PBS, Aardvarks, and Indoctrination

PBS, Aardvarks, and Indoctrination May 15, 2019

People all over the internet are shocked at PBS, for the thousandth time.

This time, apparently, the hullabaloo is about a same-sex wedding on an episode of the cartoon Arthur, which aired for the first time today.

I didn’t watch the episode, but apparently it went something like this: Arthur and the gang are shocked when their fussy male bachelor teacher, Mr. Ratburn, answers his phone in class. Then they are shocked to witness him berated and ordered around by a nasty woman who loudly describes wedding preparations. They set out to stop Mr. Ratburn’s wedding to the shrew– and I’m not judging her character there, I’m saying she physically looks like a shrew because every character on Arthur is an anthropomorphic animal. Mr. Ratburn looks like a shrew as well, though judging by the name he’s probably supposed to be a rat. In the end, the children find out that the woman is Mr. Ratburn’s sister. Mr. Ratburn is really marrying a male aardvark-looking creature who owns a candy store.

A sizable number of my fellow Catholics are apparently up in arms about this, calling it “indoctrination” and “Satanic.”

I must admit, I find it a little strange. Not that a male character would marry a male character on PBS; I mean, I find it strange that a rat is marrying an aardvark. How could that possibly work? Granted I stopped paying attention to the show more than ten years ago and Rose has only seen a handful of episodes. But every other couple I can name in Elwood city is the same species. Arthur’s parents are both aardvarks with absurdly short snouts. Buster’s divorced mom and dad are bunnies. Francine and Muffy have parents who are some kind of ape, I guess. Sue Ellen’s mom and dad are… bears or something. How would a marriage between a rat and an aardvark even work? If they’re trying to teach a lesson against racism, they’re doing it badly– people of different races actually are of the same species and aardvarks and rats are not. That’s part of what makes racial supremacists wrong in the first place– all humans are the same species. Maybe the cartoonist thought too many rats in one film would be confusing to the children.

But none of the pearl-clutchers are concerned with the sheer physical impossibility of a rat and an Aardvark starting a family together. They are horrified that their children have been “indoctrinated” and lost their innocence, at the sight of a badly drawn rat and aardvark in tuxedos at a wedding.

I don’t know how to break this to you, but if watching a cartoon of a male rat marrying a male aardvark destroys your child’s faith formation, then you are a bad catechist. That’s all there is to it.

In your child’s life as a Catholic, they are going to run into all kinds of people, and not all of them are going to share their values. As a matter of fact, in one way or another, most won’t. And it’s your child’s job as a Catholic to go on believing and practicing what they’ve been taught is right, including and most importantly having charity for their neighbor. They’re not only going to live alongside people who are different than they are, but they’re going to have to love those people as themselves, or else they’re not living the Gospel as Christ intended.

You cannot rely on PBS to model that for your children. You have to do it yourself.

About a year ago now, Rosie and I were watching MasterChef together, when a homosexual couple shared a big kiss onscreen. I paused the video and mentioned to Rosie that our faith teaches certain things about marriage, and people with different beliefs might do differently, they’re not dangerous people or people she should be afraid of, and I expected her to always be kind, loving and respectful to others even when she found herself in disagreement with them. This didn’t “indoctrinate” Rose or make her not a Catholic anymore. It made her say “I know” and ask me to turn the show back on. It was one of the easiest things I’ve ever had to explain to her.

I don’t really care if Mr. Ratburn is gay. Since he is a fictional character, he makes no demand on me whatsoever.  But if he were a real person, I would be required to love him as I love myself, all the while fulfilling every other demand my faith makes of me, and try to raise my children the same way.

That’s not difficult to me. It’s so simple it’s elementary.

Speaking of elementary, why has Mr. Ratburn been teaching the same third grade class for twenty years?

(image via pixabay) 


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