Sunday, February 06, 2005

The evils of cartoon exploitation

As I'm sure you've heard that some Christian groups, including James Dobson's Focus on the Family (FoF), contend that the We Are Family cartoon video has the audacity to promote different kinds of families to school-children.

"If you look at the Web site, it becomes pretty clear that a part of the agenda is to change the definition of family to include virtually anyone who chooses to be called a family, including homosexual couples and homosexual couples raising children," said Peter Sprigg, senior director of policy studies of the Washington-based Family Research Council. "Much of what they have is coded language that is regularly used by the pro-homosexual movement such as 'tolerance' and 'diversity.'

"Ultimately, we feel that this is being used as propaganda to indoctrinate very small children to accept a different definition of family."

Sprigg said the companies behind SpongeBob SquarePants and the other cartoon characters might not endorse gay and lesbian families but are being employed to give that message legitimacy.

In addition to the well-known non-humans singing and dancing, the video encourages children to go to the WAFF website to sign a Declaration of Tolerance, written by the Southern Poverty Law Center:

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.

According to the New York Times, James Dobson, founder of FoF, said the popular cartoon figure SpongeBob SquarePants would appear in "a pro-homosexual video" while speaking at a congressional dinner in Washington last month.

"We see the video as an insidious means by which the organization is manipulating and potentially brainwashing kids," Paul Batura, an assistant to Dobson, told the Times.

Dobson and FoF reacted to the backlash by claiming he was taken completely out of context. They go on to claim Main Stream Media is abusing the situation to attack religion/good moral people. I tried getting direct information (full text articles in response and a copy of the speech transcript from the FOF site and just get the strangest messages when trying to access the site - maybe they have jewdar to keep computers of folks like me from accessing their info?). I was able to get an excerpt from the FoF response on a bulletin board:
In truth, this tale has very little to do with SpongeBob himself, and everything to do with the media’s ability to obscure the facts and to direct lies and scorn toward those of us who care about defending children.

The video, which millions of children will soon see, features nearly 100 favorite cartoon characters that kids will instantly recognize, including not only SpongeBob, but also Barney the Dinosaur, the Muppets, Dora the Explorer, Bob the Builder, Winnie the Pooh, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Jimmy Neutron and Big Bird. The video itself is innocent enough and does not mention anything overtly sexual. Rather, it features the children’s cartoon characters singing and dancing along to the popular disco hit "We Are Family."

But while the video is harmless on its own, I believe the agenda behind it is sinister. My brief comments at the FRC gathering were intended to express concern not about SpongeBob or Big Bird or any of their other cartoon friends, but about the way in which those childhood symbols are apparently being hijacked to promote an agenda that involves teaching homosexual propaganda to children. Nevertheless, the media jumped on the story by claiming that I had accused SpongeBob of being "gay." Some suggested that I had confused the organization that had created the video with a similarly named gay-rights group. In both cases, the press was dead wrong, and I welcome this opportunity to help them get their facts straight.

Sesame Street has always use the same essential techniques for teaching children that not all people are just like them and their families, there is a vast and diverse population of people with different cultures and that children should accept and understand those differences.
The applicable definition of the word tolerance is: "the capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others." As we all know (or should know), the word respect has different meanings: one that means to hold in deferential regard/esteem; another means "to avoid violation of or interference with" - the latter definition is the one that applies to tolerance.

The problem is, the Religious Right (Christianity as co-opted by Falwell, Dobson, Robertson, et. al.) is playing it both ways by making the claim the gay community/secularist liberals are using lessons in tolerance to promote behavior they find immoral/reprehensible (i.e., homosexuality, fornication, etc.) as they claim this forces them to condone said behavior. They then go on to complain that those who deride them for intentionally misdefining tolerance with regard to these programs and the homosexual/liberal "agenda" are "religiophobes" who are attacking Christianity itself.

It appears as though, in truth, the Religious Right thinks it has a fundamental right to be intolerant of others, as they appear to want to interfere and intrude in the lives of others
who do not wish to live in accordance with the tenents of Fundamentalist Christianity. This is evident in the manner in which they advance their agenda, ranging from simple hate speech (Fred Phelps and the like) to hijacking the Constitution in an effort to limit rights to a select group of citizens and criminalize behaviors solely on their personal/religious beliefs. In short, they apply definitions of respect as part of tolerance differentially to suit their agenda; they accuse their opposition of doing exactly what they, themselves, are trying to do. They cannot concede that tolerance programs are not malevolent because they only seem to understand the concept in terms of their own actions.

There is some good news from the Christian movement and that is that many of the rational among them are scratching their heads at this "controversy" as much, if not more than we are.
In the January 24th issue Christianity Today, Phil Vischer, the creator of Vegie Tales addresses the issue honestly and with a bit of levity. On whether the "we are family" organization/video promotes homosexuality, he states:
Boy, that's a thorny one. Does pledging to "respect people whose … sexual identity or other characteristics are different from my own" promote homosexuality? We're supposed to love everyone. I'm pretty sure that's biblical.

At the same time, we certainly can't endorse behavior that the Bible labels as sinful. So is "respecting" more like "loving," or more like "endorsing"? Are they encouraging grade school kids to accept homosexuality or to accept homosexuals? I'm not sure I'm qualified to parse that sentence.

And what's the inverse of that pledge? To disrespect people of differing sexual orientations? Jeepers, that doesn't sound biblical.

He goes on to say he's baffled by the shock of the Evangelical Community when the rest of the world is caught "acting, well, 'wordly'" and that he's "anxiously awaiting the day the world registers great shock at the sight of Christians acting 'Christianly'." Maybe that's why I, as an outsider, am so very confused by such spiteful, un-Christian behavior by "good Christians." I get the impression I have the same view of "Christianly" behavior as Mr. Vischer and think we should all expect Christians to be just that so we can save the shock for the hate and vitriol spewed by what should be a very small minority of inacurately self-labeled "Christians".

The issue also has links to interviews with creators/producers of other children's cartoons and links to Dobson/FoF defending themselves. FoF claims "it doesn't object to Mr. SquarePants, but thinks he's being exploited." a very funny statement considering SpongeBob is a secular, cartoon designed for commericalization and marketing. Maybe FoF will partner with organizations like Witness or Amnesty International in an expansion into the new realm of Animated Character and Muppet Rights to prevent any further senseless exploitation of these beings.

mourningIg-gulsOn a sadder note, the Igg-els lost, but we beat the spread and TO made it through the game (I still think he was nuts to play). More importantly, that Ameriquest Ad was a riot!


Sphere: Related Content

No comments: