It's like a conspiracy theory, but one that 50-some-odd percent of Americans believe. It goes something like this...
Liberals know about the media's power to persuade, and then use this ability to soften Americans' attitudes to depraved or un-American ways of thinking slowly, over time. (Glenn Beck illustrated this theory memorably by pretending to boil a live frog on television. Like you do.)
Never mind the fact that almost all of this media is owned by massive, multi-national conglomerates that have no clear or direct progressive agenda, and often support candidates from across the aisle. It's just completely nonsensical, the notion that millions of Americans independently have decided to lure their fellow citizens into debauchery, ungodliness and Communism via cartoons. So you might have a good, God-fearing, conservative American, but have her watch too much "Ellen" or "2 Broke Girls," and suddenly she's moving to Portland and illegally downloading Mao's Little Red Book to her new stolen Kindle Fire.
Keeping this in mind, it's only natural that a lot of conservative media critics' focus would return again and again to children's programming. After all, who will be more susceptible to a persuasive message than young people who don't already have clearly-formed opinions about American politics and global events? But even understanding the logic of why conservatives make these kinds of arguments doesn't make them any less silly.
This list examines children's films and TV shows that have inspired terrified, paranoid conservative rants. How could it be possible for anyone to doubt the good intentions of Spongebob or Dora the Explorer? Read on and find out.
In the 2011 reboot of the Muppets franchise, the villain is an oil baron named Tex Richman. (Hey-o! Fozzie must have written that one.) Though ably played by Chris Cooper (except for that rapping part), he's not the most original antagonist in film history. Richman has bought the old abandoned Muppet Studios with plans to tear it down and dig for oil underneath. Thus destroying the Muppets forever. Ooooh, that greedy nemesis with an evil plan that's so simple to explain, even children could probably comprehend it after about two minutes of exposition, thus allowing the fast-paced comic family film to proceed to more jokes and levity...
Fox News commentator Eric Bolling did not appreciate seeing oil executives portrayed in this way. Let me repeat that: someone actually took offense to the way that a movie about a bunch of felt puppets putting on a telethon was portraying wealthy Energy Industry insiders. I guess he decided to talk about it on his TELEVISION SHOW because there was nothing important happening in the entire world that whole day.
Bolling argued on FOX's "Follow the Money" that the Tex Richman character was an example of liberal Hollywood poisoning children against Capitalism. Instead, he argued, wealthy capitalists should be pointed at in children's movies as aspirational figures, whom children should seek to emulate when they grow up. It apparently didn't occur to him that the "greedy businessman" is literally one of the defining, archetypal antagonists ever, in pretty much every art form known to man. (Can't imagine why... it couldn't be that there's a metric s**t ton of greedy businessmen everywhere.)
Bolling and his guest, Dan Gainor of the Media Research Center, went on to argue that movies repeatedly vilify oil companies, even though they help us light hospitals and heat our homes. (I seem to recall some sort of incident in which oil executives actually did something really greedy recently... Hang on... it'll come to me... Maybe if I click on some of those links...)
Mocking response to the Muppet debate on Fox was fast and overwhelming. The Twitter hashtag #GOPMuppetHearings, suggesting other arguments Republicans might make against Henson's famous creatures, blew up almost immediately.
Mr. Grouch, are you aware that New York zoning laws prohibit the use of city trash cans as a place of residence? #GOPMuppetHearings— GorillaOne (@GorillaTactic) January 7, 2012
"Exactly how many Fraggles are illegally occupying this zone? Why don't they get a job & stop dancing their cares away?" #GOPMuppetHearings— Julia Vyse (@Julia_Vyse) December 14, 2011
#GOPMuppetHearings Mr. Gonzo, were you not convicted of transporting poultry across state lines for immoral purposes?— Jose Suarez (@hadrian33) December 12, 2011
Back in August of 2011, Fox and Friends did a segment in which they discussed the popular Nickelodeon cartoon series Spongebob Squarepants. The segment opens with co-host Gretchen Carlson announcing that she sometimes sees the show with her children and has a hard time following it. That's a hard time following the show Spongebob Squarepants. The one that's about the sponge who lives in a pineapple. (One of Carlson's co-hosts actually says, in reference to the show not making sense, "It's a sponge in the OCEAN!" Is he unaware that there is a type of organism called a sponge that does, in fact, live in the ocean? Do I even want to tumble down this rabbit hole?)
But putting aside her inability to follow the action of a show that is primarily designed for the under-10 set, Carlson and her co-hosts go on to make the case that Spongebob is teaching children inaccurate information about global warming. Specifically, they argue that Nickelodeon is pushing "a global warming agenda," because they're not "looking at the issue from both sides."
Things get REALLY dicey when Steve Doocy tries to actually voice the "other side" of the global warming debate, which winds up being a lot of evocative gestures and disassociated ramblings, such that you'd get if you asked a schizophrenic to explain why he has to pause every 4 minutes to speak to the King of Outer Space that's hiding in his knapsack. Basically, there are many sides, and sometimes the planet gets hotter and colder, and f**king magnets, how do they work?
The episode of Spongebob in question, by the way, doesn't so much argue for any kind of practical solution or policy change to offset global warming. The Fox and Friends crew was just upset that they acknowledged it was a thing at all. Apparently, voicing both sides of the global warming debate means shutting up and also shutting the hell up.
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The Simpsons attracted a lot of negative attention in its early days from conservatives, mostly for glorifying the Simpson kids - rebellious "underachiever" Bart and lefty intellectual elitist Lisa. But as it aged, the show became a more general political satire, sending up the silliness and overreach of both political parties.
That didn't stop Bill O'Reilly from getting fumed at the show anyway, after it took repeated swipes at his home-away-from-home, the Fox News Channel. (Of course, The Simpsons own network - FOX - and Fox News are owned by the same parent company, News Corp. But the show remains an equal-opportunity offender.)
O'Reilly didn't like a Simpsons joke in which an alternate slogan was suggested for the Fox News network: "Not Racist, But #1 With Racists."
This, of course, wasn't the first time The Simpsons took a swipe at Fox News, or other Fox networks more generally. The Simpsons Archive has a good round-up. But O'Reilly took it upon himself to ensure it would be the last, blasting the Fox executives who allowed the joke on the air as "Pinheads."
Of course, the criticism didn't stop The Simpsons. (It probably just encouraged them.) The following week, the same helicopter was back, this time with the Fox News slogan "Unsuitable For Viewers Under 75."
[NOTE: Much like Spongebob creators, The Simpsons writers have also been accused of promoting a "global warming agenda." You know, by suggesting there's such a thing as global warming. Those rat bastards.]
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This headline from the blog "Stop the ACLU" (well that's nice and direct) basically sums up the right-wing case against PBS' little Latina world traveler:
"Deport Dora The Explorer Now!"
Well, there you have it.
The flare-up started in the aftermath of Arizona's controversial illegal immigration bill. You know, the one that let police basically stop anyone who looked like they might be an illegal immigrant (whatever could that mean?) and check for their papers. Cause when you think "America," you think armed authority figures stopping you on the street and demanding to see your identification.
As a satire of the law, someone had made a Photoshopped image of little Dora the Explorer, beat up and under arrest, presumably for being in America illegally.
This led to a slew of editorials and social media posts arguing that Dora herself was intended as pro-illegal immigrant propaganda. See, if your children learn to love Dora and her deliberately easy, leading question, they might start seeing immigrants as people. I guess.
It only got worse when Nickelodeon representatives refused to comment on Dora's immigration status. Both because it's a pretty offensive question and, you know, that whole "no one over the age of 3 actually believes this is a real person." I mean, if you want to get technical, Dora was created here in America and then was exported (or IMMIGRATED) to more than 25 other nations.
So she's been going overseas and taking jobs from Greek, Finnish and Malay cartoon characters!
Would you say this whole thing is completely ridiculous?
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Over the years, a number of fundamentalist or religious right-wingers have rejected the Harry Potter novels and film series as Satanic. (The above clip is from the documentary Jesus Camp.)
The arguments are by now familiar: The book glorifies "witchcraft" and un-Christian "magic," fostering a fascination with the occult in impressionable children who will then grow up to seek out Satan's loving embrace. This led to organized efforts to get the adventures of the boy wizard removed from school libraries and out of the reach of impressionable young minds. To quote an editorial from Christiananswers.net:
"Is it merely entertainment? Or is there a dark spiritual source feeding and supporting it? I realize that may sound like a stretch, but often Satan is most deceiving with a glossed-over package. Wouldn’t it be a shame if kids got pulled into witchcraft, while their folks thought of the books and films as merely children’s fantasy?"
Well, it DOES KINDA sound like a stretch... but hey, it would be a shame if kids got pulled into witchcraft. We can't have a bunch of kids running around turning people into toads all the time.
But it's not just the fact that Harry and his wacky spells might turn your children into Satanic zombies that upsets the conservatives. It's also that the whole series is... wait for it... nothing but liberal propaganda!
The most common point of contention? Harry's uncle is a stupid, evil suburban bigot, and therefore meant to confirm all of elitist liberals worst suspicions about small-minded conservatives. Also, there was that whole "Dumbledore is gay" thing, and the way the entire series seems to argue for tolerance and acceptance of those who are different. (How about they start tolerating my intolerance? What about that? Nailed it!)
Oh, also the Potter Universe seems to have something approaching single-payer universal health care, and it argues that sometimes, rich heirs who inherit massive wealth can be spineless and easily corrupted. What kind of games are you playing, Rowling?
It's strange to even think about it now that he's been gone for a few years, but fundamentalist blowhard Jerry Falwell used to exert a significant influence over our political and cultural conversation in America. One of the early indications that maybe his rhetorical and persuasive powers were beginning to wane came in 1999, when Falwell came out strongly against the popular pre-schooler TV series Teletubbies. No, they didn't have much to say about global warming (or much else, really.) It's because the purple one was obviously gay, if by obviously gay, you mean entirely asexual.
Here was the evidence Falwell carefully culminated over the course of a months-long, possibly whiskey-fueled investigation:
- Tinky Winky has a triangle on his head.
- Tinky Winky carries a purse.
- Tinky Winky is purple, which is the "gay pride color."
The Teletubbies attack didn't really succeed in making anyone suspicious of Teletubbies, though it did succeed in making a lot of people switch from questioning Falwell's motives to questioning his sanity. A spokesperson for the Teletubbies seemed more amused than upset, calling it "absurd" and noting that the purse is not a purse at all but a "magic bag." (Which actually makes it sound a bit dirtier, in my opinion.)
I mean, it's hard to look at the Teletubbies and have your thoughts turn to sexuality one way or the other. They basically bounce around on a hill, watch TV screens embedded in one another's stomachs and spout nonsense words at one another. Essentially, it's like a David Cronenberg movie but with all the sex taken OUT!
Falwell's reputation never really recovered from Tubbiegate. Even after he passed in 2007, most of the obituaries and remembrances of his life and work found space to mention the ridiculous "outing" of Tinky Winky.
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On November 23rd, 2011, teen pop sensation Miley Cyrus released a video for the remixed version of her single "Liberty Walk" on YouTube. The video itself functioned as something of an homage to the idea of protesting, featuring video from various global protests (including some in the Middle East and others in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street) along with simple slogans like "Take Back Our Democracy." The video is dedicated to "the thousands of people who are standing up for what they believe in."
The whole thing is just as vague and innocuous as you'd expect from a well-meaning but not terribly informed teenager. Which of course means that it was the end of the world as pundit Michelle Malkin knew it. You sense that, watching this entirely inoffensive pastiche - surely thrown together by some low-ranking member of Cyrus's massive army of public relations professionals in the time it took to consume three Red Bulls - Malkin was seething with rage for an entire three minutes. I imagine her face looked like a combination of Large Marge from Pee Wee's Big Adventure and Major Toht right after looking into the Ark of the Covenant.
Dubbing the former Hannah Montana the "Occupier Poster Girl," Malkin excoriated the singer, calling her, and I quote: "Vacuous. Hypocritical. Entitled. Vain. Nihilist. Exhibitionist. Coddled. Forever adolescent..." Also she's a stupid ugly poopface!
And of course, Cyrus was no darling of the right even before the "Liberty Walk" video went up. Just weeks before, she had joked publicly about being a "stoner," drawing the ire of both prudes and people who hate fun. Plus, her blossoming from underaged-yet-sexualized teen star into legally sexualized older teen star drew some fire over the years. After she posed topless (but covered) in Vanity Fair in 2008, virginal scold Ben Shapiro wrote: "What is the leading breeding ground for tomorrow's role models of degradation and promiscuity? The Disney Channel." He also called her a "pop tart," which would be funny, if anyone not in England or under the age of 85 used the word "tart" that way.
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In 2007, Paramount Pictures released a new reboot of the popular G.I. Joe franchise. G.I. Joe, of course, had already been around for decades, originally as a line of war toys and action figures, but later in comic books, video games and animated series as well.
What could commentators possibly have to say negatively about G.I. Joe? Maybe that it's wrong to make an entire film glorifying war that makes kids excited about combat and killing? Ha ha, no, we're talking about CONSERVATIVES here. They love that crap. They were just upset that G.I. Joe was killing on behalf of the wrong organization, you see.
During his October 30, 2007, segment "The Point," then-CNN host Glenn Beck denounced the Paramount version of G.I. Joe, particularly the part about the character leaving the American military to join an international peace-keeping force. Does Beck object to the idea about Americans valiantly defending the Eiffel Tower from a weapon that looks a lot like computer-generated mucous? (Be honest, you thought the same thing.) No, he's just afraid that the movie would make kids like the U.N., even just a little bit! And I quote:
"We all know that the U.N. is a toothless bunch of pansies. They don't deserve somebody like Joe, even the little plastic version. I believe some are trying to indoctrinate our kids into hating their own country, turning us into some one-world-government nightmare; hating America, turning it into a dirty word."
TOOTHLESS PANSIES! With a rapier wit like that, Beck really ought to write a cloying, sentimental, unreadable book. Or 12.
As if working in collaboration with other nations weren't devastating and unsavory enough... can you imagine what would have happened if Beck got a look at THIS side of G.I. Joe? I dare say he might have broken out in tears for probably only the fifth or sixth time that hour.
And just in case you thought Beck couldn't POSSIBLY be any more ludicrous, he went on in the same editorial to slam Happy Feet. Yes, that animated movie about dancing penguins! It turns out, the penguins in the movie are rescued by the United Nations! Again! Those guys are everywhere. It's almost as if they are made up of a collection of various nations from around the world.
Beck says: "Believing the United Nations could save anyone takes more imagination than believing penguins can tap dance." Ba-zing! Save that one for cloying, sentimental, unreadable Book #13.
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