Adeste Snobes


Credit: PBS

What do you give a PBS watcher who has–or at any rate knows–everything? Two catalogs have joined the holiday mail-order avalanche to deal with this pressing need. Signals is associated with the WGBH Educational Foundation, and Wireless with Minnesota Public Radio; both offer themselves to the "Fans and Friends" of public TV and radio, and are packed not only with gifts for Viewers Like You, but with Signs and Meaning as well.

Do your public media friends like books? Maybe they don't; there are few books offered. However, there is a print of a bookshelf, and the book-packed tie Newt Gingrich once wore. There are plenty of videotapes, including many PBS series (the only PBS "products"). The Little Women set includes both the Winona Ryder film and a book–a version of the screenplay. Louisa May Alcott is nowhere in sight.

But what really stands out are the many message sweatshirts. They ask, "Do You Have Change for a Paradigm?" Or define "Baroque" as being "Out of Monet." Or announce that, "Si Hoc Legere Scis Nimium Eruditionis Habes." There are dozens of them. Public media is the cultural forum for a "class" defined largely by its education. Yet these catalogs bulge with gentle parodies of intelligence–implying their customers are embarrassed by their over-instructed minds–even though this is the source of their status. Is it guilt? Status insecurity? The latter would certainly fit with PBS's hopeless Anglophilia. "If you find an American who is entirely class secure," advised Paul Fussell, "stuff and exhibit him." And do so on public TV.