A columnist at the Wall Street Journal used to regularly feature snippets from sports columnists who fancied themselves political pundits. You'd be expecting a nice piece on the last golf tournament but you'd instead get some tirade about the Iraq War or how awful President Bush is. But I think that The New Yorker gets a special prize for its treatment of the Berenstain Bears in an app review. Except that rather than review the current top-selling book app at the iPhone App Store -- "The Berenstain Bears and the Golden Rule" -- Ian Crouch says something is deeply troubling in Berenstainland:
I was thrilled to read that my favorite bears remain popular with kids today, and a new platform means new readers. Then I noticed something odd about this incarnation of the Berenstains: they'd become practicing Christians! The golden rule is just the kind of sensible, even-handed moral that I remember from my old favorites, but in the new app, the universal theme is tied directly to a Biblical source: Matthew 7:12. "Golden Rule" is part of the "Living Lights" series of Berenstain books published by Zonderkidz, a division of Zondervan, a Christian publisher based in Michigan. (The app is produced in association with Oceanhouse Media.) Other titles in the series include "The Berenstain Bears Say Their Prayers," "The Berenstain Bears Go to Sunday School," and "The Berenstain Bears: God Loves You."
The singular quality of the series always seemed to be the everyday fallibility of the characters; they could be mean-spirited, selfish, territorial, and gluttonous (they're bears after all), but by the end of each book, they would redeem themselves--restored to their better selves by the steadying influence of trusty humanist values and good cheer. God never seemed to have anything to do with it. Now, I'm faced with the unthinkable: would these once agnostic Reagan-era bear creatures now vote Tea Party in the next election?
Um, this is just utterly bizarre. Saying prayers, going to Sunday School and believing that God loves you might be views that some in the Tea Party hold. But what does it say about The New Yorker that these activities are so beyond the pale that they think that only those awful Tea Partiers do them?
I mean, I actually know political liberals who pray, go to Sunday School and believe that God loves them, too!
Not to mention, that if these completely anodyne ever-so-slightly-religious themes are so shocking, what would The New Yorker do if the Berenstains got into more particular religious themes? I'm laughing, while considering all this, but also sort of crying on the inside.
Crouch gives an update where we learn that he and a few others believed the Berenstains were Jewish. Apparently one of the original illustrators was raised Jewish while the other -- his wife -- grew up Episcopalian. This led Crouch and a few others to believe that the books were Jewish, I guess. But son Mike, who now illustrates the books with his mom, says the Christian line is in response to appreciative Christian buyers of the books.
All I remember is that my prank-prone family once tried to convince my brother that his true parents were Stan and Jan Berenstain. I have absolutely no idea why they did this.