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!
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 Parisâ€¦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:
â€œPrimordial Soup, to the zoo, to you, is evolution true?â€
I let out a nervous chuckle and said something along the lines of, â€œWell, they must mean for people to answer, â€˜yes, of course it is,’ right?â€
No. No they don’t. They actually mean for people to say, â€œNo, of course it’s false. But Noah’s Ark, on the other handâ€¦â€
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 â€œscientistsâ€ and showing supposed â€œevidenceâ€ that the Noah’s Ark story actually â€œhappened.â€ 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 grownâ€¦mutatedâ€¦dare I say EVOLVEDâ€¦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 â€œWhich one is not like the others? A.) Dog B.) Wolf C.) Coyote D.) Bananaâ€ 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 â€œBible Challengeâ€ 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 â€œBig Buttâ€ 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 â€œJesus-died-for-our-admission-feeâ€ 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 sizesâ€¦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.
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 â€Was Darwin Wrong?â€ 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 â€œNo.â€ 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 â€œBy Design, Not By Chanceâ€ 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 â€œGrowing Painsâ€, â€œCharles in Chargeâ€, and â€œThe Facts of Lifeâ€. 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!
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.