Any American parent will tell you that there's a shared sense of relief at the return of aural sanity when their young children make the transition from preschool PBS TV programming to more relatable adolescent cartoons and movies on the traditional networks like Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and Disney.
After years of having to play Barney, Teletubbies, The Wiggles and Rugrats tapes, VCRs, and CDs to keep mercurial babies placated in car seats, high chairs and playpens, nothing was more glorious in my generation's early parenthood than either dumping them in a box in the garage or giving them with a hidden smirk to an unsuspecting new parent in a spouse's family or at work.
So when Mitt Romney made what seemed like a (too) cute remark about Big Bird when arguing in last week's debate with President Obama that the U.S. should not be borrowing from China to pay for gratuitous PBS programming like Sesame Street, I grew a little apprehensive about that reference. I feared that the yellow menace was once again about to make an uninvited appearance in my existential universe.
When my son and daughter were babies and toddlers, I found almost all of the characters that were teaching them to count, eat fruits and veggies and to recite their ABC's particularly loathsome (with the exception of Blue and Steve on Nick's Blue's Clues). They all had weird, stupid, piercing voices and unnatural mannerisms that were annoying, to say the least.
Maybe it's because I grew up in the early 1960s watching the wonderful -- and very mellow -- Captain Kangaroo, Sandy Becker and Shari Lewis, but I found most of the second generation of children's actors, puppets and animals downright idiotic.
With Barney a close second, I particularly despised watching the character Big Bird on Sesame Street the most. It was the bird's messed up voice, bright yellowness, unnatural largeness (a Napoleonic complex issue maybe?) and most of all, his debatable political correctness that subrogated my parental thoughts and biases, that grated on my nerves and even led me to discourage my kids from watching Sesame Street. To me, Big Bird also always represented the sad transition for innate children's shows to questionable politicizing and indoctrination of children's programming by PBS.
Now getting back to campaign, sure enough, thanks to President Obama's campaign, my worst fears have been realized. That odious Big Bird was suddenly back in a big way, starring in a political ad nonsensically equating Romney to Bernie Madoff and the center of contention as it enters the presidential campaign enters its final phases.
There are several "Big Bird" issues now.
One is the perpetual attack on PBS by Romney and GOP congressional conservatives, who have continually targeted the small portion of federal subsidies that comprise the PBS budget because of a supposed (and I believe, actual) traditional bias against GOP figures and the party by the network's executives and programs.
Then there's the legitimate question raised by Romney of whether the federal government should cut back subsidizing "non-essential" programs like public broadcasting when it can't afford it in these tough times and growing deficits.
Also, in terms of waste, should government funding at all levels to "not for profits" like PBS continue without a much-needed examination of their organizational definition, structure and regulation? Many pay absurdly high salaries to their executives and actually deliver very inefficient and costly government subsidized services that unfairly compete with for-profit companies and that are duplicated at many levels of government and in the not for profit world.
Politics aside, it's legitimate to ask why taxpayers should continue to subsidize the sale of Big Bird, Barney and other PBS toys and dolls to American children without getting a piece of the action. What's good for GM should be good for the rest of the country.
PBS has requested that Big Bird be taken out of the political equation by both campaigns.
With all the vitriol and discord that now surrounds that odious Big Bird, the 2012 presidential campaign and the American landscape in general, let's instead encourage the immediate return of Lewis' unassuming and constructive Lamp Chop to our lives this October.
That's one children's puppet from a better time in our country that I miss dearly -- and would welcome back to reintroduce Americans to a hushed wonder and innocence that characterized us in better times.
Published October 11, 2012 in the Sun-Sentinel.