Sunday, June 08, 2008

Conservatives Pick Soft Target: A Cartoon Sponge

From the New York Times:

"On the heels of electoral victories barring same-sex marriage, some influential conservative Christian groups are turning their attention to a new target: the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants.

"Does anybody here know SpongeBob?" Dr. James C. Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, asked the guests Tuesday night at a black-tie dinner for members of Congress and political allies to celebrate the election results. (...)

Now, Dr. Dobson said, SpongeBob's creators had enlisted him in a "pro-homosexual video," in which he appeared alongside children's television colleagues like Barney and Jimmy Neutron, among many others. The makers of the video, he said, planned to mail it to thousands of elementary schools to promote a "tolerance pledge" that includes tolerance for differences of "sexual identity."

The video's creator, Nile Rodgers, who wrote the disco hit "We Are Family," said Mr. Dobson's objection stemmed from a misunderstanding. Mr. Rodgers said he founded the We Are Family Foundation after the Sept. 11 attacks to create a music video to teach children about multiculturalism. The video has appeared on television networks, and nothing in it or its accompanying materials refers to sexual identity. The pledge, borrowed from the Southern Poverty Law Center, is not mentioned on the video and is available only on the group's Web site.

Mr. Rodgers suggested that Dr. Dobson and the American Family Association, the conservative Christian group that first sounded the alarm, might have been confused because of an unrelated Web site belonging to another group called "We Are Family," which supports gay youth.

"The fact that some people may be upset with each other peoples' lifestyles, that is O.K.," Mr. Rodgers said. "We are just talking about respect."

Mark Barondess, the foundation's lawyer, said the critics "need medication.""

Reading this, I am reminded of an essay in a wonderfully funny book, The Pooh Perplex, in which an imaginary literary critic read all sorts of things into the works of AA Milne ("God bless Mummy! I know that's right/ Wasn't it fun in the bath tonight?") But that was a parody. When real live adults, in all seriousness, allege that Sponge-Bob Square Pants is a tool of the radical homosexual agenda, we have gone way past the line that separates mere eccentricity from lunacy. And as someone who has a deep respect for Christianity, albeit from the outside, I really, really wish its prominent spokespersons would stay on the right side of that line. This is a religion that counted among its adherents the likes of Saint Augustine and Dante, neither of them idiots; its adherents should treat it, and the intellects that (in their view) God gave them, with more respect.

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