in a timely manner; a world where charming children's radio entertainment aids and abets fundamentalist parents in their effort to program their kids to accept affective response to government signals as a surrogate for real morality; a world you would know only if you were strapped to a chair and forced to listen, or if you were married to a fundamentalist.

There are more topics that I could treat; such as weird, seemingly self-conscious radio segments that addressed specific skeptical dismissals of Bible passages.  One message comes through clearly:  Deep down, these folks know they're trying harder than they would have to if God was truly on their sides

More, later.  Perhaps.  Thanks for reading.

Originally posted to razajac on Tue Oct 03, 2006 at 02:17 AM PDT.


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