The Banality of Partisan Politics, Chapter XXXVIII (Big Bird Endangered Again Edition)

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As Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) gets his muppets in a twist because Dick Cheney and the GOP is once again hunting down Big Bird and Clifford the Big Red Dog, Extreme Mortman notes that "public broadcasting actually has made it into the Democratic Party's platforms. Repeatedly. Talk about your politicalization! Check out this rhetoric:"

1972 Democratic platform: "We deplore the Nixon Administration's crude efforts to starve and muzzle public broadcasting."

1984 Democratic platform: "…efforts of the Reagan Administration to enact draconian cuts which would totally undermine the viability of this nation's excellent public broadcasting system."

1996 Democratic platform: "We are proud to have stopped the Republican attack on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting–we want our children to watch Sesame Street, not Power Rangers."

Now I think I realize why I can't vote Democrat–I'd rather my kids watch the Power Rangers rather than Sesame Street. In fact, my kids would rather watch the Power Rangers than Sesame Street. Then again, thank Zog that our choices in the fabulous world of digital cable TV range far beyond those two craptacular programs.

But the real point: When you're picking winners and losers among kids' TV shows in your goddamn offical platform, you've effectively forfeited the right to be taken seriously. (And yes, the GOP has equally forfeited same right on innumerable occasions.)

More, more, Mortman here.

Last year, I asked the question all Ed Markey watchers dast not ask: Is this man a furry? And if so, when is the Bay State going to legalize unions between elected officials and oversized PBS mascots?

NEXT: I Know Why the Caged Virgin Sings

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  1. SESAME STREET EQUALS POWER RANGERS. DEMOCRATS EQUALS REPUBLICANS. ALL THINGS ARE EQUAL. NOTHING IS BETTER THAN ANYTHING ELSE.

  2. Isn’t public broadcasting the equivalent of a huge military base in Mass?
    The Senator is just playing to his base.
    hee hee

  3. Ya know, according to this “Schwarzenegger Street” ad from the site of Phil Angelides — the Democrat now running against Arnold for Governor of California — all of those nasty hard-right Republicans are muppets.

    I like “Cheney Monster” eating the Constitution particularly.

  4. I’ve been thinking. All I watch on PBS is Nova. I don’t see why they can’t just sell the show to Discovery, TLC, or the Science Channel. Kill NPR, too. I listen to it in the morning, but it’s not worth my tax dollars to support, either. Besides, NPR’s obsession with all things political is boring (I’m not talking bias here, though NPR has that, too).

    Actually, PBS and NPR are largely supported by generous donations by viewers/listeners like me, so maybe they could survive off of the dole. Why not?

  5. Nick, I can’t believe you diss Sesame Street just to prove a rhetorical point. ‘Put Down the Ducky’–? Classic. Honkers, Dingers? Sweet. Techno Remixes of the theme? No one else has the rave kids, except maybe the Smurfs. Tickle Me Elmo? Gets people laid all across this country.

    Power Rangers, on the other hand– lame. Ultraman for teenyboppers.

  6. But isn’t Red Green a Red Stater?

  7. Red Green isn’t a stater at all, and I wouldn’t call Canada “red”.

  8. The only thing more amusing than reading a libertarian say someone doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously, is to watch their bafflement at why astounding majorities of the public support PBS.

    Yes, it’s because they’re all furries.

  9. Jeff P,

    Red Green is a Canuckian. They got themselves provinces, not states up there. And they’s all blue, cuz of it bein’ so cold.

  10. The statement that PBS serves a valuable purpose? Absolutely essential that it be called out and mocked.

    The Republicans’ statement that they want to cut CPB’s funding by $100 million (that is, .0166% of the annual deficit) for reasons of fiscal discipline? Move along folks, nothing to see here.

  11. See I thought Canadia was all red, on account of being communists.

  12. If PBS and NPR are so popular, so successful, and so “worth saving,” clearly they have enough listeners to survive on their own. If they don’t have enough listeners, then they’re not worth “saving.”
    The people who listen to NPR are in general wealthy liberals (or at least wealthier than the average commercial station listener), and I find it repulsive that we’re being forced to subsidize their tastes in programming. There’s no qualitative difference between being forced to fund NPR and being forced to fund subscriptions to the New Yorker just so the wealthy readers don’t have to look at all those annoying advertisements.
    Kill NPR funding now.

  13. Honestly, what do we need PBS for? I don’t have any particular objections to its content or anything, but why does it need government money? I’m pretty sure that the lion’s share of its funding comes from sponsorships and donations. It could continue to operate that way and as a nonprofit. With cable, satellite, and the Internet, the need for something like PBS as a government-supported entity seems pretty minimal.

    As for the majority, well, screw them. The majority likes a lot of things, depending on its mood. Like going to war.

    On the other hand, talk about getting rid of PBS and NPR (or the NEA) seems charged by content issues as much as anything resembling fiscal responsibility. On that point, I agree with joe. There are far more important targets I’d chase before worrying about PBS. Though knocking off a $100 million/year in spending seems perfectly okay to me 🙂

  14. I stand corrected. For penance I will drive several miles out of my way to visit the nearest Tim Horton’s.
    No no, I insist. It’s the least I can do.

  15. I don’t care how small a percentage of the budget NPR and PBS represent – they should not be supported by taxpayers – I’d wager that Sesame Street licensing fees alone could support at least one operation and maybe both. If PBS and NPR can’t survive without my money, fine. The better shows – Sesame Street, NOVA, whatever else – would be picked up by a network, I’m certain.

    That said, I am a huge fan of SS songs- particularly manamana, Put Down the Ducky and C is for Cookie (and yea, brethren, C is indeed for Cookie – not celery, not carrots, not complex carbohydrates nor anything else the perdifious nannies try to use in order to rewrite the text, but Cookies, as it was written and as it will remain).

  16. According to pbs.org they ranked a 1.7 for primetime viewing in 2004. Far less than the big 4 but about double the viewership of Discovery or TLC. Hell, if Discovery can sustain themselves I don’t see why PBS can’t do it as well, even if they choose to remain a non-profit.

  17. Oh, and Jamie Kelly, I take offence at your generalization of NPR listeners. I am neither wealthy nor a liberal and yet I find that NPR has the best bang for my buck when it comes to news time. Or, to put it another way, I haven’t heard one peep about fucking Brangelina off of NPR. Wish I could say that about CNN and FOXNews. That, or maybe I am just truly missing what is important in our world today….

  18. I give my money to NPR because I do not want it on the dole.
    PBS programming is way too sucky, but my wife likes the tote bags, so she sends them our money while I’m sleeping.

  19. I find that NPR has the best bang for my buck when it comes to news time.

    Yes, bang for your buck and my bucks. You willing to fork out a little more for that NPR you love so much? If not, then quit forcing me to support your listening habits. You’re giving welfare a bad — no, make that worse — name.

  20. Phil L, I return fire when fired upon. That I am so often flamed, including by your previous incarnations, is hardly an indictment of my manners.

    Comment by: joe at June 8, 2006 04:13 PM

    Then, with no provocation whatsoever:

    The only thing more amusing than reading a libertarian say someone doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously, is to watch their bafflement at why astounding majorities of the public support PBS.

    Yes, it’s because they’re all furries.

    Comment by: joe at June 8, 2006 05:30 PM

    Manners, Joe, manners! Where exactly did you see bafflement expressed over the public’s support of PBS? I saw mockery of the Dems’ making the saving of Big Bird a part of their official party platform.

  21. And also, Kwix, I didn’t make up that stuff about NPR listenership. Read it and weep, and take note that NPR is fucking PROUD of it.
    http://www.kwmu.org/Support/Underwriting/demographics.html

    Gosh, I feel really sorry for those wealthy liberals whenever their welfare gets threatened.

  22. Kwix, citing yourself as an exception to the generalization offered by Jamie Kelly is hardly a basis to take offense … the whole point of a phrase like “in general” is to account for the fact that there may be a few outlier cases. Do you mean to argue that NPR’s listeners are *not* “in general wealthy liberals,” or are you just taking offense at Jamie’s statement of this obvious fact?

    Oh, and what you mean to say is, “NPR is the best bang for *everyone else’s* buck.” And therein lies the rub. You want to hear the programming you like, you can just sit there and listen to a few commercials like anybody who listens to any other station has to do.

  23. joe,

    If public broadcasting went private, then you wouldn’t have to worry about Republicans trying to dick with the content like they have been recently. If fans of public broadcasting are willing to squeeze out slightly larger dontations in the name of editoral freedom, we can have an arrangement that everybody is happy with.

  24. I watched PBS all the time when I was a kid. Then they canceled 3-2-1 Contact and they stopped showing Dr. Who reruns, and now I say the hell with PBS.

  25. I am so pissed at seaseme street..they promised me black friends, asian friends, hispanic friends and even soft down fluffy friends…all i got was a couple of drunk white guys and thier …what a crock of shit.

  26. opps should be:

    “all i got was a couple of drunk white guys and thier wives”

  27. Cookie Monster say me no want tax dollars. Gimme COOOOKIES!!!!!

  28. I propose a new character for Sesame Street: Strawman.

    He’ll be sorta like Snufalupugus. He comes out when we’re desperate to make others beleive us. But instead of no one else seeing him, EVERYONE will see him – but everyone will see him differently. He can be mean or nice, rich or poor, worthless or important.

    Look! There he is now. He’s very cute and he’s telling me to cut off his minimal government funding because he can make it on his own. (And the funding tube really hurts his ass around election time).

  29. Markey is anti-torture and pro-network neutrality, which, while not sufficient for Jesse Walker’s criteria for an appealing Democrat, does at least put him on my good side, given our current Congress. And would a furry by smiling standing next to this man?

    Poking around his website some more, I do see that he does oppose subsidies to oil companies, so that’s a something.

    Anon

  30. Matt XIV, when I think of how I feel about Republican crusades to abolish or bring to heel PBS, the term “worry” isn’t the first term to come to mind.

    “Glee,” “eagerness,” or “gratitude” would all be more appropriate terms.

    Not having to chase commercial success has always allowed PBS to innovate and pursue quality that none of the corporate networks have the stones to even consider. Sure, Sesame Street is enormously popular now, but netword television existed for three+ decades before it appeared without anyone else having either the creativity, the public-spiritedness, or the motivation to create it. One of its founding missions was to provide poor urban kids with a show in a setting they could relate to – which commercial networks were motivated to do that in 1969? They were all showing middle class white kids in the suburbs.

    Flash forward to the 1980s, when children’s television was deregulated, and what did the networds come up with? GI Joe, Transformers, zap, pow! No one’s learning Spanish from the Thundercats. No one’s practicing phonemes during Strawberry Shortcake.

    If you flat out don’t understand why the former are better for kids to watch than the latter, or if you flat out don’t care, it’s you who doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously.

    Besides, which commercial networks were showing Monty Python in the mid-80s?

  31. And what exactly were those crazy aliens who tried to talk to the phone teaching kids again?

    and i GI Joe taught me the fundementals property rights and how to be a good libertarian

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAcg-kMC4QA&search=gi%20joe

  32. plus to be tolerant of creepy homosexual men

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AkOXWtWKNo&search=gi%20joe

  33. Good on ya’, Joe,

    The point is not that commercial television would pick up some of the highly successful PBS shows now, but that shows like them would never be developed by commercial TV. It is too difficult, time consuming, and sometimes too expensive for folks entirely focused on the bottom line to develop quality programming like that found on public television. Sometimes the intended audience is too small for commercial success.

    But I can tell you that I often find programs on PBS that are valuable tools for engaging my students in the quest for knowledge. In my 28 years of teaching, commercial TV has offered few such opportunities.

    If my country ever becomes too poor to afford an admitted luxury like quality public television, sign me up on the list to cut funding. Just try to be certain it’s further down the list than subsidies for the oil companies and farmers, the war on drugs, unnecessary adventures in the Middle East,…

  34. PBS and NPR are, for me, defining issues as a lover of liberty – as one who will join in most tirades about the power of the state, I’m stuck on Car Talk, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me! and The Electric Company (not to mention day-in-and-out news).

    Public broadcast is proof to me that I shouldn’t be in charge of spending other people’s money – becuase it would hurt me so greatly to cut its funding, even though I think it should be done.

  35. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9eIwafj7vk&search=Sesame%20Street%20phone

    just for clarity this is what out tax dollars is paying for

  36. joe,

    It doesn’t have to go commercial – it would be completely possible to spin it off the organizations as non-profits. Public money comes with strings attached and the Republicans aren’t afraid to pull them when it suits their purposes. Going private means not being under the thumb of political appointees or congressional blowhards – any public broadcasting organization that can afford to would probably benefit from doing so.

    And it requires a bit of a selective memory to say that there wasn’t any innovative children’s TV prior to Sesame Street. Watch Mr. Wizard premiered on NBC in 1951 and found various incarnations on commerical television into the 1980’s. The Nickelodeon-base iteration of it in the ’80s was instrumental in getting me interested in science. If you’re going to compare the fruits of commercial to public broadcasting, it’s kind of unfair to cherrypick cartoons from the low point of animation in the last 40 years (GI Joe was so bad that probably causes cancer somehow) to compare against PBS’s most successful program. Well done childrens TV has came from both public and commercial sources; knee-jerk imposition of economic ideology on assesments of childrens TV doesn’t serve liberals any better than it does libertarians.

  37. Not having to chase commercial success has always allowed PBS to innovate and pursue quality that none of the corporate networks have the stones to even consider.

    Eh? There are more creative and interesting shows created each YEAR by commercial TV than PBS has created in its entire history.

  38. Last night, as the wind gently tossed a tin can down the moonlit littered street, I listened to NPR. Children, dressed in torn rags, were drawing figures in the dirt. Somewhere in the distance, dogs barked. A disfigured old man with wide glasses and a thick beard was telling stories to passers by…

  39. poor urban kids

    If you flat out don’t understand why the former are better for kids to watch

    Maybe you can enlighten me. If you would be kind enough, can you point me to an academic study that shows the benefits of educational tv on poor kids. Preferably one that isn’t funded by the Children’s Television Workshop. Thanks.

  40. If my country ever becomes too poor to afford an admitted luxury like quality public television, sign me up on the list to cut funding. Just try to be certain it’s further down the list than subsidies for the oil companies and farmers, the war on drugs, unnecessary adventures in the Middle East,…

    It seems like the PBS/NEA funding argument always touches on this angle. Sure, it’s only drop in the bucket but every drop has its defenders and lobbyists. Balancing the budget goes from “it has to start somewhere” to “it has to start somewhere else” and nothing ever gets cut. Lets just keep that debt a rollin.

  41. Two things:

    First of all (waaaay back in the thread) the color symbolism for Canadian electoral maps is the reverse of America’s. The Liberal Party is red and the Conservatives are blue:

    http://atlas.nrcan.gc.ca/site/english/maps/reference/elections/election2004

    At least the Liberals still own the frozen wastes.

    Second: I used to do some occasional work for Minnesota Public Radio, which is, I believe, the richest and most powerful public radio station in the country. And they are rich. They rake in large amounts of money from private donors, licence fees, and pledge drives — govt. funding is not their biggest source of funding. Except indirectly: the tenuousness of public funding, and the way it leaves public radio vulnerable to politicization, has become a selling point in the fund drives. People cough up the dough to *protect* MPR from public money. In a weird way public-funded broadcasting evolves to metabolize the shit politicians force it to eat.

  42. There are plenty of educational shows on television that have nothing to do with PBS. And there have been for years. Some of the shows that are broadcast on PBS are also shown on other channels.

    As for this idea that public funding creates some sort of “purer” product, that’s hogwash. How on earth is the government’s influence on programming better than purely consumer-driven influence? I keep hearing that about PBS and NPR, but I don’t get it.

    I listen to NPR fairly often, though I admit my eyes roll fairly often while listening as well. I also watch or have watched over the years a number of shows on PBS–the kids stuff, of course, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The Prisoner, and Nova come to mind. There was a time that seeing those shows elsewhere was unlikely. Now, of course, I can watch BBC America to catch the British shows, and the kids stuff is almost ubiquitous. My niece watches educational shows, and most of those are NOT on PBS.

    All of this is beside the point. What’s the justification for tax dollars being spent on this? PBS in particular is just a loose grouping of local stations. Why can’t it just operate as an independent nonprofit?

  43. I always thought Sesame Street worked better as sketch comedy than an educational program. I can think of bits involving Ernie and Bert or Grover or pop-culture parodies that I find funny even as an adult, but even though many of those involved an ostensible educational message (e.g. “Letter B” performed by beetle (not Beatle) muppets), did that teach me how to read or count? I doubt it.

  44. Flash forward to the 1980s, when children’s television was deregulated, and what did the networds come up with? GI Joe, Transformers, zap, pow!

    Hey, joe, don’t be dissing the Transformers! Those cartoons had a lot more going on than meets the eye!

  45. Space Ghost: Coast to Coast wasn’t on PBS, and it educated me quite a bit. I now know in extreme detail the mating habits of Mantis religiosa.

  46. The two most insightful comments regarding PBS were posted back-to-back:

    I watched PBS all the time when I was a kid. Then they canceled 3-2-1 Contact and they stopped showing Dr. Who reruns, and now I say the hell with PBS.

    Comment by: Chris Puzak at June 8, 2006 07:34 PM

    I am so pissed at sesame street..they promised me black friends, asian friends, hispanic friends and even soft down fluffy friends…all i got was a couple of drunk white guys and thier …what a crock of shit.

    Comment by: joshua corning at June 8, 2006 08:01 PM

    I get Brit TV from BBC America now, but they don’t seem to play the old-school stuff. Bottom Line: I like NPR and PBS, but I don’t think my fellow tax-payers should foot the bill. joe thinks that because he likes a gov’t program and it’s a “nickel and dime” program in comparison to the rest of the budget it shouldn’t be cut. But that’s EXACTLY why the budget is out of control.

    What’s $100 million dollars in the big scheme of things? Well, it’s part of the overall bill for things that no one should have to pay for just because someone else thinks it’s good for you and “the children.”

  47. rob, BBC America definitely runs Flying Circus. I don’t know when or whether it’s regular programming, but I’ve watch many an episode there.

    I forgot Fawlty Towers. That was friggin’ brilliant.

  48. Well now, if the government should fund stuff because it’s good for us it should subsidize religion. I mean this NPR and PBS and NEA are all good for us while we tread this sorrowful mortal coil but the church is all about saving our immortal souls.

    I mean, that’s eternity, man, if that’s not important, what is?

    I mean people need to get right of this first amendment stuff, right now!

  49. But if PBS goes away, where will I find aerial shots of old Italian towns accompanied by cheesy accordion music and narrated by a sultry-voiced Dago chick? Followed by the inevitable fund-scrounging?

  50. The only thing more amusing than reading a libertarian say someone doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously, is to watch their bafflement at why astounding majorities of the public support PBS.

    Is winning elections the measure for how in touch a party is with the voters? If so, the Dems aren’t exactly pinging the bona fides meter.

  51. Jamie Kelly and Andrew Bissell,
    Nice to see that you can take my response completely out of context.

    Yes, bang for your buck and my bucks. You willing to fork out a little more for that NPR you love so much? If not, then quit forcing me to support your listening habits. You’re giving welfare a bad — no, make that worse — name.

    Oh, and what you mean to say is, “NPR is the best bang for *everyone else’s* buck.” … You want to hear the programming you like, you can just sit there and listen to a few commercials like anybody who listens to any other station has to do.

    No dumbasses, what I mean is it is the best bang for MY buck. I donate $20 bux a month to NPR. Not much I know, but it’s what I can afford right now. I never espoused a desire to have it tax funded and if you had read my post about PBS you would see that I would rather see it sink or swim and not be supported by taxes. Same thing for NPR, Amtrak and any other “National” BS.

    The people who listen to NPR are in general wealthy liberals (or at least wealthier than the average commercial station listener)…
    http://www.kwmu.org/Support/Underwriting/demographics.html

    Hrrm, according to these demographics the average NPR listener is indeed wealthy, college educated, over 50 and owns thier own home (and lots of consumer goodies in it). Oddly, nowhere in there was a damn fucking thing about being liberal, voting records or any other identifier of political persuasion. Are you implying that only Liberals are college educated, old and weathly? Damn, GW Bush must be a king fucking Liberal by your account eh?

    Jesus Christ on a fucking pogo stick!! I don’t need a goddamn argument with the choir. I’d much rather wander over to DailyKos if I wanted to get my ass reamed for offering to support, with my own money, a currently tax supported organization.

  52. I listen to NPR. I’m not remotely liberal. I even agree that they are substantially biased towards the left and even more obsessed with viewing everything through political lenses (meaning that all things seem to be interpreted in how they affect the battle between the parties in Washington). I also have an advanced degree, though I’m hardly wealthy. So much for demographics.

    Still. . . . Ceterum censeo NPRinem esse delendam.

  53. PL – I love both of those shows. However, PBS seems to have a real fixation on providing “culture” to Americans… in the form of British sitcoms.

    As I once picked up a ridiculously hot British chick by telling her things like “we probably watched the same TV shows because in the U.S. your country’s sitcoms are considered ‘high culture.'”

    That relationship lasted right up until she realized that I wasn’t actually a cowboy, even tho I was perfectly OK with her riding me like one…

    In other words, 10 days. I still occasionally hum “Rule Britannia” in her honor… With a sarcastic grin.

  54. Pro Lib,

    “How on earth is the government’s influence on programming better than purely consumer-driven influence?”

    There is little or now “government influence” on PBS or NPR. They are independent entities, with elaborate legal and political firewalls created by Congress to prevent the government from having control over content. As Gingrich, Tomlinson, and a host of other fallen conservatives who’ve tried to bring them to heel can testify.

    If you didn’t happen to watch any Jim Lehrer NewsHour in 2003, a quite review of some transcripts would demonstrate that it was far, far less controlled by the government than the “market-based” news programming on Fox, CNN, or the networks.

  55. joe,

    I’m still curious about what your response to my post at June 9, 2006 11:31 AM would be.

  56. I like how BBC is referred to several times in examples of how commercial television provides us with excellent content.

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