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By Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

What’s Wrong with Maple Sugaring, Anyway? Response: Postcards from Buster

Posted By on June 30, 2009

What’s Wrong with Maple Sugaring, Anyway? Response: Postcards from Buster
By Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

It has been a very busy month in queer ‘toon land. Apparently these television shows that I usually careful monitor for violence and inappropriate language, are actually a hot-bed of homosexual activity. Who knew?

I knew about Tinky-Winky of course, the handbag toting Teletubby,that speaks a language only those under 2 understand. And I’ve long suspected that Bugs Bunny and Snagglepuss were both, well, a bit on the feminine side. Not to mention Peppermint Patty, the budding butch from the Peanuts cartoon strip. And what was going on anyway with Batman and that sidekick Robin, not to mention Yogi Bear and Boo Boo (what straight bear do you know who would call himself Boo Boo?)?

Of course, I was not aware (and someone with my influence should’ve gotten a memo, don’tcha think?) that this was actually a plot by gay activists, a planned takeover of America, to indoctrinate children into homosexual behavior. It’s a good plan, part of the larger Gay Agenda (I’ve been trying to get my hands on that document for awhile now). I’m proud of my people, working underground to convert young children in gender-bending, same sex love through cartoon watching. Ingenious!

But sadly, we’ve now been caught. First James Dobson, from Focus on the Family (a code name for Focus on All Non-Traditional Families, especially Homosexual Ones, and Destroy Them, maybe you’ve heard of him?), realized that SpongeBob SquarePants was actually a gay sponge! (It really is shocking if you think about it.) Apparently, SpongeBob SquarePants, who is a sponge who wears square pants (hence the name, incase you were confused) who lives in a pineapple under the sea, has a best friend who is a pink starfish named Patrick, and they are not so innocent after all. For that matter they often sit together watching, “The Adventures of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy.” According to Dobson, SpongeBob has become quite a gay icon, and therefore the focus of his watchdog organization.

And under their careful focused scrutiny this is what they discovered: The We Are Family Foundation (partnered with folks like the Anti-Defamation League, the Disney Channel, Sesame Workshop, and other pro-homosexual groups like FedEx) have produced a video based on the 1970s hit song “We are Family.” This video will be distributed to 61,000 schools free of charge (courtesy of FedEx) and shows a collage of various cartoon characters including Barney, Winnie-the-Pooh, Clifford, Lilo and Stitch, and Bob-the-Builder (sexuality unknown). But it is the presence of SpongeBob and Patrick, perhaps holding hands as they often do, that has caught James Dobson’s attention. This video, intended to promote diversity and community-building, has apparently had a decidedly different impact. The successfully outing of the hidden gay characters that can damage the American family has prompted Lorri L. Jean, the Los Angles Gay and Lesbian Community Center’s Chief Executive Officer to respond, “If SpongeBob is gay, we want him to know he’s not alone.” Perhaps in a city as large as LA they can start a gay-straight cartoon support group?

Less than a week later, Dobson had a second opportunity to comment on the spread of homosexuality in the under ten crowd, but this time he had friends in frighteningly high places. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, less than a week in her new office, was awake at her desk when she recognized the most glaring challenge in contemporary education — homosexuality in children’s television. Although part of the Education Department’s mandate is to promote diversity, apparently the new PBS show, Postcards from Buster, has gone too far.

For those that haven’t seen Postcards from Buster, let me give you a small overview of the show. Buster is a rabbit who is traveling with his father, a pilot, around the world meeting different people. He sends his video postcards back to his friends, including Arthur, the aardvark with his own (gay-themed?) television show. In each show Buster meets different people – all real people, only Buster and his friends are cartoons — including Mormons in Utah, American Indians in Wyoming, Orthodox Jews in NYC, and Chinese-Americans in San Francisco . In each show, something about the culture of the families they visit is highlighted, like clogdancing in Kentucky, skateboarding in LA., or leather bars in San Francisco, you get the idea.

But this latest show, Sugartime!, apparently stepped over the edge. Why? Because the family in rural Vermont depicted in this episode is producing maple sugar by tapping maple trees. I mean, what kind of message is that to send children? I myself, am very cautious about the amount of sugar my children eat, so I can understand why maple sugar is dangerous and I appreciate their concern about protecting my children from overuse and abuse of sugar products.

Oh, wait, it’s not the maple sugar that upsets them, it is actually the family itself. Apparently, these children live with –we can say it because this is an adult newspaper — TWO mommies. Yep, two mommies. As near as I can discern there is no mention of homosexuality, no mention of civil unions, or gay marriage. The words gay, lesbian, dyke, and sex are not mentioned, nor is their any nudity. It’s a family, a family who lives in Vermont and taps maple trees. I mean, did they think that “maple sugar” is a secret lesbian code word for oral sex?

So PBS — under pressure from the government agency who provides the literacy grant that produces the show — pulled the episode from network distribution to its 349 affiliates. The Department of Education also asked PBS to “strongly consider” refunding the federal money used for the episode and canceled an invitation to the executive producer of the show to speak at a children’s television conference in Baltimore. Our new Educational Secretary clearly has an agenda, and I feel safe saying it is not a very gay one.

The good news is that, unlike many affiliates across the country, my local (Albany NY) PBS channel WMHT will air “Sugartime!” on Wednesday, March 23, at 7:30 p.m., This is not the usual time slot for this series (which is 3:30 p.m.), a concession I suppose that WMHT President and General Manager Deborah Onslow thought necessary. She was clear, however, that, “There are many children in our viewing area who have families that look very much like the one featured in the program.”

I have heard that this Vermont family is not only lesbian-headed, but also mixed-race, and shown celebrating Shabbat dinner, a family that does indeed look a lot like my Jewish, transracial, lesbian-headed family. I confess I don’t know many local families who look like us, but it will surely be nice to see ourselves reflected on television for a change.

John Wilson, PBS’s senior vice president for programming was asked how Buster reacted to meeting the two moms, and he replied: “Buster is a very tolerant and accepting rabbit, and he sort of took it at face value.” More tolerant I guess that the Educational Secretary of this country. I’m left with one question for her and James Dobson while they focus on the family: Can you tell me how to explain to my children why families who look so much like ours cannot be seen maple sugaring on public television in America?
Send a message to Secretary Spellings to voice your disapproval by e-mailing her at margaret.spellings@ed.gov/

Call the Department of Education toll free to make a comment at 1-800-872-5327. Press 5 for an operator to make a general comment.

Show your support for PBS. Contact PBS and urge them to air the episode or thank them for doing so. You can send PBS an email from the PBS website http://pbskids.org/buster/parentsteachers/contact.html