The New Education Secretary vs. Vermont’s Lesbians

by GARY LEUPP

First it was the Rev. Jerry Falwell describing purple Teletubbie Twinky Winky as a gay role model, because Twinky Winky carries a purse. Then it was Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson, in a Washington dinner talk attended by Republican congressmen, accusing SpongeBob Square Pants of promoting a homosexual lifestyle to your kids. SpongeBob, you see, whose show is the highest rated children’s program on television, holds hands with his starfish friend Patrick. One wants to hear Bugs Bunny announce Ta da da da dathat’s all, folks! But no, folks, no, it gets wackier! The war on allegedly homo-friendly cartoon characters continues as the newly anointed Secretary of Education lashes out at PBS’s "Postcards from Buster." Targeting six to ten year old kids, it features an eight year old animated bunny named Buster, who travels around the country with his airline pilot dad. It includes animated and live-action segments and shows, in the words of a producer, "the array of American life that children experience."

What’s the offence of the nonprofit PBS, which is partially funded by the Department of Education? A Buster episode called "Sugartime!" This cartoon, which teaches children about Vermont’s famed maple sugar, has Buster visiting with Karen Pike and Gillian Pieper and their children in the Green Mountain State. Karen and Gillian are not cartoons, but real live lesbians.

The new Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is deeply upset about this, and in one of her very first acts in office she’s sent off an indignant missive to PBS chief executive officer Pat Mitchell. "Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in the episode," she declares. "Congress’ and the Department’s purpose in funding this programming certainly was not to introduce this kind of subject matter to children, particularly through the powerful and intimate medium of television."

This kind of subject matter. Would that Spellings was talking about sugar consumption, which many educated parents think encourages hyperactivity. But no, that’s not the problem. The secretary isn’t anti-sugar, just anti-lesbian. So she’s asked PBS to:

(1) remove the Department of Education seal from the program, lest the department be shamed by the association;

(2) warn member stations of the lesbian content of the cartoon so they can review it before airing it; and

(3) refund DOE money so as to prevent "embroiling" the department "in a controversy that will only hurt" it.

In other words, Ms. Spellings wants PBS to abjectly apologize for revealing to our children that there are happy hospitable lesbians in Vermont (a state that happens to recognize same-sex civil unions), and for encouraging tolerance and objectivity conflicting with the homophobia of "many parents." She wants to tell the many parents involved in same-sex unions that her department is definitely not their department, and that the subject matter of their lifestyles, which so disgusts the random homophobe, offends the government as well. The Bush administration officially champions the view that same-sex unions threaten heterosexual marriage, which has to be defended against the looming mushroom cloud of sodomic sex. It follows that Buster, should he be shown as a gay-friendly bunny, might also threaten this lynchpin of the social order.

PBS to its eternal discredit announced it would not distribute the episode to its 349 stations. "We recognize this is a sensitive issue," said vice president of media relations Lea Sloan, "and we wanted to make sure that parents had an opportunity to introduce this subject to their children in their own time." As though the airing of the show would somehow infringe on parental rights or interfere with their plans to explain lesbianism to their kids next July.

Can it get more stupid than this? Yes, actually. School boards might, in deference to respectably homophobic parents, act to ban the gay-straight alliance organizations that currently exist in many public high schools. Such groups, and the open discussion they promote, have probably contributed to the decline of gay teen suicides over the last decade. The Department of Education could urge health class instructors to avoid any non-judgmental discussion of homosexuality, lest such treatment of the topic insensitively offend the "many parents" who believe, as some of them proclaim, that "God Hates Fags" and their militant homosexual agenda. The attacks on Twinky Winky, SpongeBob and Buster may presage a more systematic homophobic project. They would be comical were they not dead serious, endorsed not only by the fundamentalist fringe but those who steer the state.

It’s worth noting that the Bush administration, while catering to those who find same-sex relations a matter of shame, methodically deploys sexual shame in its torture chambers in Iraq. Men and boys imprisoned for the crime of opposing the invasion of their country are forced to simulate homosexual acts, forbidden by Islam, while sniggering foreign thugs, male and female, catch it all on tape.

Rush Limbaugh may laugh this all off as frathouse tomfoolery, but it’s actually carefully calculated evil. As one academic explained to Seymour Hersh, a book entitled The Arab Mind, by the anthropologist Raphael Patai, is the "bible of the neocons on Arab behavior." The book emphasizes the deep shame attached to the public exposure of homosexual behavior in Arab societies. "How very useful!" thinks the torturer, methodically exploiting this shame as a matter of policy, to humiliate and break the detained, who are told that if they don’t cooperate the photos and videos will be shown to their families and neighbors.

I understand that Boston’s WGBH will air "Sugartime!" in March. I hope it provokes a storm of moral outrage.






Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire
Halyna Mokrushyna
Decentralization Reform in Ukraine
Norman Pollack
World Capitalism, a Basket Case: A Layman’s View
Sarah Lazare
Listening to Iraq
John Laforge
NSP/Xcel Energy Falsified Welding Test Documents on Rad Waste Casks
Wendell G Bradley
Drilling for Wattenberg Oil is Not Profitable
Joy First
Wisconsin Walk for Peace and Justice: Nine Arrested at Volk Field
Mel Gurtov
China’s Insecurity
Mateo Pimentel
An Operator’s Guide to Trump’s Racism
Yves Engler
Harper Conservatives and Abuse of Power
Michael Dickinson
Police Guns of Brixton: Another Unarmed Black Shot by London Cops
Ron Jacobs
Daydream Sunset: a Playlist
Charles R. Larson
The Beginning of the Poppy Wars: Amitav Ghosh’s “Flood of Fire”
David Yearsley
A Rising Star Over a Dark Forest
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman