Turning Right on Sesame Street

There’s a lot in the news lately other than the latest federal budget proposals, and of course there’s plenty further news within that proposed $3.6 trillion of spending that’s currently up for debate, but somehow the relatively mere pittance of $454 million per annum for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is once again getting column inches and air time. President Donald Trump wants to end the spending altogether, the relatively small but inordinately influential fans of public broadcasting are screaming foul, and it all seems slightly familiar yet somehow different.
Suspicious sorts of conservatives such as ourselves have been leery of government-subsidized media from the get-go back in the Great Society days of the ’60s, we’ve always wondered why the equally paranoid liberals didn’t share our concerns about it, and nothing that has happened since had changed our views on the matter. The arguments against allowing the government to pay for air time are all the more compelling in the age of Trump, as far as our suspicious conservative souls are concerned, and for the life of us we can’t understand why any liberal isn’t at long last seeing the light.
We’re old enough that our first exposure to educational programming for the kiddies was back in the days of the ad-supported Captain Kangaroo, though, and we understand that the subsequent generations that grew up learning the alphabet and other lessons from the Public Broadcasting System’s “Sesame Street” clearly have a different perspective. Our liberal friends of all ages also prefer the classical music and pretentious jazz and those soothing voices and sensitively wrought opinions of National Public Radio to the shrilly shrieked vitriol on the right wing radio talk shows with all the ads for gold sellers and survival food and promised relief from the Internal Revenue Service, and lately we can’t argue much with the preference, even if we’re sticking to old garage rock cassette tapes and the old folks’ AM station with the Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee tunes during our drives around town. There’s also no denying that a mere $454 million is too small a fraction of a $36 trillion budget for us to bother try to calculate, and that somewhere along the line “Sesame Street” might have taught some poor kids the alphabet and that sometimes classical music is the perfect thing for a drive around town, and we don’t doubt that Trump might just be settling a longstanding score with “Sesame Street,” which has apparently been taunting him since he was a minor New York tabloid celebrity, but we’re still comfortable with the draconian budget cut.
All the old arguments still apply, though, especially around here. Public broadcasting was touted as a subsidy to those poor folks who couldn’t afford the high-priced high-brow fare on cable, but our rabbit ears don’t get the local PBS affiliate and nobody we know all over this town can get it, and although the NPR affiliate at the local college station comes through loud and clear it doesn’t seem to be seeking out a low-income audience. Even such low-lifes as ourselves occasionally enjoy the classical music offerings that admittedly can’t be found elsewhere, but we’d happily endure the infrequent ad for contingency fee lawyers to those interminable fund-raising drives and all that Peter, Paul and Mary music. Free market purists assume there will always be a commercial market for sensitively wrought opinions broadcast in soothing voices, especially in the age of Trump, and given that the “Sesame Street” brand and all its toys and bed sheets and coloring books probably out-earns the Trump brand our liberal friends have nothing to free from a true laissez-faire media.
Back in the pre-cable days the local PBS affiliate used to come through to our suburban house with episodes of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” which we are still grateful for, and our friends affluent to still have cable talk of some good high-brow shows on PBS, but we’re not sure it warrants even a mere $454 million dollars. Getting the budget into a sustainable range will require some tinkering with the popular entitlement programs of Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, which the liberals who love public broadcasting all consider sacrosanct and even Trump doesn’t dare to touch, so we’ll not worry much about this particular line item no matter how it turns out.

— Bud Norman

Flipping the Big Bird

The reviews are in, and the most panned political advertisement of the year is the one starring Sesame Street’s Big Bird character on behalf of the Obama campaign.

In addition to the massive amounts of ridicule being heaped on the ad by the conservative punditry, even such reliably pro-Obama media outlets as NBC, ABC, and Politico have all given it a rousing thumbs-down. Yet another rebuke, and one that will likely doom to the ad to a mercifully short run, was issued by the Sesame Street producers, who politely requested that their characters be left out of the political fray.

All of the criticisms, of course, are warranted. The spot opens with a montage of Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay, and Dennis Kozlowski being hauled off in handcuffs for their notorious white collar crimes, then cuts to footage of Mitt Romney citing the sizeable subsidies to the lucrative Sesame Street franchise as an example of wasteful government spending. For the benefit of those wondering what one has to do with the other, a voice-over dripping with sarcasm helpfully explains that Romney “knows it’s not Wall Street you have to worry about, it’s Sesame Street.”

One hardly knows where to begin mocking such nonsense. Perhaps Romney isn’t spending much time on the campaign trail railing against Madoff, Lay, and Kozlowski, but that’s likely because they are all currently imprisoned for their long-ago and largely forgotten misdeeds, a point implicitly acknowledged by the ad’s images of their arrests, and few Americans outside the Obama headquarters still regard them as a pressing problem. We note that Obama has been conspicuously silent regarding Bruno Hauptmann, but we don’t take that as evidence that he’s soft on those who kidnap and murder the children of aviation heroes.

As for Romney’s alleged obsession with Big Bird, the Republican party’s word-counters have documented that Obama has invoked the character’s name far more often in recent days. More importantly, Romney has the better argument. Sesame Street’s vast licensing empire earns it huge amounts of money, as a visit to any toy store will immediately reveal, and it makes no sense for a nation $16 trillion in debt to throw it a few more bucks. Indeed, if not for the show’s mushy multi-culturalism and soft-headed emphasis on a fashionable notion of unearned self-esteem it would likely be reviled by the left as a crassly commercial creature of the hated 1 percent. Obama correctly notes that the show’s subsidies represent an almost infinitesimal portion of the budget, but that only bolsters Romney’s point that a president unwilling to make such a cut is hardly equipped to tackle the more politically difficult reforms needed to keep the country solvent.

Being of a certain age we have no lingering affection Sesame Street, and reserve our childhood television nostalgia for the private sector Captain Kangaroo, but even the most naïve pre-schoolers tuning in to Big Bird should recognize that the latest approved-by-Obama message reeks of desperation.

— Bud Norman