Reviewing VeggieTales as an Atheist; Madame Blueberry

This episode opens with Larry showing off his new toy car… which he can actually get in and drive, so I guess it’s basically a car. Then again, they do make toy cars with little motors so kids can actually get in and drive at about 0.5 mph, so maybe that’s what it’s supposed to be. Anyway, Bob is very happy for Larry, until Larry starts explaining that he won’t be really happy with his new toy until he gets the camper that goes with it. And then there’s the dirt bike, the jet ski, the hang glider…

The French Peas then decide it’s time to hijack the show and tell a French classic tale; Madame Blueberry. Yes, that’s a Madame Bovary reference. Yes, the Christian children’s TV show co-opted a novel that has two adulterous affairs and a suicide. I mean, they don’t include those elements, obviously. I’m actually not sure if there are any connections beyond the title, as I’ve never read the book, but yeah, that happened.

We are introduced to Madame Blueberry, who is the first female veggie to be a protagonist, and the fourth female veggie character, period. She lives in a treehouse with her butlers, Bob and Larry, who she does dishes with, for some reason. Her whole existence boils down to “whine about things that other people have that I don’t.” Instead of pictures of her friends, she has pictures of her friend’s stuff, which I’m guessing means she doesn’t actually have friends. One of the things  that amused me about this as a kid is that all the stuff she wants is boring grown-up stuff, like crock pots and sofas and pajamas. Kid me thought, “wow, not only is she ruining her life wanting stuff, but the stuff she wants isn’t even that great!” Current me, for the record, is thinking, “man, I could really use a crock pot.”

After the song introducing us to this situation, the evil scallions show up. This time, they are door-to-door salesmen. Shudder. They tell her about the new store that opened down the street, Stuff-Mart, and how it has everything she needs to be happy. Bob does his voice of reason thing and tells her that more stuff doesn’t necessarily equal more happiness, so of course Madame Blueberry listens and the story ends twelve minutes in.

Yeah, no, she goes shopping. In classical narrative format, Madame Blueberry gets two warnings she ignores before she gets one she actually listens to. After Bob’s protests, her second one is a little girl who she passes on the road to Stuff-Mart. She lives on the ground, not in a tree, which is apparently a class marker in this universe, and she is celebrating her birthday with nothing but a piece of pie, but the girl sings a happy little song about thankfulness. Madame Blueberry is bewildered. Again, because this is a children’s morality play, Madame Blueberry can’t figure out that the reason the girl is happy is because a thankful heart is a happy heart, even while the girl literally sings “because a thankful heart is a happy heart. I’m glad for what I have, that’s an easy way to start.” Although, outside of a children’s morality play, that’s not unrealistic. It can take time for new ideas to sink in.

thankful equals happy, thankful equals happy, nope, does not compute.
thankful equals happy, thankful equals happy, nope, does not compute.

Madame Blueberry goes on buying stuff, not feeling any happier even as she acquires more stuff and also probably racking up a helluva credit card debt. I mean, the woman helps her own servants wash dishes. She can’t exactly be rolling in it. The evil scallions make it as easy as possible for her to go through this thoughtlessly. She fills up one cart, and they just suggest that she take advantage of their complimentary delivery service so she can keep on racking up their commission buying the things she desperately needs.

She takes a break to have a slushie with Bob and Larry (it’s thirsty work, saying, “I want that, and that, and one of those, and two of those” while other people scurry around doing your bidding), and notices Jr. Asparagus ogling a train set. He begs his Dad to get it, but unfortunately it’s out of their budget. His Dad suggests that they get a ball instead, and Jr. Asparagus is disappointed at first, but says okay, and then starts getting excited about going to play with his father in the park. Madame Blueberry finally gets it, and decides to ditch the salesmen and learn to be happy with what she has.

Wait, you mean the people profiting from my never-ending desire for more didn't have my best interests at heart? Woah
Wait, you mean the people profiting from my never-ending desire for more didn’t have my best interests at heart? Woah

However, that’s about become a harder proposition than she thought. It turns out, she has loaded her treehouse up with so much stuff, it’s suddenly fallen victim to kid’s show physics. It sways and buckles and finally slingshots everything that is not actual tree into a pond. Madame Blueberry is sad, until she remembers that she still has Bob and Larry and the way stylish clothes on her back, and also there was a sweet little girl around here who can probably be suckered into sharing her pie.

In all seriousness, the ending is quite sweet, with all the non-evil scallion characters sharing pie and becoming friends. An unstated but recurring theme in the show is that when characters become thankful for what they have, their focus shifts from objects to people. The little girl is thankful for her parents, Jr. Asparagus wants to play with his Dad, and Madame Blueberry starts appreciating Bob and Larry as people instead of treating them as almost another possession. Another unstated shift is that they go from being passive to active. I poked a little fun at Madame Blueberry’s privileged, inactive shopping earlier, and how she’s leaving the heavy lifting to everybody else. Madame Blueberry has so many things, but she doesn’t actually do stuff with them. The little girl only has pie, but she eats it. She enjoys it. Jr. Asparagus only has a ball, but right away he starts playing with it. It reminded me of how, as a kid, I would pour over toy catalogs, imagining myself playing with them… and then when I actually got the damn things half the time I never touched them. When it came to actually playing, I was as happy with a stick in the woods as with any actual toy (sticks were awesome. They could be spears, or swords, or walking sticks, or wizards staffs, or you could just stick them in the pond and get slimy green goo all over them.) Possessing things is passive and unsatisfying. Using things, even inferior things, is active and satisfying.

In my last review, I noted how King George doesn’t change his ways because of sticks and carrots, but because of the realization of empathy. This episode does use them, but in an interesting way. There is an external, contrived retribution for Madame Blueberry’s greed, but it is not the primary focus of the episode. In fact, it is played so much for laughs it almost feels like another case where Veggie Tales mocks its own formulas, urging us to not take the artificial karma of fiction seriously. The real punishment for Madame Blueberry is internal, and she had the power to free herself from it all along.

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