28 January 2005

Do not overstate my analogy here!

Buster the bunny rabbit apparently went too far.

…That was before Education Secretary Margaret Spellings denounced the
program, starring Buster Baxter, a cute animated rabbit who until now
has been known primarily as a close friend of Arthur, the world’s most
famous aardvark. Ms. Spellings said many parents would not want
children exposed to a lesbian life style.

Buster joined another
cartoon character, SpongeBob SquarePants, as a focus of the nation’s
culture wars. SpongeBob was recently attacked by Christian groups for
being pro-homosexual, though SpongeBob’s creator said it was all a
misinterpretation. Buster’s offense was appearing in “Sugartime!,” the
undistributed “Postcards From Buster” show, in which he visits children
living in Vermont whose parents are a lesbian couple. Civil unions are
allowed in Vermont.

We might note that this constitutes one of Secretary Spellings’
first acts in office, since it’s her first week in office. 
Perhaps she could do something more useful, like work on raising
writing standards, so that all of my students can write coherent
paragraphs and essays, truly preparing them to thrive in a competitive
global political economy.

Moreover, it’s not like this show proves susceptible to the typical
charge leveled against PBS, that it’s ideologically biased toward
leftist ideas and causes.

Buster appears briefly onscreen, but mainly narrates these live-action
segments, which show real children and how they live. One episode
featured a family with five children, living in a trailer in Virginia,
all sharing one room. In another, Buster visits a Mormon family in
Utah. He has dropped in on fundamentalist Christians and Muslims as
well as American Indians and Hmong. He has shown the lives of children
who have only one parent, and those who live with grandparents.

Somehow, we think our children will be too fragile to understand
that the world courses with difference and diversity, danger and
excitement, sorrow and joy.  We think that by shielding them,
they’ll be better off.

I don’t
mean to overstate the case here, and I don’t think that there’s much chance of this happening, but….

In 1934, Hitler purged his enforcers, the S.A, by accusing the
leaders of having engaged in homosexual acts with young men. In 1935, Germany enacted the Nuremberg Laws, which among other
things (deprived Jews of German citizenship, limited some forms of
employment, and put into place the infamous yellow stars) limited the
rights of Jews to marry or even have sex with non-Jews.  In 1938, we had Kristallnacht, the night of the broken glass.  In 1942, the Wannsee conference took place, at which the German
government finalized the plans for the implementation and conclusion of
the “Final Solution.”  Seven years from legal moves against the Jews to their
extermination
.  (And many homosexuals were arrested and sent to the
concentration camps, where they had the highest death rate among the
non-Jewish prisoners.)

Vice President Cheney noted the following at Auschwitz yesterday:

Gathered in this place we are reminded that such immense
cruelty did not happen in a far-away, uncivilized corner of the world,
but rather in the very heart of the civilized world. The death camps
were created by men with a high opinion of themselves – some of them
well educated, and possessed of refined manners – but without
conscience.
And where there is no conscience, there is no tolerance
toward others … no defense against evil … and no limit to the
crimes that follow.

The story of the camps reminds us that evil is real, and must be called by its name, and must be confronted. [emphasis added]

Look, I don’t want to overstate any analogies to the Nazi regime —
doing that cheapens my argument and the blood of 14 million people,
including 6 million Jews. Will banning Buster result in the camps?  I don’t think
so.  But the attitude underneath the Buster ban bears more
resemblance than I find comfortable.  Besides queers, with what
other minority can one go as far in condemning in public
discourse?  Who else can be invoked as a sign of the national
moral turpitude?  Whose existence is posited by all sorts of
national leaders as destructive of the foundational social
institutions?  I’m hard-pressed to think of another.  Sounds
a little too much like the “perfidious Jew.”

Most Americans refuse to believe that such things as holocausts,
systems of terror and fear, and willful human destruction via
oppression can occur here.  Our history says otherwise.  The
line between our good humanity and our bad humanity is neither thick
nor bright.  We Americans have an almost unlimited capacity to do
good when we want it, but along with that comes our concurrently great
capacity to do evil.  We’ve done both in the past, and it’s only
great vigilance that will keep us from sliding into evil again.

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3 Responses to “Do not overstate my analogy here!”

  1. Liz Renner Says:

    Whoa, okay, I can deal with civil unions, but Mormons?

    (Calm down, I can joke because I was one.)

    As ludicrous as it seems to censor a cartoon, I must say that I can at least see some rationale as it applies to applying for federal grant money. There are two paragraphs that caught my eye:

    “The question is, does the episode violate the grant under which WGBH received federal funds? Mr. Godwin said, ‘The presence of a couple headed by two mothers would not be appropriate curricular purpose that PBS should provide.”

    The grant specifies the programs “should be designed to appeal to all of America’s children by providing them with content and characters with which they can identify.” In addition, the grant says, ‘Diversity will be incorporated into the fabric of the series to help children understand and respect differences and learn to live in a multicultural society.'”

    The reason that a public figure such as Secretary Spellings would get involved instead of the usual members of the religious right is the issue of federal funding. There’s a very thin, non-offensive line that PBS has to consider when making their programs because they are funded by the public, for the public, and are thus limited in the amount that they can editorialize or push the envelope.

    Consider the following scenario: Show airs on PBS. Show angers parents. Parents complain to congressmembers. Congressmembers raise holy hell for “Federal promotion of alternative lifestyles” and cut PBS funding. PBS is screwed. Therefore, those in charge of PBS have to consider the reaction of the general public to their content before they air their shows. And, despite the progress towards acceptance for those in the gay community over the last several years, the general public probably isn’t ready to see the issue in a television program presented to their children.

    Personally, I think the offended parents in question should exercise their right to turn the television off instead of denouncing PBS’s choice of a particular family. It is unfortunate that the lifestyle of the parents in this situation would deny the children, who are the focus of the show, their chance to participate. However, until those who control the purse strings agree, I doubt that federally funded shows will deal with the issue of homosexuality for a long time to come.

  2. Nate Says:

    Excellent points, Liz. I can see that all my work in teaching you paid off. *grin*

    You’re right about the structural problems of PBS, and I don’t actually blame them. I think many of us would do the same, to keep all the other programming in place.

    First, you’ve gotta feel sorry for the kids in this case. Basically, they’ve got a whole group of very vocal bigots telling them that their family is evil. That’s probably quite hard to take, and it’s something they’ll carry for a long time to come. It’s funny what kids remember.

    But my larger point, I think, still lives. There are parallels to the attitudes leveled against gay people everyday, and the attitudes leveled against Jews, especially in the first half of the 20th century. It’d be convenient to say that it was all the work of a few madmen, but well-documented historical research has shown that the prejudices, attitudes, and (in)actions of ordinary German people were at least as important, if not more so, than the madness of those at the top. Talk about never forgetting is cheap; actually putting remembrance into practice is something the American people do not seem to be doing extraordinarily well. (To be fair, I’m not sure whether they are doing extraordinarily badly, either.)

    Finally, ask Americans to turn the TV off? You must be one of the terrorists!

  3. Rick (Centrist Coalition) Says:

    Nate,

    I don’t think you’re point is overstated. I think the anti-homosexual movement is where the anti-Semitic movement in Germany was in 1870. It was on the fringes, and there was reason to hope it would fade over time. Instead, the national disaster of World War I propelled it to dominance, as people searched for scapegoats.

    There is a very ugly tradition in American politics that comes from its Southern tradition of slavery and Jim Crow. It seems like the Southern tradition may be moving beyond race, and becoming accepting of all ethnicities–so long as they follow Christian norms. If Southern conservatives continue to dominate American politics, I expect gays to continue to be scapegoated.