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01 February 2005 @ 09:53 am
Anyone for yet another heaping helping of intolerance?  

PBS's 'Buster' Gets An Education
By Lisa de Moraes

Thursday, January 27, 2005; Page C01

PBS was surprised to receive a letter from new Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, warning the public TV network against airing an upcoming episode of the kids show "Postcards From Buster," because PBS had already informed her office it would not send the episode to its stations, programming co-chief John Wilson says.

"We made the decision . . . [Tuesday] afternoon, a couple of hours before we received the letter from the secretary of education," Wilson told The TV Column yesterday.

"It came at the end of many days, maybe even a few weeks, of looking at rough cuts of the program and deliberating."

Spellings, who has been charged with the difficult task of fixing the nation's troubled public education system, took time out on her second day on the job to fire off a letter to PBS CEO Pat Mitchell expressing "strong and very serious concerns" about the "Postcards From Buster" episode. Specifically that, in the episode, called "Sugartime!," the animated asthmatic little bunny visits Vermont and meets actual, real-live, not make-believe children there who have gay parents.

For those of you unfamiliar with the spinoff of the popular children's series "Arthur," which combines animation and live action, each week, 8-year-old animated Buster and his animated dad travel to another locale, where Buster, armed with his video camera, meets actual, non-animated people, who introduce him to the local scene -- clogging in Whitesburg, Ky.; rodeo barrel racing in Houston; monoskiing in Park City, Utah; doing the Arapaho Grass Dance at the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. Additionally, Buster meets a family from a different cultural background.

In the episode that knotted Spellings's knickers, Buster goes to Vermont and meets children from two families, who show him how maple syrup and cheese are made.

At one of the homes, Buster is introduced to all of the children and to the two moms. One girl explains that one of the women is her "stepmom," whom she says she loves a lot.

One of the women asks the kids to get some maple syrup and some cheese for dinner, and to stop by the other home to borrow a big lasagna pan. In the other home, Buster is introduced to the whole family, including two more moms. Then the kids head off to get the ingredients, and Buster learns where syrup and cheese come from.

In her letter, Spellings reminded Mitchell that the show is being funded in part by the Education Department and that a principal focus of the law authorizing such "Ready-to-Learn" programming is "facilitating student academic achievement."

In the conference committee report for fiscal year 2005 appropriations, Spellings continues, Congress reiterated that the unique mission of Ready-to-Learn is: "to use the television medium to help prepare preschool age children for school. The television programs that must fulfill this mission are to be specifically designed for this purpose, with the highest attention to production quality and validity of research-based educational objectives, content and materials."

"You should also know," Spellings says, "that two years ago the Senate Appropriations Committee raised questions about the accountability of funds appropriated for Ready-To-Learn programs." A bit ominous, we think.

"We believe the 'Sugartime!' episode does not come within these purposes or within the intent of Congress and would undermine the overall objective of the Ready-To-Learn program -- to produce programming that reaches as many children and families as possible," Spellings wrote.

Why, you might wonder, given that preschoolers who watch the episode learn how maple syrup and cheese are made, not to mention useful English-language phrases (the series is also designed to help children for whom English is a second language).

Because, Spellings explained in her letter, "many parents would not want their young children exposed to the life-styles portrayed in this episode." She did not say how many is "many," or cite a source for that information.

Congress's point in funding this programming "certainly was not to introduce this kind of subject matter to children," she added.

Au contraire, says WGBH, which produces "Postcards." The Boston public TV station says it will air the episode and has offered it to any station willing to defy the Education Department, which, in fairness, did shovel out major bucks for this series and, therefore, understandably feels it has the right to get in its two conservative cents' worth.

According to Brigid Sullivan, WGBH's vice president of children's programming, the RFP -- that's government-speak for request for proposals -- on the show said Ready-to-Learn was looking for a program that would "appeal to all of America's children by providing them with content and or characters with which they can identify. Diversity will be incorporated into the fabric of the series to help children understand and respect differences and learn to live in a multicultural society. The series will avoid stereotypical images of all kinds and show modern multi-ethnic/lingual/cultural families and children."

Except, it would seem, children who have two mothers.

"We have produced 40 episodes," Sullivan said. "We have tried to reach across as many cultures, as many religions, as many family structures as we can. We gave it our best-faith effort. We have received hate mail for doing [an episode] about a Muslim girl. We've also received mail from Muslims saying thank you."

Buster, Sullivan said, has visited "Mormons in Utah, the Hmong in Wisconsin, the Gullah culture in South Carolina, Orthodox Jewish families, a Pentecostal Christian family -- we are trying to do a broad reach and we are trying to do it without judgment."

According to Sullivan, the "Buster" brouhaha started in December when, during a routine meeting of representatives from WGBH, PBS and the Education Department to discuss upcoming episodes, a WGBH rep mentioned that there might be some "buzz" on "Sugartime!" PBS insists that although it made its decision not to distribute the episode on the very same day that the newly appointed Spellings decided to fire off her letter, the decision had nothing to do with the kerfuffle brewing at Education over the episode.

Which, we've said before in similar situations, sounds great if you were born yesterday; otherwise, not so much.

"Ultimately we came to the conclusion that what was meant to be the background or backdrop of two families that happened to be headed by two mothers continued to find its way into the foreground," Wilson said.

"It's too sensitive to raise in a children's program," he added. "We know we have a number of kids . . . who don't have a parent or caregiver in with them watching to put it in context. At the end of the day what was meant to be a sort of background context of who this family is and who the parents are, overshadowed what the episode was really about, which was going to this part of America and learning about things that are uniquely Vermont.

"Yesterday afternoon we literally decided that it was an issue best left for parents and children to address together at a time and manner of their own choosing."

We asked all parties involved what they would say to the children who were filmed for this episode, and who expected to be seen on national TV and are now being told by the federal government that their families are not fit for other children to see on national TV -- at least not on any show that has received federal funding.

"That's a difficult question," Sullivan responded. "I guess I'd have to say from the producers' standing . . . it was our intention to include, not to exclude, anyone who is part of our society, and that for children to see a reflection of themselves on TV is an important part of their development."

"I've been thinking about that today," Wilson said. "Honestly, I feel for these families because they're real people, not actors cast and paid to do this, and I do feel bad that through no fault of their own and ultimately no fault of the producers they have been put in a situation they never imagined themselves in. To that end, I'm sorry for that."

An Education Department spokeswoman responded in a statement: "The episode is inappropriate for preschoolers. We are funding an education program for preschoolers, and one would be hard-pressed to explain how this serves as educational material for preschoolers. It's up to parents to decide for their children, not the government in a taxpayer-funded video for preschoolers."

We asked her to clarify what it was the department felt should be left to parents. She explained: "To decide when they want their kids to know about the lifestyles depicted in the film."


Okay...she makes a big deal of 'Taxpayers'...ahem...are we in the GLBT community NOT paying taxes? Please let me know, because, if not, I didn't know and the Gov't owes me one hell of a refund.
You know, Nazis like this pretend to care about the children, but all they care about is their own bigoted, narrow-minded opinion of how things 'should be'! My sister has explained to her kids (now 6 and 4) that usually men fall in love with women, but that sometimes men fall in love with men and women fall in love with women...are they scarred? Twisted? Destined to become sexual deviants? NO! They both gave a thoughtful look for a minute and then shrugged and said, "Okay"...not another word has ever been uttered about it. Kids will ask...when they ask, tell them and they will have their answer and no longer be concerned.
Okay...let me stop...if I continue my rant, I'll be typing for hours!!

monetrenee on February 1st, 2005 04:22 pm (UTC)
Okay I am thinking I have seen it all now!!!
Mark: blueeyesboywondermark on February 1st, 2005 07:00 pm (UTC)
Crazy, right?! LOL...any rational person should just be shocked.
monetrenee on February 1st, 2005 07:06 pm (UTC)
Exactly! Plus it's a freaking educational cartoon that is about teaching kids tolerance.
Mark: blueeyesboywondermark on February 1st, 2005 07:14 pm (UTC)
Apparently, our government doesn't want us to be tolerant!
Jamar <3's youdiamondshadow on February 1st, 2005 05:00 pm (UTC)
I just printed that out so I can show it to the people at my SOUL meeting.
Mark: Browneyesboywondermark on February 1st, 2005 07:01 pm (UTC)
Go for it, hon! Let em know we have another nutcase in the Bush Cabinet!
A.M.: aarrrrgh!ultimategirl on February 1st, 2005 05:22 pm (UTC)
"many parents would not want their young children exposed to the life-styles portrayed in this episode."

Right! Because those farmers/maple-sugar producers/cheese makers are teh spawn of Say-taaannn! With their sweet and creamy temptations into wickedness, they may lead children into a life of culinary indulgence! Uh, what? they're not the problem? It's the loving families going about their daily lives we need to keep out of sight? Oops. My bad. :/

Yeah, the "Oh! won't someone please think of the children!" defense. Interesting how they didn't seem to think about the children in the episode itself, or of the children of other same-sex couples. The responses when actually asked amount to so much verbal collar-pulling and foot-shuffling. Gee, sorry kids. But, you looking all regular and ordinary as you go about your chores really isn't something other people are comfortable with. They feel the need to put you and your families in "context".
Mark: Archangelboywondermark on February 1st, 2005 07:06 pm (UTC)
Exactly...God forbid you save some children who are already in the minority from being ostrasized!
I just talked to my sis on the phone and she was so pissed! Her kids know and respect everyone...being the 'white' parents of Asian children, my sis and her husband won't allow any disparaging remarks about any group of people whatsoever.
It seems that the Bush agenda is to crush civil rights and further divide this country!
A.M.: mellowultimategirl on February 1st, 2005 09:18 pm (UTC)
If this is their idea of being uniters, I'd hate to see what would happen if they set themselves to being dividers. :P
Mark: charliesmokeboywondermark on February 3rd, 2005 12:33 pm (UTC)
LOL...I look for Canada's population to grow more and more the longer this man is in office.
ktm on February 1st, 2005 06:55 pm (UTC)
it's totally ridicolous! stuff like that just makes me want to scream!
Mark: charliesmokeboywondermark on February 1st, 2005 07:06 pm (UTC)
Scream, sweetie! You'll feel a bit better! ;)
(Deleted comment)
Mark: clarenceboywondermark on February 3rd, 2005 12:51 pm (UTC)
Exactly, sweetie! Equality for whom THEY see as equal!
Of course I'll read it!
turtleinashell on February 2nd, 2005 12:02 am (UTC)
Perhaps we should be paying our taxes elsewhere? Somewhere a little less bigoted? How about informing the public what will be on the program and let the parents turn it off themselves if they don't want their kids seeing it?
Mark: Angelboywondermark on February 3rd, 2005 12:52 pm (UTC)
No, hon...that makes too much sense...they want to dehumanize us and try to make us go away!
erskieerskie on February 2nd, 2005 01:10 am (UTC)
you really have to wonder at some people....

Although this for some odd reason did get me thinking about that show full house, with all the daughters, didnt they, in essence have like 3 'dad' figures in the house and no mother? and yet that was fine....

really really makes u wonder....
Mark: Archangelboywondermark on February 3rd, 2005 12:54 pm (UTC)
LOL...these bigots see what they want! I'm surprised the "Odd Couple" and "Laverne and Shirley" weren't banned!
erskieerskie on February 3rd, 2005 09:01 pm (UTC)
yeh, selective hearing...only selective viewing....Although i dont really know what the Odd Couple or Laverne and Shirley are about, blame it on the New Zealand country gril thing....lol
Mark: farmboyboywondermark on February 4th, 2005 02:43 pm (UTC)
LOL...OOPS! Sorry!!
Laverne and Shirley were girlfriends (straight) that lived together and had crazy adventures.
The Odd Couple was about two men (one widowed and one divorced, I believe) that were total opposites (one very neat, one very sloppy)...and they lived together.
Both are old sitcoms here in America.
Gimli-Cibbwin (Aka Andy Z.)der_cibble on February 2nd, 2005 06:46 am (UTC)
Joey was *such* a homo on that show.

In other news...

Yeah, this pisses me off, too. Of course, we're only supposed to accept whom they say we should accept. Yay!
Mark: abercrombieboywondermark on February 3rd, 2005 12:55 pm (UTC)
LOL...C'mon, Andy...Jesse was the homo...all those haircare products and the tight pants! ;)
erskieerskie on February 3rd, 2005 09:03 pm (UTC)
heheh i kinda enjoyed the tight pants.....
Mark: charliesmokeboywondermark on February 4th, 2005 02:44 pm (UTC)
ME TOO! *wink*
txrangerboi on February 3rd, 2005 02:44 am (UTC)
And now for something completely different....
OK, totally inappropriate place for this entry, but after reading the above story, i think i need the eye relief. So....
In response to your BoyWonderful birthday wishes, i have finally found one worthy of you (and although i realize i am very late, or incredibly early (depending on your viewpoint) with my Birthday wish, here it is anyway....cuz i just can't wait when it comes to half-neddid men!

Now back to our intolence and power trip sponsored by "Bush 2: When Biggots Rule the Earth" coming soon to a third world country near you.
Mark: Angelboywondermark on February 3rd, 2005 01:00 pm (UTC)
Re: And now for something completely different....
OMG, TEX! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!!! I needed that this morning! You are such a wonderful guy...you know that?! (Wow...I need a poster...NO...A MURAL of this on my bedroom wall!

~Hugs and kisses for being so sweet~