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Published: Friday, 1/28/2005

Spongebobism: A witch hunt for the 21st century

THE gavel rapped impatiently on the mahogany bench. The packed chamber grew silent. The inquisition was about to begin. Papers rustled. Cameras flashed. All eyes were on the one about to be grilled. The chief interrogator was out for blood.

Those forced to submit to questioning were ruined for life, besmirched by association, innuendo, and awful accusations that stuck. The old-timers had seen it before. But when Sen. Joe McCarthy was on a tear the place was electric. Cornered celebrity witnesses would quiver and crumble. The media ate it up. It was great theater, the human cost notwithstanding.

McCarthyism ruled until the world wised up to the witch hunt it was and Joe's true identity as a red-baiting opportunist was exposed in all its hateful luster. But that was over half a century ago, time enough to forget the ugliness that masqueraded then as patriotism. Today ugly masquerades as moral values. The self-appointed judge and jury of the designated immoral are McCarthy-like opportunists embarking on a whole new witch hunt.

This time, a whimsical cartoon character is on the hot seat. SpongeBob SquarePants has been outed by the Christian oligarchy in the name of all that is holy in the Church of the Sanctimonious. SpongeBob, a yellow sea sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea on cable TV's Nickelodeon, is guilty of holding hands with his sidekick, a vapid starfish named Patrick, and shamelessly cavorting around to the ultimate moral detriment of America's children.

But more objectionable than SpongeBob's sexual orientation, however, is his appearance in a video designed to promote diversity and tolerance with other perverse cartoon characters - like long-time Sesame Street partners Bert and Ernie; Barney, the touchy-feely dinosaur; Bob, the YMCA Builder; Clifford the Big Red (gay) Dog; Kermit, the too sensitive frog, and Winnie the Pooh, soul mate to young Christopher Robin.

The video apparently is scheduled to air simultaneously on PBS, the Disney Channel, and Nickelodeon in March. The producers also plan to send it to thousands of grade schools in the spring to help kids learn, through a fun format, about getting along with people from all walks of life. Outrageous.

The values the characters espouse are unity, cooperation, and healing. Unacceptable.

The video is a remake of the 1979 hit song "We Are Family," by Sister Sledge, which talks about what the word "family" implies with togetherness regardless of differences. The country is going to hell in a hand basket.

Even though sex is never mentioned on the video it is implicit in the producer's We Are Family Foundation Web site which includes a pledge to "have respect for people whose abilities, beliefs, culture, race, sexual identity, or other characteristics are different from my own." The Christian McCarthyites glommed onto the "sexual identity" part of the pledge and immediately pronounced the SpongeBob video little more than "an insidious means" to advance a "homosexual agenda."

It was all downhill from there. After the porous SpongeBob was pilloried for his alleged unnatural relationship with Patrick, other popular cartoon perverts were called to the microphone to acknowledge their sinful ways. The purse-carrying Tinky Winky confessed to craving accessories. Rocky and Bullwinkle allowed that a squirrel-squirrel, moose-moose duo might be more natural - albeit less interesting. Mickey Mouse was forced to admit he looked suspiciously like Minnie. And the super heroes in tights took the Fifth.

It was as absurd as it was unnerving. Because the agenda of judgmental conservative Christians who alone decree what and who is morally acceptable, is to attract media attention by whatever insidious means - read SpongeBob attack - and gain public traction through unfounded fear - read too much diversity.

If you demonize people with different lifestyles - or those who rubbed elbows with a Marxist - preaching intolerance of perceived evil appears virtuous when in truth it is fascism masquerading as the high road.

For all who smirked at the unholy aspersions cast against SpongeBob there are no doubt many who shuddered in the belief that innocent children across the country are being manipulated by the jovial character and TV friends to accept homosexuality. Better they should learn to shun thy neighbor.

McCarthyism was Joe's undoing. Were it so for those who use Christianity as a cover for SpongeBobism and bring the gavel down on those who would promote the radical concept of loving thy neighbor.



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