When I was a kid the Christian media my parents kept around tended to worry about the increasing violence in the media. Power Rangers was a big concern.
I just got done making a book specifically for the purpose of reading to my offspring. It has a little violence in it.
Where do I stand on violence in kids’ media? I don’t know.
I thought about it a little before making this book. Kids, especially little kids are copycats. If you portray someone punching someone, your tyke may end up punching someone as a result. That is a real problem to be avoided. At the same time, when I pick up a copy of the Three Little Pigs at my local bookstore, I know for a fact that A) in the best, truest form of the story, the Wolf gets two pig dinners, and B) in any form of the story available for sale, the Wolf gets zero pig dinners.
I willingly chose to shelve that question while making Jump the Shark because my goal was to get through the process as quickly as possible and learn what works, what doesn’t and what the result of my digital coloring and printing was going to be.
For instance, I’m intensely curious how this two page spread is going to look in the final product for several reasons. In addition to testing whether I can competently make a two-page spread, it also tests how the glow effect on Dr. Jellybrain’s tentacles translates into ink on the page.
Before I spend a lot of time and money on a story meant to teach kids to read, or to extol the virtues of Gothic architecture, I want to make sure I can generate the specific product I want. Jump the Shark the book was designed to do two things. 1: Test different ideas so I know what I’m doing. 2: furnish me with a bedtime story I’ll enjoy reading to my offspring.
So, even though I won’t see the proofs for several days, and even though I don’t know whether the book will ever be a financial success, I am already 100% satisfied with it. It has already accomplished all of my goals for it.
My goal for my next book should be to make enough money to pay my bills. Though I’m going to see how far I can push Jump in that dimension as well.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand.
In the first release of whichever Veggie Tales VHS introduced the Pirates who Don’t Do Anything, Pa Grape in his pirate getup had a skull and crossbones on his hat. But later versions of Pa Grape the Pirate replaced the skull with a tic-tac-toe-board. When I saw this as a kid, I thought, “Wow, parents’ groups decrying violence in the media have gone overboard!”
Now I’m not so sure. My view on art and self-censorship has changed a bit. I think the point of art is to communicate something. If making your message less offensive doesn’t obscure the point you are trying to make, you should do it. Then more people will hear your message. But if it does, then you shouldn’t. Never compromise your message for sensitive people who would have found something to be triggered by anyway.
That and when searching for screenshots to prove my point, I found a bunch of hat designs, so I’m not sure anymore that my teenage self actually knew what was going on.
But yeah. The point of Veggie Tales is twofold: to be delightfully silly in a way even adults can appreciate, and to teach little children to read themselves into Bible stories and take verses wildly out of context. The first is noble, the second nefarious, but neither of them is added to or subtracted on by the presence or absence of a skull on Pa Grape’s hat.
No reason not to change it.
My greater beef comes from the character of Mr. Nezzer.
Mr. Nezzer is a stand in for the ancient rulers in Bible stories like Nebuchadnezzer (hence the name) of Babylon and Xerxes of Persia. As these rulers often find themselves in adversarial roles in the history of Israel, it’s common for Mr. Nezzer to be the bad guy.
Except he’s not. As the villain Veggie Tales always goes out of its way to say “Now Mr. Nezzer wasn’t a bad man. He was just a little confused.”
Here is where I draw the line. Here is why I shall wait to show Veggie Tales (whose humor I adore) to my offspring until they are old enough to also receive instruction on Veggie Tales’s faults.
One of the base, fundamental truths of the Christian faith is the reality and the pervasiveness of evil. Evil is a thing. Evil is everywhere. All of us are evil.
Any truthful storyteller would have to admit that Mr. Nezzer was, in fact, a bad man. That he didn’t choose to do wrong because he was confused, but because he wanted to do wrong.
Veggie Tales is lying about one of the fundamental facts on which the worldview it supposedly supports hinges.
Look, I get that part of parenthood is protecting your kids from the evil that is out there. But while you protect them, you also have to prepare them, so that when they leave the fold they aren’t blindsided. You can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. You have to admit it exists and teach them how to fight it, first within themselves, and then beyond.
Stories for children need to have monsters because real life is full of monsters, and kids need to learn how to deal with monsters. And if a story has monsters, and teaches you how to deal with monsters, then there will be violence. Stories for children need to have violence.
How much and at what age? I don’t know. I haven’t figured that out.
But I’ll tell you what I have figured out: the people in Hollywood and New York who choose the books and cartoons we’re expected to feed our kids? They want to destroy our civilization. So whatever amount of violence they choose, it will almost always be too much or too little.
And if I ever remake the story of the three pigs, the Big Bad Wolf is getting a pig dinner or two.