Revolutionary Worker #1268, February 20, 2005, posted at rwor.org
The RW Interview
A special feature of the RW to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theater, music and literature, science, sports and politics. The views expressed by those we interview are, of course, their own; and they are not responsible for the views published elsewhere in our paper.
SpongeBob SquarePants is known all over the world. He has his own cartoon show on Nickelodeon and people of all ages seem to have at least one toy or product with his image on it. Having just been on the big screen, he had the spotlight on him long before James Dobson and his group, Focus on the Family, launched their attack on him accusing the sponge of being "pro-homosexual" and tolerant of people of different sexual orientations.
SpongeBob recently agreed to meet with the RW at his home--a pineapple under the sea--to talk about all the controversy surrounding him and what is at the heart of it. What follows is an unedited transcript of our conversation.
RW: Mr. Sponge, I mean Mr. Square, or is that Mr. Pants. Er, what should I call you?
SpongeBob: Oh tartar sauce, I got John Reed here interviewing me! Just go ahead and call me SpongeBob, kid.
RW: Very well. SpongeBob, were you surprised that Christian right-wingers launched an attack on you?
SpongeBob: Well, with Bush in office again it's not surprising that these Christian extremists are emboldened to unleash their attacks on whoever they feel is not up to their moral standards. But I never thought they would go after a toon. It just seems so ridiculous, even for me!
RW: Believe me, a lot of people in the human world also share that feeling. How have others in the cartoon world reacted?
SpongeBob: Really the only "animated people" (as we sometimes call ourselves) that I know to have made negative comments about this have been the GI Joe folks. All the other "toons" have been very supportive. Just yesterday I got a call from Scooby Doo, and although I really couldn't understand most of what he was saying, he did call to send a message of support. A few other toons are scared that they'll be next to be "targeted," as many of them appeared on that same video as me.
RW: Actually, tell me more about the video. I understand it was created by the We Are Family Foundation.
SpongeBob: Right. Nile Rodger, who also wrote the disco hit "We Are Family," is the founder of the organization. Well, I guess he didn't just want to be known as somebody who had something to do with disco music (laughs). Just kidding. But, seriously, the whole point of the video was to promote tolerance and multiculturalism. When my agent told me about the concept I thought it was a great idea and jumped on board. Leave it to the crazy right-wingers to find something immoral with tolerance.
RW: Yeah, because what angered Dobson the most was that on the We Are Family website they had a "tolerance pledge" that Dobson accused of being "pro-homosexual." He released a statement to the press that said, "Their inclusion of the reference to "sexual identity' within their'tolerance pledge' is not only unnecessary, but it crosses a moral line."
SpongeBob: I went to the Focus on the Family website not long after this started and found an open letter that Dobson wrote to his supporters. In it he wrote that "...Kids should not be taught that homosexuality is just another 'lifestyle' or that it is morally equivalent to heterosexuality. Scripture teaches that all overt sexual activity outside the bonds of marriage is sinful and harmful." But I guess this is the kind of thinking you end up with when you spend more time in Sunday school than you do watching Saturday morning cartoons as a kid.
RW: Did you know much about this Dobson character before all this controversy started?
SpongeBob: Well, I do read Time magazine. (I'm actually one of the few toons I know who prefer it over Newsweek.)
RW: I see.
SpongeBob: They say Dobson was named as one of the 25 most influential Evangelicals in America, so that tells you something. I mean, when I have my skates on some call me a "holy roller," but this guy is over the top.
RW: I hear he is largely credited for helping Bush get re-elected.
SpongeBob: Yeah, apparently he told seven million people over his radio show that not voting for Bush is a sin.
SpongeBob: He hates gay marriage and wants to ban gay people. It's a scary thought, even for a cartoon sponge, considering this guy is so tied in with the Bush administration. He even promotes spanking children. Can you believe this guy is supposedly a doctor?
RW: Recently there was also an attack on another cartoon, "Postcards from Buster," because it featured Buster visiting a girl in Vermont who had two mommies. This time it was the newly appointed U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings who launched the attack, saying that "OMany parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyle portrayed in the episode." I think you're right. The fact that the people who are saying this are actually the people who are now in power makes this even scarier.
SpongeBob: Well, if this isn't a sign of Christian Fascism on the rise, I don't know what is. And if you don't mind me citing Lenin, since you're a communist and all.
RW: Go right ahead, I didn't know you read Lenin.
SpongeBob: My collection is a little waterlogged. But anyway to paraphrase Lenin in What Is To Be Done, I wonder why we toons "manifest little revolutionary activity in response to the persecution of the most innocent cultural undertakings."
RW: Do situations like this make it hard for you to even think of visiting the human world?
SpongeBob: Yes. You see, in that letter that I mentioned earlier, Dobson also said, "Make absolutely sure your child is not being targeted for this purpose. If it happens in his or her classroom, take an army of like-minded people to the next board meeting, and let your voices be heard to the rooftops." An army of like-minded people who only believe what the Bible says and have no tolerance for other people of different sexual orientations--that's not exactly the kind of welcoming committee I would hope for. You see, we sponges are not known for getting married. We reproduce asexually, which for Dobson I'm sure is considered a sin.
RW: That's interesting. I'm a big fan of your show, and from watching it I would not have known that you're asexual. But, I guess that's because cartoons aren't real.
SpongeBob: ( laughs ) We're as real as the stories in the bible.