Friday, September 11, 2009

Your Mental Sorbet: WKRP's Venus teaches the Atom

Here is Special Back to School "Mental Sorbet" that we could use to momentarily forget about those things that leave a bad taste in our mouths.

Venus Flytrap is played played by Tim Reid. In very popular episode Venus and the Man (originally called Venus Flytrap Explains the Atom), the station's cleaning woman, tells Venus that her son Arnold (Keny Long) is planning to drop out of high school, and Venus offers to talk to the boy. Arnold comes to the station to see Venus, and turns out to be the huge, muscular leader of a street gang. Venus has to figure out how to make him believe that education is worthwhile when Arnold is already making more money than he could at any "respectable" job. He explains to Arnold that everything in life is a matter of either "survival" or "conquest," and that Arnold, who is mostly interested in conquest, hates school because it has "conquered" him. Arnold admits that he hates the feeling of being weak and powerless that he gets when he can't understand something in school, but Venus offers to prove to him that it doesn't have to be that way: he bets that he can teach Arnold the basics of the atom in two minutes, and Arnold agrees to go back to school and finish out the year if he can.

In a memorable sequence, Venus explains the structure of the atom by pretending that the protons, neutrons and electrons are rival gangs competing for control of a neighborhood that consists of "block after block of nothing." Before Arnold realizes it, he is able to recite all the features of an atom. He then admits that it feels good to know something most other people don't, and Venus explains that the learning is itself a form of conquest. Arnold keeps his part of the bargain and goes back to school, but Venus warns Cora that the odds are against Arnold continuing in school after the year is out. The episode is also a moment of triumph for Venus, who proves himself as a teacher (a profession he failed at earlier) and earns the respect of a boy who had accused him of "sounding white" on the air.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa
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