Hip Evangelists


James Dobson might be a little confused about the message of Spongebob's new vehicle—the video's creator claims it's supposed to promote multiculturalism, not gay lib—but I'm not surprised Dobson thinks there's something queer about the rectangular sea beast. The same view, after all, is common currency in the gay community.

That's one more parallel between this kerfuffle and the Jerry Falwell/Tinky Winky showdown of '99. As James Poniewozik observed at the time:

Last spring Harper's Bazaar quoted a media-studies academic calling Tinky "the first role model for queer toddlers." The outing runs back to the show's origins across the pond. In 1997 James Delingpole in the Spectator wrote that "homosexuals (in Britain) have elevated the handbag-toting Tinky Winky to a gay icon"; and the firing of the actor who first wore the purple suit in 1997 prompted protests among British gays.

At the time no one was dismissing Mr. Winky's gay boosters as crackpots (except the show's nervous production company). Which raises the question of whether the derision of Falwell's crusade is another sign of antireligious bias in the secular general media. When a right-wing Christian leader outs Tinky Winky, it's proof this Bible-thumping Cletus is missing a string on his banjo—but when a cultural-studies academic or a Voice columnist says it, it's an insightful apercu on our gorgeous televisual mosaic.

Whatever Falwell's motives, he's shown himself hipper to the discourse of pop culture-savvy gays than many of the wags who laughed him off last week. Perhaps, as a result, they're deaf to a deeper message within Falwell's cri de coeur. Think about it: A spokesman for a not-exactly-lifestyle-tolerant community is hinting to the rest of the world that he's been closely following the discourse of gay cultural critics for years.

While I'm pondering those ominous parallels, I'll let the reader decide whether Dobson has found himself focusing on more than just the family.