It’s not every day I get to write about gay cartoon rats here on Collider. It’s also a rarity to talk about Arthur, the kid’s animated educational series that’s been airing on public broadcasting channels around the world since 1996. And never before have those topics crossed over, but today is that day. On the long-running show’s recent Season 22 premiere, an episode watched by millions of viewers in the U.S. alone, a character who has been with the show since its very beginning came out as gay and was wed to his partner in a same-sex marriage ceremony. Most level-headed people celebrated Mr. Ratburn’s relationship with local chocolatier Patrick, but one person in power opted to take a different approach.
As AL.com reports, Mike Mckenzie, director of programming for Alabama Public Television, decided to preempt the recent premiere of “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone” and air a re-run instead. As of this writing, APT has no plans to air the episode at a later date. Here’s what Mckenzie had to say to AL.com in response:
“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. We also know that children who are younger than the ‘target’ audience for Arthur also watch the program.”
We’ll unpack that carefully worded statement below. In the meantime, even if you live in Alabama, you can still watch the episode on PBS or just click on the player below (Isn’t the internet great?):
Mr. Ratburn & The Special Someone/The Feud
Season 22 Episode 1 | 24m 30s
Mr. Ratburn is getting married! Arthur and the gang can’t believe it. Teachers don’t have lives outside of school…do they? / Arthur and Buster get into an argument over a video game and pretty soon the entire third grade class chooses sides. Will it be Team Arthur versus Team Buster forever?
Mckenzie doesn’t come right out and say that APT didn’t air this episode because it featured a gay character and a same-sex wedding, as well as a bunch of well-adjusted and totally normal cartoon characters taking that reveal in stride, but it’s not the first time this network took that approach. Back in 2005, the station was among those who opted not to air an episode of the spinoff series Postcards from Buster titled “Sugartime! Hinesburg, Vermont” because it saw the title character visiting a friend who had two mothers. As Alabama Public Television’s executive then-director Allan Pizzato said back then:
“We don’t want to violate the trust parents have with us. Parents can make the decision about when they want to talk about lesbian parents. If PBS sent a program down that said there was no Santa Claus, I wouldn’t air that one either. Parents should make that decision, too. We air programs that deal with gay lifestyles all the time on Alabama public television.”
In 2005, PBS opted not to distribute the episode due to various objections, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in 2019. Perhaps surprising no one, grown-ass adults in the real world did not handle the cartoon rats’ gay wedding as well as the cartoon kids did. And people of all ages (adult males, mostly) continue to flock (by the singles and tens!) to sites like IMDb in order to downvote these episodes as a totally normal and rational reaction for grown-ups to have.
The half-assed argument that Arthur, a show that’s been praised for talking about important social relationships and even health and medical issues that families have to deal with, doesn’t have the “right” to feature a gay character is absurd. It’s a mask for homophobia, a fear and a hatred that runs so deep that some people don’t even want to acknowledge the existence of gay people in the world let alone have an actual conversation that might humanize them. Banning or choosing not to air “The Great MacGrady”, an episode which talks about cancer, didn’t miraculously make cancer disappear, but it likely made the transition into talking about the ubiquitous disease easier for some families. (At least until Lance Armstrong, who had a guest appearance in that episode and others, was found out to be not so hot a role model after all.) The sad fact is that the adults who call for this kind of censorship probably need shows like Arthur every bit as much as the kids in the target audience. Here’s hoping they all find a better mentor along the way.