Yabba Dabba Doo

 Yabba Dabba Doo

Read this essay, as published in Watermark in August, 2020


When I was of preschool age, I had an affinity for the Flintstones. Looking back, it must have been the combination of bright colors with disparate sounds at varying volumes that held four-year-old me’s attention. Even today, when flipping through channels, I’m immediately thunderstruck by Dino’s shrill bark, Wilma’s fluttering giggle, Fred’s prehistorically Brooklyn-esque,”Bahhhh-neeee,” and Bam Bam’s thunderous, “BAM *pause* BAM.” I stick around for purple dinosaurs, pepto (rock) pink houses,  and bright blue skies. I consumed it with the same trusting eyes and ears that saw and heard adults in the real-life foreground as they fed me sugar cubes as treats and spoons-full of Robitussin to sedate me.

 Few family get-togethers pass without reference to that time when I climbed up on the counter in my grandparents’ kitchen and consumed a handful of Flintstone’s vitamins. I didn’t poop for a couple days, I’m told without embarrassment. 

 I also realize that I never understood a single plot. The words were nothing more than noises. Piaget and Jung may have other ways of describing this, but until about the age when we start waking up with indescribable tingling in mid-lower cores— until we start driving—we are doing little more than building context for the next seventy years of life’s details.

 If we are lucky, that context is shaped by more than 1960s propogandists. If we are lucky, we have doting parents, aunts, grandparents, and third grade teachers. If we are lucky, we grow up in a safe suburb and attend the best schools in the district. If we are lucky, God, country, and family —even if represented by hand-drawn cartoons set in the fictional Jurassic—become the context for how we consume medicines for the rest of our lives: mania, sedation, constipation.

 If we are lucky, we are born in America: we are born white: we are born male and straight.

 But there is a set of parallel contexts: absent a blaring tv in every room, absent cupboards brimming with nutritious victuals, absent bright green lawns, absent doting adults: absent contexts in which there are reflections of self-identities on television screens.  And there are tangencies: great grandparents who were forever indentured as sharecroppers in a land with others’ streets paved in gold. Grandparents who were ghettoized in shanty block homes on the “other side of Division Street.”  Parents who were allowed to drink only from the “other water fountain.” Selves for whom such context- shaping influences are present in the current day: parents, grandparents and great grandparents who were not represented in Bedrock, who were not even fantastical constructions.

 Oh, eventually we had Gazoo, a bussed-in caricature of otherness—colored AND prissy—for comic relief when Fred and Barney’s rock-washed antics had petrified.

 Hello, DumDum.

 We build our context when we are children. We develop our tastes, our proclivities, our prejudices, our habits, our addictions, and our identities. We learn how to learn and every image and interaction matters. Our childhood is the bare cupboard we build into which we eventually order texts: our platters and glasses and utensils and food and even our Flintstones vitamins. The idyllic, “modern Stone Age” that sits behind Fred and  Barney’s situational comedics is that context: a cavernous cupboard. At four years old, we aren’t in control of that context.

 We are force fed. The best we can do is throw tantrums that our context-shapers can either ignore, endure, or enable: sugar cubes and cough medicine. We may know that we prefer Fruity Pebbles over carrot paste, but we don’t know that we prefer diversity over exclusion. Thus, we learn to choose the things we can form opinions on because we are given tangible options. Our parents, to the extent that they’re around, build our context for us. Media, to the extent that our parents are not present to interpret loud noise and bright colors into a socially aware context, builds it. Doctors Piaget and Jung would remind us that such context may never bubble beyond the barest cupboards of our minds, but that they do echo there forever.

 It’s no accident that a generation who grew up with the Flintstones, which itself looked back to another imaginary reality, believe that there was a better time: a time when America (via Bedrock) was “Greater” than it is today. It’s a marvelous context from an idealized reality that implicitly excluded representations of parallels and tangencies, where Gazoo was an odd and curious interloper, not only from another part of town but from an entirely different dimension.

 Thus, this contextual framework came to reify the systems that needed it. Thus, when a new generation, not raised in the blaring world of the Flintstones, comes face to face with those of us that did, we decry their tantrums. Whereas media has worked hard to diversify representational context, the system itself is much harder to change. The system is more difficult to change because, just like we weren’t presented options as children between toxic representation of others and benign diversity, neither are we given an option today between a system of entrenched and codified prejudice versus an alternate system that actually works.

 We have ability, today, to move The Flintstones from the fully ahistorical context of our childhoods into the details of our now. We should move the implicit exclusion into a conversation about explicit inclusion in a truly modern society.  The last thing we should do is erase them. To the contrary, we need to watch them again.

 Sugar cubes have evolved into Adderall and Robitussin into Xanax. Tantrums have evolved into kneeling and have seeped into the sometimes-doorless suburban streets of Bedrock. The Flintstones have evolved into Homo Sapien Sapiens.

 Maybe our generation should binge-watch some Flintstones again and try not to purge; if we aren’t compelled to flip the channel, we should examine our part in perpetuating a context that props up a system against which our kids and our kids’ kids and our neighbors’ kids feel powerless to do more than throw tantrums. And if that as a detail, alone, independent of the context, doesn’t make us hit pause, then we should not be surprised when tantrums turn into protests and those protests into destruction of a system that we’ve had countless opportunities to change.

 We can change our system over and over.  We can continue fighting that fight and throwing tantrums ad infinitum. Until we change the context, we will never be anything more than a bunch of spoiled, constipated toddlers hoarding confections-disguised-as-medicine and yearning for a fictitious past where dinosaurs, mammoths and white men could coexist but where real, human lives could be imagined away behind hand-drawn technicolor and laugh tracks.  

Read more essays, poetry, and short stories at Momentitiousness.com


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