I never thought of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” as a documentary.
A world where real people interacted with living cartoon characters was preposterous. But as I watched the former president’s lawyer melting on camera during the last days of the administration, I realized the movie was downright prophetic — scripture for the surreal times we live in.
At the Baptist high school I attended, we watched a film about the Tribulation. Three young women find themselves left behind after the Rapture and decide to become Christian. They’re persecuted, betrayed and in the end face execution. The final scene reveals a guillotine, with the main character screaming in terror when she realizes her fate.
As a Mormon, I’d also been raised with an apocalyptic worldview. Latter-day Saints didn’t believe in the Rapture, but we did believe in years of suffering before Armageddon ushered in the Second Coming. Following the Prophet’s orders, my parents stored a year’s supply of food and other provisions. My dad bought guns so we could defend our stash from hungry neighbors. My Patriarchal Blessing promised me strength and wisdom to lead others through the perilous times ahead.
Anticipating the inevitable horrors was as normal as looking forward to high school graduation, two years as a full-time missionary, a college education, temple marriage and raising children of my own. Dread was simply part of life.
And now, as I watch right-wing Christians mount an insurrection, as I hear them threaten to kidnap or hang or otherwise execute Satan-worshipping cannibals, as I hear their claims that space lasers ignited wildfires in California, that an artificial, mechanized Biden ordered fake snow to blanket Texas, as I watch them worship a golden statue of their pagan messiah, I’m … baffled.
I thought I would feel terror in the face of impending doom. And I suppose I do. But what I feel most is befuddlement.
This is the buffoon people have chosen to follow to their damnation? These are the doctrines they believe? That alien lizard people, in cahoot with Jews, control D.C. and the media? That folks who want to stop the slaughter of Black people are their arch enemies? That tearing brown children away from their parents — not incidentally, but as a political strategy — is God’s will?
We all watched while maskless “patriots” smirked with glee, refusing to protect other elected officials from a deadly virus, as they hid from a rampaging mob.
These “Christians” laughed. Giggled.
I’d watched the first three seasons of “The Handmaid’s Tale” with growing anxiety, understanding how close we were to such a dystopian world.
I didn’t expect we’d instead be living “The Life of Brian.”
How did we get demagogues channeling Elmer Fudd?
Why is our intrigue that of Boris and Natasha?
Throughout my youth, I feared that those following the Beast would be brutish, terrifying, cruel, and vindictive. And they certainly are.
What I didn’t expect was that they’d also be pathetic and ridiculous.
I lived a stone’s throw from Pompeii when I worked as a missionary in Naples. I studied the Fall of the Roman Empire after I resumed my college classes back in the U.S. The long, complex history of that region seemed deeply sad, painfully tragic.
I had no idea that witnessing the Fall of the American Empire, with millions of people deliberately creating the tribulations of the Last Days of their own free will, would be so … embarrassing.
I’d grown up anticipating the End of Times as something akin to a worldwide Nazi concentration camp. I’d read up on Holocaust literature to prepare myself for what lay ahead.
Instead, we got the Marshmallow Man from “Ghostbusters.” The Penguin from “Batman.” Vizzini from “The Princess Bride.”
We follow the news in a daze, feeling both perplexed and ashamed. We’re Mary Tyler Moore, torn between laughing and crying during the funeral of Chuckles the Clown.
But we must stop feeling shocked, stop asking ourselves if this is all really happening. It is.
If Democrats want committed voters, if America wants to remain a free democracy, or even a free republic, we’d better start addressing the basic needs we all have — for health care, a living wage and college education or vocational training for all.
Because the enemy isn’t the false messiah or those who worship him. The enemy is ignoring the gaping needs that created them.
Johnny Townsend, Seattle, is the author of several books including “Am I My Planet’s Keeper?” “This Is All Just Too Hard,” and “What Would Anne Frank Do?”