Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!: On Disenchantment and the Demonic

The other day Aidan was watching Scooby-Doo on Cartoon Network.

And watching it with him I got nostalgic and then slipped into a theological reverie.

When it comes to Scooby-Doo I'm kind of a 1969-1971 purist. Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! premiered on CBS on September 13, 1969 with the episode "What a Night for a Knight."

Here are what the opening credits looked like for that very first episode of Scooby-Doo:



Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! was eventually picked up for a second--1970-1971--season. And added to the opening credits was Austin Roberts' now iconic theme song:



My all-time favorite Scooby-Doo episodes are the seven second season episodes that featured a song by Roberts during the case scenes. Most episodes of Scooby-Doo feature a scene with the monster chasing Scooby, Shaggy and the gang. And during these seven second season episodes one of Austin Roberts' pop songs created the score for the chase. If you've never seen one of these episodes here is the chase scene with Roberts' song, of all songs, "Love the World":



In 1972, after 25 episodes, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! was reworked to become The New Scooby-Doo Movies which expanded the episodes from 30 to 60 minutes and featured Scooby-Doo and the gang solving cases with famous guest hosts like the Harlem Globetrotters, Batman and Robin and the Three Stooges. It's at this point where the franchise jumped the shark. In my opinion, the Golden Years of Scooby-Doo were the first two seasons--the Scooby Doo, Where Are You! episodes.

If you've never watched Scooby-Doo, particularly the early episodes, the plot follows a standard pattern. From the Wikipedia entry:

Each episode featured Scooby and the four teenaged members of the Mystery, Inc. gang: Fred, Shaggy, Daphne, and Velma, arriving to a location in the "Mystery Machine" and encountering a ghost, monster, or other supernatural creature, whom they learned was terrorizing the local populace. After looking for clues and suspects and being chased by the monster, the kids come to realize the ghost is anything but, and - often with the help of a Rube Goldberg-like trap designed by Fred - they capture the villain and unmask him. Revealed as a flesh and blood crook trying to cover up crimes by using the ghost story and costume, the criminal is arrested and taken to jail, often saying something to the effect of "...and I would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for you meddling kids!"
As I sat watching Scooby-Doo with Aidan the other day it struck me how Scooby-Doo is a perfect parable of disenchantment. In his book A Secular Age, Charles Taylor talks about how, over the last 500 years, the world moved from enchantment to disenchantment. Five hundred years ago the world was full of supernatural forces, witchcraft, and ghosts. A world full of thin places, where the border between this world and the Other world was porous and leaky. Five hundred years ago people could be demon possessed or afflicted by witches. The night was full of occult menace and magic. Black cats were bad luck.

Things are much different today. We live in the aftermath of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason. We are moderns, where science, technology, and skepticism now rule. With electric lighting the dark forces of the night have been banished. There's no room for monsters. Medicine and psychiatry have pushed witchcraft and demon possession offstage. Worrying about black cats is just superstitious and irrational. And ghost stories are just that--fictional tales to scare the kids around the campfire.

Watching Scooby-Doo I realized how closely the show traces, in a single episode, this movement from enchantment to disenchantment. The episodes begin with enchantment, with a supernatural monster, specter, ghoul or ghost. But as the kids investigate they get suspicious, reason asserts itself and the monster--the agent of the occult--is eventually revealed to be Mr. Jenkins the greedy banker. The story ends with disenchantment. The supernatural was simply a "cover" for workaday greed, theft and corruption.

But then I starting thinking about how money and gain are repeatedly revealed to be the true motives behind the villains in Scooby-Doo. Money is the Power behind the occult force.

And this made me wonder if Scooby-Doo is as disenchanted as I took it to be. Given the close association between the demonic and the economic in the bible it struck me that there really was a spiritual Power at work in Scooby-Doo, perhaps the most demonic power of all. The final temptation of Jesus:
The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Soon after, Jesus preaches in the Sermon the Mount:
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."
As Paul wrote to Timothy, "the love of money is the root of all evil."

So as I sat there watching Scooby-Doo I began to wonder. Perhaps this isn't a tale of disenchantment after all. Perhaps Scooby-Doo really is a story about the occult and the demonic. We've just lost the ability to see it.

We moderns think the world has been rid of the dark forces--the ghouls, ghosts, demons and monsters. But these occult forces of evil haven't been expelled, expunged or exorcised. They still haunt and torment.

As we see in Scooby-Doo, the demons still possess us.

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16 thoughts on “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!: On Disenchantment and the Demonic”

  1. I, too, grew up on Scooby Doo, as a Saturday morning TV staple, while munching cereals like Frankenberry and Booberry. When they revived Scooby Doo in the 90's and 2000's, the formula changed, in which the supernatural elements were "real," rather than human villians to be unmasked, and as parents we never felt comfortable with the turn the Scooby franchise took.

    Today the economic forces of greed and evil are definitely in play ... bought gas lately? I for one do not believe that "market/demand" is what is actually driving up the prices.

  2. Love the World... and escape the headless horseman? Richard, this post is stunning. We just finished a series on Guy Kawasaki's Enchantment at a site I edit. In the final post, the leader of the discussion wondered what a "theology of enchantment" might look like.

    I ran a few google searches on "theology of enchantment, rhetoric and persuasion," finally landing here. My six year old son is a big Scooby fan, though the new cartoons leave something to be desired. (I just added the original season 1 &2 to our netflix cue.) 

    Your analysis of the golden age of Scoob is pure genius.

  3. Great post Richard! A little guy I once babysat loved the show so much that it became his vehicle for comprehending time, as in: "Mom, how many Scooby-Doos till dinner?"

    In an article on Huffington Post today Robert Lapham said: "A person can only eat so much (1,500 pounds of food per year, according to current estimates), but the craving for money is boundless -- the purse, not the belly, is the void that is never filled."

    It's interesting to me that Shaggy and Scooby, always thinking with their bellies and therefore openly "fleshly" in one sense, are the heroes of the show, yet those hungry for money or power are the true gluttons. I always found it disappointing when the sleuths revealed the banker under the sheet. What? It's only a banker? THAT'S not scary! Not to a child, anyway. But the foreclosure letter from the bank is the nightmare that haunts the dreams of so many adults.

  4. Last Halloween for the "Boo Bowl," the costume football game, my oldest and his friends in band dressed up as the Scooby Doo gang (my son was the masked villian). They took pictures in some of the classic poses - Velma searching for her glasses on the ground with the villian swiping at her head, the gang slinking along a wall with the villian skulking up from behind ... it was cute and memorable!

    I almost forgot, Count Chocula.

  5. This is great, Richard! I linked over (from Marcus at The High Calling).

    I loved Scooby...well, until I became disenchanted with it right about when Scrappy Doo entered the picture.

  6. Good thoughts Richard.  The problem I see isn't just our disenchantment with the demonic, but with all things spiritual.  I agree that you can peel back the veneer and see that we are still worshipping the false gods of our ancestors.  I find it harder to see, and help others see, past the veneer to the Holy Spirit.

  7. Scooby Doo used to scare the crap out of me. I'd hide behind the settee. (=couch, but back then and over there it was a settee)
    The loss of 'sensing' the spiritual forces is a western disenchantment. Go to India or Africa and the air just crackles with life and energy and it's a completely different feel.
    Emma
    http://growandbegrown.blogspot.com

  8. I miss those great days (which I only know through re-runs, but there you go) of McGyver, Scooby Doo, the A-Team and so on where the greatest threat to the world was Property Developers...

  9. First of all, it's the finest Scooby-Doo theology post ever.  Admittedly, it's also the only Scooby-Doo theology post ever.

    Secondly, Scrappy Doo makes me profoundly uncomfortable.  Scooby walks on four legs, and has very weak language skills.  Scrappy walks on two legs and speaks perfectly well.  Clearly, he's some kind of hybrid.  Daphne and Freddy are an item.  This only leaves Velma.  I leave the rest to the imagination, but I'm fairly certain that the gang had Unspeakable Evil in the very heart of the Mystery Machine, and were blinded to it by their pursuit of various criminal ne'er-do-wells in culture at large.  Obsessed by the evil without, they were blind to the evil within.

    Which is I believe the theme for another Scooby Doo Theology post.

  10. I grew up with Scooby Doo Where Are You, and quite frankly, it was this show that first got me interested in the genre of 'all things that go bump in the night.'  I didn't really care for the 'famous people' shows, but did like the one after that--when they went back, more or less, to the original 'canon' so-to-speak.  (It was the series with the 10,000 volt ghost ep.)

    What captivated me were the *possibilities* that the original Scooby Doo Where Are You franchise opened up in my mind.  I found it thought-provoking, enlightening, and it caused me to think.  Think about reality and fantasy, science and mysticism, religion and secularism.

    They're all advantageous to me, depending on the context in which one pursues information.  If something seems to follow a religious existence, follow that path.  If there isn't a religious element, invoke the secular, and go for a scientific route.  Mystical happenings abounding in your area?  Pursue those phenomena from that angle.  Use What Works!

    I see many things that are Not Quite Dead Yet! ;->  To me, nothing is not ever in a state of Not Being Alive.  Everything has its own consciousness, thought not all may be self-aware, at least from the Human standpoint.  Religion has a place in helping humans to find that place in their heart that can help one become a better, more empathetic and caring person to others.  Science helps to eliminate fear by allowing people to see definite results from a series of experimental trials that can be seen, felt, smelled, touched, or heard, or tasted. Mysticism is useful for psychological development, advancing one's own inner-journey to spiritual maturity.  (To me, this doesn't mean accepting flatly the words of the 'Holy Bible' as canon, but rather as a tool to foster inner-understanding through direct, mystical/spiritual experience.  The 'real thing' is not necessarily comfortable, sometimes is, but is often rather difficult, much like learning C++ or Java, Quantum Mechanics or Quaternion Math.)

    We are usually 'high voltage' beings, but come to Earth to experience, grow, and learn as much as we can for our Creator.  (This last I could write another, separate essay on, but I shall refrain here for the sake of brevity.  If you want long-winded, please see my response to Chris Morton's post, below.)  Creator, to me, may be assumed to be both literal and figurative, my belief system admonishing many different levels of creative endeavor, and not necessarily by Just One Being, save for the Universal 'Big Bang' of the advent of our Universe.  And even then, the 'creator' might just be composed of many different entities, each comprising a whole and complete life-cycle on some planet, some place, somewhere, somewhen, (etc.)

    I can't be drawn into a simple belief system at this point.  I've been exposed to too much of What Lies Outside Our Visible Spectrum to believe otherwise.  Likewise, '...to those who have been dealt a measure of faith, so let it be given unto him.'  Not all of us care to seek out what lies on the 'other side of visbility.'  For those of us who do, these things will always be there to give us their challenges.

    I wish you the best.
    Sincerely,
    Stephen

  11. ---CORRECTED COPY---

    I grew up with Scooby Doo Where Are You, and quite frankly, it was this show that first got me interested in the genre of 'all things that go bump in the night.' I didn't really care for the 'famous people' shows, but did like the one after that--when they went back, more or less, to the original 'canon' so-to-speak. (It was the series with the 10,000 volt ghost ep.)What captivated me were the *possibilities* that the original Scooby Doo Where Are You franchise opened up in my mind. I found it thought-provoking, enlightening, and it caused me to think. Think about reality and fantasy, science and mysticism, religion and secularism.They're all advantageous to me, depending on the context in which one pursues information. If something seems to follow a religious existence, follow that path. If there isn't a religious element, invoke the secular, and go for a scientific route. Mystical happenings abounding in your area? Pursue those phenomena from that angle. Use What Works!I see many things that are Not Quite Dead Yet! ;-> To me, nothing is not ever in a state of Not Being Alive. Everything has its own consciousness, though not all may be self-aware, at least from the Human standpoint. Religion has a place in helping humans to find that place in their heart that can help one become a better, more empathetic and caring person to others. Science helps to eliminate fear by allowing people to see definite results from a series of experimental trials that can be seen, felt, smelled, touched, or heard, or tasted. Mysticism is useful for psychological development, advancing one's own inner-journey to spiritual maturity. (To me, this doesn't mean accepting flatly the words of the 'Holy Bible,' or any other book, as canon, but rather as a tool to foster inner-understanding through direct, mystical/spiritual experience.The 'real thing' is not necessarily comfortable, sometimes is, but is often rather difficult, much like learning C++ or Java, Quantum Mechanics or Quaternion Math.We are usually 'high voltage' beings, but come to Earth in a somewhat 'compressed' state to experience, grow, and learn as much as we can for our Creator. (This last I could write another, separate essay on, but I shall refrain here for the sake of brevity. If you want long-winded, please see my response to Chris Morton's post, below.)Suffice it to say that 'Creator,' to me, may be assumed to be both literal and figurative, my belief system admonishing many different levels of creative endeavor, and not necessarily by Just One Being, save for the Universal 'Big Bang' of the advent of our Universe. And even then, the 'creator' might just be composed of many different entities, each comprising a whole and complete life-cycle on some planet, some place, somewhere, somewhen, (etc.)I can't be drawn into a simple belief system at this point. I've been exposed to too much of What Lies Outside Our Visible Spectrum to believe otherwise. Likewise, '...to those who have been dealt a measure of faith, so let it be given unto him.' Not all of us care to seek out what lies on the 'other side of visbility.' For those of us who do, these things will always be there to give us their challenges.I wish you the best.Sincerely,Stephen

  12. That brings back memories...  (Incidentally, the link to the Love the World video clip isn't working.  I was able to find it via Bing search, though, and took a listen.)

    Isn't that the truth?  Love the world, be a friend...  The world would be right, or at least a better place, if we could believe that this is the most powerful, healing truth...  And if some kind of love (acting like Jesus -- or a crazy person) would come over us all.

    If Scooby-Doo isn't a credible witness, then believe Jesus, I guess.

    Help me -- help us, Lord, to get back up again and actively persevere in that endeavor of loving You, loving others well.  ~Peace~

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