Fonzie, Sea World, and Siamese Twins

How could I have been entertained by this? Why didn't I see it?

Andy Nash

The other day I turned on the TV to watch the news. But as I scanned the channel guide, another show caught my eye: Happy Days, the 1950s-era sitcom (produced in the 1970s and 1980s).

I immediately felt a wave of memories from watching Happy Days as a boy. I’d fly off the school bus with my saxophone and duffel bag and race up our long gravel driveway, our dog leaping beside me. Out of breath, I’d burst in the front door, put two Pop-Tarts into the toaster, and if I timed everything perfectly, I’d be sprawled on the couch right at 4:00 when the Happy Days theme song started: “Sunday, Monday, happy days! Tuesday, Wednesday, happy days! Thursday, Friday, happy days! Saturday—what a day! Groovin’ all week with you!”

I liked watching Happy Days almost as much as Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch. (I watched too much TV.) I liked the 1950s setting; I liked the humor; and I especially liked the friendship between Richie Cunningham (a regular guy, like me) and Fonzie (the coolest guy ever). “The Fonz” wore a leather jacket, and all the girls loved him. It was fun!

How could I have been entertained by this? Why didn’t I see it?

So when I turned on Happy Days the other day, I expected to enjoy the throwback memories of Richie and the Fonz (my old buddies).

The episode I watched was set in Arnold’s Diner. Fonzie walks in (the studio audience cheers) and proceeds to kiss about a dozen girls, one by one. Someone asks where Richie is, and Fonzie says inappropriate things that produce great laughter.

It’s a hard thing to realize that what once seemed acceptable . . . really wasn’t. Sure, Fonzie and Richie might have been likable characters, and not every episode of Happy Days was so lewd. But as I sat thinking about it, and my daughter walked through the room, I realized that the overall culture of Happy Days was degrading to women—reducing them to mere objects. (“I found my thrill,” the guys often sang, “on Blueberry Hill.”)

How could I have been entertained by this? Why didn’t I see it?

Culture (like its sister word, cult) is one of the most dangerous and powerful forces in our lives because, by living within a culture, we get used to it. We get changed by it. We tend to take it lump-sum rather than carefully distinguishing. That’s why a generation can be simultaneously patriotic and prejudiced, or hardworking and selfish, or compassionate and entitled.

I think of other tough realizations. As a boy I loved the breathtaking Shamu whale shows at SeaWorld; I didn’t stop to think about the captivity. I also remember the “Siamese Twins” at the county fair. We peered through a window to watch these two brothers—“Oh, look, they’re arguing!” Even as my young heart felt a discomfort, I didn’t say anything.

But someone did. At some point someone said, “Freak shows are wrong.” “Whale shows are wrong.” “Objectifying women is wrong.”

At some point we, too, can say, “It’s wrong.” “We were wrong.” “I was wrong.”

Andy Nash ([email protected]) is a pastor and author in Denver, Colorado. He leads study tours to Israel each summer.

Andy Nash