Conservative Christian groups in the United States have found a new sinner to rage against: SpongeBob SquarePants, a children’s cartoon character.
To his young fans and Nickelodeon, the television channel that broadcasts his escapades, SpongeBob is a sea sponge who lives with his pet snail, Gary, at the bottom of the sea. According to Nickelodeon, his “enthusiasm about just about everything makes him downright irresistible”.
“Does anybody here know SpongeBob?,” Dr James Dobson, Focus on the Family’s founder, asked guests this week at a dinner in Washington for Republican congressmen and other political allies.
Dr Dobson accused SpongeBob’s creators of enlisting him in a “pro-homosexual video” in which he appeared alongside fellow children’s television characters such as Barney the purple dinosaur and Jimmy Neutron.
The makers of the video planned to send it to thousands of primary schools to promote a “tolerance pledge” that includes tolerance for differences of “sexual identity”.
But, as far as his critics are concerned, SpongeBob’s complicity in the spreading of sin is proved by the knowledge that he is already a well-established gay icon – supposedly because he holds hands with his sidekick, Patrick, and they like to watch an imaginary television show called The Adventures of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy.
However, Nile Rodgers, the video’s creator, argues that objections to the programme are based on a misunderstanding.
Mr Rodgers insists that the video, which has been shown on network television, carries no reference to sexual identity while the tolerance pledge is mentioned only on his group’s website.