SpongeBob SquarePants is having a bad day. Make that a bad week. It's all in the difficult life of a wealthy cartoon character.
The New York Times last week ran a good piece on SpongeBob, reporting how the Center for Science in the Public Interest rounded up all the unhealthy food products aimed at kids donning the SpongeBob logo: Oscar Meyer Lunchables, Pop Tarts, Kraft Macaroni-and-cheese, Cheese-Its and fast food meals. Nickelodeon this week said that it would like to see SpongeBob used on healthier products, but that those pesky advertisers who license the character find it a better gambit to put the cartoon on candy, cookies and pop rather than melon slices and brussels sprouts. Go figure.
This week, Reuters reported on how SpongeBob is now under fire from the American Family Association and Focus on the Family. These are two nutball organizations that pretend to be looking out for families when instead they merely use e-mail, direct mail and the soap-box too frequently given to them by the Fox Network to bully advertisers into restricting freedom of choice among consumers. The last time AFA surfaced was to protest advertisers that had purchased time during Desperate Housewives.
Focus on the Family is after SpongeBob, alleging that a video aimed at school children featuring the character promoting multi-cultural tolerance and diversity is a covert plot to "brainwash" kids into accepting homosexuality as an acceptable alternative lifestyle. This group and the AFA complain that they don't want such a video distributed in public schools. AFA and FOF further argue that SpongeBob is an icon in the gay community, and thus is being used to drive a gay agenda into the classroom.
Where do I start? First of all, the two groups are well-known paranoid gay bashers. They aren't focused on the family at all. They are focused on trying to force their own right-wing ideology on people who don't agree with them. Secondly, their alleged detection of a gay tolerance message is right up there with alleged messages on the Beatles White Album if you play the record backwards. SpongeBob is gay? The evidence of this is supposed to derive from the fact that Bob is sometimes seen holding hands with another male cartoon character. My three-year old son frequently reaches out to hold hands, hug or even kiss his playmates on the cheek, both male and female. I think it's sweet, as do the other parents I know. I have begun to talk to him about the need sometimes to ask before you hug or peck a child you don't know. But perhaps the "ministers" at AFA and Focus on the Family are uncomfortable with such a subtle approach, preferring that I cane my son.
What strikes me as so idiotic about AFA and FOF's paranoid ravings about SpongeBob as a possible conduit for pro-gay messaging to kids is their timing. I find it hilarious. The childhood obesity problem in the U.S. is becoming epidemic. Kraft and other food companies who already license SpongeBob to push an array of food unhealthy for kids, as well as adults, are about to use SpongeBob as a conduit for nutritional and fitness related "Nicktritional" labeling on their foods aimed at kids. This is a joint promotion with Nickelodeon. Got that? While SpongeBob is selling macaroni and fake cheese on one box, he's going to be advocating healthier eating and exercise on another box of food.
My problem with SpongeBob is not that he may, in the twisted minds of the AFA and FOF "leadership," be gay. I have utterly no problem with that. In fact, as a new board member of a public library, I hope to make sure that we have ample books that positively depict gay people in books for all ages. My real problem with Spongey is that he's a hypocrite. He's sending totally mixed messages about good healthy eating to kids who are being diagnosed with obesity and Type 2 Diabetes at an alarming rate. Funny that Focus on the Family and the AFA didn't pick up on SpongeBob as hyprocrite. I wonder why. Hmmmm.