Monday, July 28, 2008

Ten Things I Did On My Summer Vacation (the other five)

6) On Rose Lake there is a "swimming hole". I'm not sure why that particular area of the lake has been designated as such, but it is. Every day, at least once and as many as three times, we head on over to that part of the lake on the pontoon boat to listen to music (, which could generously be called adult alternative soft rock... if that makes sense) and swim. Sometimes the boys would want to play tag, and other times a game we invented called "tuna and shark" (me, being the "Big Kahuna Tuna", and Max and Xave being sharks). Our trips to the swimming hole were bookended by the two oldest boys taking turns driving the boat (which, with a strong tail wind, goes about 5 mph).

I don't remember which day it was, exactly, but the sky was particularly blue and the sun bright. Music and laughter filled the air. The water was cool and clear. A day that when I'm dead and gone, my sons will remember as one of the best our family ever had. I mean, I plan funerals with families as a part of my living. I know the days that matter are the only ones that get brought up when we sit together in some funeral home, the family sharing memories that will enable me to write a eulogy. This was one of those days that will matter. A day so perfect that in the moment I simply enjoyed being in the middle of it.

You don't get many of those days... or at least not enough of them.

7) One of the things I liked about this vaca was that, unlike other families who feel the need to cram in an many activities as possible in the time allotted, The Buchers are quite content to do as much or as little as they wish. This year, we swam and boated and made sand castles and explored the lake but we also did a whole lot of not much. We watched TV. We read books and newspapers. We napped. The boys played video games.

We vacated. It was relaxing, de-stressing, and overall very refreshing. We didn't come back totally exhausted. It was good.

8) We celebrated my wife's 29th birthday (just as we did last year, and will again next year) with cake, a nice meal (steak that I over-seasoned), and presents. Every year, since my 29th birthday is always in February, my wife gets me the latest Grisham book, and 20 bucks to be used at some coffeehouse while reading it (can't put down one of those babies until I'm finished). This year I got her two books. One was a piece of Christian Chick-lit (which she gobbles up... no sex scenes, just confused relationships) and the other was Phil Vischer's book about the rise and fall of Big Idea Inc., the company that produces VeggieTales. I always wondered how a company with characters as wildly popular as Bob and Larry used to be could fall apart.

Vischer tells the story of what happens when a creative animator gets in over his head when his product takes off and subsequently looks to the "suits" to handle the business-side of a company built to serve a particular entertainement niche they don't really understand... which (if you don't have time to read the book) is bankruptcy and the loss of everything including the characters you lovingly created.

Christians are a strange bunch in that the market is much more segmented than those outside the Christian sub-culture realize. Of course, there is your James-Dobson-Moral-Majority crowd, and they historically have packed the biggest wallop in terms of their economic clout, but there are other crowds too. There are health-and-wealth Christians who buy up books by Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, and Kenneth Copeland, hoping God will bless them if they live their life the right way. There are the "post-modern Christians" who are making Donald Miller and Rob Bell Jr. famous and rich. There are the peace and justice Christians who subscribe to Sojourners magazine. There are cultural Christians who identify with their churches and communities for reasons relating to ethnicity and heritage. And there are mainline Christians who are more likely to buy secular media than they are the stuff at the local Parable Christian Book Store. And there are suburban mega-church Christians who go to the cool church in the community where the pastor preaches sermons in the style of Bill Hybles or Rick Warren... which is to say self-help sermons generally concerned with helping you find the most meaningful life for yourself that you can.

The groups aren't necessarily isolated from one another, but you can't just label something "Christian" and expect all these different people to buy it. And, in fact, if you begin to bend your marketing strategy or product at one of these various groups, you might very well make it more difficult to sell the product to the other crowds. It's complicated, and I think you have to have a clear understanding of which of these subgroups are going to buy what you are selling before you even get started.

Vischer always knew his bread and butter were James-Dobson Christians who sought to isolate themselves more fully from the influence of secular media, and the mega-church Christians who wanted their children to be taught to have good morals and instilled with high self-esteem. As a matter of fact, since Vischer came from one of these cultures (the Dobsonites), he understood them very well, and his knowledge shaped how the videos were made (watch carefully and you'll notice that Jesus was never portrayed as one of the vegetables and the vegetables never talked about themselves going to heaven.... both done intentionally so as to not tick off churches of a certain ilk), promoted, and sold. But because he lived in suburban Chicago, he knew the values and quality the megachurch Christians wanted in their children's media. Those two markets identified, Vischer's company sold millions more units than he ever dreamed, and in the end, was capable of handling himself. So, he called in the suits with business experience to keep everything straight.

When the suits started violating the rules of the various subcultures (like, for example, when they starting to sell Bob and Larry at WalMart as opposed to the local Christian bookstore, which ticked off the Dobsonites who wanted their Christian bookstores to do well) they started losing their target Christian subcultures, while not sufficiently picking up any of the others, or people in the non-Christian world. Hence the push to sell and frame the franchise differently ended up alienating the core base, which destroyed sales even as the company's overhead started to rise due to all the new marketing and packaging folks the suits hired to beef up sales.

Hence Big Idea going bankrupt, getting sold off to various conglomerates, and Vischer starting over without the characters he is known for. A great read, particularly if you are looking to expand a business, or love animation, or enjoy reading books where you know in the end it's all going to fall apart... you just don't know how its going to happen. Both of us dug it, and I think learned a lot. I'm not sure Vischer has still sorted out where everything went wrong (particularly as it relates to where God was while he watched his company get auctioned off piece by piece.... which is a problem for somebody with a reformed theology who believes in predestination). He claims that the problem was that his dreams supplanted God's, and thus now as he starts his newest venture, Jellyfish Labs, that we won't dream big like he did before (when he wanted to be the Christian Walt Disney).

Of course, now he just wants to be the Christian Nickelodeon or Christian Disney Channel. I'm not sure how that's not dreaming big.... I guess you'll just need to read the book to figure Phil out for yourself.

9) We returned home Friday. On Saturday my folks offered (with a little suggestive selling) to take the boys 1-3 overnight so Aimee and I could at least have a little more peace and quiet than usual. We had a nice meal at Burgandy's. We looked at different vehicles (not to buy... just for the heck of it). And to cap off the evening, we went to a movie.

Mamma Mia

Let me say this.... a movie musical based on a Broadway musical based on the music of Abba would not be my first (or second, or third, or tenth) choice normally. Particularly if the music was going to sung, not by Abba, or Broadway entertainers, but rather Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan (who, upon opening his mouth, sounded so bad that it made my wife weep with laughter), I would pay to see something else. But my wife has this little web design company that landed a fairly big corporate fish, and this company is going to tie one of its products to the release of Mamma Mia on DVD later this fall. So, we went so Aimee could do some research for her project.... or so she says. She loved every blessed moment of that crummy movie.

How crummy, you ask?

Have you ever been naked, covered with angry red ants, in a vat of acid, while the devil peels off your toenails, as twenty off-key lemurs screech in your ears tunes like "Dancing Queen"? Well, neither have I, but as I sat in that dark movie theater, silently wishing aliens would abduct me for crude intestinal scientific study, that's kind of what it was like. Naked with ants in acids with the devil and lemurs.

At least now I have further proof there is a God, because the movie ended. Biggest act of grace I've experienced in many, many years. Needless to say, her finding from the movie is that I am not in the target demographic. Hence, no effort will go into drawing overweight, slightly balding adult males in their late 30's, early 40's to the product she'll be promoting. This one's for you ladies! This one's for you.

10) Finally, while on an errand today, my eldest son, Max, and I were talking about vacation this year, when I asked him, "So, do you think we should go back to Buckeye/Raider cottage on Rose Lake next year?" (as it's graciously been offered already, with the stipulation that I don't paint Eric the Buckeye as being "foo foo" in Sunday morning sermons... which will not be easy. For the love of Pete, the man drinks decaf chocolate mochas and keeps eight different kinds of breath mints in his truck. How can you hide "foo foo" as blatant as that? Good thing I only agreed to sermons, and not the blog.)

But strangely enough, Max got really quiet. After many seconds of pondering he said...

"Dad, the lake is awfully fun, but somehow next summer could we see our friends in Goshen, then maybe our friends in Tennessee, and our cousins in North Carolina? Or maybe take them to the lake with us? That's would be the ultimate, Dad. All of us with our friends at the lake. Could we do that, Dad? Please?"

Thus, for many of you, I now give you your gift from our vacation. No matter how much fun we have had, you, our friends and family, were never far from our heart. You make our life sweet, and for that we thank you.

And who knows... maybe we'll figure out something cool next summer where we can be with at least some of you, sharing our downtime. I hope we can make that happen.

Just... don't bring a copy of Mamma Mia with you. That, and you serve your time as a spotter. That's all I ask.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

love max's response...we would love to join, if we are the chosen ones...just can't interfere with fair week...july 17-25....we have those pesky cows u know....bahahaha....but i can totally bring mama mia with, love, and mooooing... :o)

amy, wife of an average joe