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Notes-from-the-Cultural-Wasteland

by Morris Sullivan
Contributing Editor

I woke up one morning thinking about al Qaeda.

These days, there are a lot of weird and scary things to wake up thinking about. There's the war, for instance, where America spent billions of dollars to prevent Iraq from using weapons of mass destruction, which the CIA recently announced didn't exist. There's Condoleeza Rice, the National Security Advisor who before September 11 apparently thought al Qaeda was a figment of Clinton's imagination. And there's Alberto Gonzales, whose legal opinions likely set the stage for torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. Both are moving upward in the Bush White House.

Then there's the voting machine in North Carolina that continued to accept votes long after it had stopped counting them, and there's the unwillingness of most members of Congress on either side of the aisle to spearhead election reform. There's at least one TV "journalist" that admits receiving payola for disseminating Bush administration propaganda disguised as "news." There are Democrats remolding themselves in the image of Newt Gingrich. There are bloggers accusing neocon Republicans of being Trotskyites...

...and just when you think things can't possibly get any more weird and scary, there's James Dobson telling us SpongeBob is gay.

SpongeBob Squarepants is the latest target of Focus on the Family, Dobson's religious right activist organization. With a radio audience of seven million, a syndicated newspaper column, books, and the Colorado-based FOF organization and related PACs, Dobson is probably the most influential evangelist in America. He's definitely one of the "moral values" types we can thank for Bush's re-election, not to mention the FCC crackdown on wardrobe malfunctions.

Dobson pulpit-thumped for Bush and other Republican conservatives last year. Focus on the Family was largely responsible for the boob-baring backlash when its CitizenLink Action Center ran a feature about the Superbowl half-time show urging members to call and e-mail FCC commissioners. The feature came complete with FCC commissioners' phone numbers and a MoveOn-style instant e-mail form.

Since November, Dobson has threatened to turn his PAC against Democrats who oppose appointment of conservative judges; he has even threatened to turn his wrath against the Bush administration if they don't hurry up and aggressively pursue FOF's anti-abortion, anti-gay agenda.

Powerful as he is, Dobson apparently knows little about sponges. Otherwise, he'd realize the utter absurdity of one's possible homosexuality–the porifora are hermaphrodites that reproduce without any physical contact whatever. Nevertheless, Dobson has decided that SpongeBob, by virtue of occasional hand-holding with a starfish sidekick named Patrick, is gay.

To make matters worse, Dobson says, SpongeBob appears in a video in which he stars with other children's television characters singing "We Are Family." The video's creators plan to mail it to elementary schools, hoping to promote tolerance of other cultures.

Never mind that the video doesn't talk about sex at all. Never mind that neither sponges nor starfish have sex in any mammalian sense of the word. Dobson wants to make damned sure America's youngsters learn to properly hate gay people.

I don't know for sure why Dobson wants kids to hate gays, but if his argument is like the usual one, then I presume his thinking goes something like this: "If a child learns to tolerate, accept, and perhaps even like a homosexual person, that child is likely themselves to become homosexual."

Generally, people tend to evaluate and predict the behavior of others based on their own. Assuming that's true in Dobson's case, then he's projecting his own likely behavior on that hypothetical child. So, by extension, Dobson perhaps thinks something like this: "If I stop hating homosexuals and learn to tolerate, accept, and perhaps even like them, I'll probably find myself in bed one evening with a penis in my mouth."

Anyone happy with their own sexual preference knows it won't change just because someone they know and like has a different preference. I can say this with reasonable certainty, as I've known and liked a fairly significant number of gay men in my life, yet I've never felt compelled to have sex with one. So, logically, if Dobson fears tolerance will lead to fellatio, then one might conclude that Dobson is, at heart, a homosexual.

Of course, I really have no idea what goes on in Dobson's head. Perhaps Dobson is just one of those people that confuse "moral values" with "moralizing" and can't tell the difference between righteousness and self-righteousness.

That Focus on the Family narrowly constricts the definition of "moral values" is evident in the organization's Web site. In typical religious-right/Republican fashion, the content disregards facts at will and relies on questionable "experts" and "spokesmen" for credibility. For example, a "news" item on the site's CitizenLink page entitled "Clinton: îI've Always Been a Praying Person,'" quotes the President of Faith and Action, Rob Schenck. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Schenk says, "has consistently taken the diametrically opposite position that the Bible takes on every paramount moral issue."

What horseshit.

The senator's Web site includes a recap of her legislative actions during the 108th Congress, where she took positions on what many might consider "paramount" moral issues like poverty, crime, sexual assault, education, veterans' benefits, disaster relief for farmers, equal opportunity for women, SARS treatment, and emergency medical care in rural areas.

I read her positions and accomplishments regarding those issues, and it seems to me they were all perfectly in keeping with "the position the Bible takes." To guys like Dobson, however, morality isn't about accomplishments that improve people's lives. Their morality is about fear and anger.

The difference between positive, proactive moral values and negative, reactionary moralizing occurred to me that morning when I woke up thinking about al Qaeda.

Normally, my subconscious likes to screw around with music early in the morning–having ZZ Top perform "'Color my World," for instance, or a krumhorn ensemble play "The Ride of the Valkyries." On that particular morning, however, I awoke "listening" to an inner dialogue about what might have happened if al Qaeda, instead of focusing on the negative, had decided to focus on the positive.

When my subconscious wakes me up with something especially interesting, like John Lee Hooker singing "Come Together," I let it run on while I make coffee. That morning, my inner pundits mused about how different the world would be if people like bin Laden put all that money and energy into building the kind of world they want rather than trying to blow up the stuff they don't like. They'd probably get a lot more mileage out of their efforts.

One could ask the same question of the Dobson types, too. Suppose instead of attacking clinics, judges, homosexuals and Democrats, they really worked from a "pro-life," "pro-family" point of view to create better economic conditions, improve education, fund mental health programs, and so on. If they put more energy into supporting those humanistic moral values instead of merely moralizing, they could probably improve a lot of lives–of both of the born and the not-yet-born.

This sounds really naive and pollyanna-ish, I know, but I was still half asleep and my id was in charge. So blame it on my inner child. I didn't realize until later that my subconscious had presented me with that al Qaeda stuff in response to a question I'd been pondering when I went to bed the night before.

I had been immersed for a few days in events celebrating the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. In my community, the holiday is preceded by a weekend full of festivities and commemorative church services. I'd been assigned to write a roundup of the events, and thus found myself listening to a lot of hymn-singing and preaching.

I'm neither African American nor deist, but the energy in those churches was so positive that, even in my "objective journalist taking notes" mode, it was easy to get caught up in it. At one of the services, a preacher got up in front of the audience and began with the simple statement: "God is so good. God is always good."

I heard a lot of Amens from the audience in response. I knew many of the people there were old enough to have felt the sting of institutionalized racism and the lash of Jim Crow. Some have lived in profound poverty, and many struggle still against obstacles rooted in the pre-desegregation years. And some still wait for repairs to their hurricane-damaged homes. How could they agree that God is always good?

It took me a while, but I finally figured out that all that al Qaeda stuff was just the obtuse and circuitous route my subconscious followed to answer that question. It wanted to remind me that the success of the civil rights movement owed less to people that wanted to burn, baby, burn than it did to those that simply had a dream.

In other words, if one is to confront the obstacles, inequities, and injustices of life, one will do well armed with an awareness of the fundamental goodness of humankind and the understanding that the natural order favors the benign. That's why a Martin Luther King achieves greatness, while a Rap Brown achieves obscurity.

As I mentioned above, we have a lot of weird and scary conditions to contend with these days, many of them originating with the conservatives now holding high ranking government offices. In January, Democratic consultant Howard Wolfson told Michael Crowley of The New Republic that the cavalry is on the way.

"I believe that the Republican majority has acted in such a dictatorial fashion that a full-scale revolt is the only solution," Wolfson said.

As The New York Times columnist David Brooks explained ("The Gingrich Democrats," January 18, 2005), the revolt to which Wolfson refers involves not explosives, but the kind of tactics used by Republicans to take over control of Congress during the early 1990s. These revolutionaries hope to use "hyperpartisanship and ruthless oppositionalism" to do to Bush and the Republican Congress what Newt Gingrich and his "Contract with America" did to Clinton.

I admit, I agree the time has come for "a full-scale revolt," as Wolfson suggests. But I am also disappointed. I had hoped that, with all the obstacles, inequities, and injustices coming from the current crop of Republicans, the Democratic minority might produce the next Martin Luther King.

Unfortunately, it looks like we'll have to settle for the next Newt Gingrich.

Contributing Editor Morris Sullivan has written for IMPACT for more than five years. A freelance writer and former high school teacher living in DeLand, Florida, Sullivan is also a playwright. His most notorious work, Femmes Fatale, contained the infamous "Nude Macbeth," which has been covered by diverse news media from the BBC and NPR to Playboy, HBO's "Real Sex," and Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."

Email your feedback on this article to editor@impactpress.com.

Previous Notes from the Cultural Wasteland Columns

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