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‘Postcards’ returned to sender

Or, how television can save the world …

by and

As Popeye once said, just before he downed his spinach and started layin’ suckas out: That’s all I can stands, and I can’t stands no more. Did I like it back in November, when Arkansans went to the polls and sent us rocketing ahead into the 17th century with their amendment to the state Constitution banning gay marriage? Nope. But hey, I wrote about it. I told everyone I knew what bumpkins we’d look like if it passed. On rainy Election Day 2004, I trudged to the voting booth, fought with the poll workers over my new address, and proudly voted against it. What else could I do? Can I do anything now, when some senator from Fightin’ Fish Falls wants to paste those “Marriage = 1 Man, 1 Woman, 1 Coonhound” bumper stickers on the front of our kids’ textbooks, just so Little Johnny don’t get the wrong idea and marry Little Jimmy instead of that cheerleader he knocked up behind the field house? Probably not. I don’t have the haircut to become a lobbyist. I draw the line, however, when they start butting in on my kid’s cartoons. First, James Dobson, founder of the far-right religious group Focus on the Family, announced during a recent speech that SpongeBob SquarePants had appeared in a homosexually-oriented video — which turned out to be a short film featuring cartoon characters urging children to take a “tolerance pledge,” saying they won’t pick on other people for being different. Now, PBS chairman Wayne Godwin, after a complaint by new Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, has decided to pull an episode of the kids’ show “Postcards from Buster” in which Buster visits a home headed by a lesbian couple. A spin-off of the animated “Arthur” series by artist Marc Brown, “Postcards” follows neurotic rabbit Buster Baxter as he travels the country, alternating his cartoon adventures with live-action visits to the homes of American children. Past episodes have included many ethnic and non-traditional homes: those of Muslims, Mormons, Cajuns, and American Indians, one-parent families (Buster himself lives with his divorced father), and families where the kids live with their grandparents. It was only when in the episode “Sugartime!” Buster took a trip to a home in Vermont which happened to have two mommies that the Far Right laced up their jackboots. Our local PBS station won’t be running the episode either, even though Boston PBS channel WGBH, which produces “Postcards,” has made the episode available for stations that want to show it. AETN deputy director Tony Brooks, citing the station’s status as a “safe haven” for young viewers, says that PBS was right to pull the episode. “There’s two sides to that issue,” Brooks said. “With young children, we just felt it’d be better for children if their parents discussed it with them rather than seeing it on TV.” As a kid who grew up in the 1970s in lilywhite surroundings, the first time I ever saw black and white kids playing together was on “Sesame Street.” That kind of pains me now, but it bears a point. Shows like “Postcards” and “Sesame Street” — even something as inane as “SpongeBob” — can change the world if people like Margaret Spellings will simply get the hell out of the way. Intolerance — racism, bigotry and homophobia — can find purchase in the new generation by default if children can see nothing else to the contrary on the tube. Shows like “Postcards from Buster” can begin the process of teaching a young mind that there is a larger world out there. Not the far-right nightmare of “turning someone gay,” but how to feel compassion for those unlike themselves and how to respect the way people choose to live their lives, even if you don’t agree with them. While that may sound naive and idealistic, as someone whose first black friends were people I never met, I’m telling you: It can happen. If, that is, you let it. Sunny day, chasing the clouds away…

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