Thursday, March 25, 2010

Veggie Tales

The prior post made several references to Veggie Tales. For the uninitiated, some explanation might be helpful.

Veggie Tales is a series of animated Christian-themed cartoons where all the main characters are vegetables. Veggie Tales is one of the series created by Big Idea, a company whose mission is to “enhance the spiritual and moral fabric of society through creative media.” The Veggie Tales series began in the 1990s with videos sold primarily in Christian book stores. As they took off in popularity, they became available in larger chains like Wal-Mart and Target. The Veggie Tales shows are now shown on the Qubo channel, and NBC includes them in their Saturday morning cartoon line-up.

The main characters include Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber, Archibald Asparagus and Junior Asparagus. (Madame Blueberry is also a reoccurring character, but no one seems to mind that she—and Bob—are technically fruits, not vegetables.) The plots of each of the shows involve a moral issue. Biblical characters and bible verses are incorporated in fun ways. For example, the Old Testament story of Joseph was updated into a Western called The Ballad of Little Joe. The title character ends up slinging sarsaparilla for a saloon owner after his jealous brothers throw him off their ranch and sell him into slavery. In Josh and the Big Wall, the story of Joshua and the fall of Jericho is retold with snooty French peas who throw grape slushees at the Israelites from their perch on top of the walls of the town.

The stories incorporate catchy songs with modern touches. One of our family’s favorites is “Belly Button” by the Boyz in the Sink—who seem to have a striking resemblance to N’Sync. The song melodramatically conveys a squash’s wrenching admission to his girlfriend that he doesn’t have a belly button.

The characters in Veggie Tales are loveable but imperfect. Archibald is elitist, Bob is often impatient, and Larry is frankly a bit dim. But they are each trying their best to do right and often try to improve their behavior when shown the error of their ways.

Our kids have seen most of the videos, and adore them. Several years ago, I took our older child to a live Veggie Tales concert/show when the tour came to our town. The concert was held in a local mega-church, and the concert began with a prayer by the host congregation’s children’s minister. It was impressive to sneak a peek to see every little head bowed with eyes closed in prayerful concentration. Then the show opened with a few of the main characters coming on stage to sing a familiar song from the videos. The first character on stage was Bob the Tomato. Hundreds if not thousands of little voices shrieked “Bob!!!!” in a manner that was reminiscent of the Beatles appearance on Ed Sullivan.

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs our family’s general dislike of television. It is a disdain that many Christian families share. I think that is the primary reason for the phenomenal success of the Veggie Tales. In a video format, parents don’t have to worry about interruptions by inappropriate commercials. And the shows themselves are fun and have positive themes. The motto of Big Idea is “Sunday morning values with Saturday morning fun.” That is a winning combo for many families.

In relatively conservative circles, a lot of folks talk about the “Culture Wars,” but my sense is that many on the left don’t understand or appreciate what that phrase means or how it resonates with so many. Indeed, I have to admit that before I became a parent, I had a vague sense that those who spoke of “Culture Wars” were paranoid nuts. Until I became responsible for sheltering little ones from inappropriate content, I never had a sense there was really a problem with mainstream entertainment. But thinking about popular culture through the eyes of children opened my mind to the potential impact of such influences on little ones who don’t have the type of filters that older folks do. Based on my present appreciation of the problem, I think that the Veggie Tales phenomenon is emblematic of the Culture Wars, but is beneath the radar of many on the secular left.

Matthew 19:13-15 (Contemporary English Version)

Some people brought their children to Jesus, so that he could place his hands on them and pray for them. His disciples told the people to stop bothering him. But Jesus said, "Let the children come to me, and don't try to stop them! People who are like these children belong to God's kingdom." After Jesus had placed his hands on the children, he left.

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