The Cartoon Closet
The Cartoon Closet
Culture and technology.
Feb. 21 1999 3:30 AM

The Cartoon Closet

Jerry Falwell doesn't know the half of it.

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Pee-wee Herman

Or consider Pee-wee's Playhouse. Pee-wee Herman minces about and becomes obviously infatuated with other male characters who conform to gay archetypes. While parents may pick up this gay semaphore, kids aren't likely to. To them, Timon, Pumbaa, and Pee-wee are just goofy characters.

Elsewhere, the implicit has become explicit. On The Simpsons, Smithers, the bow tie wearing toady who trails around after Mr. Burns, has become increasingly gay. According to Larry Doyle, who writes for the show, Smithers was originally just a sycophant in love with the boss. But lately he has taken to cruising college campuses in his Miata, looking for "recruits." In last week's episode, Apu, the Indian convenience store owner, goes down to the docks to donate porno magazines to sailors. The sea captain calls out to thank him: "Thank you for the Jugs magazines. They'll keep my men from resorting to homosexuality ... for about 10 minutes!" The sailors all laugh, and one calls out, "Look who's talking!"


It isn't absurd for anyone, including Falwell, to notice these hints, inferences, and references. But it is ridiculous to object to them. There's no scientific or psychological basis for believing that children are affected in their sexual development or eventual sexual orientation by exposure to homosexuality--on television or in real life. If the creators of cartoons are intentionally or unintentionally giving children the idea that gay people are part of the big, happy human family, that's a good thing, not a bad one. (If it weren't for gay people, there would be no Lion King--or much else on the all-American cultural front.) The conservative paranoia about recruiting, which leads them to think that gay school teachers and Boy Scout leaders present a hazard to the young is pure prejudice.

Anyway, for the religious right, this battle is pointless because the war is already lost. Gay themes are everywhere. Pee-wee's Playhouse runs every day on the Fox Family Channel, the cable network Pat Robertson recently sold to Rupert Murdoch. It's just a couple of hours ahead of The 700 Club.

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