Teenage Conflict: Part 1
This one is by request! Yet another in the Teenage series of movies, chronicling the trials and tribulations of white, upper-middle-class teenagers, circa 1960. And by trials and tribulations, I mean such pressing issues as how much to proselytize to the customers of your aunt’s malt shop and how much to proselytize to the kids who steal from your Nativity Scene.
And this is the creationism one, so the question is: how much should I proselytize to the kids in the science club?
As usual, cutouts introduce us to the theme of the film:
Science and religion…
…and how they really do go together after all. Who knew?
Meet Donna and Joe:
Two clean-cut American Christian siblings…
OR ARE THEY???
(Um, I mean “are they really Christian?” not “are they really siblings?” Because they are definitely siblings. I suspect they might even be twins—they look very much alike and get along really well. At most, Joe is meant to be a year older than Donna.)
That thing Joe has in front of him is his home-built “satellite tracking device,” which he can’t quite get to work. Joe is quickly established as a physics nut, and also cheerfully helps Donna through some homework on molecules.
Their little study session is interrupted by Fred, a fellow youth group member. He’s been tasked with tracking down the siblings, and beinging them back into the fold, since (gasp!) they’ve been skipping out on meetings lately.
Fred: Remember, these meetings are important. Or did you forget?
Fred is a snide jerk, though we are clearly meant to see him as the voice of reason.
Joe and Donna both plead “too busy” for youth group just now, but hey, Fred, get back to us sometime next decade. Joe, indeed, lays the blame at youth group itself:
Joe: Look, Fred, just between us, this youth fellowship stuff down at the church is just taking up too much time.
Fred’s reaction is priceless. He actually leans backwards, with a look on his face as though Joe had just revealed his secret wish to dismember a litter of puppies. “Too much…” he trails off, as though the very thought cannot be repeated in full.
Nothing daunted, Joe continues. Sid, president of the school science club, has been helping Joe with his satellite-listening thingy, and they’ve been talking about the conflict of science and religion.
Joe: Shouldn’t our religious ideas be able to stand up, even under a scientific approach? I mean, either a thing is true or it isn’t.
I like these kids already. Donna, girl that she is, has barely said a word so far, but she gives a decisive nod at this line.
Frankly, there’s not much to say to all this, and despite a vague suggestion that they “talk” with the youth pastor, Fred largely gives up.
That evening, over dinner, the kids’ mother, Meg, mentions that good ole George Cooper is coming back to town, to be “installing some kind of an electronic brain down at the new research center.”
So the guy’s a 1960s computer nerd! That’s kinda badass.
The family reminisces over George, the neighborhood science dork who has now made good. (He is some years older than Joe and Donna, and it seems that even as a little kid, Joe recognized a kindred dork in George. But apparently George also a bit of a rep as being anti-religion.
This makes dad Raymond very upset, because he is the kind of guy who is personally affronted when anyone he has ever met has a different viewpoint.
Raymond: *sneering* Doctor George Cooper. Eminent scientist. How can a man with a mind like that be so blind to the very Creator Himself?
Joe: Well, maybe he found something in his research that made him believe like that.
Raymond: Well, it’s probably the same old story. In spite of everything he learned, he missed the main thing: the fear of the LAWD* is the beginning of all wisdom.
*Yes, Raymond says it exactly like that.
Meg also comments that she is happy that Joe and Donna never “got to questioning things” like George did.
Asking questions? Noooooooooo…
Man, you never know what could happen when people ask questions, right? I mean, they might examine things in a deeper way or even learn something new!
Can’t have any of that.
Joe and Donna, knowing a losing battle when they see one, wisely keep their mouths shut at Raymond’s assishness.
The next day, Joe and his pal Sid, referenced above, are enjoying a break at the malt shop. (Presumably not Gertie’s malt shop, for reasons which will become clear in a moment.
I’ll put something out there right now: Sid is the true hero of this story. A true, realistic, awesome atheist kid.
I highly doubt the writers intend him to be so, but Sid is intelligent, cool and collected, and has a dry sense of humor. As Joe whines about his parents and their “old-fashioned kind of faith,” Sid talks him down, pointing out matter-of-factly but non-condescendingly that schools today teach kids a lot more science than their parents ever got. It appears that Sid went through a bit of a tough time when he “came out” to his parents as a skeptic, but given his manner now, we can assume that the family reached some kind of compromise and position of mutual respect. Sid completely rocks.
Not that I identify with him or anything. Not that I know what it feels like to be the nonbelieving kid in a hyper-religious town. Nope, not at all.
Sid Thorpe: President of the Science Club, and Our Big Damn Hero
Donna shows up and the three discuss asking George Cooper to speak to the science club when he’s in town. Again, Sid rocks, treating Donna with plenty of respect and good humor.
(Now I’m inventing a scenario in my mind where, ten or fifteen years down the road, Doctor Sid Thorpe, eminent scientist, comes back to his hometown…and meets up with Donna Burton, his old friend’s sister. Sparks fly…)
Don’t mind me—it’s just that Sid and Donna really seem to get along well, and Sid is awesome. (And yes, I am making up fanfiction in my head about characters in a 50-year-old Christian youth film. Shut up.)
Anyway, Donna gets the idea to invite George to stay at their house during his visit, instead of at a hotel. That way, she explains, he can talk about about science over the dinner table and “wake our folks up.”
Later that evening, they lay it out for their parents. (Well, Joe primarily lays it out, even though it was Donna’s idea.) Meg is cool with it right up until Joe and Donna leave the room, and Raymond wonders if Doctor George Cooper will start “spouting off some of his *chuckle* scientific theories.”
Meg: You don’t think he really would, do you?
She sounds absolutely appalled at the very idea. I mean, a person talking about his chosen profession in the home where he is a guest??? That bastard!
Strangely enough, after his snide remarks last night, Raymond is okay with the idea of Joe and Donna talking with George about science. He thinks their religious upbringing will keep them good little Christians even in the face of George’s dirty, god-hating scientific electronic brain talk.
Well, something will keep them good little Christians, though it’s not quite what Raymond assumes…
*ominous musical sting here*
Later, in the basement in which Joe always seems to be dwelling, Donna breaks the exciting news: George will be staying with them. Aw yeah, the kids are FRAKKING PSYCHED.
Suddenly, though, Donna has second thoughts, afraid that they’ll “hurt” their parents by bringing in a “real brain” like George who can challenge their beliefs properly. Joe talks her down though, explaining that this is really all “a real favor” since Meg and Raymond are both “pretty intelligent people” who just need to get with the times. With a literal shrug, they agree that sometimes you have to break a few uptight, snide Christian eggs in order to make a nice nonbelieving omelette. Or something.
Later, Joe decides to dwell at the malt shop instead of in his basement, and bumps into a few kids from the youth group at church, including good ole jerk Fred from the first scene, some girl who has nothing interesting to say, and…CHUCK FROM TEENAGE TESTAMENT!!!
I’m assuming that all these Teenage movies take place in different worlds, since we see some of the same faces—playing different kids—in different movies. But I now amuse myself by imagining that Roy’s endless preaching to the customers really did drive Aunt Gertie out of business, and that’s why Chuck is patronizing a malt shop instead of working in it.
Anyway, Fred is his usual dickish self and mutteringly asks Joe how George Cooper can “explain away God.” And since Joe doesn’t know, since he hasn’t actually spoken to George yet, don’tcha know, he just invites them all to the science club meeting so they can hear George for themselves.
Y’know, I take it back about the nameless girl: she expresses surprise that George would stay at Joe’s house, with “the way your folks believe.”
Remember, these are kids from the church. Which tells me that even in the obviously incredibly repressive church of this film, Raymond and Meg are well-known as especially fanatical and pigheaded.
When Joe gets home, it’s time for the big plot twist. See, for the past couple of scenes, a couple of hints have been dropped that lately, Meg has not been feeling up to par. Kinda tired and stuff. Well, her doctor thinks it just might be something serious and has scheduled an exploratory operation.
Well. Holy crap. He even needs her to rest up for a week or two beforehand and get on a special diet.
Dude, that blows. It also sounds an awful lot like it might be cancer. Of course, it’s 1960, so you better believe they won’t be saying “the C-word” in a Christian youth movie.
Joe and Donna, because they’re good kids, immediately volunteer to tell George not to come. But Meg really wants him there (frankly, it also seems that she’s in a bit of denial about the seriousness of what’s going on). So, the kids just volunteer to help out a lot more. Noticeably (okay, noticeably to me), Raymond doesn’t volunteer to do more around the house while Meg is prepping for her operation.
That night, down in Joe’s favorite dwelling place, he and Donna agree that they need to do something about George, so that he doesn’t shake Meg’s faith. Then Donna retreats to the logical place to study—her room, while Joe stays in the basement.
Worst study nook ever. Just look at that uncomfortable chair!
And the earwigs he must deal with! My god! The earwigs!
As he’s heading up the stairs to go to bed, Joe overhears his parents talking about the 23rd Psalm. Meg is playing it pretty cool about the health scare, but has a nice condescending remark for us:
Meg: Oh, Raymond, what do people do who have to face a problem like this without a living faith in the living god?
Well, Meg, I can’t speak for all nonbelievers, but personally, I’ve faced the death of my best friend and major orthopedic surgery. It was probably much the same as a Christian, minus the time spent in prayer and stuff like that.
So, screw you.
Ah, now, Ruby, don’t be mean.
I’ll try another way: Meg, y’know that strength and patience that you think come from God? That’s coming from you. Just so’s you know.
Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Daniel Dennett’s excellent piece on this very problem.
But lest I end Part 1 of this critique on a down note, I will mention something odd about the Burton household, that I noticed in the next scene, featuring Joe and Donna having breakfast the next morning. Instead of making toast with the toaster in the kitchen and then taking it to the dining room to eat it, the toaster is moved from the kitchen, set on the dining table, and everyone makes their own toast there.
Weird. It’s not just me, is it? That’s weird. Also, where the hell is that thing plugged in?
Oh well. Stay tuned for Part 2 and Doctor George Cooper’s visit!