First it was the spate of the SpongeBob rob jobs from local Burger Kings. Now the little yellow guy who lives in a pineapple under the sea is at the center of a far grimmer controversy, again not of his own making. Two conservative Christian groups attacking the cartoon character for allegedly being part of, as one of them put it, a "pro-homosexual video."
A man named Dr. James Dobson, founder of a conservative Christian group called "Focus on the Family" addressed members of Congress at a black tie dinner in Washington celebrating the president's election victory this week. He advised the group that SpongeBob had been included in a pro-homosexual video which was to be mailed to thousands of elementary schools to push a tolerance pledge by kids, including tolerance of differences of what Dr. Dobson called "sexual identity." Dr. Dobson said most of the favorite cartoons of America's kids were in on the plot, Barney and Jimmy Neutron included.
There is a video. It was broadcast in 2002 and has been revised for distribution to schools in March. It does promote tolerance of diversity, but contains no reference to sex, sexual lifestyle, sexual identity or Paris Hilton.
The eight-page long teacher's guide that accompanies that DVD makes three passing references to same-sex parents. It contains generic advice about what teachers should do if kids ask them about atypical homes— like ones with adoptive parents, step-siblings, or grandparents. Teachers are advised to remind kids that everybody's family is different, but they're all based on love.
Dr. Dobson's press spokesman says he's not sure whether or not Dr. Dobson has seen the SpongeBob video, but he has been briefed on it. And an assistant says the group stands by its claim, and says, "We see the video as an insidious means by which the organization is manipulating and potentially brainwashing kids. It's a classic bait and switch."
Bait and switch, a fish reference for an underwater cartoon. Clever.
Though the revised "SpongeBob and Friends tape," which is to be distributed to the schools, is not supposed to be released until March, we've gotten a hold of the advanced copy from the "We Are Family Foundation," which produced it. It is a foundation created by the man who wrote the disco hit of 1979, "We Are Family." Below is the whole thing, with the caveat that if the folks from Focus on the Family are right, it could make you, your children or maybe your furniture gay. Or tolerant.
By the way, not only did I not see any sexual identity in that, I didn't even see very much of SpongeBob either. Although Winnie the Pooh wasn't wearing pants.
Mark Barondess, the lawyer for the "We Are Family Foundation" told "The New York Times" that any critics of the video "need medication."
We here found it hard to argue with him.
This was the No. 1 story on Thursday's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann." The show airs weeknights, 8 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV. E-mail Keith at KOlbermann@MSNBC.com