I have to confess that I rather love the "Arthur" show, and I've been watching it almost obsessively ever since my children started watching it. Sometimes I watch it without them, I like it so much. I gave my daughter four different boxed sets of three DVDs each for her birthday, and I've seen more of them than she has. But "Postcards from Buster", which follows "Arthur" on our PBS station, is a very different show, and it has come under some rather sharp criticism from certain conservatives, mostly because of a show they did in the first season featuring a family in Vermont with "two moms".
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings attacked the episode in a letter to Pat Mitchell, the former PBS president, dated Jan. 25, 2005. “Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the life-styles portrayed in this episode,” she wrote. The same day PBS removed “Sugartime!” from its lineup. In the days that followed, the American Family Association, a major Christian conservative organization, orchestrated a campaign of more than 150,000 e-mail messages and letters to Ms. Spellings supporting her position, said Ed Vitagliano, a spokesman for the association.I did not see the episode in question (and believe me I regret it because I love maple sugar more than just about any other confection on the planet--oh, who am I kidding: I definitely love it more than any other foodstuff on the planet), but it's very difficult for me to get worked up about it. For one thing, it's just one episode. For another, the show is otherwise excellent. For yet another, kids don't pay all that much attention to things like that anyway and folks who think that they do are in the grip of a theory.
I remember calling the office of Senator Jesse Helms when I was living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. At the time his re-election was not assured and, good conservative that I am, I preferred him to his opponent. He had a tendency, however, to use extremely inflammatory language about homosexuals, and I was good friends with several very conservative homosexuals who were put off by his language. The purpose of my call was to inquire into whether the language couldn't be toned down a bit, if only to ensure as many votes for the Senator as possible. This was when I was young and nêpios, obviously. I started my conversation with the woman who answered like a true politician, pointing out how much I liked the Senator's voting policies. She was obviously pleased with this, and we chatted amicably for a few minutes. When I got around to my point, however, her tone of voice changed immediately from the warm, friendly, southern drawl, to a cold, businesslike dismissal of my entire point. "The senator stands by his position on homosexuals," she informed me in a blank monotone, and she hurried off the phone, convinced, probably, that I was a not-so-covert member of the Queer Alliance.
Now, I wasn't suggesting that the senator change his position, only that he change the way he talk about his position, that he be more diplomatic. Jesse Helms was never known for his diplomacy, however, and I was too new to the state to be aware of that. But I did learn one thing: when it comes to politics, ideologues take the lesson of Caesar's wife very seriously. It actually doesn't matter so much what you believe in your heart of hearts, what matters is what you are perceived as believing. So in the case of Buster Baxter, a single episode that leaves the wrong impression is sufficient to condemn the whole project in the minds of some, who wish to be perceived as "strong on gay marriage" or something. It's worth it to them to go out on a limb on an issue as banal as this just so that their constituency will see them saying the right sorts of things in the press.
Parents who don't want their children "exposed" to this kind of thing need to think very carefully. It's one thing to want to teach your children about Christian values; it's another thing to teach those values in way that backfires on you. These kinds of families are out there, and they sometimes have children in them. If you give your own kids the impression that it's better not to even think about such things, to ignore the folks like these that you meet in your day-to-day lives, you are far from inculcating Christian charity in your children and well on your way to raising somebody who will stand on the street carrying signs that say "God hates fags".
And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him Follow me. And he left all, rose up, and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.How can we teach our children to do both--to shun the wrong choices of others while sitting down and eating with them in their own house as a sign of God's loving call to repentance--if we would rather pretend that those of whom we disapprove don't even exist?