I’m a big fan of the PBS Kids show Arthur. My daughter’s been watching it for years, so I’m very familiar with all the stories and all the personalities. Buster, Arthur, Francine, Binky, and DW are well-known characters in this house. The show is consistently educational, consistently fun, and consistently interesting.
So the new spinoff, Postcards from Buster, is also a big hit around here. Buster Baxter (a bunny) travels around the country, meeting different kids in different kinds of families. The stories aren’t quite as compelling as in Arthur, but it’s still a fun show, and works well as a kind of travelogue.
But in one of the shows (which we haven’t seen yet), Buster is going to meet a family with two moms. So what? So the Bush administration and its Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, finds this unacceptable. In the ever-vigilant quest to make the country safe for homophobia (I’m quoting Richard Goldstein), she has decreed, and PBS has cowardly agreed (so much for that much-vaunted “liberal bias” at PBS–they folded like a house of cards), that kids shouldn’t see that gay parents and their families are normal, natural, and part of our country–or even that they exist at all.
The New York Times today presents a very necessary humanizing picture of the poor kid, Emma, who is being told, by the US Government, that there is something wrong with her and her family. That she should not be seen.
It’s outrageous. My own 9-year-old, in hearing about this case, says “that’s stupid. Buster sees all kinds of families. People who live in trailer parks, his own dad’s a pilot and he works for a rock band and he’s divorced. There’s lots of different kinds of families, that’s the whole point!”
Kids get it, and they get it easily. A girl from another episode of the show was interviewed for the Times article.
Farah Siddique also knows what it means to feel marginalized, and she is grateful to “Postcards From Buster” for helping her feel less so. Farah, 12, lives in a Chicago suburb with Pakistani and Filipino parents who are Muslim. In a telephone interview, she explained why she was happy to appear on “Postcards From Buster,” wearing her hijab (a head covering) and studying the Koran.
“It was important to tell people about my religion and everything,” she said. “Some people think we’re bad because of 9/11 or something, and I’m telling them we are not bad, we’re not trying to hurt anyone or do anything wrong.”
Asked what she thought about PBS’s decision not to distribute the “Buster” episode about the children with two mothers, she said: “We don’t believe in that stuff. My opinion is that it is bad or wrong. My sister is 7, and she watches PBS Kids shows. I wouldn’t want her to watch that kind of thing.”
What if people said they wouldn’t want to watch the episode about her because they don’t like Muslims?
Without hesitation Farah replied: “Wow, I hadn’t thought about it like that. Can I change what I said? If people were judging me because of my religion I would get really sad. Now I think maybe they should show it.”
Spellings’ attitude–the idea that kids should somehow be “protected” from knowing about homosexuality–is a way of making sure that it’s safe and easy for their parents (and the policies of those who their parents elect) to be homophobic. Her idea that parents should get to “decide” whether or not they want to teach their kids that homosexuality is OK is just as stupid and dangerous as letting parents “decide” whether or not child abuse, or racism, or anti-semitism are OK.
If only Margaret Spellings, her boss, and the Dobsons and Dobson-followers et al. who agree with this narrow-minded, regressive thinking could watch Buster, feel empathy like Farah does…maybe they too could “change what they said.” But it’s probably too late for them. Their fears and insecurities about their own sexuality are too, too powerful.