2005-02-04 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

I don’t usually quote Maureen Dowd, because she is too liberal even for me. In this case, however, she says it better than I ever could.

“I can’t believe that I thought he was just an innocent little sponge wearing tight shorts,” Dowd wrote in the New York Times a few weeks ago. “What in the name of Davy Jones’s locker would a sponge be doing hold hands with a starfish or donning purple and hot-pink flowered garb to redecorate the Krusty Krab if he weren’t a perverted invertebrate?”

I really didn’t mind much when my kids were young and the religious yahoos decried the fact that Bert and Ernie slept in the same room and sometimes helped each other and therefore were not fit for religious kids to see because I simply wrote it off as the work of religious lunatics.

When the Teletubbys came along and Tinky Winky was brought out of the closet by the religious right, by kids were grown and my grandkids were too young to know what was going on, so I really did not pay attention.

I know there have been other times throughout the year when the religious right attacked cartoon characters as being unsuitable for the public in general and for kids in particular.

There was Betty Boop in the 1930, with her risqué (for that time) bathing suit and garter. There was Tweety Bird, who originally was pink and looked nude in some of the first cartoons. There was Daffy Duck, whose WW II romps were slightly risqué and sexually-oriented. Then, there is the “Little Mermaid.” I have to admit that I have never watched the movie closely, but the right says there is one scene in the movie were “a priest becomes noticeably aroused while presiding over a wedding.” I looked at the scene after I read that and I have to say I did not see the priest getting aroused, but perhaps I do not have the “secret” that the religious right claims to possess.

I have watched Spongebob Squarepants with my grandchildren, however, over and over again, and I like the quote from one of the program’s producers.

“It’s a sponge, cartoon character, for crying out loud. he said. “He has no sexuality.”

The man who thinks that he does, and that the sexuality is not fit for kids, is Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus On The Family. It seems that Spongebob is part of a video made for grade school kids by the We Are The Family Foundation, that reportedly focuses on respect for alternate lifestyles.

Let’s see if we can get this straight: Focus On Family says it’s bad. We are The Family Foundation says it’s good.

The We Are The Family Foundation website says this of the video.

“I pledge to have respect for people whose abilities, beliefs, culture, race, sexual identity or other characteristics are different from my own.”

Who could argue with that?

Dr. Dobson and the entire religious right who believe that the words “inclusion,” “respect,” and “diversity” are code words for one thing: gay marriage.

I once laughed this stuff off. With the reelection of George W. Bush, however, it is no longer funny because his election has emboldened the religious right to attempt to make its values those of the nation at large.

By the way, also in the video are such suspect cartoons as Miss Piggy (is she a lesbian despite the fact she proclaims her love for Kermit), Kermit (he must be gay to keep rejecting a babe like Miss Piggy), Barney (a pink animal), Jimmy Neutron (why does he spend so much time with his inventions and none with the ladies) and Winnie The Pooh (what goes on in the Three Acre Woods between Pooh and Tigger anyway).

After the “Spongebob” movie came out, a website generally associated with the Christian right came out with a list of things about the movie that bothered its morality. Among them were “cartoon rear male nudity,” “pinching of banner staff between nude buttocks,” and “suggestions of sadomasochism and transvestestitism.

I would like to say that this is much like the older arguments that the Roadrunner cartoons were too violent and would lead to antisocial behavior because Wiley Coyote always lost and always got hurt.

It is not, however. This argument against Spongebob and the other goes much deeper. It is a manifestation of the belief that the Christian right has all of the answers to make America a better place and that those who do not agree do so at their own peril, not in terms of not being saved at the final hour, but that some harm will befall them in this life.

It goes hand and hand with the attack on Darwinism and the scientific fact that evolution did happen. The Christian right would have you believe that “Intelligent Design” is the real answer. Intelligent Design, of course, is creationism in a new dress. The movement is to force science teachers, who mostly know the scientific basis for evolution, are being forced to teach that it never happened, that God created the Earth in six days and rested on the seventh.

I have no problem with people believing that. They are, after all, in the majority. And, that is the point. Under our Constitution it is wrong for the majority to force the minority to believe as they do, especially in the field of religion, where there are specific protections written into the Bill of Rights respecting the establishment of a state religion.

The fact is, the video was intended to promote tolerance, including tolerance towards gays and lesbians – and, perhaps, gay marriage.

The question then, should be, what is wrong with that?

Ask a Christian fundamentalist, “Do you want to outlaw abortion, suppress homosexuality, keep Hollywood from producing ‘liberal’ movies and promote Jesus as the one true savior?” What would the fundamentalist answer?

“Of course I do,” would be the answer, without a hint of apology. That is what they are about.

Why, then, do liberal groups that put out videos pushing their values, believe they have to apologize for their acts.

They do not have to apologize, but they, being liberals, do not want to embarrass or harm anybody in any way. That is their creed, and also, to a large extent, their weakness.

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