Reviewing Veggie Tales as an Atheist; Dave and The Giant Pickle

(note: I’m now a vaguely spiritual neopagan witchy-type. I don’t agree with everything written below, but I think it’s worth leaving up, as an honest expression of how I felt, as a recent de-convert)

This episode marks the first appearance of Larry-Boy, an alter ego of Larry’s, who would go on to star in two other episodes, which scared the crap out of child me. Seriously, I once had a full-on meltdown over the fact that everybody but me wanted to watch Larry-Boy and the Fib From Outer Space, which meant that I could have a serious anxiety attack, or I could skip the evening’s movie. From a kid’s perspective, the two were pretty much equally bad.

In the opening, Larry is dressed up in yellow and purple spandex, with suction cup ears. That’s Larry-Boy’s superpower, by the way. While all the other veggies have to cope with their armlessness by magically making things float in front of them, he has suction cups, so he can awkwardly contort himself into sort of haplessly holding onto them-ish. Truly, a fearsome nemesis for evil-doers everywhere. Anyway, Larry dramatically narrates himself into getting stuck to a wall, when Bob comes in to ask him what he’s doing. Larry explains that he wanted to pretend to be a superhero because he feels like his ordinary self isn’t cool enough. Bob doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with Larry playing pretend, but he’s worried about underlying self-esteem issues. Coincidentally, their letter of the week is also from someone who has a lot of self-esteem issues. Bob decides to remedy both with the uplifting tale of David and Goliath Dave and The Giant Pickle.

The plot is a very direct interpretation of the Biblical story; the biggest change is the running gag of David’s sheep falling over. This is one of those stories that you are probably at least a little familiar with, even if you weren’t raised as a hardcore Christian. The Israelites are at war with the Philistines, and they agree to settle the whole thing with a duel between their champion. The Philistines’ champion turns out to be a giant named Goliath, and none of the Israelites are willing to fight him until a young shepherd boy named David volunteers and promptly defeats him with a slingshot. Most people also probably know that David grows up to be the second and most famous king of Israel, and also an ancestor of Jesus. Or maybe you didn’t know that last part. I dunno, I lose track of what normal people do and don’t know about Scripture.

Anyway, this story is popular outside of religious circles, because everybody loves a good underdog story, and because you can play the moral of this one in a lot of directions. “Don’t let fear of a large obstacle terrorize you into doing nothing.” “Don’t judge people by their appearances.” “While sheer might is impressive, if it is not accompanied by speed and agility you might find yourself defeated by a small, fragile foe  armed with projectile weapons.” “God can use little people to do big things.”

Unsurprisingly, the narration and framing devices lean this version heavily on the latter, meaning it falls into the crack of themes that I can neither agree with nor pick a bone with. I don’t think God exists, so clearly I don’t think he’s using little people to do big things, but I’m also all for boosting the self-esteem of young people and I’m not going to rag on them merely for boosting their self-esteem on a Christian pretense. The message simply bears no meaning for me anymore.

I did get another thought while I watched it; one completely unintended by the writers. There’s a moment when Dave starts singing his theme song, King Saul (Archibald Asparagus) says “Couldn’t you just play your harp and I’ll throw things at you?” I laughed, because I got the joke. See, in the Bible, David becomes King Saul’s personal harpist. As Saul learns about David’s popularity with the people and the prophecies that he will be the next king, the relationship sours even though David insists he is loyal to Saul. Eventually Saul just starts having random fits of temper where he throws things at David. You know, to let off steam over the whole “you’re going to get my job one day” thing. As I made the connection and laughed, I suddenly remembered that as a little six year old, I still got the joke. But here’s the weird thing; I got the joke as a little kid, too. Every morning, my Mom read Bible stories to me, and the Bible stories that some people have never heard of are as engrained in my mind as Pat-a-Cake.

This is one of the strange things about being me; not that I was once radically Christian, but that I went from being a true believer on one end of the spectrum to far, far on the other. Most people are raised in one environment, and stay more or less within that environment for their whole life. Of those I know who have gone from one extreme to the other, mostly they never felt at home in one. My boyfriend is agnostic and was raised Catholic, but he always had uncomfortable questions in Sunday school. Everybody evolves as they grow, but most people don’t go through a radical shift in their whole cultural identity.

As a result, many people underestimate the difficulty of making that kind of shift. They speak with casual scorn of things other people do, as if they could just wake up one morning and realize they should have done things your way all along. The thing about not going through that kind of shift is that things you’ve done since you were a child seem so right, any other way of doing them almost feels fictional. You might know, intellectually, that it’s completely arbitrary that these clothes and these foods and these stories are natural to you, but in an experiential sense, those can’t help but feel more right than anything that is different from them.

To me, everything feels a little alien. Things from my present feel new and unfamiliar. Things from my past feel comfortable, but wrong, like T-shirts you are too big to wear anymore. It’s not entirely bad, but often it is difficult, often lonely, and the journey was hard. When I hear  people criticize immigrants for not adapting quickly enough,  or Christians say that if someone goes to hell for not believing in God that’s their fault because they chose to not radically change their belief system, or people from groups I belong to now deride those who aren’t progressive enough in one way or another, I want to smack them all. Whether I think any of those people would be better off changing their way of life in the long run is one thing, but I hate it when people trivialize the experience of drastically changing your life.

Coming up soon; the Veggie Tale that scared the pants off of tiny little me.

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