Thursday, September 10, 2009

Why are some dog-loving atheists choking up over a two-minute cartoon?


** On August 4, 2009, Wendy Francisco, a 54-year-old artist-musician-animal breeder from Del Mar, California (north of San Diego) – who now lives "somewhere in the mountains of Colorado" – uploaded a 1 minute, 58 second music video on You Tube.

** Her lyrics are so simple that a child can understand them. That makes sense. Mrs. Francisco is an editor of children's books.

** Her melody is so simple that it seems mined from an old nursery tune pulled from the public domain. It's not. It's original. Mrs. Francisco learned guitar at age 8, had a record deal by age 24 and has toured the country "and beyond," giving concerts for decades.

** Her hand-drawn images are so simple that they seem almost primitive. But Mrs. Francisco has been a self-taught artist since she was a child. In sum, she's not a novice.

** But what's NOT so simple - is explaining the explosion of emotions that have poured forth from hundreds of thousands of people who have seen "GoD and DoG" since its debut on August 4.

** I know what some of you are thinking. Being a secular sort of fellow, I thought the same thing. I told myself, "I'm not going to watch some sappy tribute about dogs and religion." A pal forwarded it to me by e-mail and I dismissed it. I don't even own a dog, even though my love for canines is well known. If you've ever owned a dog (or still own one), you know what I mean. They ARE family.

** Then another friend forwarded the video. Full disclosure: I dislike some (not all) "pay it forward" inspirational notes, because some feel like canned chain letters sent by people who let greeting cards carry messages - that they themselves – cannot articulate. Sincerity doesn't require perfect sentences or phrasing inspired by great poets. All that's required in my book – are words from the heart, fractured, imperfect, incomplete but real. Nevertheless, I clicked on the video.

** In less than two minutes, using a child's grasp of melody, lyrics and imagesWendy Francisco builds a case about the relationship between a higher being – and the co-existence of dogs and man. She doesn't cite scripture, she makes no references to Christianity – and she avoids conventional, confrontational and controversial dogma.

** In otherwords, Wendy Francisco delivers a message with such deceptive simplicity that it appears purposely designed to avoid trouble. She sings softly with an acoustic guitar, amid a montage of scribbled images and stock fonts which push her lyrics forward. She wrote, recorded and animated everything in about three days. She says her work was inspired by her dog, "Caspian." (See picture above.) This snow-white creature is described as being "3/4 Great Pyrenees and 1/4 Anatolian Shepherd Cross." Dog breeders will know what that means. I don't, but it doesn't matter. Nor apparently do you have to believe in a deity - to still be moved – by what Mrs. Francisco has to say.

** If you want to watch this video with with a higher quality image, click here. Otherwise, click below.

** "Religion masks the character of God," Francisco says on her website. Perhaps she means this: the ceremonial trappings of organized religion have stripped away the power and emotion associated with being in the presence of a higher being and of all living things. Mrs. Francisco admits she "struggles with modern day religion" because it "limits most people...women in particular."

** Ironically, I think it's the "religion" part that may stall the "mainstream media" from writing lengthy stories about Wendy Francisco, at least not until her view count at You Tube goes over 2 million hits. And I predict it will within the next two months. (As I write this, it's sitting around 860,000 views). While the evangelical press has fully embraced this work (no surprise), I found only two glancing references thus far in news stories on the Web (one in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the other in Atlanta for the Examiner group of newspapers).

** In my view, Mrs. Francisco has smartly taken a path of least resistance to get her message across. Mucking her work up with provocative language and complicated dogma would have stunted the video's reach beyond the church choir. Take away just ONE of the four elements in her music video: her lyrics, her melody, her calm singing voice or her hand-drawn images – and the power of her work goes from extraordinary to ordinary. Her message is NOT the analytical think piece you're reading now. Just read the comments that have been left behind. Many viewers say they cried or were deeply moved. Believers have expressed their thanks. And I believe many non-believers will acknowledge the video's emotional power, even if their views remain unchanged.

** While the video is unlikely to convert atheists – it does capture their deep appreciation for dogs. I will go further and say it may cause many dog-loving atheists to yearn to believe, that is, to want to believe – (even if it's no more than wishful thinking as from a child) – that a higher being "of some sort" is indeed responsible for putting dogs on Earth – for the express purpose of meeting man's instinctual need for companionship.

** But this is all mushy stuff. This is NOT the language of atheists. Atheists tend to be educated. I don't even have to look it up. They just are. Religion may have once worked at some level, perhaps at an early age. Or maybe it never worked at all. But the video is tantalizing because it conveys an abstract meaning (feelings) – and an appreciation of something beyond the reach of words.

** Most educated people, myself included, get visibly uncomfortable about things that can't be broken down into parts that can be objectively analyzed. "An 'A' equals an 'A' and that's that," we say. So why then, do our tear ducts squeeze a little while we're watching this video? What's that all about? If I knew the answer, I wouldn't be writing this.

(Original material © 2009 by David Kusumoto.)