Hannah-Barbera Lied

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davew's picture

This wasn't my first guess. My first guess was that they were neither Catholic nor had been exposed to Catholicism, but for an Irish kid and a Sicilian kid in 1940's America this is about as likely as the Nobel Committee creating an award for sour dough waffles and giving it to me. No. I think they lied. As a child my role models were entirely Hanna-Barbera creations: Fred Flintstone, Tom&Jerry (more Tom than Jerry), and George Jetson. I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up but I hope it involved as many buttons as George got to press. Each time one of my heroes was pushed to make a tough moral choice, such as whether to confess to Mr. Spacely that you read the blueprints upside down and your building is actually encroaching on Mr. Cogswell's property or to try to lie your way out of the responsibility, an angel would appear on one shoulder and a demon on the other. At this point George would listen to the voice of reason and humility and the other of vice and hedonism and make a decision based on what would take up four more minutes of air time.

As a child, a teenager, and even now as an adult I look for these shoulder dwelling moral opposites. I long for their simple alternatives: short term gain versus honesty, the easy way out versus the reward of self-respect. I have literally prayed for a devil to appear on my shoulder so I could hear his bilious, condensed point of view. Alas it has never happened. This is not to say that in times of crisis my shoulders are empty. Far from it. Catholicism provided me with an ample set of icons to guide me through life. Instead of sporting wings and horns, however, my characters wear rumpled tweed, smoke cigarettes and reek of gin and sadness. On my left shoulder there is always doubt. On my right, fear. Insecurity perches on the bridge of my nose like opera glasses. Uncertainty rides my head with large handfuls of hair constantly steering in unpredictable directions. A large shrunken head of despair dangles from a chain of hopelessness around my neck.

And they are vocal. Like the drunken water buffalo in Fred Flintstone's lodge they are willing to offer opinions on any dilemma that might arise. Their advice, however, is never pithy, nor helpful, and not always coherent. Take a scene from high school prom. I am there in a rented tux. My date is approaching in her borrowed dress. I feel handsome. She looks ravishing. In the Hanna-Barbera version of history a devil would have popped up, "Wow she's hot. How are we going to have sex with her? Sex? You know that thing you like? Oh, yeah. Squeeze her bottom when you dance. Guaranteed to turn her on. And remember, sex." Then an angel would have appeared, "You want love not a romp. Treat her with respect and enjoy the night. Let your relationship develop naturally." What actually happened is my companions stirred briefly from their usual torpor. Doubt asks, "What's the worst thing that can happen?" Fear answers without missing a beat, "I'd say an erection." Insecurity chimes in, "You could wet your pants. How much punch have you had?" Uncertainty adds, "It could be both. And don't forget about poop." "Oh yes," fear says, "the old double-shot... and then you'd probably trip." "Or faint" Uncertainty responds. "I think fainting would be worse." Despair gets in the last word, "And you really can't dance at all."

Mr. Hannah, Mr. Barbera. I don't know why, but you lied to me. Lied like a coyote rug. I will never forgive you for failing to prepare me for life as it really is. You were right about one thing, however. Pushing buttons is a gas.
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"we must be the change we want to see in the world"