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The 1970s, Religion, and Scooby-Doo - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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September 6th, 2008


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01:27 am - The 1970s, Religion, and Scooby-Doo
I've been writing a longer post about the emergence of the fantasy genre in the 1970s, and some of my thoughts about religion and mass media in the late 60s and early 70s grew both too long and too unrelated, so I'm posting them separately. While religiosity remained strong in much of the nation (especially the South and Midwest) during the late 1960s and early 1970s, I'm struck by the contrast to modern ideas when I look back at mass media attitudes towards religion & spirituality in this era. During this time, religion was either ignored in mass media or it was given a greatly reduced importance. Science could explain everything and the place of religion was made increasingly small in mass media. This mirrored the widespread popular attitudes towards religion on the coasts. There were definitely religious people back then on both coasts, but being devoutly religious was often greeted with a mixture of discomfort and sometimes mild confusion. While no one said so, to many people it was clearly considered mildly eccentric or old-fashioned. Sadly, these attitudes were not present in the rest of the nation, where the fundys were busy organizing.

In any case, one obvious example of this secular trend was the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! cartoon. Here you have a show where pretty much every episode consisted of greedy (mostly older) adults attempting to cheat and defraud people using deceptions involving ghosts and other supernatural creatures or effects, who were debunked by a bunch of clever and lucky teens who were far too sensible to believe in the supernatural. At least looking at it now, it's a fairly small step from a vision of the supernatural as solely existing as a method for the greedy to defraud people as seeing that same idea also applying to religion – in short from a modern perspective it was a deeply subversive show. Despite being not remotely an atheist, I very much miss these attitudes and look longingly at the declining role religion plays in the lives and fates of most other first world nations.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

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From:orangebeaver
Date:September 6th, 2008 11:39 am (UTC)
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I lived through the '70s and there was alot more cynicism and questioning. You didn't get so much of that Super-patriot/God Blesses Only America Stuff.
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:September 6th, 2008 03:20 pm (UTC)
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".... being devoutly religious was often greeted with a mixture of discomfort and sometimes mild confusion. While no one said so, to many people it was clearly considered mildly eccentric or old-fashioned."

That attitude is still true where I live. It was one of the first things I noticed when I moved there and it has not changed in ten years.

"At least looking at it now, it's a fairly small step from a vision of the supernatural as solely existing as a method for the greedy to defraud people as seeing that same idea also applying to religion."

I also see method as a mighty good way to brainwash people. Pagans do this, too. In one otherwise beautiful Gaea ritual, someone chose to make the Mother aspect of the Goddess state that we had better change our ways or else we would all be punished. Fundies are fundies, no matter wheheter they quote the Lord or the Goddess. I am finding myself rather hostile towards all religions these days and growing more so as time goes on. I still believe in and talk to Gods, BTW. I am not an atheist. But all religions should go take a flying leap into the dustbin of history.
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From:athenian_abroad
Date:September 6th, 2008 05:56 pm (UTC)
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I remember Scooby-Doo a little differently. While it is true that, in each instance, the supernatural phenomenon-of-the-week turned out to be a cynical hoax, I don't recall any character ever expressing skepticism about a newly introduced "mystery" on the basis of a generalized skepticism of the supernatural. Nobody ever says, "Of course the abandoned gold mine isn't haunted by the ghost of a long-dead prospector, because there is no such thing as a ghost." Instead, our heroes persistently regard the supernatural as a perfectly real part of the world they inhabit, and take the phenomena they encounter at face value until they uncover specific evidence that an individual case is a hoax.

That is, Scooby-Doo as I remember it, was more Arthur Conan Doyle than Harry Houdini.

But I do agree that the Scooby-Doo "way" does capture something essentially American: the peculiar co-existence of credulity and empiricism without any apparent conflict. "Sure, it might be a ghost, but what's that wire?"
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From:heron61
Date:September 7th, 2008 01:42 am (UTC)
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Mostly I was thinking of the effect on the audience, especially the young audience, who saw the supernatural repeatedly shown to be a greed-driven hoax.

But I do agree that the Scooby-Doo "way" does capture something essentially American: the peculiar co-existence of credulity and empiricism without any apparent conflict. "Sure, it might be a ghost, but what's that wire?"

Most definitely. These days we too often have either have deliberately blind faith or a level of skepticism that often approaches nihilism.
From:dsgood
Date:September 6th, 2008 07:19 pm (UTC)
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The emergence of fantasy in the 1970s? The 1870s would be closer, though still a bit late.
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From:heron61
Date:September 6th, 2008 07:53 pm (UTC)
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OK, re-emergence. However, there was almost no US fantasy from the late 1940s to the early 1970s.
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From:martin_wisse
Date:September 7th, 2008 09:30 am (UTC)
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Yes there was: it was just masquerading as science fiction:
Fritz Leiber, L. Sprague deCamp, Fletcher Pratt, Leigh Brackett, John Myers Myers, Lin Carter undsoweiter.

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From:heron61
Date:September 7th, 2008 09:52 am (UTC)
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True to an extent, but much of it had more in common with the SF of the day than with previous fantasy or (especially) with fantasy written in the 1970s or later. By the mid 1970s, an increasing amount of the fantasy being written looked almost nothing like the SF of the day or the SF of previous decades. You can even see it within the few continuing series that bridged the gap. The first few of Andre Norton's Witch World novels are clearly sword and planet novels (the only possible exception being Year of the Unicorn). However, all of the novels and short stories she wrote in the 1970s and later look a lot more like modern fantasy. Also, very little of what Lieber wrote between the end of WWII and the late 1960s was by any definition fantasy. There were a whole lot of sword and planet stories by Brackett and others, but I think that genre is considerably closer to SF than fantasy in terms of its basic tropes and structure.
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From:slothman
Date:September 6th, 2008 08:22 pm (UTC)
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Do you think Richard Dawkins’ nickname used to be “Shaggy”? :-)
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From:scholargipsy
Date:September 7th, 2008 12:05 am (UTC)
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And yet, it could just as easily be argued that the 1970s was a time of mysticism and irrationality: von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods? was a huge bestseller, In Search Of... was on television, and the soi-disant New Age Movement was gathering steam.

What's interesting to me about all of those examples is that they blend scientistic trappings with a very religious yearning for transcendence, a tendency that has become more, not less pronounced since the 70s as religion coopts the trappings if hardly all the findings of science. The risible "creation science" is only one such example.

In any case, I think you are overstating the case for a rational, scientific 1970s zeitgeist, though that may be a function of our different recollections of living through the decade in question.
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From:heron61
Date:September 7th, 2008 12:34 am (UTC)
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Yes, but all of this was mysticism cast in technological terms - the magical ancient gods were aliens in flying saucers. The New Age movement didn't really exist except on the very far fringes (where my own research indicates it has existed since the late 19th century). What changed was by the late 1970s, you had the return of magic and religion on their own terms, rather than magic and gods being recast as aliens and high tech. Also, and I think crucially, shows like In Search Of... (which I remember with great fondness) were ostensibly about scientifically proving and explaining the mysterious and were at least based on the idea that such things could be examined, proved, and analyzed. That concept has sadly faded across much of the US.

Edited at 2008-09-07 12:36 am (UTC)
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From:scholargipsy
Date:September 7th, 2008 12:38 am (UTC)
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Fair enough, all those points.
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From:martin_wisse
Date:September 7th, 2008 09:32 am (UTC)
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But also look at the spate of horror fantasy movies of the seventies which use Catholic doctrine as their background: The Omen, The Amityville Horror, the Exorcist and such.
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From:heron61
Date:September 7th, 2008 10:03 am (UTC)
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Almost all of which came out in the later half of the 1970s, as the US was starting the wind-up to the religious revival.

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