In the 1950s, psychiatrist Fredric Wertham suggested that Batman and Robin were gay; later there were rumors about Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie. Then televangelist Jerry Falwell claimed that Tinky-Winky was gay. In the latest incident, SpongeBob Squarepants has given the anti-gay reactionaries more free airtime.
Last November, the We Are Family Foundation gathered over 100 children's characters, including SpongeBob, to re-record the 1979 song "We Are Family" as part of a video to:
"promote tolerance and diversity to America's children. The video, which demonstrates to children the importance of togetherness embodied in the word 'family', will be distributed to 61,000 public and private elementary schools in the United States on March 11, 2005, in celebration of the proposed National We Are Family Day."
Concepts like tolerance and diversity don't sit well with the American Family Association. Their latest magazine has a cover story about the We Are Family video. AFA chair Donald Wildmon commented, "Most Christians are now aware of what those code words mean." The numerous right-wing code words ("lifestyle," "behavior," "conduct," “practice,” “protecting” marriage, and the mythical "choice") are the true linguistic sleights-of-hand in this confrontation over cartoon characters; inserting the words "family," "value," or "moral" in the name of every anti-gay group is another of their tactics.
Focus on the Family's James Dobson echoes Wildmon's sentiments, writing that, “while the video is harmless on its own, I believe the agenda behind it is sinister. […] …childhood symbols are apparently being hijacked to promote an agenda that involves teaching homosexual propaganda to children.” Later, Dobson conjures up “terribly dangerous” “references to adult perverse sexuality” out of nothing more than his fevered imagination.
Keith Olbermann's blog at MSNBC covers the publicity created by the SpongeBob situation, noting that “Dobson, like many other exploiters of Amoral Values, ran immediately to the easiest way out of a stupid fix of his own creation: he blamed the big old ugly media.” (I wonder if he’s referring to the same corporate media that largely refused to air the United Church of Christ’s pro-tolerance TV ad last year.)
Not surprisingly, the UCC joined the fray in "SpongeBob receives 'unequivocal welcome' from United Church of Christ" by J. Bennett Guess, which refutes Dobson’s “laughable accusations.” UCC general manager John Thomas notes, “While Dobson’s silly accusation makes headlines, it's also one more concrete example of how religion is misused over and over to promote intolerance over inclusion." The UCC website also features "SpongeBob goes to church," containing some photographs of the cartoon character associating with UCC members and subversively suggesting that Jesus might have ever railed against sanctimony and hypocrisy.
Speaking of subversive, here's the allegedly dangerous "Tolerance Pledge" – which is not part of the video - courtesy of www.tolerance.org:
"Tolerance is a personal decision that comes from a belief that every person is a treasure. I believe that America's diversity is its strength. I also recognize that ignorance, insensitivity and bigotry can turn that diversity into a source of prejudice and discrimination.
To help keep diversity a wellspring of strength and make America a better place for all, I pledge to have respect for people whose abilities, beliefs, culture, race, sexual identity or other characteristics are different from my own."
That's frightening stuff, all right. I certainly wouldn't want schoolchildren to learn respect for people of different backgrounds. This nation would be much better off if we went back to teaching racism, sexism, and homophobia in the public schools under the perverted doctrine of "hate thy neighbor."
Seriously, though: While I mock their paranoia and their persecution complex, the anti-gay crackpots and I do agree on something. Dobson writes, “What is vitally important, however, are the children of this country and the effort being made to manipulate them for political purposes.” Ironically, he is blind to his own attempt at political manipulation: misusing parents’ natural concern for their children by twisting it in service of his fundamentalist agenda. (Maybe he should remove the beam from his eye before sitting down at his writing desk to complain about the mote in someone else's eye.)
As a parent, the thought that the next generation might one day know more than mine doesn't scare me: it gives me hope for the future.
It's called learning.
The leaders of American Family Association and Focus on the Family should try it sometime.
Thanks for reading.
Quote of the Day:
"First they came for Tinky Winky, and I did not speak up, because I couldn't stand the Teletubbies. Then they came for Spongebob, and I did not speak up, because I thought he was overexposed anyway. Then when Kermit the Frog and Snuffelupagus kidnapped me and I woke up in a leather bar wearing chaps, there was no one left to speak for me...
Paul Waldman, “La Cage Aux Spongebob”