In Defense of Public Radio and Television
On a typical morning, I wake up just after my wife leaves at 6:30. I usually go through the standard human morning rituals and then dial in to see my work schedule for the day and to read and respond to emails that posted after I logged out the previous day.
One wonderful luxury of my current job is that I don’t really have a start time. The downside is that I don’t really have an end time. I am not micromanaged and I love that my workload (and not my boss) dictates my schedule.
Because I can start whenever, I usually let my daughter sleep until she wakes up on her own. One reason for this is when I travel, she wakes up very early and leaves the house at 6:30. It seems fair that she sleep when she can.
When she wakes up, I get her ready for school while we watch the morning lineup on PBS. We watch “Maya and Miguel,” “Arthur,” “Clifford” or “Dragon Tales.” If she wakes up really early, we watch a little “George Shrinks.” If we are running really late (literally twice a year), then we see a little “Berenstain Bears.” She never watches more than one show, and some mornings (like this morning) we watch not at all.
Regular readers know that my daughter is almost 4. One thing that parenting has taught me is that there is an entire subculture out there for little kids. I had never heard of 90% of the characters and shows that are very familiar to me now. The other thing parenting has taught me is that kids of every age are a target market (emphasis on target).
[Quick Story: once when I was an uncle but not a father, I asked my brother for a gift recommendation for my niece. He recommended Blues Clues, and I thought he was talking about a CD that introduced children to the Blues (you know, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, etc.) I went to a CD store and a clerk set me straight.]
But I digress…
PBS programming is great for children for 3 main reasons (there are many more).
First, the shows are educational and have messages that are great for kids. For our household, there are no contra-messages to worry about (in other words, words like “shut up” and “stupid” are not used. There is no hitting or violence. Bizarre, unusual or inappropriate things don’t happen).
Second, the shows are not edited in the scatter-shot MTV style where things are constantly changing like a strobe light or something. I just don’t think kids need that. They move at a pleasing pace and have gentle tones and gentle music to support gentle themes. The whole thing is not sugar-infused madness. Instead, it is peaceful and calm. Kids need that.
Third, there are no commercials (per se). I cannot over-emphasize the importance of this. Much of children’s programming is horrible, but it is goodness and light when compared to the commercials that support it. They are absolutely wretched. When watching children’s programming on other networks, I’m left to believe that it is all about marketing. The synergy between shows and products is frightening. The Bratz DVD promotes the dolls and also future Bratz product releases. It would take days and days to convince me that all of it is in the best interest of children.
I also enjoy evening programming on public television, but I’ll spare you my take on all that.
To me, the Republican effort to discontinue government support for public television - an effort that will either prove fatal or will fundamentally alter the quality and scope of public television - is horribly misguided and not at all representative of a family-friendly platform.
First, the government supports all television. If one were to place a dollar value on the direct and indirect support that the government gives commercial television, I’m sure it would exceed the support for public television by a factor of ten. The infrastructure used by commercial television is itself worth billions, not to mention tax breaks, revenues from government (military) advertising, etc. Cutting support for public television while continuing support for commercial television is just plain wrong.
Second, public television is good. It is especially good for children. Nick, Jr. has its moments (and LOTS of commercials) but its best shows for toddlers (like “Blues Clues” and “Dora”) have a tiny portion of their programming time. The rest is “Sponge Bob SquarePants” and “Fairly Oddparents” and “Jimmy Neutron” and other shows that really should not be watched by toddlers (they're fine shows, but they’re violent and use language that children should not use; they are not geared toward education; they are geared for entertainment; the editing is too sudden for children; and the messages are not geared toward the young). The potential end of public television leaves young children with very few options for quality television (remember, not all household have cable). We know kids will watch TV, so why not give families the option to watch good television? I have a feeling that without “Clifford” or “Arthur,” toddlers would watch Nickelodeon instead. This is not an improvement, and limiting options as the Republican are attempting to do is not a family-friendly move. In fact, it is anti-family and anti-kids.
Third, public television and public radio fulfill a unique role in American society. They routinely cover stories with a depth that others cannot achieve, and they often cover stories that others ignore. My own humble web log is thick with stories that were inspired by public radio and television. No one should believe that the absence of public programming will compel commercial news sources to spend less time on Michael Jackson, and more time with Jack Welch. It just won’t happen.
Fourth, because it is public television, those who do not like it should seek to change it (and I say that with some hesitation knowing how those who are unhappy might seek change it... more “Fair and Balanced” News). You should never destroy something that you could “improve.” This is particularly true with things that have a rich history and have sentimental and actual value.
Anyway, I’d get more riled up about it if I thought it were really likely to happen. In the end, public television will get its government dollars. The Republican Congress is radical and ridiculous, but the Senate will hold them in check (radical, yes; ridiculous, yes, but comparatively sane and prudent). Public television will live on, and children everywhere will learn to share and play fair from cute little animals that are quite articulate, from kindly older men (no longer of this earth), and from quality time in the laps of their parents watching shows that are worth watching.