Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 692, October 14, 2012

"We must end war before it ends us. We
must outlaw conscription, end all taxation,
disarm the state, and arm the people."

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To Hell with Big Bird!
by Eric Oppen

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

Once again, the usual suspects are squealing like hogs on butchering day at the thought of, the gods forbid, PBS losing its federal funding. And, once again, they're putting it all in terms of losing Sesame Street. "The evil pinchpennies want to kill Big Bird!" they howl.

Unfortunately, the evil pinchpennies have some pretty good arguments on their side. Firstly, and most importantly, there is no Constitutional sanction that I can find ... even in the notorious, and much-abused "commerce clause" ... allowing the government to support television stations. Back in the days when there were but three networks, I could say that PBS made a certain amount of sense. It did allow some stuff that would never have been broadcast by the three majors to hit the airwaves, and was often a welcome oasis of relief in the "vast wasteland" of television.

However, those days are long, long over. I do not miss them; I lived and still live in what was called a "fringe reception area," and remember vividly how difficult it was to pick up any but our one most-accustomed station. These days, between cable and satellite dishes, which I see even on the most run-down shacks and trailer homes, anybody can have as many as five hundred or more channels at their fingertips, shown on televisions that make the ones I grew up with look like nothing worth watching, without the "joys" of weather-induced static. Tuning the silly thing, a job that my parents said really needed the services of an electrical engineer, is also a task that I willingly consign to the dustbins of history.

What with such a huge choice of channels, not to mention the existence of DVDs and other related technology, there is now no excuse for PBS' continued existence. Shutting it down would not harm anything, and would save some money, and with the economy in the shape it's in, every little bit helps.

And, for what it's worth, Sesame Street would go on. By now it's an American institution; I can remember when it first came on the air, although I was older than its target audience by about five years or so. You find tchotchkes based on the program's characters in any toy store, although it is ostensibly "nonprofit." I would bet that if PBS went away, Nickleodeon or any of several other childrens' channels would leap all over the chance to broadcast it, or if they didn't want to sully their pure, pure souls with such nasty old commercialism, they almost certainly have tapes and discs of every show they've ever done, and could put those out on the market at such attractive prices that no house with children would be without them.

So Big Bird's in no danger. Nonetheless, I say "to Hell with Big Bird," mainly because his supporters are such a bunch of howling hypocrites! They are the same ones who scream and scream that modern children watch "too much television" instead of getting outside and playing or doing something more Huck-Finn-ish, the last time I looked. "Too much television" could easily include Sesame Street ... the side effects of sitting and staring at the screen are the same whether it's Masterpiece Theatre or My Mother, the Car. Or do idleness and overconsumption of snacks not lead to childhood obesity (one of their perennial betes noires) when watching the good, good Street instead of nasty ol' cartoons that are just intended for fun?

They also are the same ones who rail, often correctly, against tax subsidies to the wealthy. Not only is PBS' target audience, judging by its offerings, well above-average in education and wealth and well able to afford to pitch in to support the stupid network themselves if they like it so much, but Sesame Street is a very profitable operation in its own right. As I've mentioned, there are many lines of toys based on the characters available at any toy store, and I'm sure that selling DVDs of the shows themselves would be highly profitable. Even the earliest shows would sell, partly to nostalgic Generation X-ers, and partly because a lot of what they did doesn't date.

The sooner Big Bird is kicked off the public teat, the better. To be sure, closing down PBS will not restore the economy, but as weight-watchers and other incrementalists know, every little bit can help. And Big Bird and his friends would set a better example to their target audience by working for a living in the free market, instead of sheltering under the protective aegis of the government.

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