Thursday, January 27, 2005
Postcards From The Edge 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Screenshot from PBS' Postcards from Buster's withdrawn 'Sugartime!' episode set in VermontTwo "gay cartoon" media flaps in one week? Must be a record. Yesterday, Sponge Bob. Today, it's a PBS episode of the Arthur spinoff, Postcards from Buster that's caught the ire of our new Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings.

The offense? The as-yet-unaired pulled-before-airing episode "Sugartime!" features a jaunt through maple sugar country with cartoon bunny Buster - and one of the families he meets is a real-life Vermont couple who happen to be lesbians. As if this was an unusual occurrence: in Vermont, pretty much anywhere you stand is a stone's throw from the nearest lesbian. Speaking of throwing stones, from the Boston Globe:
...[N]ew US secretary of education, Margaret Spellings, denounced PBS for spending public funds to tape an episode of a children's program that features Pike, a lesbian, her partner, Gillian Pieper, and their 11-year-old daughter, Emma. The installment of "Postcards From Buster," which is produced locally at WGBH-TV (Channel 2) and which had been scheduled to air March 23, was promptly dropped by PBS, which is refusing to distribute the footage to its 349 member stations.

"It makes me sick," said Pike, a 42-year-old photographer in Hinesburg, Vt., who united with Pieper in a civil union in 2001. "I'm actually aghast at the hatred stemming from such an important person in our government. . . . Her first official act was to denounce my family, and to denounce PBS for putting on a program that shows my family as loving, moral, and committed."

The decision by PBS caused a ripple across the nation yesterday. Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic National Committee chairman, charged in a statement that the secretary is "confined to a very narrow and selfish agenda if her first action in office is to threaten an American institution like PBS. While America's schools are crumbling and our students are falling behind in basic skills, Republicans in Washington are too busy pursuing an intolerant agenda to try to solve the real problems." [read full article]
According to Champlain Channel.com/WPTZ, "Vermont Public Television plans to air the program on March 23. Several other affiliates have also agreed to air the show." Good on you, Vermont ETV, for standing up to this backlash.
At least one member station said that it would not air the episode, even though WGBH will make it available. Jeanette Thornbrue, a manager in the programming department at OETA-TV (Channel 11) in Oklahoma City, said her station will download whatever is on the PBS satellite feed that day instead.

"Oklahoma is very conservative," she said. "We've had off-the-wall phone calls when nothing was happening." She added that one viewer complained about an episode of "Teletubbies" in which the characters were dancing. "They thought that was too much," she said. [Boston Globe]
Ms. Spellings: I know you're new in the White House, and you've been charged with upholding the administration's party line in regard to education - and by extension, educational programming funded by Federal money. But as Terry McAuliffe pointed out, you could have chosen a more pressing policy issue as your first public act in office.

Is lashing out against a children's PBS show because it dares to show that loving, committed same-sex familes exist genuinely the most pressing item on your agenda? Considering one of the first things your boss and his party did since inauguration was have the now-festering Federal Marriage Amendment stitched together like Frankenstein for another go-round through Washington, it's clear that annoying little educational problems - like crumbling public school infrasructures, student violence and disenfranchisement, dropping test scores and an increasing "technology gap" with the rest of the world just aren't as pressing as ideological steering and censorship.

As we'd say here in Chicago, now we know what side yo' bread be buttered on.

MORE: New York Times, "Culture Wars Pull Buster Into the Fray"
The Boston Globe
"PBS Gets Spongebobbed," BlueMassGroup