Welcome to planet Earth – population approximately 7 billion. A small carbon based planet wrought with suffering, all of which originates at the hands of Earth’s dominant species: the human being.
Humans are masterful creatures when it comes to making both themselves and their fellow beings miserable. Bloody wars based out of overzealous religious belief run rampant. Ideology and greed hijack and corrupt even their most noble systems of basic governance. The rich get richer while the poor get poorer and the suckers in the middle just want to be left alone. Yes, human beings have made an art form out of developing new and creative ways to bring one another down.
However, all is not lost. I submit to you that there is a balm to soothe the many of the aches and pains of humanity. It isn’t a distant pipe dream of the future; our miracle cure already exists. Nor is it a radical political revolution, a transcendent religious movement, or a wondrous feat of modern science. No, our last and best hope for peace with our fellow ladies and gentlemen of Earth exists in popular culture.
A foolish brag, you say, pop culture solving the problems of the world. But I come armed with the first of many iron clad examples of the power for peace we already unknowingly possess: The late Bob Ross.
Born October 29, 1942, Bob Ross became famous as the host of an instructional art program on American public television called The Joy of Painting. With a canvas and easel his lone set pieces, Ross’s program was the definition of low budget. Ross was also not the world’s most compelling television host. With his cartoonish afro and soothing voice, one would imagine the most common reaction to watching his show would be uproarious laughter followed by about an hour long coma. But despite these things liabilities, during the Saturday afternoons of my early girlhood, what would you find on my television? The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross.
On the face of it, there is no good reason for a relatively normal child to sit enraptured in front of the TV as a strange man paints mountains and trees (most of whom were, according to him, very happy). But enraptured I was. You could not pull me away from the screen for anything less than my weight in ice cream when Bob was on. What was it that held my attention? Why did I not fall asleep immediately when he discussed techniques for loading your brush with just enough prussian blue to get the happiest little clouds? I loved Bob Ross not because I loved art (even though I do) or because I found him likable as a person (even though I did). I loved him because Bob Ross, I think, was the gentlest being that we as a species ever created.
Ross didn’t live in the realms of geopolitics, world religions, or high finance. If he did, you wouldn’t know it from watching his show. The show was just an almost alarmingly mellow man slapping some paint on a canvas, trying to teach housewives and grannies how to do the same thing. He was warm, kind, and nonjudgemental. If you messed up on your little tree or cabin and it didn’t look just like his, it was OK. It was your painting after all, Bob was just there to help. It would always turn out ok. If there is a better spokesperson for kindness, self-determination, personal freedom, and creative expression, I haven’t come across him/her yet in almost 30 years wandering the planet.
If we could somehow pull off twice daily showings of The Joy of Painting in war torn parts of the world , who knows the good that Ross’s soothing, watching an aquarium-esque influence might have? Best case scenario, the people fighting would put down the guns, pick up paintbrushes, and flood the art world with landscape paintings. Worst case scenario, it would chill a couple people the hell out. I imagine it would be hard to throw rocks at your neighbor after Bob Ross has worked his magic and made you mellow as a happy little tree. At any rate, I doubt a little Bob in their lives could possibly make things any worse.