What Were They Smoking?

Just finished watching two Gumby DVDs and a Davey and Goliath DVD. You know, the kid shows from the late 1950s and the 1960s. Coming right after watching season 2.5 of the new Battlestar Galactica, which I have been meaning to comment on for some time and will at some point.

But to Art Clokey. Wikipedia, for what it’s worth, says the Lutheran Church in America commissioned Davey & Goliath after the success of Gumby. I’m certain you’ve seen Gumby, he’s the little blue-green clay boy with the red pony who wanders around a giant toy, well, some very strange world populated by toys and kids books, going in and out of books (Pokey himself lives in a book called Western Stories). Some of the Gumby stories have a very non-linear, Fantasia style them, and often Gumby cartoons come in bundles of two, in which the second story explains or is taken from the first one. Or seems to. I’m not sure I’d call Gumby cartoons works of genius — they aren’t that good — but they are certainly the work of someone who could think outside all kinds of boxes and concieve of a world in which there are all sorts of different physical laws. I might even suggest illicit substances were involved.

Okay, so here’s my question — what were the folks at the LCA and the National Council of Churches thinking when, after watching Gumby, they said to themselves, “We’ll have him make our new kids show!” I’m trying to find the connection. Yes, the character Gumby comes off as very sweet and guileless, but the whole world he inhabits is a strange one in which marbles can stop being proper marbles and need sound to make them again (and we need two separate cartoons to explain it). His is a simple world, but it is also a very odd one. It doesn’t automatically suggest to me, at any rate, that Clokey was the man to make what eventually became Davey & Goliath.

As for Davey & Goliath, the show actually has a theological sophistication that I couldn’t appreciate when I was eight years old and watching it during mandated FCC community-service broadcasting time at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday mornings. (Does anyone else miss pre-cable, pre-satellite television? Even — no, especially — in all its awfulness?) One segment, a rather silly story about kites, has one new boy wreck Davey and his friend’s kite (Goliath had ruined it earlier). His friend asks if they have to forgive the boy who wrecked their kite, and Davey answers: “God wants us to.” What an amazing answer! Not a yes, not a no, but a real understanding of how both God’s forgiveness for us works and how our forgiveness for others should work.