By INA HUGHS
September 6, 2005
They're calling it Toongate.
SpongeBob SquarePants is a saltwater sponge. Tinky Winky is a bear. Barney is a purple dinosaur. And Big Bird is, well, a big bird.
Each one of these cartoon characters has over the past few years been chastised for either being homosexual or of being "homosexual friendly."
Maybe it was Jerry Falwell who started the whole silly business when he announced a while back that PBS's British-import pre-school cartoon character Tinky Winky was, of all things, gay: Shame on Tinky, and shame on PBS and shame on any mom who would subject her innocent little one to visions of Tinky and his gay lifestyle.
Obviously Falwell hadn't spent a lot of time walking in Tinky's moccasins, so to speak, before judging him. Tinky lives in a subterranean bunker. The only language he speaks is Baby Coo and Squeal 101. I don't know what Falwell thinks the gay lifestyle is, but Tinky is disqualified intellectually, socially and physiologically from being representative of Homo sapiens -- or straight sapiens for that matter.
Barney, bless his heart, is kind and sweet, accepting and creative. He doesn't run with scissors, he shares his toys, he sings and dances the Golden Rule -- a lifestyle you'd think the Focus on the Family crowd as well as Falwell, Robertson and every parent and teacher in the universe would approve.
Every morning on TV he teaches everything we humans should learn in kindergarten. Anybody whose mind wanders off so far as to imagine Barney cruising seedy bars is sick sick sick. Barney is not anatomically correct. He's not sexually active. He is a dinosaur puppet, for God's sake.
But Barney, too, has been called by conservative watchdogs as "queer."
James Dobson went after Nickelodeon's SpongeBobSquarePants because SpongeBob (as well as Big Bird) appeared in a kid-friendly video remake of the 1979 hit "We are Family" that Dobson and his disciples saw as "pro-homosexual" since it shows children being tolerant and respectful of others, despite differences of race, class, ethnic, religious or -- horrors! -- sexual orientation. Dobson didn't like that idea. Some people, and we all know which ones, don't deserve Dobson's good Christian treatment. The video came in the aftermath of 9/11, and, as described by producer, Nile Rogers, was sent to schools in hopes of promoting "multiculturalism and unity."
I agree with a reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times who wrote that anyone who damned a cartoon sponge for having gay friends "should get down on their knees to do penance for preposterous thoughts."
Then there was the "Postcards from Buster" free-for-all.
I have never watched this particular cartoon, but as I understand it, each week, Buster -- a rabbit, mind you, or as described in Religion in the News magazine, "an animated, asthmatic bunny" -- travels all around the country getting to know different kinds of people. Buster is big on diversity. His visits have, from time to time, included people of various faiths. Buster has hung out with Mormons and Pentecostals, among others.
But when Buster went to a Vermont maple sugar farm run by a lesbian couple and their children, the syrup hit the fan. U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings fired off a letter to PBS President Pat Mitchell calling "Sugartime!" -- the title of the controversial segment -- reason enough for the Department of Education to withdraw financial support of Buster and his postcards as part of the Department's Ready-to-Learn program. The upshot was that Mitchell resigned and "Sugartime!" was pulled.
This article --> http://www.knoxnews.com/kns/lifestyles_columnists/article/0,1406,KNS_337_4057506,00.html (you have to sign up to view the article...)
Another article on this topic --> http://www.chicagoparent.com/main.asp?SectionID=20&SubSectionID=88&ArticleID=451&TM=62696.61
Do something about it --> http://www.hrcactioncenter.org/campaign/education_secretary