Rockford Files: ‘Quickie Nirvana’

Rockford Files - Jim takes on the case of "Quickie Nirvana"

Rockford Files, Episode: “Quickie Nirvana” where a clueless new ager just doesn’t get it.

Add this episode to your Netflix Que, freethinkers and skeptics: Rockford Files, season 4, episode is “Quickie Nirvana.”

I was never much of a fan of the Rockford Files when I was a kid and the series was constantly in reruns so I kept avoiding it, but after watching the first season on Netflix I was hooked. RF is a better than average detective series because of the scripts and James Garner’s characterization of Jim Rockford, a private eye who knows when to punch, when to back off and when to fake-out.

In “Quickie Nirvana” we’re treated to the brutal reality of a new ager calling herself Sky Aquarian who is clueless and irresponsible, but she thinks she knows it all and makes judgments on those who are not enlightened. Rockford, in one beautiful scene, lays it on her that she’s a flake who follows any path but her own and mooches off others because she doesn’t hold down a job. It’s an indictment of  insincere, gullible new-agers who think  religion and spirituality are all are one truth and that every schmuck calling him or herself a guru is worthy of following.

There’s plenty of humor from Rockford’s smart remarks as he tolerates Sky–even shows a fondness for her–and helps her out on a case involving stolen money. However, the episode is rather dark in its sarcasm. I was a bit shocked to see Rockford holding a guru( he just caught for stealing money) around the neck and Sky tells the guru how disappointed she is. Whap! The guru slaps her hard. Then Rockford says, “That’s the sound of one hand clapping,” a reference to an earlier “wise saying” by Sky. The slapping scene is wake-up call to the new-ager on how gullible she has been and is the kind of metaphorical slap we wish we could lay on some people who have given their minds over to nonsense. Unfortunately, Sky is found 6 months later to not have learned her lesson and we end the episode on a sour note shaking our heads.

Also be sure to catch Sky’s reference to a certain Robert Heinlein novel which I’m sure has been used by new-agers in the past with a straight face. I laughed out loud.

Slapped Woman

“That’s the sound of one hand clapping.”

 

‘Good Luck Charlie’ Pokes Fun at New Age Pet Therapy

I’m a sucker for an old-fashioned cornball sitcom and Disney Channel specializes in them. What they have done with their line-up is create family viewing with rehashed sitcom plots from the seventies and early eighties when generally most TV comedies  were pretty harmless (exceptions might be All in the Family). Surprisingly, these new sitcoms often improve on many old gags and come up with some new twists. My only criticism to Disney Channel is that some of the show ideas like A.N.T. Farm could actually promote science and freethinking for brighter than average kids instead of catering to too much fluff.

With that said, as I was drawing I had Good Luck Charlie on which is pretty standard fare. An American family with some eccentricities and the usual trouble found in raising kids. This one was episode 11 from Season One (if you’re looking for it on Netflix) and has a storyline about the oldest daughter Teddy babysitting the neighbor’s cat named “Kaboodle.” The cat is determined to not be up to its usual playful self and so it is recommend to Teddy to have the patient examined by a doctor. The cat doctor who makes house calls, named Dr. Tish Tushee, ends up being a new age quack trying to explain the cat’s chakras and other mumbo jumbo while Teddy looks on confused and we hear the laugh track. In the end, Kaboodle just needed to poop. For a Disney episode, it was a nice little jab at new age pet therapy.

Like I said, I don’t expect much from a Disney sitcom, but I am finding bright spots here and there. There is one I want to mention later about A.N.T. Farm, but this episode from Good Luck Charlie would be perfect for freethinking parents to share with their kids. As a bonus, there’s another storyline in the show about honesty and being yourself–a simple moral value which is always good to teach (unless you’re a double agent for the government and you can’t be yourself, then you need to lie your ass off).

‘Psych’ Moment, Devil in the Details

I enjoy nearly all the Psych episodes but I was particularly pleased with Season 4, episode 4 called “The Devil is in the Details and in the Upstairs Bedroom”. The obvious reason is not only does the show open up with Shawn questioning a priest about Noah’s Ark as a child, but proceeds to exposing demon possession (a parody of the movie The Exorcist) as nothing more than imagination and trickery. If you’ve ever seen a so-called demon possession that is what they are–no Hollywood effects, just lame tricks for those with strong imaginations. Someone changing the pitch of their voice and trembling is not an indication of a supernatural being (take note, Bob Larson).

Young Shawn: I’m sorry, Dad, but it just doesn’t make sense.
Priest: What doesn’t make sense, Shawn?
Young Shawn: Lots of things. Like if the Ark was built in the Middle East how did animals like the Koala Bear get to it?
Young Gus: God helped them get there using his almighty powers.
Priest: That’s exactly right, Gus.
Young Shawn: Then why didn’t he use those powers to create the Ark? Wouldn’t that be much faster than getting Noah to build it?

‘Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files,’ a Skeptical Babystep on SyFy

I honestly don’t bother to watch the SyFy Channel on my own unless I’m in the mood for a bad “made-for SyFy” movie with poorly done CGI (newest one is Ice Road Terror inspired by Ice Road Truckers–ha! Great title!), but I finally did catch a mini-marathon of Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files and was hooked. Now I know this show has gotten some criticism from the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) for coming to some erroneous conclusions and even producer tampering, but then scientific investigations are filled with erroneous conclusions and we should feel free to point out the errors in what is more of an entertainment show than an educational video series. I can’t even say that Fact or Faked uses the scientific method appropriately, but it tries.  The other issue is that the show is ambiguous–it may be a real haunting even though we showed we could fake the footage, that sort of thing.  What I think is important about this show is that it is a baby step in the right direction on a mainstream cable channel which hosts other supernatural shows. It is a compromise between skepticism and entertainment. That’s tough for some skeptics to accept–I do get it. But as a result we may see better and better versions of skeptic oriented shows. Shows where the skeptics don’t have to look so apologetic for exposing nonsense.

You have to understand that my wife and I are polar opposites on the supernatural and therefore I have watched Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, Travel Channel’s  haunted specials and Celebrity Ghost Stories due to her flipping them on and enticing me with a shoulder rub. They all annoy me, especially the stooges in Ghost Adventures who seem to think they are doing an actual scientific investigation. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with a paranormal investigation, though I think it is wasted effort at this point in time due to modern scientific progress. The main problem is usually the people doing supposed paranormal investigations do not have the required scientific backgrounds and it is more about entertainment value than serious research (thus the spooky music, video effects and editing). The Fact or Faked researchers, while young (and attractive for the sake of the camera) are more competent than usual because you see them duplicating each scenario like Mythbusters and ruling out the obvious at first and then trying to come to a logical conclusion.

One of the best examples was an episode with a swing that wouldn’t stop swinging in Argentina. A very perplexing scene for sure since you could stop it and it would start again and it was out in open daylight. The teenager who filmed it thought it was a ghost child. The researchers didn’t just examine his cell phone footage–they went to Argentina to the actual swingset!

First they tested whether the swing would move the same way with a line pulling the swing back and forth. It was possible but not logical since you could see the line on camera. Then they built another duplicate swing set (which impressed me due to the amount of labor) and set it side by side. That didn’t work as their duplicate swingset stopped moving. Lastly they tested whether it could be wind–and mind you it was not blowing hard and only the middle swing was moving–by covering the swingset with an inflatable dome. Even as they started testing this theory you could see the middle swing became still under the dome. They then used a fan to create an 11 mile to 14 mile wind and tested different angles. Bingo! Worked and the supernatural suddenly became natural.

The Fact or Faked researchers do go out of their way to say just because they can duplicate a scene, such as alien footage or a haunting, that it does not necessarily mean the original footage was faked. This is the view that some people feel they have to take so they look unbiased or fair minded. I understand that even as I’m watching a knucklehead local saying he did in fact film an alien in his home and he will swear on a Bible (which don’t mean shit to me) who obviously faked it. Or he’s so crazy he believes his own faking.

You might wonder why all these ghost shows and people who report ghosts annoy me? Because I’ve already been on the supernatural believing side and it is just a bunch of empty, disappointing nonsense in an effort to make our lives more exciting. And frankly, much like televangelism, most psychics and ghost hunters are looking for fame and/or fortune (TV shows and book sales) and long to be well-paid experts while the rest of us work our day jobs and don’t make shit up. Fame and fortune is fine, but I want to see such rewards bestowed on real experts who earned it. It’s the difference between  Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan making a music album and oh, let’s say Christina Aguilera or Shakira making a music album. We can’t always put it into words but we know the latter deserves our respect and dollars.

In fact, what is exciting about the natural requires dedicated study and hard work to understand–the mechanics of the universe and of life itself. I don’t even discount the possibility of alien life, I just think it is more likely we’ll find alien bacteria than intelligent life (but you never know). I’m tired of the term supernatural, however, because it just seems flawed. If it is super or above nature than how are we to perceive it by natural means (our eyes, physical instruments, etc)? Truly, if there is a supernatural realm it is imperceptible in this natural realm. If anything we are dealing with the “supernormal,” a term introduced to me when I read  Legend of Hell House (a classic haunted house story I like even as an atheist). If ghosts are energy then they’re not ghosts by the usual definition of disembodied spirits stuck between heaven and hell–they’re natural because energy is natural. Ghosts could just be natural phenomena completely separate from superstition and religious tradition. When it comes down to it, ghosts are just the unexplained waiting to be explained surrounded by mythology.

Even with its flaws, Fact or Faked:Paranormal Files can start to create more informed viewers because as I’ve said about YouTube and young people, the next generation is not going to be as gullible about faked videos as the last generation. They have more experience with making videos and all of the problems associated with it from lighting to audio to just oddball stuff that pops up on your footage. And they call each other out on trying to spot YouTube hoaxes.

I say critque Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files, but also support it. Hardcore skeptics are choking on that I know, but nothing ever happens overnight. Encourage the series to get smarter and show there is an audience for it just like Mythbusters. The show started in 2010 and is now in its second season. It doesn’t have the momentum that Ghost Hunters or Ghost Adventures has. Why? Because it is not confrontational. The real flaw is that maybe Fact or Faked needs a researcher who is a hardcore skeptic and creates some drama between the cast. Unfortunately, while I can’t disapprove of the casts intelligent demeanors, I have to say for the sake of a reality show we need people confronting people and at least one guy saying “Bullshit! These people are liars!” It would be kind of like good cop versus bad cop when going after the farmer who says his cow was probed by a little green guy.

Maybe I’m wrong on Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files or maybe I just think it will lead to the next incarnation of  skeptical entertainment if enthusiasm is shown for it. Feel free to comment and come down on me. I may change my mind.

SIDENOTE: If you want to read more about the producer tampering check out Randi’s site with an article by Karen Stollznow. Producers are under enormous pressure to make their shows as exciting as possible and if this is what the Fact or Faked producer does for what we might call a “nearly skeptical” show then think what the producers of ghost shows are willing to do.

SIDENOTE 2: My wife is always saying that Ghost Hunters is using skepticism and I call bullshit on that. Again, a lot of ambiguity and poor scientific investigation and possibly outright lying and deception from what is posted online. Trying going to YouTube and type in “Ghost Hunters Faked” and see what you get–a whole lot of videos filled with enlightening tidbits. Houdini would have been proud.

Parking Wars Reality Show with an Avowed Agnostic

Here’s a little Freethunk fluff on Parking Wars, the A&E reality TV series. Whenever I get sick I eat junk food and watch junk TV and this time I found Parking Wars on Netflix and watched the entire first season as snot dribbled out my nose. I’m always fascinated by other people’s jobs, especially the crappy ones. While I’m sure the benefits and pay are good, working for the parking authority is filled with abuse. I would say the abuse is ill-aimed and that the people who should get an earful are the ones who have the power to change how the streets are run. Simply put, too many cars and too few spaces creates high demand and the city knows how to make money off of it instead of creating solutions.

Two of the featured parking authority officers for Philadelphia are Garfield and Sherry. They are booters. You get 3 tickets and you’re likely to find an ugly, yellow contraption on your wheel. Garfield, per the profile notes displayed during the show, is an avowed agnostic who loves to listen to Bad Religion. His partner, on the other hand, is a Christian married to a deacon. So what you have is an interfaith team on the streets nailing violators. It was somewhat humorous to see bumperstickers praising Jesus getting the boot or a brother’s sister being booted despite the fact she was a missionary (I guess missionaries don’t pay tickets when they know they may be leaving for another country).

Most of the people being booted, while upset, treat Garfield and Sherry much better than the officers who issue the original parking tickets. The booting pair does genuinely take the time to help the people being booted and are not unsympathetic–yet it is their job, as unpleasant as it may be, and they will not run away from an argument.

It’s hard to take sides in this show, but Garfield and Sherry are my favorite Philly Parking Authorities. Sometimes it is B.S. to get a ticket, but often it is so obvious that a person is full of B.S. when they’re trying to get out of a ticket. As long as it ain’t you it’s hard not to laugh.

SIDENOTE: The freedom given to A&E to profile all of the Parking Authorities is interesting. Garfield lets us know he’s an avowed agnostic while a tow truck driver is seen hitting on women shamelessly and another parking authority plays a pretend violin at whining victims–do the supervisors watch this show and say, “Whoa! We gotta uphold a professional reputation here.”  But without these kinds of personality traits that might not openly be allowed at other jobs, I don’t think these guys could survive their daily grind. The reality show has probably been good for Parking Authorities everywhere because even if you don’t like ticketing, you can definitely see the people who deserve it (handicapped spaces, double parking) and what jerks they can be to these government employees. I’m not saying I might not argue a ticket but I’m going to be civil about it.

3rd Rock From the Sun on Prayer

I’ve been watching the first season of 3rd Rock from the Sun and forgot how good the show was. John Lithgow is wonderfully hilarious with the pompous characterization of The High Commander known as “Dick” and the supporting cast all works well together to create all kinds of observational humor. If for some strange reason you haven’t seen the show it features a troop of aliens sent to earth to gather research on humans. They take on bodily forms and act as a  family in order to fit in.

The alien son named  Tommy Solomon played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt caught my interest in an episode where he joins the basketball team. The coach leads them in prayer as coaches are known for doing and Tommy suddenly chimes in and questions the purpose of the prayer itself, “Do you think we should be bothering God over a basketball game?” The coach looks at Tommy dumbfounded as it is probably the first time he has ever been questioned on this and the coach insists, “This is important.” And Tommy says, “But the other team is praying too?” After a slight pause, Tommy comes to the conclusion, “Oh, so our god is stronger than their god?” The coach replies, “There’s only one god, Solomon.” Tommy says, “Well, then am I the only one seeing the conflict of interest here?” The coach comes back with, “YES!”

It’s a classic skit on an old joke about who does God favor when two teams are praying to win. The idea that any team would pray to God to win a sporting event seems trivial in comparison to the other duties bestowed upon God such as healing the sick, saving sinners and maybe feeding some starving children. But Christians rarely see the conflict of interest. This can be taken further with nationalistic war and we all know that America prays to win while the other side prays to win too, whether it is to Allah or to the German version of God or whoever is the deity at hand. Very few Christians stop to think that if God is a god of peace then praying to win is completely the wrong thing to do. In fact, Christian martyrdom, which was so common in the early days of Christianity, may be more in line with the Bible than not turning the other cheek.

On the other hand, if you’re pragmatic and you believe war is necessary to achieve peace due to someone like Hitler then maybe there’s some sense in it, except why not pray to God to win the war for us instead of us having to sacrifice countless lives? Of course, this is the same God that advocated genocide during the Old Testament Joshua campaigns so maybe war is spectator sport for Him. I’ve never bought into the idea that the Christian god was a god of peace, though it sure seems to be tossed around in Christian circles alot.

Tommy Solomon tried to get through to us on prayer, will we listen?

‘Moral Orel, Volume 1’ Review

Moral Orel, Volume 1, **** Stars

Moral Orel aired on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim from 2005 to 2008, but since I avoid commercial TV as much as possible I have not seen this brilliant little show until now. The DVD collects 15 episodes which are like candy, you can’t stop watching them–short and sweet.

The obvious parody is the stop motion animation of the original Davey and Goliath (“Helloooo Daveeey”) brought to us by The Lutheran Church. It ran on TV in the fifties and sixties and featured a kid named Davey and his talking dog named Goliath (odd name for a dog, Goliath in the Bible was an enemy of God). Davey also had a typical Christian Dad, reminiscent of Ward from Leave It To Beaver. The show was about morals taught in a gentle way with the wisdom of God and parental figures. It still has a nostalgic appeal to this day and runs on TBN where I catch it occasionally. When I was growing up I want to say that I saw it in the eighties on PBS, but it could have been on one of the big 3 networks. I know on Sunday mornings they would run a series with famous celebrities doing moral and Biblical theater style drama which then also had Davey and Goliath before or after that show.

According to an older article on ChristianFilmNews.com, The Lutheran Church has produced more Davey and Goliath specials, or at least one Christmas special about tolerance of other faiths (which is appreciated). The modern Lutheran church which I visited after attending a Greek Orthodox church had its focus on social issues more than Bible thumping.

The genius of Moral Orel is to keep the nostalgic feel of Davey and Goliath while using dark satire to show life isn’t a fifties kid’s show. Davey and Goliath idealizes small town America and how good Christianity is. Moral Orel, who lives in Moralton, reflects the dark underbelly or behind the scenes of the Christian illusion. Divorce, jealousy, racism, anti-intellectualism, alcholism, child beating, and a general distaste for supposed traditional family values. The odd thing is, this series puts me in a good mood every time I watch it. It was like it kept the fantasy Christian illusion somehow even as it was destroying it.

Two of the best and darkest episodes  on volume 1 are “The Best Christmas Ever” and “Love.” The Christmas show delves into the break up of Orel’s family as we begin to see how that Orel’s younger, mentally disturbed brother might have been the result of an affair. With most Christmas specials we expect a Christmas miracle at the end as Orel prays to God to fix his family–but in Moralton God is strangely absent. “Love” introduces us to Orel’s pet dog Bartholomew which leads to an important Bible lesson: You are not love anything or anyone more than Jesus. Therefore this poor kid has his dog taken away by the grown-ups with a final scene that is simply hilarious if not utterly cynical. But it reflects something so true about Christianity in that how many Christians really love their invisible Jesus more than their spouse, their kids or even their pets? Would they leave their family if they discovered that they were interfering with the love for Jesus Christ? Nope, Christians don’t do that. Only monastics or hermits or people who go crazy and actually start talking to Jesus out loud.

For Christians who want to watch Moral Orel, they may be able to tolerate it but it is going to be offensive (sometimes because the truth hurts) and they will cry foul at many of the episodes. The show reflects a white Protestant America with all of its fears and yet Orel tries his darnedest to do what’s right. Because the real problem is that Moral Orel is an honest Biblical literalist and as we all know, modern Christians apply modern reason to the Bible to try to make sense of it all. When you use reason to rationalize superstition you can get some strange results.

For freethinkers, unless you have an aversion to some of the more gross elements of the humor, you’re going to love the series. It’s not always laugh out loud funny, often it’s, “Oh Man, they hit the nail on the head with that comment.” It may not be as enjoyable for those who are not familiar with Davey and Goliath, but if you were raised on that show combined with a Protestant church (which I was) you’ll love it. It’s dark, heart warming satire that parodies human nature more than God. And even as Moral Orel tries to be the best Christian ever, he’s a likable, optimistic character. If only his father was an atheist, he’d be better off and the life lessons would provide real guidance.

SIDENOTE: According to Wiki, “Three episodes of the first season were initially held back because Cartoon Network’s Standards & Practices Department found them to be too dark and explicitly sexually crude even for Adult Swim.” I find it hard to believe the show got any episodes on the air. The themes and messages are explicitly anti-Christian or rather anti-Protestant as Catholics are found to be immoral in Moralton.

SIDENOTE 2: If you’re looking for volumes 2 and 3 they are harder to find. Madman Entertainment has them. I did find a Moral Orel toy figure on Amazon.com and had to get it. This show is likely to find cult status but may be drowned in the deluge of other shows and products out there trying to be shocking. While many shows can give the Christian right a good jab very few strike at the foundation of Christian beliefs and the illusions of an ideal Christian community.

The Amazing Racist, Humor Gone Too Far?

The Amazing Racist scopes out a mosque for a Bar Mitzvah

I caught The Amazing Racist on Netflix as a part of a series called Lost Reality from 2004, a collection of reality show pilots that never got bought. Believe you me, there’s a reason these pilots were never purchased for TV.  However, be forewarned, this is from National Lampoon so are some of these staged or were they done to be outrageous for this collection only? Not quite sure as I don’t see the cleverness of some of the pilots which seem like ideas coming out of a frat house–oh wait, that’s where National Lampoon gets its scripts… I suspect while the pilots may have been thought up for this collection, some of the participants or bystanders may have still been people off the street. Hmm, that hooker one though….can’t imagine not staging that one due to the legal concerns, but I am constantly amazed at the stupid things people will do to get on camera.

I’m torn on the bits for The Amazing Racist, which are all over YouTube, because obviously it’s  a Jewish guy trying to see what kind of reactions he can provoke by donning a KKK hood and entering a black neighborhood and nothing more. No social satire, nothing particularly inventive; the scenes are more like car accidents you stare at. If this was staged then fine, but if it wasn’t the unwilling participants reacted in a reasonable but angry manner. This really wasn’t what I personally considered to be funny. However, I’m more interested in the reaction of YouTube viewers with the videos posted below.

The Amazing Racist also set up shop at a mosque dressed to be blatantly Jewish and trying to sell offensive T-shirts and calendars. This is one of the reasons I wasn’t sure if it was all  rehearsed as what mosque would allow for such a parody? Unless it wasn’t a real mosque.  Also the T-shirts he was selling weren’t funny, they were just offensive and lame. After unsuccessfully pushing his wares outside he brings them inside the mosque. It takes some time but finally a group of Muslim men come for him and carry him out. If it was all an act–good acting! If these Muslims were being punked I think they deserve an apology as this was a private religious affair and not meant for the general public. I may make fun of Allah but I don’t believe in personally disrespecting people of faith by barging in on their prayers.

Interestingly enough, someone posted the end clip of the Mosque punking on YouTube and they added: “This is not racist but it’s funny, and im muslim too so chill.”

There seems to be a general acceptance of almost meanspirited race and religion parody in America amongst primarily young people and I guess that’s why I’m posting this. The eternal optimist in me always seems to find the glass half full. See the original KKK punking video below and then the response to it by an African American man who thought it was funny. It’s similar to what guys do to each other with insults–it brings them together. YouTube viewer comments are vicious too but people argue everything out–even hurl more racial insults and jokes or make fun of someone for not knowing what a turban is. Now maybe that is strictly a guy thing but even as I can’t say I personally approve of this race parody (I’ve never cared much for punk’d-style humor), it is refreshing to see reactions like this. We seem to be able to offend each other and laugh it off rather than blowing up a hotel or putting out a death warrant for someone. It shows how much more peaceful American thinking is when it comes to humor–even vicious humor. Middle East clerics can’t even ignore the simplest jokes and blow everything  all out of proportion (no pun intended).

Now I’m sure there’s more to this discussion as we know Muslims are a media target and a political target since we Americans have short memories on freedom of religion when it comes to building new mosques, but seeing how American youth can let a joke slide or respond with a video of their own instead of resorting to violence is a sign of good social health. Let’s hope it continues and we can abate American right fears of a Muslim takeover.

Here’s the original KKK Amazing Racist…

And here’s a filmed response…

And lastly here’s an end clip of The Amazing Racist at a mosque which was posted by a Muslim (unless they were lying) who found it funny…

SIDENOTE: I would say the biggest clue as to The Amazing Racist being staged is the cameraman. I’d have to rewatch it but the cameraman doesn’t seem to be affected by the scenes and has some quality shots as if he’s not even there or we’re supposed to forget he’s there. The participants are not even aware of his presence. If a guy with a video camera entered into a mosque I would think there would be a bigger reaction towards him/her or the cameraman might be addressed somehow like, “You! Get out too!” Good hoaxing job by National Lampoon it seems, but you’ll notice that YouTube youth is very wary of staged videos. Dare I say, YouTube is creating genuine skeptics?

Sanford and Son’s Bible Thumping Aunt

Fred Sanford’s arch-nemesis in the classic TV series Sanford and Son was Esther Anderson, sister to dear departed Elizabeth. Elizabeth was of course Sanford’s wife before passing on and the recurring gag of him faking a heart attack would have him bewailing, “You hear that, Elizabeth? I’m coming to join ya, honey!” And she more than just disapproved of Fred marrying her sister, she knew God disapproved of Fred too.

I’m kind of hooked on this new channel Antenna TV as I sit here and draw. There’s no doubt many of the old shows were devoid of laughs and tried too hard for character humor such as Too Close for Comfort with Ted Knight as a cartoonist (that’s a cartoonist?!), but when you get to All in the Family and Sanford and Son then you start laughing. Maybe that’s because they were born of British counterparts or maybe because they always were breaking the boring mold set by the time period’s TV standards.

One of the funniest characters has to be Aunt Esther, played with comedic genius by LaWanda Page, because where else would you see a Baptist Bible thumper parodied in such a manner? Especially one who is a stereotype of all the little old ladies from the American black church. Certainly, not on any prime time sitcoms I know of today?

The episode I watched last night was sans Sanford (he was off on a trip) and so Grady Wilson was filling in and making Fred’s son Lamont’s life miserable. Finally, Lamont tricks Grady into going to a skin-flick downtown somewhere with a free ticket and then invites his friends over to party. Grady figures out he’s been had, tries to get back in but is locked out. So who does he go to? Aunt Esther and and her Bible study club. They break in under the false pretense that Grady will let them use Sanford’s place for prayer and worship, but find Lamont and his best friend are getting “hot and heavy” with two girls. Esther starts yelling, “Jezebels” and swinging her purse and all the Bible thumping ladies go on the attack until the poor, helpless girls run for their lives.

I find it all hilarious. Now to be fair to Christians, the parody is warm-hearted. I’m sure within the black church it is not uncommon to have a little old lady who could kick the devil’s ass herself. BUT you wouldn’t want her after you! Fred Sanford is hardly innocent but he more closely represents the rest of us then Aunt Esther. We want to be free of the drag of church and judgments on our lifestyle. Humor is wrapped up in pain and therefore the haughty behavior of little old lady Bible thumpers range from annoyance to sorrow as they tear apart families with an exaggeration of sin and the need for repentance.

Bible thumping Esther is yet another example in our pop culture which we amuse ourselves with because we don’t want to be her. She’s crazy and fanatical, even if everything she is saying is straight from God’s lips or quoted from the Bible. Why is that? Maybe we just don’t like to be told what to do or think, especially when we’re just having a good time–like making out (use birth control if it gets too hot!)? Or perhaps, deep down inside, we think a good portion of the Bible doesn’t apply to us and that, generally speaking, we’re good people.

Either way, here’s to LaWanda Page for her depiction of Bible thumping Esther. Thanks for the laughter.