Cartoon lesbians on PBS

In a visit to Vermont on a federally funded PBS show, an animated bunny named Buster reports on farm life, maple sugaring and lesbian couples. The new education secretary is not amused at the use of federal “Ready to Learn” funding. PBS said it already had decided not to distribute “Sugartime” to its stations.

“Ultimately, our decision was based on the fact that we recognize this is a sensitive issue, and we wanted to make sure that parents had an opportunity to introduce this subject to their children in their own time,” said Lea Sloan, vice president of media relations at PBS.

However, the show is un-banned by the Boston station that produced.

Via Jeff Jarvis, who’s keeping an eagle eye on cartoon morality.

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Comments

  1. They could always license it to the Cartoon Network, to be shown as part of its Adult Swim late-night lineup.

  2. I don’t know too much about Margaret Spellings but based on what I’ve read about her, I didn’t really have an opposition to her appointment as Secretary of Education. However, this story from the LA Times bothers me. I could be wrong but gay people in the United States pay taxes, too, don’t they? The article reports that Secretary Spellings has an issue with PBS producing a cartoon that happens to have two lesbian couples. The cartoon hasn’t been aired, so I can’t say how these couples are represented but seeing as how this is PBS and its a children’s cartoon, I highly doubt that the couples are represented in a sexual way, and probably the word “lesbian” doesn’t even get mentioned. I mean, it’s not a cartoon about homosexuality! I’m guessing that the relationship is implied somehow, as a thing that is very normal in our society, which it is, in many parts of the country. Is Spellings somehow implying that homosexuals are abnormal?
    Spellings’ argument is that there are parents who do not want to expose their children to such relationships. How much do you want bet that there are parents out there that do not want to expose their kids to black people, to poor people, to homeless people? We should pretend that these groups don’t exist in our society? I don’t think so. What good comes out of sheltering children from the knowledge that society consists of many different people with many different viewpoints? None…they’ll experience extreme culture shock when they venture out there alone. If anything, the cartoon could open the door for a parent to have a healthy discussion with their kids on the issue, whatever their beliefs may be.

  3. “If anything, the cartoon could open the door for a parent to have a healthy discussion with their kids on the issue, whatever their beliefs may be.”

    For 8 year olds? This is a spin-off of Arthur featuring Buster. They are in 3rd grade. I can’t judge unless I see the episode, but it makes me wonder why they felt a need to do this and why they felt a need to target kids so young. Generally, kids watch these programs by themselves and parents don’t feel a need to monitor and elaborate on content.

    Actually, I like Arthur a whole lot. I used to watch it all of the time with my 8 year old son. The kids are in third grade and there are a lot of education references. All teachers should be like their third grade teacher, Mr. Ratburn. Arthur makes lots of specific digs at low expectation, fuzzy curricula. I distinctly remember one episode where you happen to see Arthur’s open notebook with lots of “rote” math problems to solve, including multiplication and division, in third grade. They also had a homework where they had to fill in the names and capitals of countries around the world – in third grade. Raise your hand if you remember doing this when you were growing up. How many schools do this nowadays? (Except for the influence of the Geography Bee. Thank you National Geographic.) To top it all off, Mr. Ratburn gets up in front of the class and teaches! Imagine! The kids find that Mr. Ratburn has some valuable knowledge and skills to teach them and desks don’t have to be formed in a circle!

    There is one episode where the kids learn all about meeting Mr. Ratburn’s tough expectations and being efficient with their homework time. Another episode had a substitute who was so easy that even Binky was bored. They were happy in the end when Mr. Ratburn returned and there was a sly comment when Arthur looked through the window over to the other classroom where the teacher was using hand puppets. There is no talk of “developmentally appropriate” and social promotion in Arthur. One episode had Buster in on the verge of flunking third grade (imagine!) and how he finally worked hard and came through. There was another one where Arthur learned what it takes to play one of Bach’s Two Part Inventions with a tough, new piano teacher.

    Yes, I like Arthur a whole lot. High expectations and a teacher who is allowed to and is not afraid to teach.

  4. Yes, even 8-year-olds. I mean, I highly doubt the creators of Arthur put a hot lesbian sex scene in the cartoon. When I was an AmericaReads tutor, I worked in an 3rd/4th grade classroom where the lead teacher was not only a lesbian but she and her partner had two kids. Those 3rd graders were 8. They should go the whole year wondering who that woman is that shows up sometimes with two kids in tow to see their teacher? Granted, this is New York City but still….
    THe point is, homosexuality should not be a taboo subject, for any kid. It’s out there. Like anything else. Under Spellings’ line of logic, you shouldn’t let your kids watch the news, lest they might learn about death, drugs, teenage pregnancy, sex, violence. The point is, if they don’t see in a cartoon, they’ll see it somewhere else. Eight-year-olds deserve more credit…I find them to be a pretty mature bunch.
    I predict, in the end, when the cartoon is finally aired, we’ll all find that all the hubbub was over nothing and Margaret Spellings is just silly.

  5. nicksmama says:

    Here is my disclaimer: I don’t have cable tv. My 8 & 6 year olds won’t be watching PBS anytime soon.

    BUT, my neighbor is gay. The first day we moved in we were introduced to his partner. This neighbor is a devoted uncle to his nephew and neice. When they visit, they play with my kids. I have alot of respect for this man. We have spoken very frankly about his sexuality in terms of what we want our kids to know at their ages. He has always been the first one to say “I would never do anything in front of your kids that you would have to explain.”

    I think PARENTS should be in charge of when they want to expose their kids to different lifestyles. The fact is, they ARE in charge. If they don’t like what the babysitter/tv is showing, they can change the channel. I am not up in arms about the funding of PBS — I used to work for the federal government and I know there are a lot of other more grevious wastes of taxpayer money than PBS programming.

    As for the lesbion teacher that another poster mentioned. Why do kids need an explaination at all? I see women together in public all the time, I don’t need to know their relationship. I couldn’t tell you if any of my teachers were married, had partners or whatever. They were my teachers, not my friends.

  6. “Ultimately, our decision was based on the fact that we recognize this is a sensitive issue, and we wanted to make sure that parents had an opportunity to introduce this subject to their children in their own time.”

    This is the issue. The producers apparently had an agenda, wanted to get the kids young, and felt that the subject couldn’t be left up to the parents. It’s NOT a matter of being a taboo subject. It is a matter of who is in charge of explaining these things to kids. I see this in the schools too, where a parent-teacher group I was in talked about having racial sensitivity role-playing games for the kids in our mostly-white community. Was there a problem in the schools? No. Apparently they felt that it was a subject they couldn’t leave up to the parents to explain. As a parent, I find that attitude quite arrogant.

    I suspect that the PBS program is perfectly fine and not overdone (except for the fact that why should we care if two women are living together), but that is not the problem. Spellings’ argument might be overblown, but funding is a separate issue. Even if Spellings is “silly”, that still doesn’t deal with the issues of age, agenda and who is in charge. It’s not simply a matter of whether the topic is done well or not.

  7. I don’t think the producers had an overt or blatant agenda and it must be kept in mind that the producers made this statement (Ultimately, our decision was based on the fact that we recognize this is a sensitive issue, and we wanted to make sure that parents had an opportunity to introduce this subject to their children in their own time.”) after Spellings attacked the program and the producers were compelled to withdraw the show, which to me smacks of spin. If Spellings hadn’t brought it up, it would probably wouldn’t have become an issue, at least not until after it was aired at which point, we could make a more informed decision about how big of a deal it really is. For all we know, Spellings didn’t actually see the program but was told about its content by someone else (perhaps with their own agenda.)

  8. Ross the Heartless Conservative says:

    “The article reports that Secretary Spellings has an issue with PBS producing a cartoon that happens to have two lesbian couples.”

    A cartoon does not “happen” to have two lesbian couples. They have to be drawn in. This is not a documentary; the decision to add the lesbian couples was a deliberate one. Whether it was right or wrong is subject to debate.

    “Spellings’ argument is that there are parents who do not want to expose their children to such relationships.”
    And shouldn’t parents have the right to decide what they want to expose their children to and when the expose will take place?

    “Is Spellings somehow implying that homosexuals are abnormal?”

    But homosexuality is abnormal. So are other traits such as being a genius, a moron, or an albino. Sacrificing your life for another is left-handed. That does not mean that there is anything particularly right or wrong about those traits but they are not the norm.

    “…after Spellings attacked the program and the producers were compelled to withdraw the show, which to me smacks of spin.”

    According to the article PBS had already decided not to release the show before Spellings made the request. The producers seemed to me to be honorable and decent people so see no reason to think they are liars.

    The show is actually available for stations that want to air it. Because of the content it was withdrawn from general release. That seems like a fair solution to me. Spelling was not seeking to ban the episode she was just opposed to the government paying for it.

  9. While I think this is so typically PBS–theraputically adding lesbian characters like adding vitamins to orange juice–I doubt there was any sinister agenda behind drawing two women with short hair and plaid jackets. I’m sure they’re not drawing any lipstick lezzies or Willow/Tara types. It’s like adding a guy in a wheelchair so we can all congratulate ourselves for being inclusive.

  10. Jack Tanner says:

    Fortunately the show sucks so much my kids won’t watch it but it’s a show for kids much younger than 8. It’s hard for me to believe that it isn’t PC alternative lifestyle indoctrination but there’s always the remote switch. And for kids that age the parents are responsible for what they watch.

  11. Ross the Heartless Conservative says:

    Nothing I read made it sound like that the show would be anything that would bother my 8 year old but I would want to preview it first to decide if it was appropriate.

    I wonder how the two couples were outed? My children already know gay couples, they just know the couples are gay. For that matter, they don’t really know the married couples are heterosexual either.

  12. Richard Brandshaft says:

    I am old enough to remember when miscegenation (hopefully, the younger people reading this will have to look that up) was illegal in some states and so taboo it was seldom mentioned anywhere.

    In the 1970s, there was a TV show names “Mannix.” Mannix was a white private eye with a black secretary. There was no sexual tension between them. I wondered at the time whether they had made the secretary black to avoid that complication.

    Then, as now, conservatives set a high moral tone while defending the status quo. But then, they weren’t in the White House. Sigh.

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