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Jon Hotchkiss

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Why Big Bird Is Like the Guy Who Used to Deliver Ice in Brooklyn

Posted: 10/08/2012 12:54 pm

In 2012, the government gave 445 million dollars to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the non-profit group that funds PBS and NPR. That money partially covers the costs of shows like Sesame Street, Nova, and in the case of Downton Abbey, pays for whatever technical marvel the Brits use to prop up Dame Maggie Smith.

In the mid-1960s, President Johnson was dissatisfied with the quality of TV programming for children which he demonstrated in a now infamous UN address where he slammed his shoe on the "P" for podium to protest the paucity of rubber duckies on Bugs Bunny and the lack of tall, yellow feathered birds on The Flintstones.

Johnson also believed that through his unintelligible bark, George Jetson's dog, Astro was sending coded messages to the Manson Family.

Plus, family organizations demanded Saturday morning children's programming needed more educational content including live action adults interacting with puppet roommates who were innocent and funny and who, in 30 years, audiences would look back and wonder: Are those two gay?

So, in 1967 the administration created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and gave it a two-fold mission. To ensure that rural households had access to quality TV and to raise money for America's burgeoning tote bag manufacturing cartels.

And in 1969 when Sesame Street premiered, it was both prudent and generous of the feds to put aside money so that this wonderful new medium of TV served all the people of America -- not just the ones who lived within shouting distance of their local TV station's antenna.

After all, there's a long historical tradition of governments underwriting the arts. The Romans gave their citizens Bread and Circuses, the Catholic Church funded artists and cathedrals and it was Leonoid Brezchnev who discovered Yacov Smirnoff at Moscow's first comedy club, "The Gloomy Hut."

Anyway... let's concede that Sesame Street and all the programs on PBS are terrific, marvelous, educational and transplendent. Even the ones no one watches.

Only, here's the thing. You know who else was terrific? The guy who delivered ice to my grandparent's house in Brooklyn.

That nice guy who delivered ice stopped getting my grandparent's money when General Electric invented the freezer. (BTW: General Electric served on the front lines in WWI with Col. Sanders. Also, that might be wrong.)

Jump ahead to 2012.

For all of TV's faults... and it has many -- one thing is certain. It's ubiquitous. And by even conservative accounting, nearly 90% of all American homes have either cable or satellite TV.

Not to mention, television is also available on your laptop, desktop, phone, iPad, Kindle and Nook. Plus there's all those TV screens embedded into the foreheads of dogs. Yup. That technology is coming. Just you wait.

You see, unlike in 1969, there's PLENTY of programming aimed just at kids today: Nick, Nick Jr, Disney Channel, Disney XD, Noggin, The Hub, Boomerang, Cartoon Network, and a dozen more channels I can't think of. Plus, all the programming geared to kids on all the mobile devices.

There's also plenty of lovable characters for kids to snuggle up with: Dora, Thomas the Train, Bob the Builder, and in a nod to upending gender stereotypes, there's even a new doll whose sexuality is ambiguous: Jordan the Broadway Scenery Artist.

It's for these reasons -- television's ubiquity and the glut of quality programming -- that we should stop funding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS, NPR and the yes, even the NEA.

Despite the long history and tradition associated with governments funding creative endeavors -- people are not entitled to art.

Not good art. Not bad art. Not art, period.

And yet -- there should be much more of it and it should be more pervasive (Why, I'd like a Tuscan Fresco on the side of my garage if anyone is interested).

However -- in this economic climate how can liberals ask millionaires and billionaires to pay more in taxes... and then turn around and give some of that money to people who make a living with their hand up a puppet's ass.

If you can calm down long enough to consider this, perhaps you'll come to the same conclusion. Seriously, why do we value the work of artists more than we value the work of say, plumbers?

The plumber provides a vital service. However, on the days there are no drains to unclog or copper pipes to replace -- (Is that right? I can't remember. Do you want copper pipes? Or do you want something else?) -- the plumber doesn't get paid.

The plumber's fate is controlled by market forces.

And market forces should control the fate of artists, too. And publicly funded TV shows, as well as theater companies and people whose artistic medium is yarn.

The year Sesame Street premiered, btw, there were already two other shows on TV that featured live action and puppets: The Banana Splits and HR PuffnStuff. Thanks to public funding, Sesame Street is still on today and making millions. Those other two shows? Well, remember how Big Pussy died on "The Sopranos?" Yeah. That's what happened to them.

Anyway, if an artist makes something people like... he or she will get money for it.

(I know, you ask, how will an artist get the word out about his all puppet version of The Diary of Anne Frank? The same way as the plumber, I suppose. Or maybe a different way. It's up to him. Just like the plumber).

So -- how should art be funded if not for the government or people somehow finding out about it and paying for it?

Good question. And here's the answer.

There is an entire class of Americans who regularly fund not only good art but bad art, too. And not even just bad art. Terrible soul sucking art as well. These people put up sometimes hundreds and sometimes millions to fund projects that never make anyone one red cent. It's the people who fund independent movies. And what they are called is: Suckers. (Not to their face of course, give the artists some credit, OK?)

You see, there's only one thing rich people like more than being on their yacht and having sex on a pile of money with two hookers covered with fudge... and that's funding the arts. They get their name in the credits or in the Playbill, they get front row seats, and they get to tell their friends "I'm an investor in this."

And thanks to the internet, philanthropy isn't just for rich people any more. On Kickstarter everyone gets to be a philanthropist.

Today, there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of artists looking for benefactors to underwrite their passion project. For example, I donated 5 bucks to a lady who wants to go out on tour with the cats she training to play musical instruments. (That is not a joke. There really is a woman on Kickstarter raising money to take her guitar-playing cats on tour).

And this is how the arts should be funded. If we, as citizens value art, we will see to it that artists get money to take their cats on tour, or to put on plays, or make movies, sculpture or paintings.

Believe me, I know what you're thinking, that 450 million we give to PBS is a drop in the bucket for the federal government.

Only it's not.

450 million would buy 150 million school lunches for poor kids... which cost the USDA $3.00 a day. $450 million would also put 3 new teachers at every public high school in the US (approximately 3000 public high schools X 55 thousand/year/ average teacher's salary).

In 1969, quality children's programming didn't exist... and government's role has always been to provide what the private sector can't. It's why the military is supported through our taxes... not donations on Kickstarter.

In 1969 spending taxpayer money on educational TV was a great idea.

Today, it's not.

PS. I would like to apologize for upsetting all my liberal friends and family. If it makes you feel any better, I also believe we should be drilling for oil in ANWR.

 
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