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Discovering Captain Underpants

Timothy J. Cullen POSTED: 9/10/12

We've sure come a long way from King Arthur, Tom Sawyer and Ali Baba

( Far from the madding crowd, voluntarily isolated from popular culture, too old to follow trends among the young, this writer has lived for the past fifteen years blissfully ignorant of a children’s book hero known as “Captain Underpants.” No more. Captain Underpants has invaded his consciousness and established a beachhead. It has been a thoroughly disheartening experience.

“Captain Underpants”… Some sort of sick joke? Not a bit of it! There are ten “Captain Underpants” novels, three “activity books” and a film-in-the-making. Among the titles in the ten-novel series: Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants (2000); Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman (2001); Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy, Part 1: The Night of the Nasty Nostril Nuggets (2003). These and other brilliantly titled books in the series won a Disney Adventures Kids' Choice Award in 2007.

While it may be true that many pre-teen boys enjoy scatological humor, the lionization of it in the “literary” marketplace is not praiseworthy; it is infantile and is a part of the ongoing evisceration of Western culture and the emasculation of boys not old enough to know what is being done to them in the name of “progressive” education. Parents who encourage this sort of thing… well, the less said the better.

There is no question that the young need to be encouraged to read and need guidance in doing so, but one balks at encouraging them to read books with titles like “Captain Underpants” and the even more vulgar Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger (published by Penguin Books). Kudos to Chronicles Magazine writer Jeff Minick for his 17 August essay “Making Men Out of Boys,” wherein mention is made of these children’s book titles while pointing out that “Advocates of Sir Fartsalot or the Captain Underpants series claim that it makes no difference what a boy reads, as long as he is reading.  Yet what would we think of a parent who said of her son that ‘whatever he eats is good as long as he is eating’?”[1]

As pointed out by Mr. Minick, an Asheville, North Carolina educator who offers seminars in Latin, literature, and history to homeschooled students: “Reading does more than prepare students for academics.  Great literature of all kinds as well as the best of movies—Master and Commander, Secondhand Lions, and others—teach lessons for real life.  To learn to love, to learn to stand up for what is right, to learn to suffer—these are the lessons of manhood and require real-life experience, but boys can use literature and history as the training grounds for these battles.”[2]

This writer’s now 32 year old son (pre-Captain Underpants, God be thanked) had something of an uphill battle with learning to enjoy reading, in that English was not easy for him when he arrived in the USA at age six. He and I both remember the book that effectively launched him as a reader: Carry On, Mister Bowditch, by Jean Lee Latham, a 1956 Newberry Award winner first enjoyed by this writer at age ten, although the book is now recommended for twelve-year-olds. It ranks as 7,464 in terms of children’s books sales, compared with 7,044 for the boxed set The New Captain Underpants Collection (Books 1-5). Titles that followed as the reading adventure gained legs were such classics as The Far Side of the Mountain, Hatchet and other outdoor adventures. Meanwhile, my son’s older sister went back over The Chronicles of Narnia, all of which had been read aloud to her during her own pre-Sir Fartsalot childhood.

Where, one asks, is contemporary Traditional Catholic children’s book writing? How does it fare in the marketplace? What of the literature from the secular world? How much if it is admissible into a child’s education? These are questions not easily answered but urgently needing answers as print publications and reading comprehension seem helplessly entrapped by the Grimpen Mire of indifference that is pulling the Christian, Western culture inexorably down beneath its surface.

Search for the Madonna, by Donna Alice Patton, a recommended 2010 novel for Traditional Catholic children, ranks at 951,717 in sales at Amazon, which puts into sorry perspective the appeal of Catholic literature in contemporary culture, but at least such literature still exists. A handy resource (among others) for finding it is the Traditional Catholic Novels website at Children’s and young adults’ classics from times gone by can also still appeal, dated though they may be to a certain extent. This writer still has his complete sets of Victor Appleton’s Tom Swift series, the Rick Brandt books (also science oriented), the Hardy Boys detective novels, Roy Chapman Andrews’ beginners’ paleontology classic All About Dinosaurs

Perhaps older readers will find themselves feeling shortchanged by the lack of availability of the Captain Underpants series during childhood, but somehow, one doubts it. Nevertheless, one’s curiosity—morbid curiosity, to be sure—is aroused by the question: “Just who is “Captain Underpants”?

The Wikipedia entry on the series summarizes as follows: “Captain Underpants” is a superhero whose alternate avatar is Benjamin Krupp, “[t]he mean and evil principal of Jerome Horwitz [the birth surname of “Larry,” one of the Three Stooges], Elementary School a man who “has a very deep hatred of children [motive unexplained]” directing a school “which discourages imagination and fun.” [3] Imagine: a school not dedicated to “fun”! Sounds suspiciously like “bullying,” or even a “hate crime”! Sounds like the kind of thing that homeschoolers might permit, given their emphasis on instruction and learning instead of “imagination and fun”. Do homeschoolers permit periods of imagining world peace? Do homeschoolers allow the kiddies to imagine mom and dad in their underpants fighting battles against enemies of humanity such as those who espouse religions?

Older readers may remember the “Three Rs”: reading, writing and arithmetic; the younger devotees of Captain Underpants and his allies seem dedicated to the “Three I’s”: indoctrination, infantilism and irrelevance.

Enough sarcasm, because this sort of thing is no laughing matter. The West—old Christendom—is without exaggeration now losing a war for its cultural life. The enemy is not only within the gates but is now in charge of them. The Trojan horse of liberalism has disgorged its hidden troops and they have taken charge of nearly every institution of importance. The fort cannot be held. The long and short of it is that it is time for those determined not to yield to head for the hills or the catacombs, flee to the fields if possible, but to recognize that the only genuine hope of recovering lost ground is by becoming a cultural guerrilla and remembering that Captain Underpants is not invincible.

This writer has made mention in the past of a 1959 novel that, first read at age 15, had a lifelong impact upon him: Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz. The novel describes a post-nuclear-holocaust world in which an order of monks has taken it upon themselves to preserve the written works of the pre-“flame deluge” era, much as Catholic monks did after the fall of Rome and the ensuing Dark Age of barbarism that followed. A new Dark Age is already upon us, and it is incumbent upon Traditional Catholics to do all within their power to preserve what they can of the once-glorious Western culture of Christendom that has been denigrated and denatured by the secular materialist destroyers who have taken charge while the rightful inheritors of great traditions frittered away their birthright by succumbing to material temptations and propaganda that the Church failed to combat.

How large is the library in your home? If you have school-age children or grandchildren, have you kept in step with the newer technology of electronic books that make it possible to acquire a vast library in next to no space? Do you care whether or not periodicals such as The Remnant can continue to exist, and care enough to support them financially even in the face of financial hardship? Does it matter if the young fritter away time with obscenely violent video games, or sending text messages that employ a primitive sort of spelling, or posting narcissistic inanities to their “social network” accounts? Do you and yours read and read regularly and discuss what you read? Or when all is said and done is it all the same to you whether Captain Underpants and company conquers Christendom?

If Catholics do not make a concerted effort to learn all that is within their capacity to learn about the culture that sprang from their religion, they have no one to blame but themselves if their young fall by the wayside into indifference and apostasy. It is not enough to keep Captain Underpants out of one’s home; Achilles, Ulysses, Aeneas, Roland, Beowulf, St. Thomas More and a host of other heroic characters must be made to feel at home and become familiar figures to the young.

As Michael Matt so poignantly pointed out when introducing a new, young Remnant columnist, the young are the future of the Faith. If our Traditional Catholic young are not adequately intellectually prepared to defend their faith and ideas because they are inadequately steeped in the recorded (in print!) genius of their culture, the consequences to the Church and the Faith do not bear contemplation. The late Richard Weaver wrote a book entitled Ideas Have Consequences: how right he was!

Contemplate if you will a hero for grade school children who goes by the name of Captain Underpants. Contemplate the consequences to a culture and a society that complacently looks on while its young are “educated” and “entertained” by such stuff. Then contemplate what you are prepared to do to stop it.

Discover Captain Underpants for yourself; it’s a bit like finding a rattlesnake under a rock.


[2] Ibid


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