On December 14th, 2003, Fox aired Arrested Development episode 8, “In God We Trust,” one full week before it aired episode 7, “My Mother, The Car.” It seems right from the start, Fox was completely careless with what would become the cult show of a generation.
On May 10th, 1508, Pope Julius II commissioned sculptor Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Somewhere around 1511, he completed work on The Creation of Adam, one of the most iconic images in history, in which a white-bearded God breathes life into a muscular Adam. The two almost touch fingers.
On April 26, 2012, His Holiness The Dalai Lama visited Loyola University Chicago to deliver two separate addresses. I pay my bills by working for Loyola Parking Services. Loyola has two large parking garages and two large lots, but not really enough to guarantee parking for every student, faculty, or staff member, let alone the innumerable visitors on campus hoping to get a single glimpse of His Holiness. Part of my job on that day was to stand guard over 60 spaces reserved for VIPs for the event. I won’t reveal names. Just know that many political, religious, and university leaders were on the list. Out of the sixty spaces, five cars parked in the reserved spot.
In the first scene of “In God We Trust,” Michael and Lindsay are seen getting along, which, according to the narrator, is “unwelcome news to their mother, who [fears] this unity might be used against her.” Lucille spends the episode trying to drive a wedge between Michael and Lindsay, who, ohbytheway, are twins. God forbid they enjoy each other’s company.
Speaking of things God forbids, let’s talk about graven images. The climax of this episode takes place at a pageant where live representations of famous works of art are displayed. Actors and volunteers (or, as it’s implied, pressured housekeepers) recreate paintings by dressing up and being very still on stage. When George Michael, nervous that the tiny frontispiece (that’s wealthy for “dick”) won’t impress Maeby, shows up as Adam in cutoffs, the one percenters in attendance lose their collective shit. Then, “there is no God”—George Sr., out of bond, is fleeing for his freedom. So the painting, which is supposed to depict humanity’s origin story, is completely murdered.
I should also mention that this is a Christmas episode, but other than Barry (Harry Winkler), the Bluth’s lawyer, saying “it’s the day before Christmas,” the narrator saying that the Bluths gather for Christmas Eve in prison, and a bunch of Christmas decorations, we get no mention of that fact. Lupe, Lucille’s maid, is wearing a Halloween shirt.
The chaos of the pageant results in the Bluths being permanently uninvited forever, which is great news, but also a symbol of their continued decline in status. The opening credits describe the Bluths as “a wealthy family who lost everything.” Yet they can still afford when lawyer Fonzie seriously overcharges them. Lindsay can turn to her mother or her brother for money to pay off her $20,000 credit card debt.
What I’m saying here is that while the Bluths are said to have lost everything, they can still put gas in their staircar and fuel their Segways. They can attend pageants where all you do is look at real people being very still and mimicking paintings. They can afford a lawyer.
So who are these people? Who is this family? Who is this mother, who deliberately turns her children against one another? Who are Tobias and Linsday, who don’t seem to notice their daughter exists? Who is Michael, who doesn’t speak a single word to his son in this episode, and almost seems surprised to see him on stage at the pageant? I don’t know. I don’t know for the same reasons I don’t know why 55 out of 60 VIPs declined their reserved parking spaces for the Dalai Lama visit. Being a VIP means you have a busy schedule and a thousand things to do. And hey, maybe they found alternate parking or took public transportation. But this is likely His Holiness’ last visit to Chicago—it seems important to attend. And in the process of not making use of their reserved parking, they displaced students trying to study for finals, teachers trying to properly review for finals, and staff members trying to make next month’s rent. It just seems odd.
It also seems odd that the Dalai Lama—the fourteenth reincarnation of an Indian prince who decided that the most important thing a person could do is completely cease desiring things—is so important that he merits thousands of people clamoring to catch a glimpse of him, countless hours of safety meetings between university leaders and State Department officials, and FBI-level security just to give a presentation. I am aware of the Tibet-China tensions. I don’t know a thing about the Lama’s personal life. It just seems easy to preach the cessation of desire when you spend your entire life as the center of your own universe.
Pope Julius II was nicknamed “The Warrior Pope” and “The Fearsome Pope.” He ruled from 1503 to 1513 and led an aggressive, imperial papistry in which he wielded the influence of his position over powerful families and most of Italian politics. He commissioned the Sistine Chapel, perhaps the greatest work of religious art in Christian history. But his story hardly jives with Jesus’ commandment to “sell all your possessions to the poor.”
Since I’ve never made in a year what Lindsay Bluth racked up in credit card debt over eight episodes, I have some questions: Who are these wealthy people, who can ignore family members or disregard reserved parking to see the Dalai Lama? What does it feel like, having no money but having the capability to loan your sister $20,000 for a credit card bill? Or having no money but having the capability to pay $20,000 for your father to get out of prison for a single afternoon so he can play God? Do religious leaders have an attack of conscience when they realize they’ll never have to eat off the McDonald’s dollar menu because it’s the only thing they can afford, yet they roundly reject Liberation Theology? What does it feel like to have the wealth to drive a Jaguar and be able to demand reserved parking so you can listen to the Dalai Lama talk about cessation of desire?
I’m not arguing for socialism. I’m not saying people don’t deserve money for hard work—these VIPs probably earned most of their money. And maybe some of the religious leaders aren’t rich, they just get VIP parking because they’re religious leaders and this is a religious event. And maybe His Holiness does live a life of asceticism. I’m not making accusations. I’m just saying it feels a bit like wearing cutoffs in the Garden of Eden.