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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: January 27, 2005
Latest Update: January 27, 2005

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Culture Wars Pull Buster Into the Fray By Julie Salamon. NY Times, January 27, 2005. New article on January 27, 2005. UWP's class in Media and Criminal Justice discussed the issue yesterday in class. This is one of the social issues that got shoved aside in the elections, and one that we need to delve into with some sincerity and lots of emphasis on illocutionary understanding.

The first place I turned for help in dealing with this issue was the Museum of Tolerance at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Then I went out to search for materials on SpongeBob, since I didn't have the foggiest who he was. Here are a representative few. I tried to find some queer theory comments, some Christian fundamentalist of evangelistic comments, and some from people like me, who wondered what this was all about. I selected these randomly. No way could I go through the immense coverage. But these will give you some idea of the issue, and you can do your own search on things like "tolerance and SpongeBob" or "queer theory and Sponge Bob," depending on your interests.

  • Conservatives Pick Soft Target: A Cartoon Sponge By David D. Kirkpatrick, Published: January 20, 2005, New York Times.
    "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."

  • The Virtuous vs. SpongeBob By Kathleen Parker, Knight Ridder/Tribune. Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, a Tribune newspaper. Published January 26, 2005 Backup.

  • Will Spongebob make you gay? "Two conservative Christian groups are attacking the cartoon character for allegedly being part of a "pro-homosexual video". MSNBC. Updated: 1:07 p.m. ET Jan. 21, 2005. Backup.

  • Children's TV Unites to Launch Pro-Homosexual Campaign of 'Tolerance "SpongeBob, Arthur, Pooh, Bob the Builder, Little Mermaid, Many Others Enlisted in Stealth Effort." Feature by Ed Vitagliano January 10, 2005. Agape Press. Christian News Service.

  • Cartoon Madness By Bruce Kluger, AlterNet. Posted January 26, 2005.

None of these helped terribly guide me through how to develop some illocutionary understanding on our discussion group. Most of them take either one position or the other. And I've spent a few years trying to teach you that almost nothing is that simplistic. Not even SpongeBob. Speaking of which, why on earth does he live in the sea? I thought he was kitchen sponge - he's so square looking. Maybe he's a natural sponge that grows under the sea. See how complex this all is?

The comments on our site have come up with a few major issues:

  • I'm a parent. What does this mean if my kid is watching this stuff?

    Probably nothing, except that you are conveying your own reactions to your child, and that can have effects you might not want.

    • If you ascribe to a fundamentalist position that your religion is right AND (and this AND is very important) if you believe that you have "the" right answer on this and that those that disagree should be excluded from acceptable company and deprived of privileges others have under our laws, THEN you are likely to agree with people like Dobson who started this folderol.
    • What did the folderol come from?
      " The spark for the controversy is a video soon to arrive in schools across America from the nonprofit We Are Family Foundation, established after 9-11 by songwriter and producer Nile Rodgers, who co-wrote the Sister Sledge hit of the same name almost 30 years ago.

      "The video features kid favorites SpongeBob, Barney, Bob the Builder and even Winnie the Pooh in a remake of the song. Its goal is to promote tolerance.

      "But of whom, and what does that mean? While no one argues against showing more respect for people based on factors like race and disability, "tolerance" is a loaded word that has been bent far beyond its real meaning of civil acknowledgment of interpersonal differences. Some seek to morph tolerance into approval, which is another matter altogether.

      "I tolerate the fact that there are religions that discriminate against women, deny members medical care and advocate illegal drug use. But I do not respect or approve of them.

      "In the vast mystery that is homosexuality, there are people who believe that being gay is just another way to be, like being red-haired or left-handed. Others view it as a dysfunction. Still others view homosexual behavior as a choice, even if the orientation is not, and thus a violation of scriptural constraints.

      "This third group comprises the Christian activists leveling the objection. The We Are Family Foundation online "tolerance pledge" is a recommendation that one not merely tolerate but "respect" different attributes, ranging from abilities and race (no problem) to sexual identity (a problem for some) to beliefs (huge problem some beliefs are outright evil).

      "Perhaps they mean we should respect an individual's right to practice different faiths, have discordant beliefs, or live a gay life. But that's not what it says.

      "And as such, the American Family Association and Focus on the Family are not unreasonable in their concern. They are not incorrect in concluding that this might constitute an incursion into a family's establishment of the values of its choice.

      "But at what cost do they make this stand? It is a circuitous logical route they have taken, since the average kid seeing the video in a school probably won't give it a second thought, much less hunt down the "tolerance pledge" on the Web site.

      "I'm a big fan of gauging consternation so that it is commensurate with the real-life impact of the offense. Until SpongeBob turns to Squidward and suggests an evening of back-waxing and show tunes, I'd recommend a big tap on the brakes for those looking to connect cartoon characters to such adult conspiracy theories."

      From Mark Davis, Values are threatened by problems greater than SpongeBob 06:53 PM CST on Tuesday, January 25, 2005. The Dallas Morning News.

      And the tolerance pledge over which Dobson is raising so much fuss is taken from the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Anti-Defamation League is also participating in the distribution of the video.

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