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Yep, it’s a brand-new world

Years ago, back before we cut television from our household, we watched it. Quite a bit. I particularly remember those kid shows that would drone on and on, producing the catatonic state in my darlings I thought I had to have in order to get supper on the table.

One of the animated ones I really liked was PBS’s longest running kids’ show, “Arthur.” My affections for the character began at the Lincoln County Public Library, where Marc Brown’s series of books about the lovable 8-year-old aardvark make steady rounds from their shelves to our sofa. By the time we discovered the TV show, we were thoroughly in the know concerning Arthur’s pet-sitting service, D.W.’s fear of octopuses, and Francine’s efforts to tutor Buster.

But I have to admit, I hadn’t thought of Mr. Ratburn, Arthur’s ageless third-grader teacher, in a long, long time. That changed last week when he made national headlines. It seems season 22 of Arthur had a big premiere and an even bigger premise: Mr. Ratburn got married — to a man.     

Here’s a rundown of the episode.

Students overhear Mr. Ratburn talking on the phone to someone about the flower arrangements for his upcoming wedding. The caller on the other end seems more than pushy, so the students plot to keep their beloved teacher from marrying this woman caller, whom they believe is his fiancée. All their fears are allayed when Mr. Ratburn walks down the aisle with the friendly male chocolate shop owner instead.

“Yep, it’s a brand-new world,” Francine proclaims. Then the students turn their attention to something they decide is truly worth their worry — Mr. Ratburn’s dance moves.

Reactions to the episode varied, of course. Creator Marc Brown told reporters the Twitter blow-up of support made him “feel great.”   

Al Roker, a self-proclaimed Mr. Ratburn fan, told the Today Show crowd, “We’re glad he’s found happiness.”

But another Al — Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary — offered a different perspective: “What we are looking at here is a war for the minds of America’s children.”

Two things stand out about this current Arthur adventure. First, it’s like Mohler said. It’s a war for the minds of America’s children. Sadly, the whole effort is being financed by PBS, which means their war chest is filled by taxpayers like you and me.

Second, it’s not the first time Arthur’s producers have attempted this kind of indoctrination. In 2005, PBS pulled an episode from an Arthur spin-off, “Postcards from Buster,” that featured a lesbian couple in Vermont, where same-sex civil unions were legal at the time. Margaret Spellings, then–U.S. Secretary of Education, cited “very serious concern” about the episode and the wheels of change stalled. Fourteen years later, though, there’s no Margaret Spellings to stand in the gap. It’s all speed ahead for cartoons that seek to normalize same-sex unions.   

Except in Alabama.

Kudos to Mike McKenzie, director of programming at Alabama Public Television. He sent a message to stations in mid-April alerting them “to possible viewer concerns about the content of the program.” Then, after he and others at APT viewed the episode for themselves, they decided not to broadcast it and ran an old episode instead.

In contrast, viewers here in Mississippi weren’t spared. Preschoolers across the state watched Mr. Ratburn tie the knot and take a swipe at an institution that has stood since Adam and Eve. I contacted Mississippi Pubic Broadcasting, and Chief Operating Officer Gregg Mayer sent this statement: “Before Arthur episode 2201 aired, MPB was not made aware that it may be controversial for some parents. MPB believes it has developed a decades-long trust with all parents in Mississippi to air programming that their children can watch with or without them present.  Future broadcasts of the re-runs for this episode on PBS KIDS have been substituted with another Arthur episode. The episode is still available on other PBS KIDS platforms.”

Alabama’s McKenzie produced a statement that sounded similar: “Parents have trusted Alabama Public Television for more than 50 years to provide children’s programs that entertain, educate and inspire.  More importantly — although we strongly encourage parents to watch television with their children and talk about what they have learned afterwards — parents trust that their children can watch APT without their supervision.”

(Which goes back to the supper-cooking mom/catatonic kids thing I mentioned.)

McKenzie also said if they had aired it in Alabama, his organization would have been taking away the choice of parents who felt it was inappropriate for their children. They didn’t want to do that.

Wow, couple this with their state’s near-total abortion ban and you’ve almost got me singing, “Sweet Home Alabama.”

Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com. Follow her on twitter at @kimhenderson319.