HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Ellynn” is a pseudonym.
I didn’t intend to write this.
When the prompt went out about Media Memories I didn’t feel like I had anything to add. Like most homeschool kids, I wasn’t allowed to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, or a decent chunk of Disney. This was in an era of little to no internet access, so I have old art projects where I tried to draw the things from the shows my public school friends told me about with no basic idea of what they were talking about (my idea of a megazord was apparently multi colored ninjas making a pyramid). My media was Nanny Bird and Psalty (the blue fro’d singing psalm book). My younger, non-fundie cousins had Barney. Comparatively, when my youngest siblings came along, Veggie Tales were amazingly watchable.
And you know, it wasn’t great, but it wasn’t really terrible. I wasn’t scarred for life because I wasn’t allowed to watch Aladdin. Yeah, as an adult I had a lot of cultural catching up to do, but I’m not upset about it.
So, yeah, I didn’t think I had anything to say about my own Media Memories.
Do you know how much of your thinking occurs on a subconscious level? Little background things collate as you go about your day and then smack you in the face when you least expect it.
I’m one of those people, I’ve always got a song in my head.
While I love it, it’s also quite frustrating because I have no control over the selection. Monty Python, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and various greatest hits of YouTube pop in at the most inappropriate times. More annoyingly, I often revert to songs I grew up with. My Aunt’s favorite country songs, Stephen Curtis Chapman, the Donut Man — I find myself absently singing things I haven’t heard in well over a decade, things I could happily never hear again.
I’m pretty sure I still know all the lyrics to Achy Breaky Heart. Thanks for nothing Billy Ray Cyrus.
So one day last week I was at work and I caught myself absently singing “Sobbin’ Women” from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and nearly threw up. Literally, and let me tell you it was unexpected.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is something that even the most conservative families I knew had watched. It’s a 1950’s musical, with attractive guys and fun dance numbers and it all ends in a mass wedding. Wholesome, right?
The thing is, it’s a retelling of the Rape of the Sabine, where a group of men came upon the young women of a village at the Sabine river, bathing and doing laundry, and took them by force to be their wives.
Did you know the English word rape rooted in the Latin raptio, which also translates as “abduction”? The reason we root sexual assault within a word that generally translates to abduction is because of this story. It’s also considered one of the foundational moments in Roman history.
Here’s a few of the lyrics from the lesson the elder brother taught his younger brothers about wooing:
“Them a woman was sobbin’, sobbin’, sobbin’ fit to be tied.
Ev’ry muscle was throbbin’, throbbin’ from that riotous ride.
Oh they cried and kissed and kissed and cried
All over that Roman countryside
So don’t forget that when you’re takin’ a bride.
Sobbin’ fit to be tied! From that riotous ride!
…Them a women was sobbin’, sobbin’, passin’ them nights.
Now let this be because it’s true, a lesson to the likes of you,
Treat ’em rough like them there Romans do, Or else they’ll think you’re tetched.
And the reply:
Oh yes! Them a women was sobbin’, sobbin’,
Sobbin’ buckets of tears
…Oh they acted angry and annoyed, but secretly they was overjoyed!
(Click at your own risk, because damn is it catchy)
So don’t forget that when you’re taking your bride! Sobbin fit to be tied!
And you know, it’s very 1950’s, there’s something like four kisses in the movie, they all seem like lovely kidnappers, and of course the women loved them and they got married, so it was romantic!
As a kid I didn’t really have a concept of what rape was, much less rape culture. I just loved the dresses and the dance numbers.
As an adult I catch myself singing “Them a woman was sobbin’, sobbin’, sobbin’ fit to be tied. / Ev’ry muscle was throbbin’, throbbin’ from that riotous ride,” at work and go from zero to physically ill almost instantly.
So I had something to say, but I still wasn’t sure what -—other than “don’t let your kids watch Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Trust me, they’ll be glad to have missed out on that when they’re older.” But the thing is, in my experience homeschoolers never need to be told not to let their kids interact with media. The slightest hint that someone disapproves is generally enough to get further restriction, and that’s really not a message I endorse. So yeah, I wasn’t sure where my brain was going with this.
And then, while I was thinking over what to write, a small voice in my head sang “because I love my duck,” and I just knew.
Have you ever seen King George & The Ducky? It is by far my favorite Veggie Tales tape. The songs are catchy, the mini skits are great, THE FRENCH PEAS! Really, what’s not to love. And they managed to tell the story of David and Bathsheba in a way that would be acceptable to children.
Except I’ve never wondered, but why are we telling the story of David and Bathsheba to children?
It’s essentially a story of rape (yes, there are no explicit scenes in the text, but if a king orders a woman he’s never met brought to him for the purpose of having sex, struggle or not, it is totally rape) and murder. What are we going to tell them next? The story of Lot and his daughters, teaching a tale of incest and/or date rape with carrots and peas? Just because it’s in the bible doesn’t mean it’s really appropriate material for children.
But there’s something more than that.
In conservative culture, be it from the 50’s or 2015, women are generally objects with no agency. Even when they’re main characters, i.e. Elsie Dinsmore, their greatest virtue is in their absolute submission to the men in their lives, their unquestioning obedience and absolute love for these men, no matter how wrong they many be (i.e. Seven Brides style kidnapping plots). If you love and obey your father/man in all things you will have a happy ending – unless God is testing you, then after several years of lovingly submitting through hell you will have a happy ending, probably with the person who was tormenting you through all those years.
Moving beyond the minimal representation women often have in media, there are very few examples of women who are strong, smart, and make their own choices, for good or for ill, in christian media. Heck, a girl making her own choices and having a happy ending was one of the reasons people hated The Little Mermaid when it came out. A man can choose to kidnap a group of women and get a happy ending, a woman can only be good when she is submitting.
Because I love my duck.
Veggie Tales didn’t really have any female characters for the first several installments. They tried to remedy that later on with Esther, Shelby, and Madame Blueberry, who each showed up very sporadically and never really made it into the core character set. I’m not even sure Junior’s mom has any lines.
Bathsheba, the woman who was pulled out of her house, forcibly made consort to the king, and who had her husband murdered, is a rubber ducky. She is literally an object. And that’s a lesson for little girls.
You are not the author of your own story, you’re not even a character, but if you’re really lucky we’ll put you in it as a rubber toy.
King George was my favorite Veggie Tales installment, and now, when I think about it I want to cry.
And that is the trouble with growing up, it’s not the things you weren’t allowed, it’s the things you realize you can never enjoy again because what seemed harmless, cute, and wholesome in actuality makes you ill when you start to think about it.
That, and paying for your own insurance.
Ellynn, as someone who grew up inhaling large amounts of classic F&SF, watching Kimba the White Lion and Star Trek, taking guided tours through imaginative storytelling, YOU GOT DEPRIVED. BAD.
You too, huh? Even Mark Twain did a story about getting earwormed, “Punch, Brothers, Punch!”
You do know “ride” can have a sexual meaning? Now THAT sounds like Fifties Beat-the-Censors writing, when you had to be indirect.
I had a homeschooling friend who swore up and down that “King George” was about another Bible story. I pointed out all the parallels, and she still said, “Well, that’s a heavy story to be telling kids. They must have meant something else.”
Timely, in light of the Doug Phillips lawsuit today. Heh.
Yeah, I grew up watching that too. It’s weird but I guess not a coincidence that somehow old-timey rape songs were ok while basically everything else was off limits.
The whole point of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is that the brothers are going about everything in problematic ways and need to learn to woo rather than demand. Sobbin’ Women represents the plot arc of that story as much as Gee, Officer Krupke represents West Side Story and an overall promotion of teenage delinquency… it is a plot device to reveal the characters’ flaws and frustrations, not the moral of the musical.
Although I do think there are plenty of musicals that have disturbing lyrics. How about Kiss Me, Kate’s “haunt me and hurt me, deceive me, desert me; I’m yours till I die….”
I think it’s hard to take that line with the story of King George and the Ducky. The idea is essentially doing something similar to what Nathan himself did when “retelling” the story to David. Recasting the moral in a simplistic way that David could understand as applying to himself. It’s telling the story in a way that young children of both genders can recognize as applying to their own actions (despite the fact that the characters in the story are vegetables). I doubt anyone is using it as a Bible history lesson.