29 July 2011

The Tao of The Little Rascals

Tao is a Chinese word meaning way or path.

Hal Roach's Our Gang, or The Little Rascals, was a series of short films made during America's 1930s depression era.

The films are about a diverse group of poor neighborhood children and their misadventures.

Most television-rapt children of the 60s like me, grew up watching The Little Rascals on morning television.

The Little Rascals did much to shape my political philosophy. Our Gang characters like Spanky, Buckwheat, Alfalfa, Darla and Waldo reminded me with humor how people solve problems (often of their own making), and ultimately, how people get along.

Ground Breaking

The Little Rascals was full of cultural stereotypes, but it broke ground in American film. Hal Roach's Our Gang series was ground-breaking, and culturally progressive because:
  • It put boys, girls, whites and blacks in a group as equals;
  • Its lead characters included African Americans and females when discrimination against both was commonplace; and
  • Most of the characters were poor. Oft-times they were at odds with spoiled rich kids or meddlesome, small-minded adults
The child actors were filmed in a way that portrayed the unaffected and raw nuances of childhood, rather than a regurgitation of adult acting styles. The actors, some too young to read, rarely saw scripts before filming a scene. The scenes were explained to the actors, then they were encouraged to improvise.


The Little Rascals teach us that life is full of adversarial jerks.

Butch the bully and Waldo the rich kid represent the dastardly villains of conservatism, laissez-faire capitalism, and their closeted evil uncle, fascism.

Every Man

Spanky & Alfalfa were every man - humble schlubs who, while flawed, were street-wise and pragmatic.

I fancy myself having Alfalfa's sense of impending doom, combined with the pocket-fuzz of Spanky's street smarts. Spanky was a benevolent leader who treated his gang with democratic fairness and equanimity - like I have raised my children.


Tao is difficult to define or to express in words. Taoists say Tao can be discerned by observing nature -- and by extension, human nature.

If the Tao of The Little Rascals is discernible, it is woven from the constituent parts of
fairness, humor and humility.

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