If you are like me, you probably did not give Spongebob Squarepants a second thought until the religious right called him subversive. Now, the cartoon character is at the centre of the culture wars, along with Shrek, Buster the Bunny, and even Pinocchio. Behind the clever animation, they say, is a homosexual cabal, intent on warping the minds of our children. The Christian fundamentalist websites are burning with cautionary messages telling us to check our children's cartoons for 'subtle sexual messages'. How subtle? Well, how about the gender identity disorder exhibited by the Pinocchio character in Shrek 2? He is supposedly wearing women's underwear. What is wrong with these people? Canadians usually dismiss this kind of thing as an American aberration, but it is only a matter of time before we get caught up. Journalist Mark Pinsky says it is like 'a bad idea rolling downhill' - courtesy of a jaded media provoked by conservative churchmen. We are bored, our attention spans have been reduced to a few seconds, and so we are easily swept up in the mania of the moment. Communication theorists blame post-modernism. In a world that has lost all meaning, why wrestle with the politics of North Korea when you can analyse the sexual chemistry between Spongebob and his starfish pal, Patrick? The cultural warriors have even hijacked simple words, like 'tolerance' and 'diversity'. Not so long ago, a liberal website aimed at children began a campaign that asked readers to sign a 'tolerance pledge'. It asked children to accept the different characteristics of their friends, including a 'respect for sexual identity'. Straightforward enough, until a right-wing 'faith' group called Focus on the Family decided that it was intended to promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle. They are the same people leading the fight against same-sex marriage on both sides of the border. Buster got caught up in the same foolishness. He is a cartoon character whose parents are divorced, and he has an asthma problem. His creators say his purpose is 'to connect kids with other kids by reflecting their lives'. So, on one programme, Buster went to Vermont to see a friend, whose parents are a lesbian couple. This was meant to illustrate alternate lifestyles, but the hawk-eyed fundamentalists thought otherwise. They fired up their websites, and the White House responded. Network heads rolled. Funding was withdrawn. Things are not quite as bad here. A Canadian network has just bought a British cartoon about a school where students are rude and some teachers are bigots. The US networks rejected it because it was 'too smart'. Real life can be like that.