I try to imagine myself clutching my six year-old knees and laughing in delight as this news was delivered from our black-and-white television set. Fred Flintstone was the special agent hired by our prehistoric government to take out the Green Goose. Fred was thrilled to become “a spy…a double zero guy.” He lured Wilma onto a pterodactyl-powered airliner to pursue his bellicose opponent in far off Eur-rock.
“I wish we were already there Fred. I feel a little nervous,” Wilma fretted in First Class.
“Nonsense, honey, there isn’t a safer place in the world than right here,” Fred chortled.
From a few rows back, Ali seethed, “Let ‘em have it” as he hurled a machete into the forward cabin, nearly scalping Fred before slicing through a curtain marked “PILOT” and coming to rest in the captain’s hat.
In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, I watched this film relic alongside my six-year-old son who was recovering from bilateral leg surgery. It was his 13th surgery, and this time he suffered from horrendous nighttime panic attacks. We were mentally and physically depleted while my husband was stranded close to ground zero. I chose to rely on some humorous family films to prevent reality from penetrating our household.
My son remained oblivious to the unfolding tragedy back East. Laid up in double casts, he was delighted with our laugh fest. Ali is the tiny, dark skinned man, he explained to me. Bobo was the big guy wearing the Fez. I was mortified by Hannah-Barbera’s prescience but mimiced my son’s spontaneous laughter. Before he returned to school, I lied blatantly, telling him that two bombs had exploded in New York City. Then to overcompensate, I waxed about the beauty and magic in our world until my child interrupted me by pointing to the TV: Fred Flintstone had captured the evil Green Goose inside a torture chamber. The deadly missile was aimed into space where the warmonger would explode.
“What a terrible way to go” Fred lamented just before the credit roll.
By day, my son attended school in a wheelchair. By night, he was tortured by demons in surgical scrubs holding him down under his surgical gas mask. One day after school, he met me with a “this just in” voice to say that two planes had crashed in New York City. He saw no relationship to my earlier lie and I refused to connect the dots for him. His psychic world was damaged enough. The word in the playground was about some bad Middle Eastern guys, “like the ones in Indiana Jones,” he punctuated.
After school, I would heave my child onto the daybed to return to Hollywood as soothsayer. Four men wearing Fez hats chased Indie. One Arab leaned in close to our American hero, a heartbeat away from death, and said “My soul is prepared, how is yours?” My son was spellbound while I chewed my cuticles. “The brotherhood has been prepared to do anything to keep the covenant safe,” another Arab told Mr. Jones.
The film concluded, uncannily, in a cave hugged by inhospitable mountains. The final scenes were cluttered with bad guys in Nazi hats and turbans. There was even a man wearing a turban under a red fez - the proverbial cherry on top - holding a machine gun to Jones’ back. Again, the American hero won. Not just because he chose the real Grail but, as the wizened knight points out, because he found “illumination.”
Our repertoire of Hollywood hysteria was beginning to run thin. I still hid the newspapers and kept news sources turned off because our nights were a hellhole of anger and panic. By day, we laughed uproariously as Sonny Bono purchased a clumsy bomb from the airport drug store to tote on board the Lunar Shuttle. I recalled Airplane II as a laugh-riot in the '70s. How could I not remember the impotent, bomb-clutching Bono as he threatened to blow the flight to smithereens before Ted Striker, handsome American hero, and other passengers, closed in on him? The relevance was mercifully lost on my child, as it was in an earlier scene when an elderly lady was grabbed at gunpoint from the x-ray machine while four bazooka-toting guerillas in flack jackets and army fatigues breezed through. On the verge of a primal scream myself, I emitted an audible gasp when a young boy took control of the computer console at the lunar shuttle command center and forced a plane to crash.
My husband returned home and my son eventually walked again. On this anniversary, I am busy analyzing my former taste in humor. Why was it we we have always been collectively ready to laugh at the loser, the impotent, the swarthy guy who chose the wrong Grail? I am tripped up by the hypocrisy that made this okay. When anniversaries warrant it, we still embrace the rhetoric of standing united, but just look at the script we ourselves wrote, repeatedly, across so many decades.
Really, though, I digress when what I need to do is rewind last night’s video. This is the Bill Murray spy farce where some aged sleuths try to re-ignite the Cold War in spite of the loser who works for Blockbuster Video.
“New weapons, new poisons!” the British spy chief exults. “Happy days…happy days.”