Skepticism

Afternoon Inquisition 1.11

Inspired by a discussion I had with Expatria:

Looking back, what’s the most subversive thing you were exposed to as a child?

It could be a movie, a television show, a book, a person . . . whatever makes you think, “I can’t believe my parents let me have access to that, but I’m glad they did.”

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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81 Comments

  1. My parents kept an eye on my movies and TV, but for some reason they didn’t bother with the books I read. I read The Clan Of The Cave Bear and the first two sequels when I was in middle school. Sooooo much caveperson sex.

  2. My own computer, in my own room, with an internet connection… There is a great quote by John Waters from the movie This Film is Not Yet Rated…

    “Well first of all, because of the internet, teenagers have seen more hardcore pornography than their parents have seen. They’ve seen the most hideous things that you can find on the internet, believe me, and they’ve all seen them. What else do you think they’re doing? You think they’re doing their homework upstairs? Well come on, all kids have searched and gone deep into web porn sites. Who wouldn’t as a teenager?”

    Quite true. And you know what? I’m glad they were so trust worthy… I think because I exposed myself to plenty of really messed up things (I won’t go into detail) I just got used to the fact that there are other people with likes and dislikes that are different than my own and that is fine. I think I also realized that if I didn’t like something I saw, I didn’t have to look at it. Yet there might be someone else who does, so why should I be upset about it?

  3. I realize this is rather the opposite of your question, but I believe it counts. My parents pulled our whole family out of the Catholic church when I was about 8. They had done some reading about Vatican 2 and realized the church was just making it up as it went along. From hardcore Catholic to atheist in one easy step. Thanks, Pope Paul!

  4. My parents, both very faithful Christians, would let me watch the discovery channel and national geographic, read books about evolution and other scientific theories.

    Not only did they let me engage in such activities, but they would encourage them. Even though it was obvious that i was turning out very different than them, they never put a stop to it.

    They said later that they wanted me to figure things out for myself and not prejudice me with there own beliefs.

  5. My best friend Cassandra. I had no friends at school, but at home, my older friend made me watch cheesy horror films like Leprechaun, Leprechaun 2, and It as well as cartoons like Ren and Stimpy, which I never would have watched otherwise. We also swore a lot when our parents weren’t around, which was a big deal, because my parents had told me that swearing made God cry.

  6. My parents were so happy that I was reading, especially at an early age, they didn’t really care what I was reading. Granted, a lot of it was trash, but some of it was science, the better science fiction, and philosophy well outside Catholic dogma.

  7. I grew up in the 60s. Dick and Jane, singing the national anthem, prayer before lunch were standard fare. From that perspective, just about anything was subversive. Things that stick in my mind, though, are:

    Bewitched – I know it seems pretty mild by today’s standards but there was an undercurrent of alternative lifestyles, invisible minorities and the wrongness of discrimination hidden in the story lines.

    Star Trek – The idea of all these different people (ethnicities, nationalities) working together without any conflict was incredibly subversive at the time.

    Monty Python – This showed up on the local public TV station late at night and uncensored. This was probably my first exposure to absurd satire.

    Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In – Oh, I don’t know where to start with this one.

    Those are all TV shows, though. The first book that shook up my world view would be The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. That got me thinking about why being different or special might be hazardous to your health and whose problem that really is.

  8. I’m having a hard time coming up with an example that fits the “I can’t believe my parents let me have access to that” criteria. After all, it was my dad who put a computer in my room, and my mom who introduced me to all sorts of wonderfully subversive things like Rocky and Bullwinkle, The Muppet Show, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Doctor Who, Monty Python (best ear infection ever!), etc etc

  9. I was very lucky in that my parents encouraged me to be inquisitive. This of course came back to bite my Mom in the ass when I started questioning the Catholic Church which she was very involved in.

    As far as subversive goes, as a teenager I felt I had to hide my Cheech and Chong albums and National Lampoon mags from my parents because they were “anti-establishment”. In hind-sight, my Dad probably would have thought they were funny.

    Oh, and I used to sneak into my Dad’s stash of Playboys and stare at them for hours. Could this have something to do with my obsession with large breasts?

  10. Not subversive, but damn interesting–my great-grandfather was a minister, and I got to look through his many volume set of bible translations. It had latin, greek, and 3 different english translations, each in a column on the page for *each verse*.

    So, it was clear to me that the bible had a lot of different interpretations right away.

    Also, my parent’s copy of the “Joy of Sex”. But I didn’t understand a lot of it until much later.

  11. @bug_girl: I learned FORTRAN on punch cards in High School. Which helps date my items:

    The TV shows “Love, American Style” and “Laugh In”. Plus any exposure to my aunts, most were just a few years older than me, and very much of the hippie generation.

  12. I don’t know if it’s subversive, but my mother gave me Edgar Allan Poe short stories to read when I was 8.

    “Tell Tale Heart”, “Masque of Red Death”, “Cask of Amontillado” and “Murders in the Rue Morgue” are *so* appropriate for a 3rd grader ;)

  13. My grandfather had three hardbound (literally) erotic magazines, entitled “Eros”. I found them when I was about 12 and read them cover to cover. Curiously the only story I remember in any detail had some seriously anti-Semitic overtones; I don’t remember finding the stories sexy per se, but they were eye-opening, a window into a whole other side of the world.

    Around the same time I saw the infamous Seimfeld eposode about remaining “Master of your domain”. I actually watched it with my mother, who asked me: “Do you know what they’re talking about?”. “Yes,” I said indignantly (though I really didn’t).

  14. My parents, mother in particular, were very strict about what I could watch, read, and listen to. For instatnce, my mother would cross of songs on records I wasn’t allowed to listen to (like “Shake your groove thing” by Peaches and Herb). I don’t think there is anything they exposed me to that falls into “subversive” unfortunately.

  15. My parents exposed me to a lot of subversive stuff, but one incident I always remember is my Dad bringing me and a friend to see If…. when I was 10, and getting in a shouting match with the manager, who thought the *M* rating meant I was too young to get in. I remember going to the drive-in to see Barbarella in the back of the family station wagon, but I fell asleep in my PJs pretty early on.

  16. Greek mythology and the Arabian Nights. So much sex, from godly incest to cheating on djinn, to chopping your wife in half because she cheated on you with your slaves, to chopping your brother’s wife in half because she cheated on him with UGLY slaves, that was a lot of sex and violence and religion. I only gave up the third. I saw pretty early on that science was really cool (I started reading way above my age level really early, so I started grabbing things all over, including some of Asimov’s non-fiction), and that all these other religions were pretty messed up, but also a lot alike; so why would Christianity be any different? Actually, I saw that Christianity was pretty messed up on my own pretty early, too, but being part of a liberal Jesuit Catholic congregation, that took longer for me to dislike. Seeing these other religions, and seeing the parallels, and finally trying to read the bible lead me away from it all for good. And anyway, that thing’s messed up! They’re good at cherry picking the good stuff in mass, and I don’t blame them. It made djinni sex seem not so crazy in comparison.

  17. My mother gave me money to buy any books I wanted (mostly SF). She also got me a subscription to Rolling Stone while I was in high school. But the most subversive thing was probably the Next Whole Earth Catalog – pointers to all the paradigm-altering books & tools I might want.

  18. Rebecca sez:
    Looking back, what’s the most subversive thing you were exposed to as a child?

    JennY. sez:
    The TV show Dallas. I remember being about 5 and dancing to the theme song. Very cool.

    The TV show M*A*S*H. I remember one time Frank Burns said the word “damn.” When I said it, I got my mouth popped. Unfair!

    I remember watching The Blue Lagoon on my parents black and white TV in their bedroom. I was about 4, maybe? (The movie where a very nubile Brooke Shields runs around topless-her hair was glued to her taddies by the makeup folks)

    I think my parents may have used our TV as our babysitter-the electronic equivalent of the neighborhood drapette that drank from my dad’s beer in the fridge. My little sister and I started calling it Rosie after a while.

  19. I read waaay too much Piers Antony as a kid. It’s weird thinking back about how much sex he put into every book.

    Technically Douglas Adams was more subversive however in the fact that he completely and utterly changed both my sense of humor and outlook in life. I’m still sad that I never got to meet him.

  20. Amazing! I told Expatria that I was sure the #1 response would be Peewee Herman.

    As it is, I think I personally have to go with Ren & Stimpy. Thank god my mom never sat down and watched it or I’d have never known the joy of Powdered Toast Man.

  21. Growing up with a sickly mother, there wasn’t much oversight. She often turned in early, so I had unrestricted access to TV. Saturday Night Live, Soap, Alice, and M.A.S.H were shows I watched regularly before my 10th year.
    Possibly more subversive were Saturday Morning Cartoons. Sid & Marty Kroft were rather twisted.
    More than anything, it was my mother’s interest in those who sought to subvert the strict nature of the Catholic Church that inspired such things in me.

  22. First post here, so, hello everyone! I’m afraid I have you all beat. 2 words: James friggin’ Randi. That’s right. As a kid in New Jersey, my father used to take me to Randi’s house! Magic tricks, a revolving bookcase, his two Macaws (the shedded feathers of which I used to take home), his doorbell which recited ‘The Shadow’, all made of awesome. It was at Randi’s house that I heard my first CD! He has a video camera setup in one room which introduced me to video effects. He even offered me an old film camera, which I foolishly declined. What better way to learn how to question reality than to be exposed to Randi an such an impressionable age. I don’t know what was going through my Catholic parents’ heads!

  23. My mom was kinda strict about what she wanted me to watch, but my dad kinda lenient, particularly, when it came to comedy. I think my dad just wanted to watch it and didn’t care one way or the other what I was doing.

    From the age of 4, he let me stay up to watch Saturday night live and Monty Python’s flying circus. I also watch Benny Hill all the time, but all I seem to remember from that was how funny it was to see him slap a little old guy on the head and get chased by women in fast motion to the sound of silly sax music.

    They also took me to the drive-in theater to watch Cheech and Chong movies and stuff that came out of the SNL group like 1941, Animal House, Blues Brothers, Meatballs, etc.

    As far as sci-fi goes, my mom was a really big fan of Star Trek. So, she let me watch the series along with all the movies. I also got to watch Doctor Who from the time I was a toddler.

    My parents didn’t control anything I read. So, I had access to anything I wanted.

    Funny thing, when I was a kid, that I had no idea I wasn’t the only person in the world who loved Douglas Adams. At the time that I read Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, I found it tucked away in the bookstore, read the first few pages and died laughing. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that Douglas Adams has a big following.

  24. Probably the most subversive thing my parents allowed me access to as a kid was biology class in high school and *Nova* on PBS. They censored TV as far as sex and violence were concerned, but they encouraged me to learn about science even though it meant exposure to the theory of evolution. They also allowed me to attend a state university rather than insisting that I go to an Xian college. Had they known that thinking for myself would lead me to atheism, they might have thought twice about that last one.

  25. @Rebecca:

    Amazing! I told Expatria that I was sure the #1 response would be Peewee Herman.

    As it is, I think I personally have to go with Ren & Stimpy. Thank god my mom never sat down and watched it or I’d have never known the joy of Powdered Toast Man.

    Interesting to think about these as subversive kiddy shows. They were de rigueur for any stoned ironic hipster worth their salt back in my day. By the time I watched them with my kids, they were just goofy family fun. On a related note, my mom paid for the ticket to my first Frank Zappa show in 1974. Ren & Stimpy-wise I read John K’s blog on a regular basis

  26. Having thought about this a bit, it brought to mind one of my standard routines, about growing up listening to my Dad’s Tom Lehrer and Lenny Bruce records, watching Steve Allen, Johnny Carson, and some guy named Randi, because my parents thought they were cool.

  27. Subversive. Subversion. Subvert. In what way, and how does the question apply, and to whom?

    subâ‹…verâ‹…sion
       /səbˈvɜrʒən, -ʃən/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [suhb-vur-zhuhn, -shuhn] Show IPA Pronunciation
    –noun
    1. an act or instance of subverting.
    2. the state of being subverted; destruction.
    3. something that subverts or overthrows.

    This AI is something to think about before posting. My personal opinion is that it should be thought about. That’s why I spoke with several individuals, all older than me, regarding the situation I had as a child. (FSM help me.)

    Honestly, my oldest brother had more intention to subvert than my Catholic parents did. He was 4F (the draft -’66), and was into drugs (acid, some pot, needle s**t)). There was a bit of trouble, and today there’s hell to pay.

    That’s why I just plain can’t stand to be in New York.

    @russellsugden: I did both for years. 370 based assembly and C+ is what burnt my brain (Honeywell/mainframe Basic didn’t help) . Are there any lucid code programmers in their ’50’s ? No. You do Admin. Or GUI server.

    @JennY.: I sort of understand what you mean about MASH. On the other hand, with a BS in ISM from SUNY College at Buffalo, I joined the Navy in ’82. Why did I do it? (No, I won’t post the pictures from Pompii, much less Greece, Paris or Palma).

  28. #4 writerdd My parents never censored my intake of information.

    Nor mine, but two things they actively acquired and handed me:

    MAD Magazine. In its heyday, MAD was a reliable bastion of progressive values, never failing to speak truth to power both political and cultural.

    Also, when I was about twelve, a copy of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (* but were afraid to ask) was somehow left around where I could get it. Schools then provided pathetically weak sex-ed, if any. This was a no-BS guide to what was happening to my body and why.

  29. Watching Monty Python, and (as others have mentioned) uncensored access to information. Of course there were no interwebs then (born in ’65) so I raided my parents’ bookshelves.

    Helter Skelter. Tropic of Cancer. Looking for Mr. Goodbar. Catch 22. Mom’s nursing textbooks. The aforementioned “Everything You Always…” Taught me there was a world out there, and I could discover *all kinds of s#!t* about it, if I just looked around. And that lesson was pretty subversive.

    Wish they were still around to thank – it was a great gift.

  30. Hmm, I didn’t mean to suggest that to find something subversive as a child required parents who didn’t allow you certain things. My parents weren’t strict at all. My point in saying that was only to call to mind “adult” bits of media, or things that kind of blew your little kid mind.

  31. My parents didn’t try to control my access to information or knowledge at all. I even once threw that back into my father’s face …”If you don’t like what I think about your religion then it’s your own fault for bringing me up to think for myself” , or something like that.

    The most subversive single influence was undoubtedly the local public library. That’s where I found a copy of Bertrand Russell’s “Why I am not a Christian” and I haven’t looked back since.

  32. Never really noticed that anything was restricted. Poor and urban my single mom worked 17 hours a day so we kids had the run of the house. I do remember as a 12 year old sneaking in to see The Exorsist, it blew my mind and started a love for horror movies I still have today.

  33. I grew up in the rural Maine wilderness and didn’t have electricity until I was in fourth grade, at which point I quickly saved enough money to get cable access and catch up on years of pop culture. The movie Blue Velvet had a lasting impact on my impressions of deviancy and its intrigue, and I’m a better person for it. Geraldo had a show about goth kids when I was ten and when I saw them I said, “There’s a place for me!” Twenty years later, I’m still a goth kid.

  34. I agree with Steve. My parents knew that their kids were reading well above grade level. I read a lot of now-classic science-fiction, especially Robert Heinlein. He made a big difference in my outlook. I also read a lot of science fact books, which soon showed me that there was a lot more to the world than the Catholic Church was willing to admit or could reasonable explain. (“It’s a mystery” is a bullshit answer I got a lot from the priests and nuns, along with the dirty looks that they thought I didn’t see as I turned away. More than once they expressed “concerns” about me to my parents.)

    Then of course, Mad magazine, Monty Python (by the time they came along, I was well on my way on the road to “perdition” according to some of my peers), Carl Sagan and Cosmos, George Carlin, Cheech & Chong, Rowan & Martin, Kurt Vonnegut, George Orwell (1984, Animal Farm), Tom Lehrer, etc.

  35. Bruce, Carlin. Pryor, and Foxx records. Too many books to mention. Punk rock music. Drug and alcohol use and abuse. Pool halls, dance halls, and strip clubs. Back room dice, domino, and card games. Various other criminal activity.

  36. Depends how you define child. Pre-teen, probably The Young Ones or something like Full Metal Jacket or Robocop (I watched a lot of “inappropriate” movies as a kid). As a teen, it’s hard to get much more subversive than The Communist Manifesto, by definition.

  37. I was raised by a fairly subversive, but still somehow overprotective, mother. I don’t think I would have known what subversive really was as a child. The first thing I remember discovering that really exposed me to a whole worldview that I hadn’t seen before was the book “The Naked Ape” by Desmond Morris. I was in Junior High and found it in the school library. To be honest, as a young teen boy, I was probably drawn to it just by the word “Naked” in the title, but I must have been looking in the science section to have stumbled on it in the first place.

  38. My parents never limited my viewing or reading options (although they weren’t fond of Star Trek or any other science fiction shows that I watched). What my dad exposed me to was questioning the record. He was a narcotics agent interested in history, and inbetween telling stories about solving cases and questioning suspects, he discussed the history books used in school. From that I realized that there are always a number of viewpoints to every situation, and the real truth lies inbetween, seen in only pieces by both sides. It’s an incredibly potent realization, and one that does not serve the church or religion very well.

  39. “…he discussed the history books used in school. From that I realized that there are always a number of viewpoints to every situation, and the real truth lies inbetween, seen in only pieces by both sides. It’s an incredibly potent realization, and one that does not serve the church or religion very well.”

    Quite correct. It also does the State no service. As the old saw goes, “History is written by the winners.” The problem for me is that the most interesting histories are the ones written from the loser’s perspective. Somehow, the winning side never seems quite as good and noble as they think they are when one reads a description of events from the losing side’s viewpoint…

    Consider one in particular: The US calls it “How the (heroic) West was Won.” The Native Americans call it genocide. One set of events, two totally divergent views. Both correct in a sense – depending on which side you happened to be on. I’m not picking on the US or white people: this is common all over the world.

  40. My parents were very protective of us growing up, but I can think of two incidents.

    1) I read a lot. My mom tried to get me to stick to reading the Bible, but I read a lot. It started out pretty innocently with Nancy Drew, but I had a library card and came across many ideas for the first time through reading. I saw most of the “bad words” through reading, although I didn’t know what they meant. I used some of them unknowingly and shocked my friends.

    2) Playboy. I was curious what a naked body (other than my own) looked like and secretly looked at a Playboy at a 7-11. Yeah, it’s kind of silly, but it was the one thing in the back of my mind that told me that nudity and sex weren’t dirty or abnormal. I think it contributed to the (great) sex life I have now.

  41. Subversive, as in providing a catalyst to challenge the accepted order of things?

    1) more than one translation of the bible, including one that glosses the “original” greek, hebrew, and aramaic to English. I got to see that there were often multiple opposing ways that something could be interpreted, and it opened my eyes to how much of our fundamentalist faith was based on guesswork and personal interpretation.

    2) The Internet. I had access early through a BBS door (yeah, that BBS rocked a Gopher door as well as Usenet and e-mail gateways). Conversing with various, really intelligent people taught me a lot about how to construct and evaluate arguments, and how to recognize people believing things because they wanted them to be true.

    This combination is such a one-two punch that I already have plans to introduce both to my nieces as soon as they’re old enough.

  42. Rebecca’s post about Ren and Stimpy reminded me of something from my past. Years ago when living at home my step siblings and I were prevented from watching MTV. Because mental and grunge where in, and they were bad influences. But when MTV syndicated Ren and Stimpy they gave us special permission to watch it, and only it.

    That really cracked me up at the time. I couldn’t watch random long haired dudes play electric guitar but I could watch a cartoon dog fly the skin off of his friend.

    What doubles the funny is that they actually watched Ren and Stimpy sometimes and knew what it contained.

  43. The list of what I wasn’t allowed to watch on TV when I was younger is long… No Full House (even in high school), No Saved by the Bell, No Friends, No Simpsons, No Nickelodeon, No Saturday Night Live… and my parents were not at all religious… just intensely protective. I wasn’t left alone in the house until I was 17, and never was I allowed to have a phone, tv, or radio in my room.

    On the other hand, at school my librarians and I were quite good friends. When I was in elementary school. Mrs. Beasley got me a copy of ‘Gone with the Wind’ from the county high school. My middle school librarian Mrs Vandiver got me a copy of Lois Duncan’s personal autobiography from the high school in which Duncan discusses trying to find her daughter’s murderer. Pretty much all of my knowledge of the outside world came from books. And did I ever become a voracious reader…

  44. I have distinct memories of my mother censoring to unrealistic degrees every form of media I was exposed to. All library books, movies, and CD’s had to first be scanned, also we had an internet “nanny” blockers. I hadn’t even had a good look at a boob (the library would black out all the boobs in National Geographic) until I started dating in high school (Thanks Emily!!!), and when I was dating my mother didn’t approve because the girl’s mother wasn’t apart of the over-protective mother’s alliance. Dad was no help as he was a workaholic and always backed up my mom.
    So basically all subversive activity I engaged in grew out of trying to live a half way normal teenage existance.

  45. My family was pretty progressive, so it had to be something truly subversive. Without doubt, however, it had to be Aztec, by Gary Jennings. My dad had read it, and one year for my brother’s birthday (I think he may have been 10, which made me 8.5), my dad got him this huge stack of books, which included Aztec, which I read soon after.

    To this day, it remains one of the most disturbing and graphically sexual and violent mainstream novels I’ve ever read (incest, bestiality, torture, murder, sex with children, cannibalism, etc.), but also has the most fascinating plot line and characters, and cultivates a sense of true love, adventure, and empathy in this mad, dizzying world of a carnal bloodlust gone out of control.

    I’m sure it bent me a little bit, but I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone – adults, that is.

  46. Dinosaur books.

    As a kid, I was (and still am) amazed and fascinated by dinosaurs. Unfortunately for my fundamentalist Christian family, any dinosaur books that were even the slightest bit mentally engaging involved a discussion of the geologic time scale.

    I had many a discussion with pastors and sunday school teachers alike, about where the dinosaurs are now, about why they went extinct (The Flood, clearly), and what fossils were (tricks of the devil, of course). I kept getting so many different answers that I simply took the authority of the authors writing the myriad dinosaur books I read as a child as fact, and realized that no, the world is not 6000 years old, and no, dinosaurs did not die in a flood, nor did they co-exist with humans.

    That line of thinking put me on the road to university, science, and an undergrad degree, but ultimately made me realize that aside from a book of poorly written fairy tales, the Bible is a piece of junk.

  47. My parents were Christian fundamentalist survivalists, so um…Abbie Hoffman’s Steal this Book and The Improvised Munitions Handbook. But of course, to them that wasn’t subversive to their values. That would go to art teacher at the community center who taught me modern art wasn’t sinful and that jazz was beautiful because it made for the joy of making instead of the joy of being.

  48. My aunt took me to see Airplane! in the theatre (I was 10).

    Like Bug girl we had a copy of The Joy of Sex on the living room bookshelf (in reach).

    The strangest memory I have though is being down town with my mom and some relative visiting from out of town. We all went into a sex novelty shop. I would have been roughly 11 years old and I wandered up and down the aisles looking at the various rubber vaginas and inflatable companions giggling like, well an 11 year old in a sex shop.

  49. Since my parents censored my reading very little and taught me a love of science-I asked for a subscription to Discover Magazine and got one after I had suffered through a whole year of Seventeen magazine –there were only a couple of things that I can think that I would say was subversive

    For me, three things
    Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy-the whole irreverent look at things including God. It was great to see it from the point of view of somebody who had to attend Sunday school and church (albeit a very liberal one) till she was 18.

    Heinlein’s Job-great science fiction and a little racy for a teen.

    The Christian Science Monitor. It was the first newspaper that I read that addressed international issues and talked about things that might be considered liberal. I grew up in small city in Iowa and the Christian Science Monitor opened my eyes to things beyond just what was published in the local news paper. It really made me think about the consequences of a variety of issues out there. How do our actions affect the world as a whole. An essential thing to accept global warming, understand why not vaccinating a child affects everyone, and just how science has helped the world.

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