Like many people who grew up with The Flintstones, I’ve always had a special place in my heart for their stories. And yet, as I get older and examine my relationship with those classic tales, it’s easy for doubts to creep in. Over the last few years, I’ve finally come to an important realization: The stories presented in The Flintstones are incredibly powerful, even if they didn’t all literally happen.
It’s an important lesson that anyone who grew up with The Flintstones should come to terms with eventually. The stories of Fred, Wilma, Barney, and Betty are beautiful, and should be regarded as parables rather than true historical accounts.
Take, for instance, when Fred orders a rack of dinosaur ribs so big it flips over his prehistoric car. Without a doubt, this is one of our most enduring images of Fred Flintstone, but what is the story of the ribs really telling us? When we strip away all of the larger-than-life imagery, its warning shines through: Fred shuffles his feet along toward his own undoing, crushing himself under the weight of his own excess.
It would be a mistake to dismiss the entirety of The Flintstones just because Fred didn’t literally slide down the tail of a brontosaurus after he was done with work.
We may never know whether the woodpecker who played Fred’s records with its beak really said “It’s a living” afterwards. We weren’t there. And ultimately, it doesn’t matter if Wilma never actually used a tiny elephant as a vacuum cleaner, because the core of the show—a flawed but hardworking caveman who cares deeply for his family and pet dinosaur—remains intact.
These stories aren’t just about the Stone Age—they’re about us. It would be a mistake to dismiss the entirety of The Flintstones just because Fred didn’t literally slide down the tail of a brontosaurus after he was done with work. These stories are merely metaphors for the deeper truths in our lives.
We could spend all day arguing over whether Fred and Barney really used a turtle as a checkers table or whether there really was a strong baby who shouted “Bamm, Bamm!” every single time he slammed his club into the ground, but that would be missing out on the big picture. The Flintstones was never intended as a faithful recounting of prehistoric events, but its message is still valid, regardless of whether there’s a single historical Fred Flintstone or whether he’s a composite of several heavyset Stone Age men. What matters is how we can use these stories to help us live our lives today.
Some people believe that’s exactly how everything happened, and if it gives them strength, good for them. But for the rest of us, all we can say for sure is that there was a town called Bedrock, and there was a man who lived there and worked for Mr. Slate. Was it a man named Fred Flintstone who was married to a woman named Wilma? Who knows. All I know is that his story has lifted me up when I needed it most, and for that, Fred Flintstone will always be real to me.