Last night, as I again watched the immortal 1989 comedy classic Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, four thoughts occurred to me.
First, the film contains a nice illustration of the “we” problem I discussed in my recent essay on the United States’ motto, official just since 1956, of “In God We Trust.” When Bill and Ted meet their future selves outside the Circle K, and the latter are attempting to convince the former that what they say is true, they (meaning future-Bill & Ted) remark:
“Look, we know how you feel. We didn’t believe it either when we were you and we us said what we us are saying right now.”
The choice here to combine the nominative and objective case forms of the first-person plural pronoun into a single, new, compound pronoun we us makes perfect sense from the perspective of the need to create a clear exclusive sense of we that doubly excludes two groups: both the present Bill & Ted receiving the advice and the future Bill & Ted who, when they were in the present Bill & Ted’s shoes, got their own talking to from yet another pair of future Bill & Teds. It was only that other future Bill & Ted pair—a we in the sense of being yet another token of the class of all possible Bill & Teds—who spoke to the then-present Bill & Ted pair in the role and position of the present-future Bill & Ted pair now. They were therefore a we speaking in the role of us to a you that is only the present Bill & Ted whom the film follows as protagonists. Brain hurt much?
Secondly, as I watched the film again for the umpteenth time, it occurred to me that there are more than a few Satanic elements and themes in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure—beyond, of course, the heavy metal, which, as we all know, is always clearly of the Devil (#sarcasm!). For instance, in the same scene where the two Bill & Ted pairs converse, present Bill & Ted pull aside to confer anxiously amongst themselves:
“Ted: Dude, are you sure we should be doing this?
Bill: Ted, you and I have witnessed many things, but nothing as bodacious as what just happened. Besides we told ourselves to listen to this guy.
Ted: What if we were lying?
Bill: Why would we lie to ourselves?”
In the context of the fact that the third of the Nine Satanic Statements and the fourth of the Nine Satanic Sins both have to do with the danger of self-deceit, this humorous meta moment takes on some new depth. Why would we lie to ourselves indeed? Can we trust ourselves and our own impressions, ideas, and opinions of and about the world around us and all the possible courses of action available to us therein? Moral psychologists Jonathan Haidt and Joshua Greene have a lot to say about just how much of what we think and say is really ad hoc, ex post facto rationalization for already in-progress affective responses that are themselves the bases of later firm moral judgments. The problem is that the targets of morality—especially as regards intimate concerns of sexual conduct, dress, and general comportment—are more than a little moveable, principally a reflection of arbitrary cultural mores. Being a Satanist is largely about turning away from the ideas and opinions of your culture encoded in communal moral judgments and discovering your own feelings about and principles regarding such things. Why do we usually lie to ourselves about how we feel, what we think, what the world around us is really like? Because it helps us bridge the massive gaps in expectation the world throws at us, as well as to fit in with external cultural realities we usually have no choice in, like what community we’re born into, how that community operates on a moral level, and the like. But when our own introspection presents us with a truly liberating possibility or novel course of action, leading us to break away from the facticity of culture and culturally determined morality, can we trust ourselves? If we’ve trained our faculty of judgment on the ideas and opinions of others, how, when we are breaking free, can we be sure our trust in ourselves is well placed? This is the enigma Bill & Ted face in the parking lot of the Circle K. Can they accept that the world and its possibilities are truly other than they’ve believed previously and, in so doing, seize a vital new opportunity by the horns? In more ways than one in the context of the film, only time will tell. The same is true for us as well, but really grappling with this problem—whatever the outcome—is a dilemma that lies at the heart of the Satanic enterprise.
Thirdly, when Rufus gets the present Bill & Ted all set up in their time-traveling phone booth, having demonstrated its power and driven home for them how critical it is that they complete their report and make sure to be done on time, he promptly leaves them to it, saying “All right, time for me to go.” The pair protest:
“Bill: What do you mean, Rufus?
Ted: Yeah, aren’t you coming with us?”
To which, Rufus responds cooly: “Gentlemen, you’re on your own.” Now, given Bill & Ted’s track record for personal responsibility and the dire need of Rufus’ future civilization to have the pair break with precedent and make a remarkable turn-around in time to, literally, save the future world, this is a pretty ballsy move on Rufus’ part. As a parent, I’m often in a position to put trust in my kids that, having equipped them with some basic cognitive tools and life skills, they can make good choices and “do the right thing.” I’d like to say I’ve been as daring as Rufus in this enterprise, leaving my children to just “do them” when the time comes. Unfortunately, if I said that, I’d be lying (to myself!). Far too often, I turn all helicopter-parent-y and hover over their every move, coercing the outcome I want. Again, in the context of Satanism, the seemingly simple statement Rufus makes becomes rather profound. In a world stripped of externalized gods to scourge our miserable shells and make us choose some putative right, we really are on our own, slacker kids without parental supervision and with more hanging in the balance than we realize. There’s enormous danger in this arrangement, but also incredible potential for a truly “excellent adventure” that can only be had in more or less complete freedom from overweening parental and paternalistic guidance.
Finally, this consideration brings me to Bill & Ted’s two key moral values in the film, encapsulated in the frequently repeated twin maxims “Be excellent to one another” and “Party on, dude!” In the context of the movie, “being excellent to one another” clearly means not acting like Bill & Ted’s parents, who are most emphatically not excellent: Ted with his coercive, authoritative father threatening to pack his son off to military school if the latter doesn’t miraculously pull out some decent grades, and Bill with his father who pays him no particular mind but is instead consumed with his own lustful pursuits with his appallingly younger wife, packing Bill & Ted off with spending money to the Circle K so that he can clear the way to “go for it” in his son’s own bedroom. In Satanic terms, being excellent is about not unduly transgressing others’ wills, nor using your own pursuit of pleasure in ways that are obviously hurtful or damaging to others. With that proviso, though, the second principle—“Party on, dude!”—clearly places emphasis on immediate fulfillment for the individual. Fully seven of the Nine Satanic Statements at the head of The Satanic Bible bear on seeking immediate, as opposed to delayed, fulfillment in life: viz. numbers 1-6 and 8. In this context, then, “partying on” consists in indulging rather than being abstinent, in living vitally in the here and now, in freeing oneself from the shackles of self-deceit, in cultivating relationships with those who bring something worthwhile to your life, in refusing to be bullied, and in seeking self gratification on all possible levels, again all under the proviso of simultaneously being excellent to others.
It would likely be a mistake to make Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure out to be one of the “profounder treatments” in cinema of life and its various dilemmas, but the movie does seem to have some surprising depth when considered from a Satanic point of view. If, that is, you can accept what we us are saying right now.