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Homosexuality in Children's Television

by: Christina Berger




1. Homosexual Characters in Children's Television
Aside from the rise of raunch culture in teen and adult television shows, children’s cartoons have been criticized for decades for having hidden agendas, such as normalizing homosexuality.
Since the gay community started gaining support and reorganization in the mid twentieth century, the appearance of homosexual characters on television and in the media became more apparent then ever. Many recent children television shows have been highly criticized for having ‘homosexual’ seeming characters, and many families as well as conservative groups have spoken against this.The pop-culture phenomenon Spongebob Squarepants has been criticized for the ‘back-talking characters,’ the frequent bathroom humor, and the subtle inappropriate messages, such as homosexual characters. Even though each cartoon episode usually contains a valid life lesson, parents are starting to question whether their preschoolers and elementary children should be watching this popular television series.
Although it may sound like a stretch to some, I personally have felt that there has been and underlying message that speaks to the gay community in this show. However, could the character of Spongebob actually benefit children by blurring gender roles? Since Spongebob is such a unique character, maybe he just possess qualities of both genders. Many people think that this is a step in the right direction. Children who may feel left out socially at school or home can now relate to something that is as outspoken and crazy as Spongebob is. In this webpage, I will explore the rise of homosexuals in children's cartoons, while also focusing on the recent argument of the new fabled homosexual character, Spongebob Squarepants.

2. Historically fabled homosexuals in children's cartoons
Over the course of television's history, there have been many fabled homosexual cartoon characters. This website, http://nepspeed82.blogspot.com/2006/10/gay-cartoon-characters.html, has a slue of cartoon characters that many think have gay tendencies, or that are actually homosexual. It is interesting to read what people say about these cartoons, because many of these characters pointed out I have never even suspected to be gay. Characters such as the beloved Batman and Robin, Bert and Ernie, and even Shaggy and ScoobyDoo were all on this long list of homosexual seeming characters! And then there are the more obvious characters, like Spongebob and Tinky Winky from Teletubbies, which people literally have made their children stop watching the shows that these characters appear on because they are fearful that their children are going to 'become' gay (which, I am not sure if that is even possible). However, this is not a laughing matter for many parents, who on a more serious note will start to protest against shows such as these.

The first time I have ever heard a cartoon character being called a homosexual was actually from my dad. Peppermint Patty and Marci from the Snoopy shows that we watched every night soon became lesbians in my mind. Even though i would continually argue that Peppermint Patty was in love with Charlie Brown, my dad would insist that it was a cover up. If parents such as my own are pointing these issues out at a young age, how many other parents out there are telling the children about some of these fabled characters?

3. Spongebob Squarepants: Controversy in America
When Spongebob first debuted in 1999, the series blew up in a whirl wind of success and over the top popularity. Every child from three to thirteen wanted to live in a pineapple under the sea and eat ‘krabby patties.’ However, after just a few episodes aired, parents started to question the intended audience of this new television show, Spongebob Squarepants. A rumor quickly arose that Spongebob Squarepants was homosexual. According to Fox News’s Michael Y. Park, Spongebob merchandise can be found in “gay-themed stores across the country and on the television sets of gay hipsters who tune into him regularly” (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,65225,00.html). Since the gay community was using Spongebob as an icon, parents started to wonder whether this cartoon was intended for the gay audience or not. Is Spongebob suitable for children to watch? Many Christian activists think not. So far, “at least two Christian activist groups say the innocent cartoon characters are being exploited to promote the acceptance of homosexuality” and in their opinion, Spongebob fits into this category hands down (http://forums.techguy.org/civilized-debate/374148-spongebob-gay-controversy.html). On the other hand, the creator of Spongebob Squarepants, Stephen Hillenburg told the Wall Street Journal that "everybody is different, and the show embraces that. The character SpongeBob is an oddball. He's kind of weird, but he's kind of special” and not intended to be a gay character (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/tv_and_radio/2313221.stm). So, maybe Spongebob is the character sticking up for all those kids who do feel strage, and left out. Either way many parents are still concerned with this program, and wonder whether or not it is appropriate for their children to be watching.

4. Spongebob Squarepants: Homosexual or Not?
One episode in particular that particularly caught my attention, was an episode called
"Rock-A- Bye Bivalve" when Spongebob and Patrick found a baby clam, and pretended to be its parents. The two best friends then decided to adopt the baby clam. This may seem silly, but Spongebob dressed as a women would and played mom, while Patrick was the dad. Obviously this episode is meant to be amusing, but the homosexual undertones of Spongebob and Patrick being a couple worried many parents, as well as Christian and conservative groups. Since this episode was very early on in the Spongebob Squarepants series, it immediately sparked responses from many family group websites.

However, is this cartoon characters simply crossing gender lines? Just because Spongebob may possess qualities that seem feminine does not mean he is actually homosexual. Since television instills gender roles into societies minds and lifestyles daily, maybe the character Spongebob is just trying to blur those strict roles that a man and women are 'suppose' to posses. Gender roles have been strictly taught to many of us, even without knowing. Every commercial, every toy, and every television show imposes ideas about gender not only into children's minds, but adults as well. The creater of Spongebob himself, Steven Hillenburg, believes that Spongebob is a character for all those misfits out there. Instead of Spongebob being percieved as homosexual, people should start looking at him as the person that just does not fit in all the time. His character in his opinion is letting children know that it is okay to be different, and even be extremely flamboyant about it.

5. In conclusion...
Gay media, television, and culture has been on an upscale rise since the gay community started to be accepted and recognized by society. Even if it might seem fairly recent, since the beginning of cartoon's history, many characters have been criticized for being gay and lesbian. Although many cartoon characters have been labeled homosexual by many conservative and Christian groups, it is absolutely necessary to notice that these characters could just be representing those people who are different in society and do not always fit in. I personally have felt that there may be and underlying gay-theme in certain cartoons such as Spongebob Squarepants, but honestly my imagination is always running wild.



References:

Alsenas, Linas. Gay America: Struggle for equality. New York: Amulet 2008

Cothran, Helen. Homosexuality: Current Controversies. San Diego: Thompson Gale 2003


Park, Michael Y.. "SpongeBob HotPants?." FOXNews. 9 Oct. 2002.<http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,65225,00.html>.

Schneeberger, Gary . "SpongeBob Gay Controversy." Tech Support Guy. 25 Jan. 2005.<http://forums.techguy.org/civilized-debate/374148-spongebob-

gay-controversy.html>.

"Camp cartoon character 'is not gay'." BBC News. 9 Oct. 2002.<http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/tv_and_radio/2313221.stm>.

"Gay Cartoon Characters." Weblog post. 24 Apr. 2009 <http://nepspeed82.blogspot.com/2006/10/gay-cartoon-characters.html>.