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SpongeBob SquarePants Bad, Tucker Carlson Good: The Moral Universe of Ken Ham | Righting America

by William Trollinger

SpongeBob SquarePants. Image courtesy of Nickelodeon.

This past Saturday Nickolodeon celebrated Pride Month by very strongly suggesting that their popular cartoon character,  SpongeBob SquarePants, is gay. LGBTQ+ activists immediately celebrated SpongeBob’s “outing.”

Have you watched SpongeBob? Is there anything shocking about this revelation? As someone posted on Facebook, “there is no heterosexual explanation” for SpongeBob’s behavior.

One might imagine that the sexual orientation of a cartoon character – a cartoon character – might not be the most pressing matter in this time of pandemic and Black Lives Matter. But the eagle-eyed culture warrior Ken Ham would beg to differ. As he posted on Facebook on Tuesday evening, SpongeBob SquarePants is now

another cartoon for biblical Christians to cross off the list as suitable for kids (or anyone) to watch. Protect your kids: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11).

And that’s what Ken is doing. Courageously exposing the works of darkness, as evinced by calling out a cartoon character – a cartoon character – for being openly gay, which (as you can see on Ham’s Facebook page) has earned him numerous plaudits from his followers.

Wow.

Tucker Carlson. Image courtesy of Celebrity Insider.

Then there’s the case of Tucker Carlson. And the segue from SpongeBob to Tucker does not seem that much of a stretch, given that – especially when he is wearing his bowtie – he seems like the cartoon version of a rich white guy who just can’t get over the fact that the United States is filled with people who are not as rich and not as white as he is.

In the last few days advertisers – including Papa John’s, Walt Disney, and T-Mobile (not exactly the most progressive corporations in America) – have been fleeing Carlson’s weeknight Fox News show because of his comments about the Black Lives Matter protests:

This may be a lot of things, this moment we are living through. But it is definitely not about black lives and remember that when they come for you, and at this rate, they will.

Of course, these comments are just the latest in Carlson’s history of offensive comments. Here are some of his earlier remarks:

  • Immigrants make the US “poorer and dirtier and more divided.”
  • Iraq is a country of “semi-illiterate monkeys.”
  • When women earn more than men, the result is a decline in marriage and thus “more drug and alcohol abuse, [and] higher incarceration rates.”
  • Regarding a teacher facing charges for performing a full-contact lap dance for a 15-year-old student, “There is no victim here . . . a 15-year-old boy looks at this as, like, the greatest thing that ever happened.”
  • In defending arranged marriages with underage girls, Carlson opined that “the rapist, in this case, has made a lifelong commitment to live and take care of the person, so it is a little different.”

Some of these remarks prompted a previous boycott 18 months ago, as advertisers such as TD Ameritrade, Red Lobster, Lexus, and Farmers Insurance abandoned the unapologetically racist and sexist TV host, who of course cried that he was the victim of a feminist and liberal witch hunt.

However, one advertiser that did not flee was Ark Encounter. Ham and company stuck with Carlson, with no explanation as to why. 

But that was 2019. Now we are in 2020, and the nation is in the midst of Black Lives Matter protests, in which America is being called to address the horrific racial inequalities and injustices that are the story of our history since 1619. In response, Ham and Answers in Genesis (AiG) are presenting themselves as forces of racial reconciliation, calling on the church to lead the way by pointing to the lessons taught in Genesis that we are “one race, one blood.”

Given all these claims from Ham that he is working for racial reconciliation, I found it very hard to believe that Ham and Ark Encounter would continue to advertise on Tucker Carlson’s blatantly racist show. Even if Fox News viewers make up a large percentage of folks who visit the Ark, it just seemed too implausible and too hypocritical to imagine that Ham would continue to fund a host who has no problem saying that the current protests are “definitely not about black lives.”

But I had to find out. I taped Tucker Carlson’s show Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week, and Thursday afternoon I sat down to watch. Even though I fast-forwarded through the Carlson segments, it was painful, especially during the part when he claimed (I could tell because Fox posts statements to make sure viewers get the point) that taking down Confederate monuments amounts to an erasure of history (when of course it was actually the Confederate monuments themselves that were erasing history, including slavery and lynchings, and Jim Crow). And as I slowed down the tape to watch the ads, I was forced to view one MyPIllow spot after another – I did not need to know beforehand that MyPillow’s CEO is a huge Trump supporter to conclude from this viewing that I could never buy something from this company.

This is the nature of research. And it isn’t always fun. I watched the shows in reverse order. Wednesday night, no Ark Encounter ad. Tuesday night, no Ark Encounter ad. I was getting my hopes up. Perhaps the fact that Ham was (finally) able to refer to the death of George Floyd as a murder meant that he realized that he and AiG really needed to take a meaningful stand against racism in American culture.

And then, in the Monday, June 15 Tucker Carlson Show, at about the 28 minute mark, it appeared: the Ark Encounter ad featuring cute giraffes (only two of which, it should be noted, would be allowed on the Ark (and the others would be drowned). 

Papa John’s has abandoned Tucker Carlson, but not Ken Ham.

So, let me see if I have this right. In Ken Ham’s moral universe, it makes great sense to boycott a gay cartoon character while in the meantime financially supporting a TV personality who spreads blatant racist filth. And Ham does all this while somehow claiming to be in the vanguard of racial reconciliation. 

Let’s follow Ham’s lead, and put it biblically. So, Ephesians 5:11 –  “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” – applies to how Christians should respond to SpongeBob SquarePants, but not to how they should respond to Tucker Carlson?

If I didn’t know fundamentalism, I would be speechless.