Pop Culture Gadabout
Friday, January 06, 2006
      ( 1/06/2006 09:36:00 AM ) Bill S.  

PITCHFORKS IN THE ATLANTIC – Whenever I read about the latest mouthings of a certifiably whacked-out religio-conservative like Pat Robertson, I often find myself flashing back to the years I used to work in the foster care system. Years ago, I was employed by a childcare agency in Illinois to supervise foster parents. This being the middle of Illinois, a good number of the licensed fosterers I visited were farmers (look to the history of foster care in the U.S., and you'll find that much of it was initially bolstered by the need for more hands on the family farm). The majority of parents were levelheaded churchgoing Midwesterners who became foster parents primarily because the kids in the house had all grown up and the mother was experiencing the empty nest thing. But there were a few odd ducks in the crowd, and one of the oddest was Dan.

Dan (not his real name) was a smallish guy with a crackly voice that said Pure Small-Town Geezer and a religious mind-frame that was slightly to the right of Matthew Hopkins. The foster dad devotedly listened to radio evangelicals, and regularly he would float some of their statements my way, perhaps as a rebuke to my godless secular humanism. One day he started holding forth on Disney's The Little Mermaid, which apparently some radio voice had told him was about the daughter of Satan. The evidence? The fact that undersea heroine's father, King Triton, was always seen holding a trident, which Dan called a "pitchfork," an implement that everybody knows Satan carries with him. I don't know if the actual radio proselytizer called it a pitchfork, but that's what Dan took from the broadcast. It's possible that the preacher called it a trident than explained to his audience that the three-pronged staff is very like a pitchfork, but after I heard Dan's pronouncement, I immediately began visualizing the king of the merpeople bailing hay twenty thousand leagues under the sea.

Disney films have long been subjected to a variety of off-the-wall accusations over the years – there are two different urban legends about phallic imagery supposedly "hidden" in The Little Mermaid (they can be found at Snopes here and here). But to accuse a figure plainly inspired by a figure from Greek mythology of being "satanic" requires an assertively willful ignorance – and an audience gullible enough to fall for your bullshit. Sitting in the farmhouse with Dan, I was clearly in the presence of the latter.

To this day, whenever I read or hear some palpable nonsense from Robertson or his ilk, I find myself wondering What Would Dan Think? I'm guessing – to a man who didn't distinguish between a trident and a pitchfork (can you accurately spear fish with the latter?) – Robertson's ravings speak perfect truth . . .
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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