Opinion: It’s bigger than Disney vs. DeSantis

This is the question posed by visitors to the Tuttle Twins site, which sells libertarian children’s books. The books, written by Connor Boyack, are intended to protect children from the “socialism and awakening” that the website says American educational and cultural institutions “sprout in the minds of our children”. A cartoon on the site shows a mother wielding a Tuttle Twins shield while protecting her frightened children, absorbing the arrows of socialism, Marxism, collectivism and “media lies”.
The Tuttle Twins books, regularly peddled by right-wing radio host Glenn Beck, range from hardbacks to graphic novels to economics program guides. They join a growing array of conservative children’s literature and programming that coincides with current right-wing attacks on schools and children’s entertainment that conservatives claim are sites of political and sexual indoctrination.
Add the Daily Wire’s vow to spend $100 million on conservative children’s programs to oppose Disney in its dispute with Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis – and Glenn Beck’s new secret project, launched to counter the so – calling Disney’s “gay agenda” – and you have the emergence of an all-right children’s entertainment complex. Its only mission: to fight what the right sees as liberal indoctrination with an indoctrination of its own.
This idea of ​​indoctrination has been at the heart of the conservative project for decades, justified by the argument that mainstream media and educational institutions are already indoctrinating consumers – whether students, readers or audiences – with values liberal. When William F. Buckley Jr., who would later found the conservative magazine National Review, challenged liberal orthodoxy at Yale University in his 1951 book “God and Man at Yale,” he did not did not plead for a free policy. education, but instead insisted that Yale enforce conservative economic and political orthodoxy.
Similarly, Fox News, despite claims to be “fair and balanced”, was created decades later to be the conservative alternative in a news environment its founders insisted was irretrievably liberal. The same could be said for PragerU, developed as a right-wing alternative to the rest of higher education.
It’s surprising, then, that it took so long to earn the right to go all out in children’s entertainment and literature. That’s partly because children’s literature has long been filled with lessons in morals and social values. During colonial times in the United States, books like the New England Primer educated children while teaching them the alphabet, warning them of idleness and infidelity. In the 20th century, children’s books instilled conservative values, such as the 1945 children’s book “Tootle,” the story of an adventurous train whose ultimate message was a warning against deviating from the approved track.

This, of course, was not the only message contained in children’s books. Dr. Seuss’ books taught children the dangers of discrimination, the benefits of environmentalism, and the dangers of war. And in the 1980s and 1990s, new books like “Heather Has Two Mommies” and “Growing Up Gay” introduced children to families and identities that most conservatives rejected.

Florida and Texas can't ban my family
By the 1990s, a backlash against this more expansive children’s literature and entertainment was mounting, centered on Disney. In addition to owning the publisher behind “Heather Has Two Mommies,” the company has expanded health care coverage to partners of LGBTQ employees. This led to the unsuccessful boycott of Disney by the Southern Baptist Convention in the mid-1990s.
But it also led to a series of conspiracies about Disney: that the company was embedding subliminal messages about sex and sexuality into its movies in an effort to brainwash children. Mike Pence, then a radio talk show host, expressed this view when he argued in a 1999 op-ed that the animated film “Mulan” was liberal propaganda intended to destroy gender roles. traditional: “I suspect that a mischievous liberal at Disney assumes that The Story of Mulan will cause a quiet shift in the attitude of the next generation towards women in combat and they might just be right.”

Such a twist sparked the first wave of openly right-wing children’s literature, a phenomenon that English professor Michelle Ann Abate traces in her book “Raising Your Kids Right: Children’s Literature and American Political Conservatism.” Abate argues that while children’s books had long contained moral and political messages, the 1990s saw the rise of right-wing children’s literature that was more overtly political, closely tied to the culture wars and political preferences found in conservative media and politics.

Some of these new books were humorous satires aimed more at parents than at children. The 1994 book “Politically Correct Bedtime Stories” was catnip for adults who worried about political correctness, but it would have been baffling for kids looking for a bedtime tale. Likewise, a book like Truax, a pro-logging response to Lorax sponsored by the Environmental Committee of the National Wood Flooring Manufacturers’ Association, is so densely written and terrifyingly illustrated that it probably never became the book. a child’s favorite.
By the 2000s, right-wing pundits were beginning to intrude into the children’s book space. Bill O’Reilly has published two squeaky books of advice for teens, “The O’Reilly Factor for Kids” and “Kids Are Americans Too.” A few years later, Rush Limbaugh followed with his Rush Revere series, time travel stories about America’s founding era.
These books were extensions of the experts’ brands. Today’s right-wing children’s media is something different: an effort to develop an entirely separate and comprehensive entertainment industry to supplant everything from Dr. Seuss (with few exceptions) to the Disney Channel. The goal is to insulate children from conservatives in the larger culture, to protect them from supposed liberal indoctrination by getting a head start on conservative indoctrination.
To this political project is added an economic project. Right-wing radio host Dan Bongino regularly urges his listeners and followers to build “an underground media economy“, and this new right-wing children’s entertainment industry is one of them. Which means we can expect to see more school brawls, cartoons and toddler board books and more “brainwashing” and “grooming” summons. Because many on the right know that this is not only good for their politics, but also for their wallets.

About Mark A. Tomlin

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