Since the debate last night, there’s been a lot of people posting about the whole ‘Big Bird/Sesame Street’ thing. It’s been interesting to watch, but one comment that keeps coming up is, “Why fund Sesame Street?” especially if Sesame Street is a profitable piece of intellectual property.
But here’s the thing, this isn’t about Sesame Street, and it never has been. It’s about the United States’ role in funding a public sector content producer that is free from the kind of corporate ownership and inducement that privatized producers are beholden to. It’s aim is, among other things, to produce content that adheres to balance and objectivity. And I mean an actual attempt at balance and objectivity, not the “Fair and Balanced” thing you see elsewhere. And because of it, a tremendous amount of excellent content has been produced over the years, that arguably, would not have been created otherwise. That content is, incidentally also distributed abroad; there is a ton of sharing with the BBC.
PBS was founded at a time where there were limited options in programming and it quickly became a national treasure. Now, if you want to argue that it is outmoded and that it should be cut from the national budget, so be it. But remember this, the amount that actually goes to PBS is such a small fraction of the national budget that it could be considered a rounding error, yet is fully 40% of PBS’s funding. And for that (along with public and private donations), we get a tremendous bang for our buck. We get content that still rivals the myriad of crap that is produced by commercial distributors and it’s available for free. We get amazing documentaries and science programs (see Nova or Nature, vs. whatever crap the History Channel/Discovery or TLC is puking out these days – Honey Boo Boo anyone?), critically acclaimed dramatic programming (Downtown Abbey), incredible music (Austin City Limits), hard hitting documentaries, independent film, etc. The list goes on and on.
This programming is especially valuable in rural areas and among the less fortunate who can’t afford the exorbitant fees that our right-of-way cable monopolies charge. And gives them access to that part of civilization that they wouldn’t easily gain access to. Hell, I live in the city most of the time, pay out the ass for “fast” internet, get Ted talks, and still LOVE Nova.
This doesn’t come down to Sesame Street. It’s an ideological choice that we made years ago to spend a small amount of money on expanding our access to quality content that wasn’t run by the corporatocracy. We made this choice because we believed in civilization. We believed that it’s important for society to be educated, informed, and given cause to think, dream, and converse in a way that moves it forward. PBS represents an idea of exploration and provides universal access. If we kill that, we kill that part of our commitment to civilization. And you can call it socialism if you want, but I like the term civilization.