Laura Ammann Novak

If my own household hadn't been in such chaos on September 11, I might have thought better than to use Fred Flintstone to ease us through the aftermath of national terrorism. Little did I know that children's films were themselves a recipe for disaster.

Following the 11th, my six-year-old son, Max, was recovering at home from bilateral leg surgery. It was his 13th surgery and this time, he suffered from horrendous nighttime panic attacks. I was mentally and physically depleted while my husband was stranded near ground zero, so I simply told Max two bombs had exploded in New York. We then turned to a continuous loop of humorous family films to prevent the national chaos from compounding our personal trauma. I was surprised to find a cache of Americana disturbingly evocative of the unfolding events.

The Flintstone relic was produced back in 1966. The plot focused on the nefarious SMIRK organization headed by the cave-dwelling Green Goose. (Sound familiar?) The Goose had hired two agents, Ali, a tiny, dark skinned man, and Bo Bo, a big guy wearing a Fez, to kill an American spy who was out to destroy his own weapon of genocide.

Fred Flintstone was the special agent assigned to neutralize the Green Goose. Thrilled to become "a spy -- a double zero guy," Fred lured Wilma onto a pterodactyl-powered airliner to pursue the elusive enemy.

"I wish we were already there, Fred. I feel a little nervous," Wilma fretted in First Class. "Nonsense, honey, there isn't a safer place in the world than right here," Fred chortled. From a few rows back, Ali seethed, "Let 'em have it," as he hurled a machete into the forward cabin, nearly scalping Fred before slicing through a curtain marked "PILOT" and coming to rest in the captain's hat.

Watching alongside Max, I tried to imagine myself laughing in delight at this scenario in front of the black-and-white television set my family had when I was a child. But, laid up in double casts, Max remained oblivious to the external tragedy eating at our national soul. He innocently grooved on the details of the cartoon. I was mortified by cartoon producer Hannah-Barbera's prescience but mimicked Max's spontaneous laughter as best I could. This is when I became overwhelmed by events and, against all wisdom, told him the lie about the two bombs. Then to overcompensate, I waxed about the beauty and magic in our world until he raised a hand to interrupt me: Fred Flintstone had captured the evil Green Goose inside a torture chamber. The deadly missile was aimed into space where the warmonger would explode.

"What a terrible way to go," Fred lamented just before the credits rolled.

As the national tragedy shifted venues, my husband struggled to find a way home and I hid the daily paper and kept news sources turned off. Our nights were a hellhole of fury and panic as Max was tortured by demons in surgical scrubs holding him down under his gas mask. By day, he resumed school in a wheelchair balanced precariously on a cocktail of anti-anxiety medicine and trauma therapy the hospital psychiatric department prescribed.

Afternoons, we continued to seek escape in what Hollywood had to offer. I recalled Airplane II as hilarious, and eagerly put it on. Max laughed uproariously as Sonny Bono purchased a clumsy bomb from the airport drugstore to tote on board the lunar shuttle. How could I not remember the impotent, bomb-clutching Bono as he threatened to blow the flight to smithereens before Ted Striker, handsome American hero, and other passengers, closed in on him? The relevance was mercifully lost on Max, as it was in an earlier scene when an elderly lady was frisked at gun point from the X-ray machine while our bazooka-toting guerrillas in flack jackets and army-fatigues breezed through. On the verge of a primal scream myself, I emitted an audible gasp when a young boy took control of the computer console at the shuttle command center and forced an airplane to crash.

One day after school, in a "this just in" voice, Max told me two planes had crashed in New York. He saw no link to my earlier lie and I delayed connecting the dots for him until his dad was safely home. His psychic world was damaged enough and I was damned if I'd let the bastards exacerbate my son's turmoil. Max told me the crash was done by some bad Middle Eastern guys."

That afternoon, I heaved Max onto the daybed and we returned to Hollywood as escape only to find once again, Hollywood as soothsayer. This time it was Indiana Jones. In one particularly chilling scene, an Arab leaned close to Indiana Jones, a heartbeat away from death, and said, "My soul is prepared, how is yours?" Max sat spellbound while I chewed my cuticles. "The brotherhood has been prepared to do anything to keep the covenant safe," another Arab told our hero.

The film concluded, uncannily, in a cave embedded in inhospitable mountains. The final scenes were cluttered with bad guys in Nazi hats and turbans. There was even an Arab wearing a turban under a red fez--the proverbial cherry on top--holding a machine gun to Jones's back. Naturally, the American won, not because he chose the real Grail, but because, as a wizened knight pointed out, he found "illumination."

Eventually, my husband made it home and my son began walking again. Max resumed his place at the table each morning, sounding out newspaper headlines. As his inner turmoil abated, we began to gingerly introduce the facts of Sept. 11 and come clean on our former fibs.

Now what do I tell him of the origin of the insanity -- aside from the bumbling and duplicitous world politics involved? After all, we smugly wrote the script ourselves, repeatedly, across so many decades. Post 9/11, we engage in the rhetoric of standing united, but why was it we were always so ready to laugh at the loser, the impotent, swarthy guy who chose the wrong Grail? I am tripped up by the hypocrisy that infiltrated our mindless, innocent film culture. And I am saddened that I exposed my son to it out of desperation.

Really, though, I digress when what I need to do is rewind last night's video. This is the Bill Murray spy farce where some aged sleuths try to re-ignite the Cold War. "New weapons, new poisons!" the British spy chief exults. "Happy days... happy days."

© Laura Ammann Novak

Laura Ammann Novak is a former television and radio news reporter with a Masters degree in journalism from Columbia University. She quit the medium cold turkey to raise her medically fragile son, Max. In the past year, she has freelanced for the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle and has contributed Commentaries to NPR's Morning Edition. Her story, "What size is your Brood?" recently won third place in BrainChild magazine's writing competition. She lives with her husband and son outside of San Francisco.

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