Saturday, January 22, 2005

The Gray Lady Snickers

This New York Times editorial has come as close as it can to laughing out loud at Dr. James Dobson for his hyper hissy-fit over Spongebob Squarepants.

“Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?”


“Absorbent and yellow and porous is he …”

… not to mention dopey and charming and more hugely overexposed than ever, thanks to an anti-homosexual attack from the Christian right. Because of a media fuss ignited by the American Family Association and Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, this cartoon character is well on his way to culture-war immortality, up there with those moral saboteurs Murphy Brown and Tinky Winky.

It’s not that Dr. Dobson has a problem with Mr. SquarePants per se. He is angry, rather, about a video made for grade schools by the We Are Family Foundation that features SpongeBob and other TV characters. It doesn’t mention sex. But the foundation’s Web site says this: “I pledge to have respect for people whose abilities, beliefs, culture, race, sexual identity or other characteristics are different from my own.” How could anyone be against that?

Dr. Dobson is. He has denounced the video as a bait-and-switch, one that uses cartoons to legitimize a group that will corrupt children with a homosexual agenda.

We find it strange, actually, that the intolerant Dr. Dobson has not taken aim at SpongeBob himself, who is naughty and rude enough to give many parents pause. After “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” came out, a Christian family Web site made a long list of worrisome bits, including “cartoon rear male nudity, repeatedly,” “pinching of banner staff between nude buttocks” and “suggestion of sadomasochism in transvestitism.”

As any weary parent knows, America’s children spend billions of hours watching movies and shows like that, absorbing underwear jokes, flatulence gags and mushy messages of tolerance until their brains run out their ears.

There may be a threat in all that, but Dr. Dobson and his allies seem to have missed it entirely.

As anyone who has endured bullies and pompous fools knows, the one way to deflate them is to laugh at them. If this is as close as the Times can come, well, that’s good enough.