Skepticism

Skepchick Guest Article #5 – Jeff Penalty

Skepchick’s fifth guest writer is Jeff Penalty, an amazingly talented rock star and writer who happens to be a smart critical thinker. He ventured into the depths of a creationist playground to bring us this amusing, yet slightly depressing, tale of a childhood lost. With pictures! Enjoy.

Large Marge Sent Me – To Learn About Creationism!
Jeff Penalty

Aside from the frustratingly willful ignorance, the widespread brainwashing of young children, and the overall detrimental effect on human progress, the thing that really burns me up most about creationists is their ability to soil my precious childhood memories.

When I was younger, I must’ve watched Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure over a thousand times. To this day, I can practically recite the entire script by heart. So when I packed up my Saturn and drove cross-country to California in 1999, I was ecstatic to be welcomed to the Golden State by Dinny and Rex. Officially, the enormous concrete Apatosaurus and T. Rex are known as the Cabazon Dinosaurs due to their location, or Claude Bell’s Dinosaurs due to their designer, but most of us know them as the Pee-Wee Dinosaurs, because that’s where Pee-Wee and Simone dreamed of Paris…and snakes wearing vests.

The dinosaurs reside just off I-10 in an isolated desert town and for a long time the only thing you could really do at their exit is take photos of them from the outside, order a tuna platter and milkshake inside the adjacent Wheel Inn Diner, and venture into the gift shop inside Dinny’s belly. I did all of the above on my first visit (snagging a cool souvenir mug that I still have to this day) and was giddy about the whole experience. The only bummer was that the inside of Rex was never open to the public; the scene between Pee-Wee and Simone sitting in Rex’s mouth was actually filmed in a studio. I thought my disappointment over the Pee-Wee Dinosaurs would end there, but I was wrong. Jenny McCarthy wrong.

Years later, I was driving past Dinny and Rex during a work trip and I convinced the co-worker I was with that if we were going to eat fast food for lunch we may as well eat it in the shadow of the Pee-Wee Dinosaurs. But when we arrived I was a little disturbed by the new sign that had been placed by the entrance:

“Primordial Soup, to the zoo, to you, is evolution true?”

I let out a nervous chuckle and said something along the lines of, “Well, they must mean for people to answer, ‘yes, of course it is,’ right?”

No. No they don’t. They actually mean for people to say, “No, of course it’s false. But Noah’s Ark, on the other hand…”

No exaggeration: along the walls of the stairwell leading up to the gift shop in Dinny’s belly were signs and dioramas undercutting the theory of evolution, offering quotes from certain “scientists” and showing supposed “evidence” that the Noah’s Ark story actually “happened.” It was enough to start my stomach turning. And I could feel my lunch rising even further up my esophagus when I discovered the new slogan adorning the souvenir Dinny and Rex t-shirts: “By Design, Not By Chance.”

It was a sad drive home.

A few months after that, I was on another trip through the desert, this time with my girlfriend. As we neared the Pee-Wee Dinosaurs, I told her about their religious conversion and told her she’d have to see it to believe it, so off the highway we pulled.

Jumping Jesus on a Jurassosaurus! What was once a lonely, kitschy gift shop had grown…mutated…dare I say EVOLVED…into the rootin’-est, tootin’-est creationism display this side of Eden!

Dinny’s belly was as anti-science as ever, although this time, alongside the laminated printouts of Bible verses I noticed a sign with the question “Which one is not like the others? A.) Dog B.) Wolf C.) Coyote D.) Banana” as well as other signs with obscure references to flawed creationist arguments. (What is up with religious zealots and bananas anyway? First Kirk Cameron and now this??)

But as depressing as the “Bible Challenge” card games and the anti-evolution children’s books were, the good news was that Rex’s mouth had finally been opened to the public! After years of fantasizing, I could finally live out the Pee-Wee/Simone “Big Butt” discussion! I was ecstatic. Until I found out that in order to do so I’d have to fork over five dollars to the creationist cause.

Unlike Dinny, Rex was surrounded by a high wooden fence, and posted signs indicated that admission beyond would cost half a sawbuck. I tried to find a weakness in the fence or another way to sneak in since neither my girlfriend nor I wanted to financially support whomever was responsible for this atrocity. The perimeter was too secure, though, so I figured I’d try to somehow sweet talk the person at the admission booth into letting us in by throwing out some sort of “Jesus-died-for-our-admission-fee” rationale. Turns out I didn’t have to: no one was sitting at the admission booth, so we just walked right past it. Take THAT, eighth commandment!

Inside the fence was a dirt path that wound through a collection of recently-built, mini-golf-course-style, plaster dinosaurs in various shapes and sizes…standing next to a plaster lion. Standing next to a plaster lamb. Standing next to a plaster medieval knight wearing chain mail and brandishing a sword at a T. Rex.

I’m no military history expert, but it appeared to be a knight from the 12th or 13th century. And I’m no archaeology expert, but it appeared to be a Tyrannosaurus from approximately 65 million years before that. And I’m no math expert, but there seems to be a miscalculation in there somewhere. I never realized that the knights sent out on the Crusades had to fight through herds of Stegosauruses before they could even get their hands on the Muslims. Tough gig. (And yes, I was under the impression that Stegosaurus and T. Rex roamed the Earth millions of years apart from each other as well, but according to their placement in the park, they were actually best buds!)

There was also a small shop that appeared to be selling rocks and an area where kids could dig in the dirt for fossils. I didn’t inspect these areas too closely, so I can only assume that the idea is to teach the kids the difference between what are remnants of the True Cross and what are fake fossils that God and/or Satan put there to trick people into believing that the whole concept of the park they’re standing in is – to use the Biblical term – ridonkulous.

And this was weird: perched on the fence they had a rainbow flag flying alongside a Marine Corps flag and the stars and stripes.

Hm.

But nothing was going to distract me from finally, after all these years, getting to climb into Rex’s mouth. Not even the enlarged, laminated covers of National Geographic’s famous ”Was Darwin Wrong?” issue posted in the stairwell. Although I wish a park official had been there for me to point out that the first word and entire point of that article was “No.” But then again, if a park official were there, he or she would probably be kicking me out for sneaking in without paying. Or worse, witnessing to me.

So up the stairs we climbed, and at long last we crawled into Rex’s famous mouth. Dream: realized. Sure, it wasn’t the actual mouth from the movie, but, just like Pee-Wee and Simone, we were able to look through Rex’s teeth out into the desert, gaze upon the Wheel Inn Diner below, and talk about our big butts.

It was a nice moment. But the rest of the experience was as heartbreaking as it was funny, because one of the universal truths well known to all people everywhere regardless of race, creed, or socio-economic background is this: kids love dinosaurs. So how many kids are going to drive by the Pee-Wee Dinosaurs and kick the back of their parents’ car seats until they pull over? And how many of those parents are going to oblige, unaware of the religious fanaticism to which they’re about to expose their kids? And how many of those kids are going to insist on getting a “By Design, Not By Chance” t-shirt to show off at school, thus spreading the virus further? I ask these questions with a heavy heart. Creationists ask them with an excited grin.

Still, the bigger crime is that I had to run the gauntlet of religion just to visit my old friends Dinny and Rex, and that a bunch of anti-science nut jobs poisoned what ought to have been a pleasant memory. So I’m reaching out to all religious people to understand and acknowledge that certain things are secularly sacred. You can have the school boards, the corporations, and the government. You can have the stars of “Growing Pains”, “Charles in Charge”, and “The Facts of Life”. You can send Spongebob to Love In Action, you can protest Tinky-Winky’s funeral, and you can funnel money towards a proposition that prevents Bert and Ernie from being able to marry.

But please – I’m begging you –

Leave the Pee-Wee Dinosaurs alone!

About Jeff

Jeff Penalty is a writer, filmmaker, and musician best known for his documentary work and his position as vocalist for legendary punk band Dead Kennedys from 2003 through 2007. He recently executive produced the docu-series “NOFX: Backstage Passport” for Fuse TV and directed his second feature-length documentary, “Let Them Know: The Story of Youth Brigade and BYO Records”, which will be released in spring 2009. His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including Swindle Magazine and The Utne Reader.

Rebecca Watson

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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26 Comments

  1. January 8, 2009 at 11:15 am —

    Nicely done, Jeff!

    Sorry for your lost Pee-Wee Dinosaur elan. I visited the Alamo recently, and I’m glad to say, the basement remains free of any creationist propaganda.

  2. January 8, 2009 at 11:31 am —

    Lovely story, very well written.

    I remembering getting the “Was Darwin Wrong” issue of NG in the mail and just about going into conniptions, only did when I openned it in a fit of rage did I see the giant word “No” did I burst out laughing. I had to look up the whole, “which one of things is not like the other” to see what the hell they were getting at. If anything I would have that that picture made a good case for evolution. But apparently it’s micro vs. macro, which I don’t understand, if things can evolve a little, then why can’t they evolve alot?

  3. January 8, 2009 at 11:44 am —

    Oh. My. Gosh. I just had a Planet of the Apes moment. I LOVE the Pee Wee movie, and those dinosaurs kill me. I can’t believe they’ve become a creationist tool. I’m heartbroken.

    YOU MANIACS! DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!

  4. January 8, 2009 at 11:49 am —

    Is it wrong that I immediately recognized the source of “Large Marge Sent Me…”? Whether it is or not, I feel shame.

  5. January 8, 2009 at 12:00 pm —

    I suppose it’s not obvious to creationists that a T. Rex would have made short work of any knight in armor, no matter how valiant.

    “Thou art crunchy and good with ketchup,” to borrow a bumper sticker line…

  6. January 8, 2009 at 12:02 pm —

    Can’t read the whole thing right now, but woo, the Dinosaurs! My hometown is actually just off the I-10 near the California border (in the middle of the desert) and we took many, many trips TO California and we stopped off at the Dinosaurs a LOT.

    Anyawy, that is all, at least until I can read the rest of this post.

  7. January 8, 2009 at 12:05 pm —

    Oh, SHIT, I just read most of the entry and OMG THIS WAS NOT HOW IT WAS WHEN I WAS A KID OMG. I am so sad now. Disapointed. My dad keeps meaning to stop by with my nephew. Something tells me he’s going to be VERY disapointed, the science nut that he is. I should warn him. :(

  8. January 8, 2009 at 12:06 pm —

    Sad. I carry counterfeit money for such occasions.

    As I understand it, they nailed Jesus to a cross so a T-Rex could come eat him. It is a little known fact that the Shroud of Turin was actually pulled from a coprolite.

  9. January 8, 2009 at 12:14 pm —

    @marilove: Just tell him the dinosaurs all exploded, spontaneously. The truth will be much harder on him.

  10. January 8, 2009 at 12:16 pm —

    @Rebecca: Except he’ll totally see them next time they go to California, which is thankfully less often now that my older sister moved to Colorado.

    I will actually pass by them the next time I visit LA (and wave to my home town along the way…), and it will be very sad to drive by. I will not visit.

    I am trying to remember if any of this garbage was there when I was a kid. It’s quite possible and I just don’t remember it.

  11. January 8, 2009 at 12:26 pm —

    Now I understand why the crusaders weren’t ultimately successful, I mean they had to battle dinosaurs too!

    It makes me wonder what would have happened if the producer of Gladiator was a hardcore creationist and he decided to slip a dinosaur in the background of a few scenes… you know, since dinosaurs existed at that time and all. I’d imagine that that would break the illusion for the audience a little bit. But think of it man, why have gladiators fight lions and other gladiators when they could be fighting dinosaurs?

    Anyway, awesome report, Jeff. I just wish you were making it up.

  12. January 8, 2009 at 12:55 pm —

    Well written article Jeff. Kudos. I suppose this exhibit proves that the Black Plague didn’t kill all those people in the Dark Ages, it was Dinosaurs and carnivorous Lambs that ate all the people. While tamed Lions and Crusaders killed all the Dinosaurs. Almost forgot, that poster,which of these things is not like the others is wrong, everybody knows that Bananas were the first quadrupedal canines and all other canines were evolved from Bananas.

  13. January 8, 2009 at 12:57 pm —

    I don’t recommend passing counterfeit money on Creationists. It’s been done.

    See one time, in my basement, I was making 20’s and one of them turned out to be an “18”. It was perfect in all other respects. A shame to waste such a work of art but were to pass it off?

    Then it hit me, I would try a Creationist. It almost worked out.

    He had no problem making change for an Eighteen dollar bill. I was excited. Then he asked how I wanted it…

    Three Sixes, or Two Nines.

    Sorry for that, I just had to,

    rod

  14. January 8, 2009 at 1:05 pm —

    It hit the height of hilarity for me when the creationist’s said that T.Rex had all those sharp, steak knife-like teeth so it could eat coconuts!
    :-D OMFG…and they weren’t kidding!

  15. January 8, 2009 at 1:22 pm —

    Thanks, Rebecca. Very well written, Jeff. This makes me very sad. These liars are actually getting away with hijacking dinosaurs in order to pollute the minds of children. What can be done?

  16. January 8, 2009 at 1:27 pm —

    Dude. Is there nothing sacred anymore?

    The f–ked up thing about this, some God squadder was ruminating about how to get his message across. His answer: large fake dinos with creationist propaganda. This is the evil genius who will bring us all down. This is… The Man.

    Run. Save yourselves.

  17. January 8, 2009 at 1:43 pm —

    I liked it. On the whole. But, dude… don’t you think it’s going a little far to say it’s okay to keep Bert & Ernie from marrying? Personally, they were much more important to my childhood than Pee-Wee.

  18. January 8, 2009 at 2:10 pm —

    This is seriously the saddest post I’ve read in recent memory, guys! These dinosaurs were a large part of my childhood vacations!!!

    This is just depressing.

    Whenever I pass by them, my heart will break a little. LOL.

  19. January 8, 2009 at 4:39 pm —

    Thanks for the compliments, everyone!

    @tkingdoll: that’s exactly the feeling! staring up at these monuments to What Used To Be…feeling like you’ve been punched in the gut… “YOU MAINIACS!!”

    @marilove: your memory is intact, the dinosaurs converted just a few years ago, i think around 2005. the original designer passed away (R.I.P. Claude Bell!) and his family sold the dinos to an insidious church group from (where else?) Orange County. the last hyperlink in the article is an LA Times article that offers more sad details.

    @JennY.: the even MORE evil part about these dinos is that a person would have no idea that they’re about to enter a creationist museum until they’re already inside!! it seems to me like the other creationism museums going up around the country are places that you’d purposely have to plan a trip to…these guys are just hanging out on the side of the highway, already an established icon, so you pull off to check ’em out and POW! religious sucker punch!!!

    no fair.

    thanks again for all the funny comments! and thanks rebecca for the platform!

  20. January 8, 2009 at 6:49 pm —

    Excellent article! When my wife was filling me in about the post I was curious to find out when this became a creationist museum, so I clicked on the roadsideamerica.com link. Did anybody else catch the middle name of the pastor that is apparently one of the people behind this sucker punch? Pastor Robert Darwin Chiles, Oh, the irony…..

  21. January 8, 2009 at 7:46 pm —

    OMG! The irony!!

  22. January 8, 2009 at 9:38 pm —

    Excellent article :) thanks Jeff.

    with no one at the admission booth and dinosaurs it does all sound a little post apocalyptic… where was everyone? In the bomb shelter awaiting judgment?

  23. January 8, 2009 at 11:23 pm —

    @pumpkinmook: Maybe the Rapture came and we all missed it.

  24. January 9, 2009 at 6:36 am —

    see, and i thought that my girlfriend making an offhand comment about ‘pinky and the brain’ and rule 34 of the internet was childhood-scarring but i think you beat me.

    nicely done, mon frère. following that kind of logic i would have to assume brendan fraser was in the crusades too.

  25. January 9, 2009 at 1:42 pm —

    Dude. Is there nothing sacred anymore?

    Secularists and scientists don’t hold things as sacred. Add this to the fact that we live in a market economy and relatives are always, always greedy, and you have the concept that Bible-beaters can buy any old thing and turn it into a propaganda tool for their cause. In 500 years, they’ll be claiming that underground particle accelerators are proof of either a) Satan’s attempts to build a tunnel from Hell to the surface or b) God’s Own pre-built Rapture Shelters.

  26. January 10, 2009 at 2:27 am —

    @kapten kalabajooie: Yeah, I guess “sacred” was a poor word choice, given the conversation. :) Maybe a better adjective would be “fun.” My point was that I feel like so many attractions that are supposed to encourage fun and play are now being used to promote agendas of some sort- we once went to a wax museum that was adjacent to Natural Bridge. There were tons of cool stuff – wax depictions of colonial life and famous faces like Daniel Boone, Jefferson and Washington along with really great figures of 20th Century icons like Marilyn Monroe, Cagney, and John Wayne. At the end of the tour, we were all ushered into an auditorium where they explained they would unveil what they thought was the museum’s masterpiece- a rendition of The Last Supper. Then, after a brief flash of darkness, the lights went on again and we saw a wax reinaction of the crucified Jesus on a cross, flanked by the two criminals that were crucified with him in one of the biblical accounts. Needless to say, it was a bit of a downer.

    Have a good day!

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