Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Why parents might be opposed to PBS's venture into PC programming about lesbians

Here, you'll find an interesting David Frum post comparing two Washington Post articles, one that attempts to be sympathetic to Christian evangelicals on the Hill and another that takes on what Frum refers to as "the now-famous lesbian episode of the PBS children's series, 'Postcards From Buster.'" For those of you who haven't been following the PBS hoo-ha, here's a brief rundown. In January, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings chastised PBS for spending public dollars on a childrens' show that showcased a lesbian couple:

The nation's new education secretary denounced PBS on Tuesday for spending public money on a cartoon with lesbian characters, saying many parents would not want children exposed to such lifestyles. The not-yet-aired episode of "Postcards From Buster" shows the title character, an animated bunny named Buster, on a trip to Vermont - a state known for recognizing same-sex civil unions. The episode features two lesbian couples, although the focus is on farm life and maple sugaring.
Frum's point -- and one I think he made very well -- is that the WaPo, even when trying to be sympathetic to the Capitol Hill Christians, approached them as if they were semi-tamed wild (and undesirable) animals, while the Buster and the lesbians column was premised on the idea that PBS was absolutely right and that the Education Secretary was an untamed wild (and undesirable) animal. Although this issue has been in the public eye for almost two months, it's only been slowly percolating through my consciousness, and Frum's article somehow brought into focus my perspective on this whole thing. As a former liberal who could always say with absolute truth that "some of my best friends are gay," my initial feeling when I heard about the Education Secretary's act was discomfort. After all, it seemed almost peripheral that the women were lesbian -- the real focus was on farming and sugar production, and the women doing these activities just happened to be lesbian. (Although Frum points out that this initial reporting was not quite correct, since, as Frum says, the current evidence is that "Buster's producers consciously intended to use their position of trust as publicly funded broadcasters of children's programming to advance a highly controversial agenda of their own.") Thinking about it, though, I realized that, even putting the best spin on the show, the episode cannot be seen as being just about sugar producing. The topic of homosexuality,no matter how it is introduced, is, inevitably, about sex. In almost all other areas, peoples' identities, life styles and work choices are about myriad other things. For example, Thomas Sowell might be identified as a brilliant, African-American economist; George Bush could be identified as a Yale grad, who lived in Texas, and who was elected as President; and the people driving in the car next to mine could be identified as a plumber, a homemaker, and their two children. None of these identifications are tied to their conduct in the bedroom. It's only with homosexuals that the primary identifying factor, the primary distinguishing factor, is sexual conduct. That is, when someone is telling you she's a lesbian, you are instantly invited into her sex life. The same, of course, is not true when someone tells you she's a lawyer, or when you observe that someone is of Asian descent. Their sexual conduct is not part of the analysis. This primary identification factor when the person at issue is gay means that, when my 4 year old watches Buster's travels to Vermont, and notices that the children in that segment have two mommies, I have to explain sexuality to my 4 year old -- and I'm not ready to do that. By opting to highlight lesbianism in a show meant for 3-8 year olds, PBS is forcing on me, and on other parents, the obligation to provide sex education that the parent and child may not be ready for. In other words, this has nothing to do with homophobia (something I'm fairly free from), and a whole lot to do with a parents' distress that PBS has elected to include, through the back door, sophisticated sex education issues in a program for the preschool set.