Category Archives: Teenage Conflict
Well, guys, here is some interesting news: Teenage Conflict can be found on the Internet Archive!
(I didn’t know this before simply because I never tried to find it: I have the Teenage series on DVD from the fine folks at Something Weird.)
And, back in the Teenage world, Doctor George Cooper is here!
Flattop and all! (I know, I know—it was the fashion back then. Still looks dorky as hell. Nice jacket-and-tie combo, too, btw, Doc.)
Joe all but physically drags George away from a conversation with Meg, to get him into the basement and discuss the satellite tracker. And by “discuss the satellite tracker,” Joe means “make sure George doesn’t bring up skepticism in front of Meg.”
IT IS TIME FOR THE BIG REVEAL
Doctor George Cooper…is not an atheist after all!
George: I know it comes as a shock, but several years ago, I came to know Christ. I accepted him as my personal lord and savior.
But, as you may remember from Part 1 of this critique, George had the rep of a skeptic. Turns out, he was misquoted! (No doubt by an eeeevil librul newspaper.)
George: I said there’d be conflict [between science and religion] until each side could see the other’s viewpoint, and realize that under God, there can be but one ultimate truth.
Ha! I love that, I really do! “There will be conflict until people accept that I am right!”
Look, I believe that there will always be conflict between science and religion, too. Because, when you get right down to it, they are two completely different ways of viewing the world. Though I obviously fall on the opposite side of eminent Dr. Cooper.
Of course, I doubt Dr. Cooper will be relying on God to install the electronic brain at the research center. Is he going to pray that God magics the computer into working, or is he going to use his own two hands and his own training and education? Just wondering.
George has a few basic apologetics points to lecture at Joe, but before he gets to that, Doctor George Cooper, eminent scientist, needs to get in a dig at…educated people?
George: One of my troubles was that I failed to realize that the discovery of the whole truth must come from mankind’s total experience. Not just from our so-called “intellectual approach.” *makes face*
Yeah, if there’s one thing scientists just hate, it’s an intellectual approach to a problem!
Who wrote this, honestly?
Whoever it was decided that what this highly educated, eminent Christian scientist would throw at a skeptical high school kid would be…boilerplate apologetics!
George builds his case slowly, but is sure to hit every emotionally sensitive place that he possibly can. (Remember, Joe just told George about Meg’s health issues, and George has no qualms about using this against Joe.)
George: Tell me, Joe: do you love your mother?
Joe: Well, sure.
George: How much?
Joe: A lot!
George: How much is a lot?
Joe: Well, it’s just…um…a lot, that’s all.
George: In other words, you know you love her, but there’s no way you can measure it with a scientific instrument.
Joe: Yeah, I guess that’s right.
George: Well then, just because science can’t measure things like love, faith, and hope, doesn’t mean they aren’t real.
Okay, let’s stop right here.
First of all, George is right that emotions are real. Not just because we feel them and say we feel them, but because they really can be observed by scientific instruments. Sadly, George and Joe are still a few decades away from brain scan technology showing us lasting love.
But even so, does George really want to go down this road, the “emotions are really real” road? Because I am happy to concede that people really do feel faith. But that doesn’t mean the object of their faith is a real thing.
Is God an emotion, George? If it’s “real to you,” is it actually real? Because most Christians I know get quite upset at the implication that God is just an idea, a state of mind, an emotion. To most believers I have met, God is a real being who actually exists.
Not to use the oldest example in the book or anything, but plenty of little kids really, truly believe in Santa Claus. That emotion is real, those feelings are real. Does that make Santa Claus what those kids believe he is: not an emotion or a state of mind, but a real, living person?
Next note: Joe has a good argument that he can present to George in 1960: just because something cannot be quantified, doesn’t mean it can’t be qualified.
How much do you love your mother, Joe? A lot. How much is a lot? More than I love most other people in the world. Enough that I can’t sleep at night, worrying about her health. So much so that I dash home from school every day to help out around the house, so she can nap.
Science hasn’t come up with “love units” yet, to measure quantitatively our love, but really, we can describe anything, even scientific things, in qualitative terms.
How tall are you, Ruby? Five feet, seven inches. Okay, now: how tall are you, without referencing measurement units? I’m taller than my mother, shorter than my father. I’m tall enough that “petite” clothes don’t fit me, but short enough that “tall” sizes are too tall. Okay, but are you tall? I am tall enough to do most of the things I want to do. I am tall in comparison to dogs and cats, but very short in comparison to skyscrapers and mountains.
But no, quantitative and qualitative measurements aside, George really does want to go down that path of arguing that because emotions are real, God is real:
George: You see, Joe, there is more to this world and to human life than demonstrable physical realities. There’s a world of the spirit, which is just as real as the world of chemistry and physical science.
Joe: But how can you prove that it’s real?
George: The overwhelming evidence of 2,000 years proves it.
George, are you seriously ducking this question with an argumentum ad populum? Because that is petty lame of you.
George: God speaks directly to the human heart.
Oh, no, it’s just another piece of wishful thinking from George, who goes on for a bit about Jesus. No attempt at argument here, just a bunch of “Jesus, man!”
George: Well, can you imagine trying to put together [your satellite tracker] by placing all the parts in a barrel, and shaking them [sic] until you had a perfectly working set?
George: Well, isn’t it even more difficult to imagine that this wonderful universe, about which we still know so very little, could have just happened by accident? *doesn’t give Joe a chance to answer* The more I see of the universe and its wonders, the more it becomes obvious that behind it all is the supreme intelligence we call God, the creator. And that our every attempt to understand the facts of our existence draws us closer to him.
Heh, it’s kinda funny to think that the watchmaker argument was old even back then. And they’ve changed it to the Satellite Trackermaker Argument.
And that is it, you guys. George throws Joe a nice guilt trip (can you prove to me that you love your mom…with science?), some wishful thinking, some boilerplate “Jesus, man!” and the watchmaker argument…and calls it a day.41:22
Joe, by the way, has sat in silence since saying that he could “hardly” envision shaking his satellite tracker in a barrel to make it work. That’s almost a full minute of George blathering on, until he cites John 3:16 and we fade to the next scene.
And Donna, of course, being A Girl, is not fit to hear firsthand these “arguments” against science.
I find it very sad that this is the best that Christian youth films have to offer doubting teens. The watchmaker argument. Do-you-really-love-your-dying-mother?
The filmmakers have also painted themselves into a strange emotional place, and I don’t think they did it intentionally. Here’s why: Meg is having a health scare. Honestly, it kinda sounds to me like she’s dying. So it makes complete sense to me that two impressionable teenagers, still feeling their way towards skepticism in their incredibly fundagelical church, would revert back to the extreme faith of their childhood when confronted with this kind of crisis. Especially because Meg’s faith is so important to her. As Joe so astutely puts it, “it’s about all that’s keeping Mom on an even keel right now.” Not only would sticking with their newfound skepticism be difficult for two kids facing sudden tragedy, with no like-minded adults to help them, but they might feel that the skepticism itself is a very personal betrayal of their mother. Christianity is good enough for mom, and what, are you saying that your dying mother is wrong about something? Wrong about one of life’s Big Questions? What kind of ungrateful, unloving children are you? I have seen this before.
In other words, the film is ultimately implying that none of these apologetics have any power in comparison to a good old-fashioned guilt trip.
The next scene features Joe and Donna hunkered over the satellite tracker again. I guess Joe relayed the apologetics to Donna second-hand, because she now feels all guilty about ever doubting her faith. As well she should, little hussy! What’s next, Donna, thinking you have the right to ask questions in church???
Joe’s loyalty, meanwhile, has turned on a dime:
Joe: I can hardly wait to see Sid’s face when he starts in on George tomorrow at the science club meeting, and George gives him a blast of facts!
Huh. Yanno, Joe, I heard a lot when George was lecturing you in the last scene. But facts weren’t what I heard.
Also, I get that you’re going through a tough time, I really do, but that is no excuse for such a nasty attitude. Sid is your friend, who has never been anything but good to you. And now you’re smirkily looking forward to his public humiliation?
Which, by the way, I am not convinced will happen. First of all, Sid doesn’t seem the kind of guy to “start in on” anyone. He is way too chill for that. As well, I can’t see him being too cowed by this computer scientist he has never met before. Sid’s already stood up to his own parents on this issue, and come out healthy on the other side. George will just be one more fundy adult Sid has to endure until he escapes this stupid, repressive town.
For the first time all movie, Meg and Raymond descend into Joe’s favorite dwelling, just in time to hear the satellite!
Raymond, just to cement his reputation as resident blowhard, closes with this:
Raymond: Yes, when you get things connected right, you can hear the most wonderful message of all: the one God sent this old world a long time ago.
Oooo, Raymond, what message is that?
God: Hey, kids, here’s a surprise for you: cancer! Enjoy!
Eh, probably not. But we don’t get definitive answer. Instead, Meg and Raymond wander out of the shot, towards Joe’s dank study corner, and Joe and Donna gaze at each other, and the camera lingers so long that it starts to feel creepy.
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!