Heroes


I once did an episode where the storyline was on why fans shouldn’t admire celebrities because they might be… *checks notes*… self-medicating drug addicts.

Interesting that the character was a black basketball player and not, say, a white baseball pitcher. Worth noting.

Do I suspect malevolent intent? I do not. But, it’s the little things like that adding up over the years– all the built-in biases and prejudices that are normalized in the white evangelical cultural narrative. More on that much, much later.

I mean, wait until you find out how many drugs I’ve done! I can’t wait to disappoint you.

And so, in an effort to perhaps show a different side of celebrity fandom and that sometimes good things can come from athletes and actors, I’d like to share the people who have influenced me to have the courage to launch this project.

I’ve mentioned in prior posts that the subject matter of this series has been so hushed up over the years that it was something rarely heard of and talked about. Certainly, for the first decades I struggled. But, something has changed in the last half decade or so. It’s becoming more normalized to hear people talk about these problems.

But last year, something astonishing occurred.



A young woman by the name of Naomi Osaka made a decision to not give a press conference after a tennis match during the French Open in 2021.

She was called out and threatened by the organizers of the Big Four Grand Slam events that there would be punishments for skipping press conferences. The sports media at first was aghast.

Citing a history of Depression and Social Anxiety, she withdrew.

WHAT THE WHAT?!

Now folks… I’ve been in this particular nightmare for 30 years. I’ve never seen this before. You can do this now? Wha… wha… what the fuck?!? But she did. She stood up to the world and said her mental health mattered more than anything.

Amazing.

You really can not understand how seismic of a shift this was for the MI community. Like, better than A Beautiful Mind winning Best Picture.

This brave young woman deserves every ounce of credit she gets for standing her ground and speaking out.

And then something utterly mind-boggling occurred a few months later.

The G.O.A.T. of all G.O.A.T.s entered the picture.

Like Jimmy, I love sports. I think it’s the actor in me. Sports are usually unscripted. It’s not obvious who is going to win or what the outcome will be. As an actor in a scripted world, I usually know how most movies and tv shows will end, I know what the beats will be, the characters yet to be seen– having worked in and around the art forms of mass media and story telling all my life, this is what I do. It’s largely why I don’t get much pleasure from watching tv or movies. So for me, sports is an enjoyable form of surprise and scratches all my improv itches.

Btw, for those who don’t know what a GOAT is it means Greatest Of All Time.

It is rare for a sports figure to shatter my expectations. Or anyone for that matter. I am a very difficult person to impress– it’s a thing that has benefitted me in politics, I’m not easily impressed by powerful people. I don’t say this to brag, or seem cool, or cynical and jaded.

I literally grew up sitting next to Hal Smith and Will Ryan and every Saturday morning cartoon character and tv character actor that Hollywood produced in the last 70 years.

Since I was ten years old.

I say again, it is VERY hard to impress me as a result.

There are many respective GOATS in various sports that will be argued about forever because that’s what fans do. Was Bill Russell the GOAT? Or was it Michael Jordan? Or Kareem? Or Magic? Or LeBron?

In baseball we have the ghost of Babe Ruth hovering over the game.

Golf? Tiger. Or Nicklaus? Or Palmer?

But many will agree that pound for pound, the GOAT of ALL the GOATS is the tiny 4’8″ gymnast who can do things no other human on earth can do… or has ever done by anyone in the history of humanity.

Her name is Simone Biles and she’s the Greatest Athlete Of All Time In Any Sport Whatsoever.

She’s the GAOATIASW.

I’m working on a better acronym. But that will have to wait.

Back to Ms. Biles.

Ms. Biles did something completely unheard of that absolutely changed my world.

I’ve had gay friends tell me how powerful Ellen outing her character on her show was back in the 90’s.

There’s a story Whoopi Goldberg tells of seeing a black actor on Star Trek, Nichelle Nichols– the first time in her life she’d ever seen a black person on tv not being a maid or criminal (or drug addict) and how world changing this was in her life.

These are profound moments of cultural shift that profoundly affect millions of people.

This was the moment for me. I didn’t even realize I’d been waiting my entire adult life for this until it happened.

See, the Olympics are only held once every four years. This gives athletes who compete in those realms a very rare opportunity to do what they’ve worked their whole lives to do. It’s almost impossible to reach the Olympics. And then to not only reach the Olympics but to completely dominate and thrash the competition by doing new moves you invented with the entire world watching. This is the rarest of air.

The confidence required. The dedication. The focus. The patience. The diligence.

And the lead up to this particular COVIDTASTIC Olympics was incredibly stressful and worrisome.

But the world was waiting. We needed a distraction in the worst way possible. Literally, just shy of 8,000,000,000 people needed to be distracted by Simone Biles for two weeks to remind them that life doesn’t suck after two years of pandemic.

Everyone was stoked to see the GOAT break new records and win new medals, like, it was a foregone conclusion.

Plus, this was almost certainly her last shot. She’s at the age where another four years is an impossible wait. It’s now or never… forever. This is it.

So many corporate sponsors were smoking cigars just waiting to make money off her work. Networks. Clothing companies. Beverage industries. Etc. Etc. Etc.

And then hell froze over. Pigs flew. The most unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen in my life:

Simone Biles was like, “fuck it I ain’t gonna do it my mental health is bad” (I’m paraphrasing here).

Wha…?

Wuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut.

WHAAAAAAAAAAAATTTTTTTTHHHHHHHEEEEFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUCCCCKKK

You mean this thing I couldn’t talk about out loud for the last 30 years and this tiny lil person just like busted open the whole conversation on the world’s biggest stage at a time when she was the most sought after personality in the entire world?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

It’s like, 10 months later and I still get chills. Because this has not been possible in my lifetime. To have every media outlet on earth giving this woman props and kudos for having the courage to own her business her way.

For MENTAL HEALTH?!? WHAT THE FUCK? YOU GET APPLAUSE FOR THAT NOW?

*Dave’s head explodes like the Scanners scene*

I can not express to you the personal debt I owe this woman. She freed me.

Like, she more than any other human on earth makes me feel like it’s okay to type these words now after 30 loooooooooong fucking years.

An absolute Hero.

Forget individual gold– she deserves a Medal of Valor, imo. They both do.

Thank you, Naomi. Thank you, Simone. You are heroes to so many of us in ways you will never understand. You took my muzzle off. And I am forever in your debt.

The next hero I’d like to identify as a source of inspiration and courage for this project is someone who I know absolutely nothing about.

As a product of White Evangelicaltopia and as someone who now rejects all of it, I’m fascinated by cults and the people who leave them. And what it takes to get people to leave cults. This has been a focus of my interest for the last 10 years since I effectively left.

I love to check out Reddit threads about folks leaving Scientology and the JayDubs (Jehovah’s Witnesses)… but perhaps the closest culturally to my experience has been reading r/exmormon.

And there’s this reference that keeps coming up again and again in those threads, usually buried amongst the comments.

Somebody will be explaining their journey out of the Mormon cult and they will cite that one of their profound moments of the lightbulb going on/off is when a lifelong member reads the CES Letter.

Not familiar with the CES Letter?

Neither was I.

It’s some insider shit.

There’s a man by the name of Jeremy Runnells.

He felt something wasn’t right in this religion he had been raised in.

Questions. Things that don’t add up. The story goes that a local religious leader asked him to send him his concerns. So, Jeremy wrote the CES Letter. He never received a reply.

So, he turned it into a blog and just left it out there on the internet for others to read.

And then people started finding it.

And reading it.

And it started to motivate people to leave their cult.

It would be arrogant of me to assume the same will happen with my little noodlings here, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued by the idea of just putting your truth out there– now that Naomi and Simone said it was cool to do so– and just see if it attracts people.

Am I the only one feeling these things? Does anybody else have the same questions about the same hypocrisies?

The CES Letter is the perfect example of the internet working for once. A regular person puts out some deeply thought thoughts onto a page… and voila! The effort matters to people and has helped many reclaim their dignity and lives.

It’s also lead to death threats and the entire Mormon world still plugged into the cult to label him a heretic and someone who has fallen away from the faith and trying to tempt others… the standard gimmicks deployed by those with lousy answers.

So, to you Mr. Runnells… you are a Hero of mine. You had the courage to call out powerful institutions from a place of honest concern. Your work has changed lives for the better. I hope to emulate your success on these pages.

The tone of my effort is slightly different. I say fuck more, for example. And I’m using comedy as a weapon– I hope. Nobody’s told me any of this is funny yet which is worrisome….

Anyway. Jeremy. I salute you. The world also owes you a Medal of Valor.

I’ll add a link at the bottom.

Finally.

This one is more personal.

I don’t remember when or what age I was when I learned for the first time that someone I knew was going on strike.

Coming from a politically conservative family Unions were a no-no. They’re bad! They’re corrupt! Somehow, in ConservativeLand it was worse that Unions were corrupt, but nobody bats an eyelash when companies, non-profits, and religious organizations are corrupt. The Unions are the bad ones!

And so, I didn’t know many people in Unions or had ever known anyone who had chosen to strike against a powerful company to have their demands met.

Until one day, I’m at the studio… and an unnamed actor approached me.

“Did you hear? Will’s on strike.”

Huh? What? Who?

“Will (Ryan) walked off the show (AIO) because they aren’t Union. He’s striking until they become a Union production.”

Did I forget to mention that Adventures In Odyssey was a non-Union production for the entirety of my tenure? This was one of the reasons why they had such a hard time finding child actors in the beginning. They’ll tell you they wanted real kids not actors. I have no doubt if there had been other kids with the same skill sets I had– I was an actor– that my tenure would probably have been ended as soon as my voice changed and that’s probably why I lasted as long as I did.

Good acting is very hard to find. Especially in children.

But much, much easier when you’re a Union signatory project. Now agents and parents will feel safe sending their talented little hobbits to record with your company because they know the children will be safe and protected and not fall behind in school and all sorts of protections put in place for child stars will be there for their budding thespians.

Stuff I never had.

Which is the reason, Will later told me, why he struck.

“– they don’t even believe in pensions?!? How can you call yourself Focusing on Families when you don’t believe in pensions and healthcare? It was unreal. That’s why I had to walk… to protect you kids.” – more or less verbatim from a conversation I had with Will in 2009-2010.

I wish Will were alive to confirm that, but he is not. And as I lick my wounds and grieve the passing of my old friend, I think of his spirit and courage.

It is a rare thing to get to have a regular paying gig as a professional actor. I mean, at the high levels of some talent, it’s a different story. But they ARE the rare ones because they’re that good. Will was that good. But, he still needs paychecks.

And he had one of the three main roles on a show that would span 35 years. And he laid it down to improve the working conditions for everybody.

That’s a hard thing to walk away from. It’s a hard thing to hold to account an organization that claims the power of Jesus Christ. AND ALL YOUR FRIENDS WORK THERE, TOO. AND THEY DON’T WANNA STRIKE WITH YOU. Fortunately, that didn’t phase Will who was a diehard believer in Unions and never wavered.

Still, that’s a lonely feeling.

Years later, when I found myself sitting in a deliberating room with 11 other jurors mad at me for ruining their opportunity to tar and feather someone– one of the most intense and unpleasant experiences of all time– when I needed courage, when I needed strength of spirit and resolve to go against an entire courthouse, corrupt District Attorney’s office, and the entire county… and stick to my conscience, oddly it was 2 AIO colleagues who sprang to mind in my darkest moments of doubt to find fortitude when my knees were shaking and my voice was trembling.

The main colleague I leaned on was Will Ryan.

“Did it bother you none of them joined you?”, I asked.

“No. I get it. We all gotta eat. But, I did it because it was the right thing to do”, he replied.

The courage he had to walk away from a rare, ongoing gig because he felt their actions were immoral and wrong, and that his conscience was so affected he could no longer morally justify his own involvement– that’s Hero stuff of the highest order.

What do Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles, Jeremy Runnells, and Will Ryan all have in common?

They all spoke Truth to Power.

And it takes a Hero to do that.

Forget the bootlicking narrative about who our culture venerates as heroes. Usually military and police and first responders, etc.

Those aren’t heroes. Those are paid employees- with Unions– doing their jobs. Literally.

But, these four people are Heroes to me. They took risk, some lost money, prestige, gold medals- all for the purposes of bringing some integrity into the world.

They didn’t shout. They don’t have to strut. They aren’t trying to hurt anyone or cause harm. All of them are trying to reduce harm in the world and make this a better place to live, for themselves and the rest of us.

These four Heroes are the Muse of this project.

Their courageous examples inspire this effort.

I’m glad to share a planet with them.

One final point about all four of these people.

Their risks and bravery and the chances they took. It worked.

Naomi and Simone?

Made it okay for the entire world to talk about mental health.

Jeremy Runnells?

Literally people are leaving a cult because of this dude.

And Will Ryan?

He forced Focus on the Family to turn Adventures in Odyssey into a Union gig.

These people are Heroes.

And Will… I miss you so damn much. We weren’t done yet, brother.

This project is dedicated to you, and the memory of your integrity and courage.

I hope to make you proud here.


*as promised: CES Letter


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4 responses to “Heroes”

  1. chanagon Avatar
    chanagon

    I have always wondered why Will Ryan left the show for a while. All I knew is that when he came back, they started saying something like “with Will Ryan as Eugene”, and I think it was around then that they started listing some of the other actors’ names too, though not attached to their characters? They always named producers and crew.

    If I remember right, I was a little chagrined at the time to think that Will might have demanded more credit…it shows some of my childhood conditioning that I had an idea that you should never seek recognition for your work. I probably still suffer from this.

    Anyway, go Will! Go Naomi and Simone and Jeremy! And go Dave! Thanks so much for sharing these stories.

    1. dave Avatar

      They ALWAYS named the crew and creative team, didn’t they?

      Guess Jesus doesn’t care about actors getting credit. But fortunately, Will Ryan DID CARE. And fought for us to be credited.

      And it’s interesting how my history with the church and with the show… any time you ever ask for anything there’s this collective gasp. How dare you? Are you selfish? If you are not completely giving up your entire ego for Jesus then can you even call yourself a christian? The way that guilt is weaponized to avoid paying people or crediting them is evil and insidious.

      I have to believe if God is actually real, then he wants people paid for their contributions righteously and credited also righteously. How is it an organization whose members– are all of whom are supposedly filled with the Holy Spirit– doesn’t mind actors being underpaid and uncredited when their work literally creates the money that gets everyone else in the org paid? So it’s cool if god gives you money… but not the actors. Right.

      How many times have my episodes been sold?

      And thank YOU! More posts coming soon I hope.

      1. chanagon Avatar
        chanagon

        I am really and truly looking forward to them. As a left-leaning ex-evangelical, still-believer, and parent, I have been unusually interested in Odyssey lately, as an art form, and in terms of its cultural legacy and meaning for children. So this blog is a great gift to me and, I think, to many others.

        1. chanagon Avatar
          chanagon

          (and I can only imagine what it costs you to write them)

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