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10 Hilarious Right-Wing Freak-Outs Over Children's Cartoons

From 'The Lorax' to Spongebob, Fox and its friends are weirdly terrified of children's animation.
 
 
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The right wing is hyper-paranoid that liberals have some secret power-cabal to shift the cultural politics of America (er, they confuse themselves for themselves), and therefore can find a bogeyman in anything. We’ve seen this plenty on the GOP campaign trail, with their attacks on, and fear of (broadly) women, gays and people of color. Sometimes they attack directly, but other times they find a strawman to mask their hate—contraception or marriage equality. But what happens when conservatives’ abject terror gets so ridiculous, paranoid and out-of-whack that the basic culture wars don’t do it for them anymore?

That’s when they start going after kids' shows.

It’s absurd that any Fox pundit would spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the dangers of animated cartoons, but it’s happened more times than is even comprehensible—including very recently, when Lou Dobbs went off on a rant about Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax (see below). Certainly, like any art form, cartoons carry deeper meanings than their surface animation and funny voices—and often these meanings fall into the progressive wheelhouse. Still, if anything can make right-wingers sound loco, it’s hearing them rant about the actual Looney Tunes. Here’s a brief recent history of conservatives going off on their demonic foes... the cartoons.

1. Fox vs. The Lorax

Recently Lou Dobbs took to Fox to express his concern that The Lorax—a computer-animated interpretation of the Dr. Seuss classic—is “indoctrinating our children” into “espousing the virtue of green-energy policies come what may.” During the discussion, The Lorax was “slandered” as being a “tree-hugger” and vilified for its “anti-industry message.” Perhaps most hilariously, Dobbs attempts to draw the line between mega-corporation Universal Pictures’ partnership with various companies to promote “eco-friendly products,” and the protesters at Occupy Wall Street. Dobbs: do you know what you’re talking about, even?

While the storyline from Seuss’ 1971 book does indeed chronicle the ways over-industrialization can harm nature, the concept of a secret Hollywood cabal sitting around trying to figure out ways to turn the tiny children of the world into liberals through 40-year-old books is laughable, and reads Dobbs as more than a little paranoid. But this isn’t the first time The Lorax has been criticized for its plotline, which is essentially a cautionary tale against slash-and-burn farming. In 1988, a California hardwood flooring factory published its rebuttal, The Truax, which detailed the ways in which the logging industry was actually helping the environment. Either way, Ed Schultz had the best rebuttal: “Maybe Fox is just upset [The Lorax] is more realistic than the cartoon characters on Fox.”

2. Fox vs.The Muppets

So the recent movie’s not a cartoon version of the Muppets franchise (long live Muppet Babies), but its kid-friendly nature keeps it in this list. When Jason Segal’s reimagined version of Jim Henson’s beloved puppet world was released this past December, Fox Business was irate at the storyline: an oil baron wants to tear down the Muppets’ HQ to drill, baby, drill. Speaking on "Follow the Money," the Media Research Center’s Dan Gainor complained, “It’s amazing how far the left will go to manipulate your kids to give them the anti-corporate message,” and that Hollywood hates corporations. Question for Dan Gainor: do you realize what a corporate, capitalist machine Hollywood is?! Eric Bolling maybe doesn’t, because then he asks Gainor, “Are there any Occupy Wall Street muppets?” Oh, brother.

Speaking purely from an aesthetic perspective, the fat-cat oil baron as an archetype in cartoons has existed since the early 20th century at least, and The Muppets' plotline is surely borrowing from that old-timey classic concept. Take Looney Tunes’ 1952 clip “Oily Hare," for example, in which a dastardly oil tycoon wants to destroy Bugs Bunny’s home in order to drill. Even earlier was “Get Rich Quick Porky” (1937), in which Porky Pig is duped by a dastardly oil baron into investing his savings on bad land. Let’s face it: America felt disdain for oil tycoons long before Occupy came along. (And in those days, Looney Tunes was conservative!)

Oh, and let’s not forget the Rainbow Connection... here’s a pretty amazing round-up of the absurd things conservatives said about The Muppets when it came out.

3. Focus on the Family vs. Spongebob

Oh, Fox. In 2005, when uber-popular kids’ show "Spongebob Squarepants" was having its moment, Focus on the Family had a freakout because they thought Spongebob promoted homosexuality... because Spongebob and his best friend, Patrick Star, often hold hands. The fact that they would sexualize hand-holding between two cartoon 6-year-olds is creepy and depressing. CAN’T TINY KIDS HOLD HANDS WITHOUT BEING CHRISTIAN-MORALIZED ABOUT IT?! Meanwhile, various gay rights groups collectively scoffed and laughed at the absurdity of Focus on the Family’s claims about Spongebob, who is drawn in possibly the most asexual way possible. (It’s a sea-sponge in trousers, for goodness sakes.)

4. Fox vs. Spongebob

But wait! "Spongebob Squarepants" was a hot-button issue in 2011, too. Fox and Friends criticized it last August for blaming global warming on the actions of humans. Which, like, yeah: a recent chart noted that the only scientists who believe climate change is a natural activity are those shilling for the petroleum industry. But of course, Fox’s continued effort to lie about global warming trickles down to the tiniest viewer—yet when they slammed Spongebob for a “Spongebob Goes Green” episode, they expected the script to mimic their definition of journalism. The travesty: “Spongebob is now talking about global warming... and he’s only looking at it from one point of view,” says Gretchen Carlson gravely, as if she has just announced the death of a public figure.

Cut to the cartoon: Spongebob and friends discuss carbon dioxide and the “endless summer”—which, when it aired, was actually going down, at least for those of us in New York. And when the Fox and Friends’ roundtable commenced, host Steve Doocy began to spew lies about whether global warming is “manmade, or is it just another one of those gigantic climactic, you know, phases that we’re going through,” as though it is in question. Let’s just observe that a cartoon lobster came out looking smarter than a morning “news” anchor.

5. Parents TV Council vs. South Park

This one’s not too much of a stretch: the Parents’ Television Council is notoriously conservative and South Park’s main goal is clearly to provoke organizations like it. Besides the obvious aspects of the show PTC has objected to over the years—mockery of Christianity, openness about sex and masturbation, foul language—there’s one missive PTC seemed particularly focused upon. In a 2010 roundup of its worst TV programs of the year, the organization goes into strange detail about some dialogue regarding butts that says more about the uptightness of PTC—vehement, uncompromising—than the offensiveness of South Park.

6. Conservatives vs. Dora the Explorer

This is one of the grossest on the list: Dora the Explorer is an adorable 8-year-old brown girl who travels the world on missions and teaches kids Spanish in each episode. The cartoon is almost universally loved, and when it emerged it felt revolutionary—young girls of color could see themselves being strong and adventurious just as they were forming their perceptions of self. But when the state of Arizona began its racist crusade against Latinos under the guise of curbing immigration, some extreme right-wingers saw Dora as a good high-profile way to perpetuate their racism without actually targeting anyone real. In 2010, a fake mug shot of Dora looking beat up and holding the sign “Illegal Border Crossing Resisting Arrest” appeared on right-wing sites. Keep in mind, Dora is supposed to be eight! If there’s any question about the vitriol the right harbors toward undocumented immigrants, look no further.

7. Fox vs. The Simpsons

If Dora’s the most grotesque example of conservatives hating cartoons, this one’s the most enjoyable. In 2010, The Simpsons spoofed Fox News by depicting a news helicopter with the tagline: “Fox News: Not Racist, but Number One with Racists.” It was so delicious, because 1) we were all thinking it; and 2) The Simpsons airs on Fox! Of course, that wasn’t the only time Fox aired something disparaging about another property of its parent company (it did it two consecutive weeks after, and mocked the network as recently as January). But the fact that it was so blatant made it a high point of progressive animation on television. For the most part, Fox pundits kept quiet, but Bill O’Reilly felt a way about it and shot back, calling Simpsons' writers “pinheads.” Silly, but at least it inspired this awesome CGI animation news clip by Taiwan’s Next Media to parse out the issues.

8. Right-Wingers vs. The Smurfs

How could a collective of tiny blue dudes living in a mushroom forest possibly be offensive? The answer does not lie in the mushrooms, nor in the fact that there’s only one female: it’s the “collective” part of this equation, for some conservatives believe the Smurfs is a vehicle for—yes—communism. The Washington Times and Right Wing News’ John Hawkins have some insight from the other side (though it’s so absurd it reads like an Onion blog entry): “The Smurfs are little blue godless Commies on the downlow. Intriguingly, it sort of makes Gargamel seem like a more sympathetic figure, doesn’t it? If you had a forest full of creepy litte blue Commies running around, you might want to wipe them out, too.” Ooh, elf genocide!

9. Christian Homophobes vs. Shrek

What is up with the evangelical Christian fixation with assigning sexuality to animated characters? (Er, in Japanese animation, that’s called hentai, but its practitioners usually consider it a good time.) Regardless, this one might be a bit more overt. When Shrek 2 came out, the extreme-right Christian Traditional Values Coalition protested its “subtle sexual messages,” including an MTF transgender character whose women’s underwear is used as a device for cheap laughs. Of course, there’s a two-way street there, and transgendered folks could be offended at the depiction as well. As Charles Kell, a professor at the University of Toronto told CTV: "Targeting minuscule elements within a much larger work and then trying to extract from that some kind of argument that borders on the paranoid is really misconstruing the general aim of this entertainment.'' Indeed.

10. Fox vs. Sesame Street

Sesame Street has long been the creme de la creme of children’s programming, teaching kids to count, read and escape capers (Follow That Bird, anyone?). But with the right’s disdain for PBS over the past couple of years, the love Sesame Street seemed to receive began to dwindle, as well. And by last summer, Sean Hannity guest Ben Shapiro was having a freak-out over whether or not Sesame Street is part of a nefarious, liberal gay agenda. Of course, Sesame Street has long been a bastion for tolerance, whether through teaching kids to share or, you know, teaching them not to be racist. So it follows that Sesame Street would promote acceptance of all people. Apparently, though, Shapiro never watched the show, because he actually says he wants to “take [Big Bird and Elmo] out back and cap them.” IS HE SERIOUS?! Oh yes, very. For a good laugh, watch the pinnacle (or nadir) of conservatives fretting over kid’s shows, as Hannity and Shapiro discuss very seriously whether Elmo is a liberal.

 

Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is an associate editor at AlterNet and a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor. Formerly the executive editor of The FADER, her work has appeared in VIBE, SPIN, New York Times and various other magazines and websites.