The Breakfast Table

Babar’s Gay Friends


I think you need to take another look at the relationship between George and Martha. If they’re “friends rather than lovers” it’s only because Martha’s holding out on George. He wants to seal the deal. Badly. It’s obvious. I admit I’ve never seen the Nathan Lane TV version, but my kids and I just finished the unabridged, 300-plus-page George and Martha collection last night. After a deep reading of the text I can tell you that George is one of the more aggressively hetero hippos in American literature.

Take the scene (I believe it’s in Volume 1, Book 3) in which George gets caught peeping in Martha’s window as she takes a bath. Or the chapter in which George establishes the Martha Fan Club (“George, president”). George is forever giving Martha flowers, holding her hand, gazing into her eyes. At one point he has his missing front tooth replaced with a gold one in tribute to her. There is, I concede, a somewhat confusing interlude where George takes up modern dance. But it is only as a means to woo Martha. And as I recall he wears a sombrero with his leotard.

In short, George isn’t gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that). But if it’s gay children’s book characters you’re searching for, look no further than the Babar series. I, for one, am convinced that there’s a good reason the Old Lady is a lifelong spinster. Others (my wife) disagree, so let’s not even argue that point. Instead, I suggest you get to know Bouver and Picardee, the unmarried middle-aged male friends of Babar’s who rescue his youngest daughter when she becomes lost on a family picnic. The two live together in a suspiciously well-decorated castle on a lake outside Celesteville. They’re into yoga. They wear turtlenecks. One of them may even have a trim mustache. (Unfortunately, the book is in my daughter’s room and she’s asleep, so I can’t check.) They look like elephant versions of the Village People. They’re very, very gay.

I suspect they’d be ever gayer in a television version, but I wouldn’t know because–here’s the bombshell–my kids have never watched TV. Every time I admit that (which isn’t very often), people give me the “Oh, so you’re a Branch Davidian” look, like it’s deeply weird to shield your children from television. Maybe it is, but they don’t know it yet (our daughters are 5 and 6 months; our son is almost 3), and we plan to keep the streak going until they do. At some point some nasty little kid at school is going to mock them for not knowing what Pokémon is and we’ll have to crumble and introduce them to cartoons and action-figure ads and “School House Rock” and all the rest. But I don’t want to. They’re so happy with Richard Scarry and crayons. I don’t want them to join the consumer culture. That will mean they’re getting older. And that makes me sad.

Also–and here I’m going to sound like a real crank–I don’t want them to develop the same distorted attitudes about television that everyone else seems to have. Just one example: Yesterday, the AP ran an obit with the headline “Hazel Frederick Dies at 91.” I saw it and thought, Hmmm. Hazel Frederick, Hazel Frederick. The name sounds familiar. Must be some long-forgotten civil rights hero, a friend of Daisy Bates’ perhaps. Then I read the story.

As it turns out, Hazel Frederick’s obituary had nothing to do Orval Faubus and everything to do with TV. According to the story, one day in 1969, while shopping in downtown Minneapolis, Frederick accidentally walked into the view of a camera crew shooting the opening of the Mary Tyler Moore Show and was captured on film. For years after, she could be seen every week looking confused as Mary Tyler Moore tossed her beret into the air.

That was it, the whole reason for the obit. The AP never even mentioned what Hazel Frederick had done with her 91 years, only that for a second and a half she was seen in the background of the opening scene of a television show (wearing, the AP noted, “a green coat with fur collar and matching scarf.”) Her life was significant only to the extent it had been televised. “She never got a big head about it,” said her daughter. I’m surprised she didn’t.