Culture Under Attack — Bashing Big Bird Again

Not surprisingly, the Trump Administration budget calls for the elimination of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities, National Public Radio. You know, anything that expresses culture, ideas, independent thought. This is not the first time these institutions have been under attack. This is the first time, however, that we have a relentless bully in the White House. While ridiculous ideas like cutting 30% out of the State Department’s budget likely will not survive Congress, Republicans may decide it’s time to get rid of programs that they’ve loathed for years.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Trump this past week. How well does Germany fund the arts? Very well, indeed. In 2014, they spent $1.75 billion on cultural programs. Germany also has a more robust public broadcasting service than the US. Trump believes that Germany does not send enough money to NATO. He’d probably like to see them slash their culture budget, too. Fortunately, I think the Germans are too smart for that.

Once again, I feel the need to trot out my now 6 year-old post about the importance of public broadcasting and culture. The more we allow society to dumb down, the more we make ourselves vulnerable to demagogues like Donald Trump in the future.

[The following original appeared February 16, 2011.]

Big Bird and I have grown grey together.  If you look at him closely, you’ll see a tuft of white feathers on top of his head.  It’s been there for a while, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t born that way.  Maybe he was, and I just don’t remember.  But in any case, it pleases me to think that my old friend, whom I grew up with, is aging and surviving just as I have managed to do.

So the Republicans want to defund public broadcasting again.  Yawn.  As Rachel Maddow pointed out on tonight’s show, they pull this stunt every time they get in power.  And the Democrats respond with “they’re trying to kill Big Bird.”  Though I guess the aging bird couldn’t make the rally but Arthur the Aardvark did.

Rachel rightly stated that the attack against public broadcasting isn’t fiscally driven, even if that’s what some Republicans might say.  The Corporation for Public Broadcasting isn’t exactly rolling in the dough.  Its 2010 budget saw a federal contribution of $420,000,000.  Defunding CPB won’t exactly rid the country of its multi-billion dollar deficit.

No, the move to defund, either partly or entirely, public broadcasting is strictly ideological.  Beyond the usual conservative talking point about wanting smaller government, public broadcasting, and Sesame Street in particular, represent what they hate the most about the 60s.  CPB is the child of progressive thinking and an optimistic view that said things are possible.  At a time of racial strife, the Sesame Street had white folks and black folks and Latino folks and Asian folks, and a bunch of furry monsters and feathered birds, getting along peaceably.  Other shows born during this period include The Electric Company and Villa Alegre, both also impressively integrated for its era.  I think, I fear, that the bi-lingual Villa Alegre, which portrayed Spanish-speaking people in a positive light as intelligent, three-dimensional human beings, could never get produced today, in this age of SB 1070.  Some folks, I fear, don’t seem to mind that.

Public broadcasting is all about opening doors.  This crop of Republicans seem to be all about closing them.  Culture be damned.  Children be damned.  Well, how we fund our culture, how we fund institutions for our children is the very measure of who we are as a society.  We can cut funding to CPB and get rid of Big Bird and Grover (my personal favorite).  We can cut funding to National Public Radio and get rid of Piano Jazz and Jazz at Lincoln Center.  But is that what we really want?  I give generously to KCSM, Jazz 91, and have for the past 14 years.  Keep jazz alive.  But I’d like some of my tax money to pay for it, too, and to pay for public stations which I may never hear in parts of the country I may never visit.  Because a cultured society, an educated society, a society which fosters these higher ideals in its children is the society I want to live in.

Ideological vapidity be damned.

© 2017, gar. All rights reserved.


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