Stan Freberg. What can one say? I grew up watching "Time for Beany" on that funny little TV screen and listening to "St. George and the Dragonet" and "Little Blue Riding Hood" on the radio. In high school I was knocked utterly out by "S.F. Presents the United States of America." I can still sing the songs and recite the dialogue.
In middle life I achieved one of my dreams in meeting the man. He was hired to do some commercials for Britannica, and he called me from time to time to ask about what was in the set or where it might be found. The commercials were very funny, although the star, Stan's son Donavan, rubbed some folks the wrong way. This association culminated in Stan's agreeing to speak to one of our first Editorial Convocations. This was held just up Michigan Avenue at the old Charlie Club.
I won't stick a bunch of links in here. Go to YouTube and take your pick. I strongly recommend the Cheerios commercial with the wonderful Naomi Lewis. Build up from there to the all-time great ad for Heinz Great American Soup with the dazzling Ann Miller:
Let's face the gumbo and dance!
It is a scandal that Stan was not awarded the Mark Twain Prize.
David Brooks, who is often insightful and can contribute usefully to public discussion, is also noted for his occasional “can’t we all just get along” essays that fill a couple of columns in the newspaper and land precisely nowhere.
Yesterday he published one of those, titled “Religious Liberty and Equality,” in the New York Times. Sure enough, paragraph two begins “On the one hand,” and paragraph three begins “On the other hand.” So long as Brooks has two hands there will be moral equivalence. The occasion, of course, is Indiana’s recent enactment of a “religious liberty” law. The bones in Brooks’s argument are the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (supported by Ted Kennedy! he quickly points out) and his own comfortable sense of decency. Neither one, nor the two together, provide a solution to the problem of what to do when government is captured by sectarianism.
Brooks argues that the Indiana law, and similar ones in other states, is “like” the federal law. It is, in just the way that a bobcat is like a house cat. The federal law sets limits to governmental interference in the practice of religion; the Indiana law protects discrimination in private dealings. The federal law also provides an interesting case of unanticipated application. It was drafted in response to an issue involving the use of the drug peyote by adherents of certain Native American religious beliefs. Its devolved descendants aim at an issue involving, for instance, same-sex couples and local bakeries.
Brooks spends most of his column inches arguing for toleration, the grease that makes a multicultural culture possible. Well, yes. If only they would be as tolerant as I am. Who does not agree? But they aren’t. Now what? For Brooks, the answer is that we -- you know, the quiet majority who would simply like for everyone else to shut up -- become even more tolerant and start tolerating the intolerant a bit more. Let them have their law, if it will allow them to resume simmering in silence. We’ll get by. After all, if most men can accept that Orthodox Jewish women don’t wish to shake hands with them, then....
That’s one of his examples of tolerance, a religiously based fracture of common courtesy. The reader is invited to calculate how nearly parallel it is to the case of a gay couple being denied service by a Main Street business.
Another point of interest in the Indiana law and others is that they carefully do not identify which religious beliefs and prejudices are being protected from pollution. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of religions. A notable characteristic of religions is their propensity to divide and subdivide into contentious sects, often over disagreements in doctrine or practice that are utterly unintelligible to outsiders. Is the Indiana legislature prepared to accept that a father may beat or kill his daughter for some impurity in behavior or demeanor, because his religion says he must?
Religions are alike in requiring someone to condemn offering the bigoted and small-minded convenient cover for their nastinesses*; they differ chiefly in their arbitrary choices of just what behavior evokes the fatwa. And also, in modern America, in their ability to recruit the power of government.
*In my original heat I put it much too strongly.
UPDATE: Members of al-Shabab have killed 147 Christian and other non-Muslim students at a university in Kenya. Ordinarily this would be considered a crime just about anywhere, but because al-Shebab claims that their religion demands the slaughter of unbelievers, might it pass muster in Indiana? Where on the slippery slope of religious justification of bad behavior do we get to draw a line?
Really, have we ever seen quite so stark a contrast -- make that "so profound an abyss" -- between what a man professes and how he has lived? Outside of tent evangelists, that is?
Family values? Law and order? Love of country? Fortunately for him, these are phrases that are easily memorized.