Reviewing VeggieTales as an Atheist; Lyle the Kindly Viking

This is the third episode on the general topic of not being greedy (fourth if you count The Toy That Saved Christmas, which I’m saving for Christmas). I remember this episode not being my favorite as a kid, so I was curious to see what adult Lane’s reaction would be. This one is specifically about sharing, and just as Bob and Larry are announcing the topic, Archibald runs up to them, begging to have a chance to run the show. He points out that Jerry and Jimmy Gourd got to run a show, so why can’t he? Bob and Larry clearly aren’t comfortable with this, but they decide that it would be pretty hypocritical of them to announce that they’re about to teach kids to share and then, you know, not share. So Archibald gets to take over the show.

A while back I found this article about teaching kids to share, by a Mom who had become critical of it. It’s actually really well reasoned. I recommend checking it out, but the essential point she makes is that insisting that kids share all the time is just teaching them that they are entitled to things that don’t actually belong to them. Or, if you’re like me and my sister, that when other entitled people are insisting they have a right to things that are yours, you are a Bad Person if you don’t let them. Now, I don’t think kids should never be taught to share. I think sharing can also be about learning to play cooperatively and value time spent with friends over material objects, and those are important lessons. What I do think is that there is a balance that must be achieved, that we need to teach kids how to share, but also about setting up appropriate boundaries for themselves, and to respect the boundaries that other people set up.

So how does this episode handle that balance? I think they’re already off to a bad start. Larry and Bob have a right to do their show their way. They set it up, they go to the work every week, and they can’t just start giving that up to anybody who says, “ooh, me, I want a turn!” This is especially a big deal if the person taking over isn’t going to be respectful of what they set up, which Archibald isn’t. His whole aim is to make VeggieTales more “classy,” which… it’s not bad that his tastes run more Ted Mosbyesque than the rest of the cast, but it is bad that he actively looks down on what everybody else does. If he doesn’t like how they are doing things, why doesn’t he go set up his own show?

Anyway, this is one of those two for one shows. First Archibald tries to put on a production of Hamlet, which doesn’t have much to do with sharing, but luckily his assistants, Jean-Claude and Philippe, screw up and instead obtain a script for Omelet, a conveniently sharing-centric parody. The play follows the dilemma of Omelet, prince of the starving country of Denmark, who is about to consume the last eggs in the kingdom, but people are telling him he should share. It’s not actually stated whether there is an overall food shortage, including non-egg foods, or whether the only food available to the people are their eggs. Now, the point I’m about to make is kind of pedantic for a kid’s show, but in my defense this occurred to me as a kid. They could have shown Omelet having lavish feasts while his people are starving, like how King George wanted Thomas’s rubber ducky even when he had a literal closet of them. They also could have shown him passing a few starving beggars in an overall adequately fed kingdom. Instead Omelet is about to eat his namesake dish, made from exactly three eggs, after there will be no more food in the kingdom. At that point I say go ahead and eat, because you’re dying along with everybody else and splitting that last omelet will help one, maybe two other people live for like an hour longer.

In the end Prince Omelet decides to share his eggs with the kingdom, after sharing with a friend and discovering that sharing feels good, and then someone points out that there aren’t enough eggs for everybody. The problem is resolved when they discover that there are actually plenty of eggs, but the people had been using them as ping-pong balls. So the problem was never that Omelet won’t share, it was that his people were idiots.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate this short. There were some funny Shakespearean jokes. Mr. Lunt is forced to play Ophelia because of the tradition of male actors playing women, and says, “I think we’re gonna get letters about this.” There were lines like, “Alas, poor yolks. I’ll chew them well, Horatio.” It did have that Veggie Tale charm. That said, it was pretty far from their best effort.

After Omelet comes the title story. Archibald has them perform what he thinks is long lost play by Gilbert and Sullivan. At the end it’s revealed to be a pop-up book by Gilbert Jones and Sullivan O’Kelly. Ooops.

Lyle, played by Jr. Asparagus, is part of a community of Vikings, but doesn’t like raiding and pillaging. So instead of going out with them, he stays home making potholders, and then, when the Vikings give him a little bit of their loot for him to get by on, he takes it back to the people they’ve robbed. Which… that’s not actually sharing. Sharing is when something is yours, and you let somebody else use it. The Vikings are stealing, and he’s returning what was rightfully theirs all along.

One day, the Vikings catch him, and Olaf, the chief Viking played by Mr. Nezzar, uh… I’m trying to frame what he does as anything other than attempted murder, but I don’t think there’s anything else you can call it. No, seriously, they’re on their boats, there’s a storm, and Mr. Nezzer Olaf coldly and deliberately sabotages Jr.’s Lyle’s boat. His intent does not seem to be for Lyle to survive having learned a valuable lesson. It’s pretty dark for Veggie Tales. The monks throw him a life preserver, which is supposed to be a moral lesson in how sharing means you make friends who might help you later… except then the Vikings are also tipped overboard, and at Jr.’s insistence the monks save them as well, with the line, “I’m pretty sure God wants us to help everyone, not just the people who are nice to us.” Naturally, the Vikings are all repentant after being saved, and vow to be kind sharers instead of thieves forever after.

This bothers me. Not that I think the monks should have just stood by and let the Vikings die, but I also have issues with how easily the Vikings go from thieves who are at the very least willing to murder to model citizens. I’m trying to think of what the monks should have done instead, and I can’t come up with any answers, I think because this premise was just wrong for a kid’s show. Raiding and murdering are kind of a big deal. They place this whole conversation in a realm where “share your toys” doesn’t really apply. If they wanted to talk sharing, they should shown, say, a selfish kid who doesn’t get to participate in the community of nice kids who all share with each other, because Selfish Kid won’t let anybody else touch their toys, ever. Then Selfish Kid tries trading a toy for another one, and suddenly realizes that sharing is a great way to make friends.

This goes back to my earlier point about how you need to balance lessons about sharing with lessons about boundaries. I think one of the big pitfalls of the way I was raised is the lack of emphasis on my right to erect boundaries when it was appropriate to protect myself, both physically and emotionally. I actually know a lot of people who suffer from a kind of Perpetually Guilty Nice Person Syndrome (which I will hereafter call PGNPS), where we have to treat others nicely or we think we are assholes, but if we ever assert our right to things like privacy or our time or to be treated well, we worry that we are being The Worst Human Beings EVER! That mentality leaves a person pretty vulnerable to predators. This episode, where somebody who was willing to take life threatening actions against you is your new best friend minutes later, and the monks are treated as bad for having misgivings about people who repeatedly harassed and terrorized them, is a great example of one of the ways I was taught PGNPS.

That’s why I am taking a kid’s morality tale so seriously. I agree with the implicit premise of Veggie Tales; that the stories we tell affect how we live our lives, and that the stories we tell children can have an especially powerful affect. I think it’s important to think critically about what messages we are sending, about when they apply and when they don’t. I don’t think it’s okay to teach kids that you should just roll over any time someone says they want to use your stuff, and I don’t think we should teach kids that we can just brush off and forget the actions of people who actively endanger our safety.

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