A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

When Cultures Collide

When my kids were a bit younger, they enjoyed the Veggietales videos. If you are unfamiliar with the Veggietales franchise, they are animated tales based on various Bible stories with "walking", talking vegetables playing all the roles. The stories are fun variations on themes like sharing, greed, envy, bullying, lying amongst others, and though they are definitely Christian-based, and say so openly, they are not "beat you over the head with Bible" stories.

In a word, they are FUN. Every video has various original songs woven into them, some of which are VERY catchy, and Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato make an excellent vegetable Abbott & Costello team. And they teach wholesome, character-building lessons-- whether you buy into the Christian angle or no.

Imagine my surprise then when I took my daughter to Chuck E. Cheeses for her birthday (my god, she's 9. 9! How is that possible already?) and they had Veggietale videos on their numerous monitors! Now I don't hate on Chuck E.-- it is a fine place for kids 10 and under to go, provided their parents don't mind dropping a decent chunk of change for some mediocre pizza and a lot of overpriced games. I would've loved it if we had had them when I was a kid. But it is the epitome of excess, commercialism, modernism and, to a degree, nihilistic self-centered pleasure seeking. Not unwholesome, but certainly not... grounded and humble and selfless.

Not the sort of place I'd ever expect to see Veggietales.

So, my question is: Has Veggietales sold out by placing their videos in a place that is at best tangentially affiliated with their stated mission of trying to promote positive images in popular culture and corporate integrity?

I kind of think they have. Granted, their animated characters are no doubt reaching a huge audience at the many Chuck E.'s scattered across the country, but I'm hard pressed to believe that their message is being heard in an environment chock full of zombie blasting games, air hockey, games of chance not so very much different from roulette or craps, blatant commercialism and, yes, greed. Especially since most of the time, the giant rat's house is so loud you can't even hear the messages the Veggietale bits are trying to impart.

I'm glad the Big Idea people are still making Veggietales and other similar media products, but I am disappointed at what I can only characterize as a sellout.


I'm not seeing the sell-out here, Nick. The BigIdea mission statement page states that the organization believes that "popular media (TV, film, music, etc.) has had a profoundly negative impact on America's moral and spiritual health," and that "the same media, used responsibly, can have an equally positive impact." It further goes on to state that their mission is "to markedly enhance the moral and spiritual fabric of our society through creative media."

If Chuck E. Cheese's is, as you described, the epitome of excess, commercialism, modernism and, to a degree, nihilistic self-centered pleasure seeking, then why wouldn't the BigIdea people want to get their VeggieTales videos into such an establishment. It would seem that it would make good sense to try to reach the audience at Chuck E. Cheese's in order to have a positive impact on those kids, not necessarily by having them stop what they are doing at Chuck E. Cheese's to sit and watch the VeggieTale videos, but rather by presenting their product in such an environment so that it may be appealing enough to cause interest in it outside of that environment.

My daughter just had her birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese's, too, and for the product and convenience the place provided, it was well worth the cost for me. It's a good, controlled environment for kids (our entire party had our hands stamped when we came in, and our hands were checked on the way out to make sure that the kids with us were supposed to be with us), it provides a place for the kids to run around, be noisy, and play games that they wouldn't otherwise all be able to play at the same time, and we got pizza, cake, tokens, and a visit from Chuck E. himself included in the birthday package price.

Also, I wouldn't equate their games "to games of chance not so very much different from roulette or craps." All of the games cost only one token, and the ones that gave out prize tickets provided at least one prize ticket per play.

Regardless of how Chuck E. Cheese's is viewed, however, I still don't think that the VeggieTales videos playing at C.E.C. is a sell-out on the part of BigIdea. If the place is as you described, it makes sense for BigIdea to gain in-roads to such a place so as to have the chance to reach, and positively influence, those who are C.E.C. patrons. On the other hand, if C.E.C. is just a good kids' product at a reasonable price, then both C.E.C. and BigIdea benefit from the venture: C.E.C. gets to prop-up their family friendly image, and BigIdea gets their product in front of kids who, once they have left C.E.C., may be interested enough to watch VeggieTales and be exposed to the morals that it attempts to pass on.

Either way, it seems to me that BigIdea is trying to follow their mission statement by getting their product in front of kids in order to "enhance the moral and spiritural fabric of our society through creative media."
Oh my god. USMC and I actually agree on something! Stop the presses!

I think I do need to see the VeggieTales videos before passing judgment, but I pretty much think most videos produced for kids (be they commercial or moralistic) are pap. What about turning off the TV and just talking to kids? Telling them stories yourself?

Also, Nick, it is interesting to note that (despite your apparently negative view of the vices of Chuck E. Cheese's), that is where you are taking your daughter and spending your money.

Look, I don't think Chuck E. Cheese's is evil. Nor am I passing judgment on anyone who decides to believe that gambling is immoral. I just think that if you DO believe gambing and gaming is immoral, then you SHOULDN'T probably be at Chuck E.'s. Otherwise, what good does it do if you're spouting VeggieTales at home and not walking the walk (or the stalk?!)

Hope your daughter's birthday was wonderful.
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