In the 22nd season premiere of the beloved cartoon Arthur, the cartoon aardvark’s cartoon rat cartoon teacher had a cartoon wedding to his same-sex same-cartoon partner. The episode further endeared the cartoon in the hearts of millions and, unsurprisingly, caused the people who run Alabama’s Public Television station to spontaneously combust. The station refused to air the episode, choosing instead to broadcast a re-run, while still keeping the episode title, “Mr. Ratburn and Someone Special,” according to AL.com.
Like a tote bag stuffed with free things you accumulated over the course of a day at Pride, there’s a lot to unpack here. First of all, Mr. Ratburn invited some of his third grade students to an outdoor formal affair with a caterer because I guess teachers in cartoons actually get paid what they’re worth and can flex like that. Second of all, that episode title still makes me laugh. I wish they leaned even further into it. “Mr. Ratburn and the Gentleman Caller.” “Mr. Ratburn, Confirmed Bachelor No More.” “Mr. Ratburn’s Been Swiping Right on Hinge and He’s Here to Influence Your Kids With Ideas About Committed Longterm (Presumably Monogamous But Who Can Say And Do You Really Need to Know?) Relationships.” Something like that.
And that’s it. Oh. Wait, what’s this detritus down here at the bottom of my sequined tote bag next to a half-finished bottle of Aperol and a cravat that seemed very smart in the selfie this morning but seems less so now? Oh, right. We should unpack the idea of the spittle-flecked culture warriors at ::checks notes:: a Public Television station who must protect impressionable children from seeing a rat spend $100 a head to feed a couple of 8-year-olds in a tent. First of all, let me say, I don’t give a rat’s ass about this. But, I absolutely feel for the children in Alabama who won’t get to watch this episode until it comes on streaming or pops up on one of those iPads with enormous Otter boxes that kids on planes always have. I honestly have no idea how children get television these days. I legit thought our TV only had one channel until I was 12 so this is a brave new world. But however they get their Caillou fix, no executive is powerful enough to stop it.
Also, the late-breaking Law & Order twist of the villain in this story being a programming director who has committed his life to making sure the public has Downton Abbey episodes and more British murder mysteries than you could ever possibly solve and a documentary about the Grand Canyon and Cynthia Erivo’s Live from Lincoln Center concert! Public Television isn’t exactly the first place you think of when you think “regressive social policies and a refusal to live in the present.” Every Public Television station spends roughly 45% of their time trying to get you to donate so they can send you a tote bag. Tote bags are like bigot kryptonite! Make this make sense!
I’m just saying, if you want pretend it’s still 1954 all across America, maybe working at the network that aired the revival of Falsettos and the documentary Eyes on the Prize isn’t part of your spiritual journey. But what do I know? I’m just a gay cartoon rat trying to figure out what salutation to use on this formal card stock invitation addressed to a child.
The empty gesture of cancelling a cartoon wedding is such a small pyrrhic victory. Thank goodness those young eyes didn’t see the wrong thing and grow up thinking they could be rats wearing tuxedos. Can you imagine such a world? In instances like this, people often say that children are too young to be “exposed” to ideas like “same-sex attraction” and “gender.” As if every child is floating through the world in an opaque bubble until the minute they turn 21 and the bubble bursts somewhere over Hell’s Kitchen where they land, see two people with the same gender presentation holding hands, and immediately become drag queens or Pete Buttigieg.
It is truly wild that some people will frequently talk about toddlers having crushes on other toddlers or insist on putting their daughters in pink from the minute of birth or get their baby sons onesies that say “Watch out ladies!” as if they are offering them up as sacrifices to the demon of toxic masculinity, but the minute someone mentions gender or sexual orientation, they scream about their child being indoctrinated. Which is it, honey? Either your child exists in a world where gender and sexual orientation are things or they don’t. But don’t listen to me, I’m just the fiancé of a cartoon teacher wondering why a child aardvark is having a conversation near the cake table with my college roommate.
It’s easy to add this to the list of reasons to malign the entire state of Alabama, placing it beside their draconian abortion ban, signed into law last week. But to do that is to do a grave disservice to the hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ people living and working in Alabama and to the hard work of organizations like Equality Alabama. These people and organizations have existed and will continue to exist in every state, even those with the most small-minded, craven leadership representing them. So, to those people, I say I stand with you, and I wish I could send you the episode but I do not know how to work children’s television apps. But good luck and I will make a donation in Mr. Ratburn’s name.
And to the those who seek to legislate and regulate stories out of existence, I say this: you can’t stop children (and rats) from discovering truth inside of themselves, even if they’ve never heard the words to describe it or seen anyone else who they thought might be similar. The rats found each other, honey. You’ve already lost.