January 28, 2005

ARTICLES: Hopping mad - An animated bunny aimed at teaching children tolerance has raised the ire of US conservatives

Hopping mad - By Suzanne Goldenberg
Washington - January 29, 2005

An animated bunny aimed at teaching children tolerance has raised the ire of US conservatives.

To the untrained eye, Buster is just a bunny, a seemingly innocuous cartoon character on American educational television.

Each week the animated rabbit puts on his red backpack and runners to visit a slice of real America - dropping in on a native Indian reservation in Wyoming and a family of nine living in a caravan in Virginia - he then sends a video postcard to his friends.

The series, designed to show the diversity of the modern family to primary school children, is produced with $US100 million ($A129 million) of federal funding by the public television network PBS. It has a mandate to promote tolerance.

But one day Buster Baxter visited a farm in Vermont to learn about harvesting maple syrup. His hosts on Sugartime! were a lesbian couple and their children. Although the parents remained in the background - as they do in all of Buster's travels - their very appearance on children's TV was too much for US Education Secretary, Margaret Spelling.

She wrote to the president of PBS this week, saying: "Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in the episode."

She also asked the network to return federal funds used to make the offending episode, adding: "Congress' and the department's purpose in funding this programming certainly was not to introduce this kind of subject matter to children, particularly through the powerful and intimate medium of television."

PBS withdrew the offending episode but the Boston station that produced it said it would be available to broadcasters.

The proposed bunny ban comes on the heels of a move by conservative Christian groups in the US against SpongeBob SquarePants, a children's cartoon character who, they claim, is spearheading an insidious campaign to spread homosexuality among children.

Dr James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, has accused SpongeBob's creators of enlisting him in a "pro-homosexual video". The makers of the video planned to send it to thousands of primary schools to promote a "tolerance pledge" that includes tolerance for differences of "sexual identity".

SpongeBob is already an apparent gay icon supposedly because he holds hands with his sidekick, Patrick.

- Guardian, New York Times

SOURCE: http://www.theage.com.au/news/TV--Radio/Hopping-mad/2005/01/28/1106850107245.html#


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