This week the long-running teen soap Home and Away saw its first girl-on-girl kiss. It’s a development in a storyline that has been running for a few weeks now of the growing attraction between a policewoman and a deckhand.

And with tiresome predictability, two things have happened. First, there are reports that Channel Seven has toned down the kiss on Tuesday’s episode (which aired at 7pm during the PG timeslot). And second, every family values campaigner has puffed themselves up in polyester outrage that the scene is being screened at all.

While Channel Seven is not commenting, Angela Conway from a group called Pro Family Perspectives (which has links to the Festival of Light) declared that “they (Home and Away) continue to market to kids and they continue to develop quite s-xualised plot lines.” She went on to say that teenage viewers should only see plot lines that involved “authentic relationships”.

I suspect that by “authentic relationship” she really means “nice boy and sweet girl meet at church and spend crisp autumn afternoons sweeping the back yard at the retirement village before heading indoors to finish their geography homework and maybe watch The Howard Years on DVD.”

The headline of a story in the tabloid Melbourne Herald Sun screamed, “Gay TV for kids” and dared to ask the tough question, “is this too risqué for family viewing?”

This charge that TV is corrupting the minds of our kids keeps recurring with numbing frequency.

  For example, if you, like me, have kids at primary school, you probably know that the cartoon character Spongebob Squarepants lives in a pineapple under the sea and works as a cook at the local hamburger place.  

His best friend is a starfish named Patrick who once won an award for doing nothing longer than anyone else and is prone to removing his underpants at inopportune occasions. Spongebob is enthusiastic, generous and absorbent. Oh, and he’s the poster boy for an ungodly homose-xual lifestyle according to the hard-right US group and Sarah Palin boosters, Focus on the Family. It must be because Spongebob is rather neat (and to tell the truth, his pants are awfully gay in a retro 1950s kind of way).

For such a kind soul, Spongebob generates some passionate critiques. Adelaide-based anti-popular culture crusaders, Young Media Australia has reviewed The Spongebob Squarepants Movie on its website and sternly and solemnly warns parents to keep their children away from such graphic and distressing nude scenes as: “Patrick parachutes to the grand opening of the Krusty Krab Restaurant in the nude while clenching a banner with his butt cheeks. He later asked if everyone had seen his butt.”

Sober, humourless moral guardians are always ready to warn us that our kids are innocent lambs being led to a pop culture slaughter. In the 1950s, when comics were the target of a huge moral panic (there was a US Senate Inquiry into how they were the cause of juvenile delinquency) experts started finding hidden subtexts everywhere. So, Batman and Robin were clearly gay lovers. Although, really, that’s hardly a subtext.

In 1999 US Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell had his gaydar working overtime and famously outed the purple Tellytubby, Tinky Winky. Evidently the handbag and the triangle-shaped antenna were the giveaways. Whatever, it meant that a whole generation of toddlers will now grow up to forsake rugby and cricket for the joys of (shudder) Patrick White.

Just to show these things don’t only happen in America, the Polish government recently toyed with the idea of an inquiry into the Tellytubbies and their “hidden homosexual undertones”.

And come on, people. Don’t tell me those two “longtime companions”, Ernie and Bert from Sesame Street were just good friends. I’m sure Ang Lee used their relationship as the basis for Brokeback Mountain.

We saw a similar moral panic in 2004 when Play School showed a short film of a young girl spending a day at an amusement park with her two mums. The ABC filmed the segment after they were contacted by a lesbian mother who was concerned that her kids never saw a family like theirs on television.

The Howard government had a fit. Then National Party leader John Anderson huffed, “If you want to tease these issues out at all do it on an adult program later at night. I’m not sure how those children will feel, and other children …about it in 20 and 25 years’ time.”

What the? Was Anderson really suggesting that your pre-schooler stay up till say 10pm to learn about same-sex relationships? Or that because of this one three-minute segment on one episode of Play School we will see a generation of s-xually-confused dysfunctional adults in 2024?

The reality is that Anderson’s brand of outraged nonsense that we are seeing aired again this week over the lesbian kiss on Home and Away has nothing to do with a fear that our kids are being indoctrinated into becoming gay. No-one seriously believes that.

Rather, the real fear is that homos-xuality is visible or ‘normal’ to our kids; that they are being brainwashed into seeing gay people as morally acceptable. What the family values fundamentalists fear will follow is a society of people who don’t think being gay or lesbian is a big deal and who therefore accept gay people as having the same rights as everyone else – including the right to marry and to have, adopt and raise children.

The truth is that in modern pluralistic Australia, children today from a very young age will come across other kids with different family structures from their own. That’s certainly true of my kids. Children should know that there are many different kinds of families and many different adults in the community who love and care for children.

Indeed, survey after survey tells us that the great majority of Australians today are tolerant and socially liberal. They are for keeping abortion legal, they think s-x before marriage is fine and they couldn’t care less about an adult’s s-xual orientation.

So, it’s the neo-conservative family values groups who are out of touch with mainstream concerns. And it took one small kiss on TV to show it.

Peter Fray

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