We weren’t expecting the protestors outside the Snoopy Institution, which may have seemed naïve, but I drive past the building all the time and I couldn’t remember when I had saw them last.
But there they were, and honestly, they didn’t look that threatening. A group of maybe 10 or 12, wearing the masks, holding the signs saying Snoopyology is a fraud, brainwashing, one of them is even dressed like Woodstock, the fabled alien that Snoopyology is rumored to be based on. They’re being interviewed by a camera crew, and more people across the street have cameras, and whether those guys are tourists, more protesters, or, as the protesters will tell you, secret Snoopy police documenting the protesters so they can ruin their lives later, is unclear.
Flora, Fauna, Rosalyn and myself had agreed to drive separately, and to park far away from the Snoopy Institute and walk, just in case they were writing down our license plate info for whatever reason. We also agreed to bring cash, so they wouldn’t have our credit card information. And we had all agreed on our fake names, and knew better than to sign anything with our mailing address, our phone numbers, or our email addresses.
But with the protesters outside, we were caught in a unique crossfire – the Snoopyologists might suspect us of being undercover protesters, and the protesters might suspect us of being Snoopyologists. When really, we’re just curious Christians.
I knew the protesters would scare Fauna and Rosalyn, maybe Flora too. I ended up being the first one there, and I quickly walked past the protestors on the corner, making sure to turn my head, so they couldn’t catch me on camera. They were worried about their identities as well, the closest one to me was wearing a doctor’s mask and holding a little dog, who wasn’t wearing a mask. Burn him! Burn him at the stake!
A security guard meets me as I walk up the driveway, apologizing for the noise and the rumpus. I thank God I had made a reservation ahead of time with my fake name, I’m not sure they would’ve let us in otherwise. But I should wait for Flora, Fauna, and Rosalyn, and boom, they call me on the cell, “We’re across the street, we’re kinda scared.” I assure them that I’m already here, in the driveway, so don’t you dare flake out on me now and I go back down the driveway to wave at them and they walk to me.
Then we’re all escorted to the restaurant. The security guard didn’t seem creepy, nor does our escort to the restaurant. And once you’re inside, the grounds are very nice looking. It’s like its own quiet oasis or something. You can’t hear the chants of the protesters from here (and I think their chanting is really just mocking the music the Snoopy Institute is blasting out), for what that’s worth.
The restaurant is very nice, but not at all crowded. Once we’re seated, we count maybe three other occupied tables in a place that holds at least 40 tables. It’s eerie to be seated, you wonder why more people wouldn’t be here. The protesters scared them away?
The buffet itself is much more modest than I had anticipated. The food’s good, but it’s only two small tables lining a part of the restaurant. But still, it’s a buffet, and I’m SUCH a sucker for buffets, so we all load up on salad, brie, fruit, waffles, home fries, salmon, eggs benedict, and dessert.
There’s a small band, and some poor woman who’s dressed in a red satin outfit, dress, elbow length gloves, and stilettos are doing twenty minute sets of standards. We’re all a little puzzled when she sings I Can’t Make You Love Me, an odd choice for Valentine’s Day, ho ho ho.
But despite the empty surroundings, nobody bugs us about Snoopyology. We don’t see anything out of the ordinary. We just do a girl chat over food, talking about boys and jobs and la la la, as though we were anywhere else.
If anything, the service was kinda slow, all things considered.
After the meal, Fauna bows out of the tour, as she’s gotta go meet her dad in Santa Barbara, so Flora, Rosalyn and myself head down the hall where we’re sure it’ll only take seconds before a Snoopyologist swoops down on us.
And WHOOSH, one does so, a pleasant smiling woman with a thick accent who asks if we’re interested in a tour. Do we?! Of COURSE! She hands us off to another guy with a different but still thick accent, who proceeds to take us on a tour of the grounds, telling us the history behind the building, the history behind the area, how the pavilion on the grounds can be rented out for events, though if you’re doing a fashion show, no lingerie or swimsuits please, “because we’re a church.”
Once we’re done with the grounds, here come the Snoopy details! And he asks us more than once what we’ve heard about Snoopyology. “Have you guys heard things like aliens and stuff?” uh oh, I think he may be on to the protesters outside. Heh.
We claim we don’t know that much. But it’s interesting how they will bring it up first, as a defensive measure, we know you’ve heard this wacky stuff and here we are to explain to you how all it’s all one silly misunderstanding.
He’s unfailingly polite, though, not coming across as creepy at all. They don’t have the crazy, they seem like any cast member you’d run into at Disneyworld.
He ushers us to a section of the main floor devoted to Snoopy’s Waterbowl. You’ve seen it, it’s a machine that measures “brain activity.” And with all the hullabaloo you’ve heard about it, how it’s completely bunk, it’s a little strange to see it displayed so prominently, with a giant info board right next to it with a photo of a woman in one of those Waterbowl sessions, with a somewhat zombie smile on her face.
So we all go a round with Snoopy’s Waterbowl, grabbing the metal pylon things (which feel surprisingly flimsy and insubstantial.) He gets us to think of different things, then points out when the needle jumps that “there! You were thinking of someone specific, weren’t you.” And how where the needle is determines whether our thoughts are positive or negative feelings for. Of course the whole thing feels pretty arbitrary. Reminds me of the time we went up to Griffith Observatory and jumped up and down next to the seismograph to simulate an earthquake. It felt like if you blew on this machine, you could get the needle to move.
Then we’re asked if we want to see a short film about what Snoopyology is about. Do we!? OF COURSE!
The first film looks like it was shot fairly recently, like within the past five years, and yet, it’s kinda disturbing, showing all these situations of angry people – arguments, parents pushing their kids, food poisoning. And they’re trying to show you how stress affects you and brings you down, and Snoopyology is all about getting rid of that, so you can approach stressful situations without letting it affect you, or something like that. But the beginning is so over the top, making it seem like the world is nothing but one argument after another.
The next film they show is much longer, and was shot in the nineties, and when they take us into the various classrooms and talk to the various staffers, everything is obviously staged and unreal, that it’s really hard to believe this film was even produced, that there wasn’t some quality control committee who said, “um, let’s try again.”
They bury us in mind numbing details about how world governments have continually upheld Snoopyology’s right to be a religion, and how when the IRS audited them, found them to be compliant with the law. We never had any questions about that, again, they’re strangely going on the defensive you maybe have heard about how we’re not a religion, the courts say we are! You might have heard that we were audited, we passed!
I don’t really care about the internal organization of Snoopyology. I don’t care about their internal justice system (which strikes me as creepy anyway) I wanted to hear people talking about how Snoopyology helped them. Aren’t we gonna see anything scary?
I finally get my wish at the very end of the film. Our narrator with the brown plastic hair walks slowly towards the camera as he’s summing up everything:
(The next part is verbatim, because they actually have these films uploaded onto youtube, you can go check it out for yourself.)
You are at the threshold of your next trillion years…..you will live it in shivering agonized darkness, or you will live it in the light. The choice is yours, not ours.
If you this minute say I will for better or worse go on in Snoopyology, you will open the door to your own future. If you say otherwise, you slam tomorrow shut in your own face. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it really is. We are not making any claims for Snoopyology It is you, when you have experienced what can be, are the one will be the one that will make the claims. What is true, is true for you.
If you leave this room after seeing this film, and never mention Snoopyology again, you are perfectly free to do so. It would be stupid, but you could do it. You could also dive off a bridge or blow your brains out. That is your choice.
It’s here that I burst out laughing. Oh my GOD, are you serious? You’re going to scare us into signing up? Bully us? Equate not going on to learn more about Snoopyology with “blowing your brains out?”
Half of me is concerned that they have hidden cameras in the screening room, so they can see that it’s the chick in black who’s snorting derisively at their recruiting film. But I’m certainly strong enough to assert myself if they ask me anything directly.
They ask us to fill out surveys about what we thought of the film, and I answer honestly, I write down that the film was too long, too boring, and too on the nose. Nothing that I wouldn’t say to their face.
As it turns out, when we get out of the theater, we’re met by yet a third chick, who reads our surveys in front of us (kinda uncomfortable), and asks us if we have any other questions.
We’ve been asking questions all along the way, I asked inside the screening room about where do Snoopyologists believe they’re going when they die. I got a vague answer back about how this isn’t their only lifetime, and though they never say the word “reincarnation” they mention things like reliving cycles, and how Snoopyology tries to help you ‘rise above” that cycle. That the goal of this current lifetime is to reach maximum knowledge and insight, and Snoopyology wants to help you do that.
They do say that you can believe in other religions and still practice Snoopyology, that the two can co-exist with each other, though they keep mentioning the key phrase “what’s true for you is true for you.” Which is practically cousin to “you have your truth, and I have my truth” which is how most “Spiritual, but not religious” wrongly view religion anyway.
The newest staffer who’s reading our surveys says that she was raised Baptist, then Methodist, and that’s the most interesting personal thing I’ve heard any staffer say today, and if I weren’t already so tired from the brunch, and the mind numbing details about the locations of their headquarters around the world, I would’ve liked to ask her more about it.
But yes, we’re all tired of it at this point, and decline their offer for us to purchase Snoopyology books, and thank them for showing us around, but we’re going to go.
So they show us the best way to the parking lot and thank us for coming. They don’t stop us. They don’t do anything negative.
The protestors outside were scarier than anything we encountered inside. And by the time we get outside, they’re all gone too.
We all agree that we’re really glad we did this, to find out for ourselves what it was about, “Everyone who thinks this is scary is a bunch of pussies” Flora declares.
And it’s like anything. You think a new thing is scary or intimidating, until you actually experience it for yourself and realize that it’s definitely not scary or intimidating. I’m not going to be buying any books, and I do halfway wish I could go back and talk to that one woman some more, but I know if I did, she’d just put the pressure on for me to take a course or something, and I have no interest in doing it.
The whole thing strikes me as very sad. The Snoopyologists are sad, the protesters, itchin’ for a quarrel that they can record on their cameras and plaster on the internet, are sad. Anyone who falls for what Snoopyology says is sad. Snoopy’s Waterbowl is sad. The buffet was sad. The red satin singer was sad. I’m sad for not taking the chance and asking tougher questions like “Don’t you believe in one universal truth?”
But at the end of the day, we got out more than alive, but with a new experience under our belts that few people have the balls to do.
Two things to close with:
1. Should I finally die in the car wreck that I’ve long suspected will be the thing that takes me out, please know that those Snoopyology DVDs in my bookcases were freebies, and I am not a Snoopyologist.
2. The Smokehouse Sunday Brunch is about the same price, has much more food, free champagne and mimosas, and is a better Sunday Brunch overall. But no protesters outside. Heh.