First Things Wants Caillou Dead

“We’re not going to kill Big Bird, but Big Bird is going to have advertisements,” Romney said, while speaking at Homer’s Deli in Clinton, Iowa.
-Arts in Crisis


One of my earliest memories of our family home is coming over in the early morning with my dad, to “help” with some household repair or another for my grandparents. The house, dimly lit with morning light, smelt of steak, hash-browns and tobacco. From the kitchen emanated the barely discernible sound of K-”Mozart”, the last of the local privately owned classical radio stations, which fell to “market forces” some years ago.

The last holdout of Schubert, Bach and Chopin on the airwaves of the L.A. metro area is a public institution, precariously funded by philanthropy. This station has long been a fixture in my life, though my knowledge of the arts is woefully inadequate. Unfortunately, the playlist is not broad enough in my opinion, ignoring modern composers, but it provides access to art forms neglected by the free market. Back on the farm, my wife and I spent many a Saturday listening to the weak signal of the weekly Opera broadcast, sometimes while sitting on our garage couch, drinking Val’s jug wine, watching our children play in the garden dirt, whilst amusing ourselves with the obvious cultural contradictions of such a combination of acts. All of this is largely due to the memories of my grandfather, who had an appreciation for high culture, though his class and formal education were far from promoting such a penchant. He was the beneficiary of a time when interventionist economics and relatively undeveloped marketing science provided such opportunities.

One holiday morning, before my first son was born, I woke early to find my visiting niece watching Sponge Bob. It did not take long for me to discern that this sort of show cannot be good for the developing mind. So, with few exceptions, my children have only been allowed to enjoy the offerings of PBS – Caillou, Courious George, Kipper and Shawn the Sheep are their go to shows. My four year old will watch documentaries on machinery as long as we’ll allow, and can lecture an adult at length on the names and uses of construction equipment and trains. Our choice was reinforced when, in a moment of weakness, Val turned on Gabba Gabba for the kids, which I am quite sure made me stupider for the brief moments it lasted, before the children rose up in revolt and demanded Caillou. I now harbor an eternal enmity against the Aquabats, despite my high school love of “CD Repo-man”. So, it is all rather unsurprising that recent research is showing that the bulk of children’s television provided by the free market will rot their little brains, likely necessitating Ritalin lobotomization for them to have the slightest chance of clearing the low bar set by federal standardized tests, let alone think semi-critically.

The recent ongoing spat between Joe Carter of First Things and The Front Porch Republic reveals a good deal about a certain kind of Free Market radical conservatism, which whines consistently about the slow death of art, music, literature and traditional mores, yet cannot abide the thought of solutions that may infringe upon bourgeois property rights, ie, “economic liberty” or likely, plain ol’ “liberty”. It never seems to cross their minds that the reason things continue to get worse, despite their stacking the courts and political offices with their ideologues, is because their ideas are one of the greatest underlying sources of the problem. Indeed, The Front Porch Republic’s Agrarian Socialist is a greater friend to traditions than anyone over at FT, but they cannot even abide the Distributism of John Médaille.

Adding advertisements will without a doubt kill Big Bird. Not only will Romney see him dead, but so will the Dobsonites and the First Thingers, and they will all claim that it is the fault of America’s depraved culture in decline (and likely “Socialism”) but never their Free Market radicalism. They pine for the days when a man like my grandfather, a Gas Company meter reader, listened to and played compositional music, and read science and literature as a pastime, but those days were fleeting, perhaps transitional, and occurred while America was the closest she ever came to Social Democracy.

Many a night I sit at my workbench (pictured above), which serves more as a desk, where I smoke a pipe, using grandpa’s ashtray and contemplating his Van Gogh repo. For a little while, in anger against the loss of the farm, I became hostile towards localists, but I have once again grown to appreciate rootedness and tradition, and the fruits of a little “despotism”.

About these ads

8 Comments

Filed under Culture

8 responses to “First Things Wants Caillou Dead

  1. I always have been driven crazy at how conservatives feel like public broadcasting is where you start cutting the budget*. As a (relatively) advertising–free space and a place that is able to produce (some) worthwhile programming that doesn’t have to worry about straight profitability, it is an obvious public good at very little cost. If these people actually believed in libtopia or something, I could understand, but even the libertarians should have the sense to start cuts on multi–billion dollar agencies and wars which actually damage persons and places. If conservatives are worried about the ideological bent of public media (more noticeable on NPR than PBS, anyhow), they can always focus on putting more conservatives in it and funding conservative shows on it through para–political orgs. But, as Steve Sailer never tires of pointing out, conservative millionaires prefer to fund their alma mater’s sports teams rather than cultural enterprises which may support the long–term health and respectability of their positions.

    *The thing that makes me more livid are people who want to privatize park land. Selling off some of the massive, non–park federal holdings in the west makes a lot of sense, but not privatizing the whole of the wonderful NPS.

  2. My kids pretty much only watch shows from PBS too, aside from some Brit things on Netflix. So what you write here resonates, Lotar. But I have to say that Caillou is the biggest damn whiner ever. That voice grates at me. I usually love things Canadian but Caillou, no thanks.

    That the idea that NPR is “liberal” in bent still has purchase after the serious conservative ass kissing they’ve done in recent years only goes to show just how strong the rightward shift has been in American political life has been. Last week I heard the NPR correspondent who follows Santorum give a “report” that was essentially a 40 second cheerleading blip for Santorum. That sort of thing is commonplace now on NPR (as are those instances of reporters speaking with conservative politicians about policy positions that would have been laughed off the floor 15 years ago but now must be treated as if intelligent adults can hold such nonsense), and it is rather obvious, despite the superficial having been caught telling their biases on the secret tape bit, that in their programming and editorial maneuvering they are bending over backwards to appease conservatives these days. It’s not just the liberal-conservative spectrum either where they are clearly trying to be more centrist (and hence becoming more conservative and the country has shifted rightward), but on war issues as well, at least with their news programming (as opposed to Terry Gross, etc.), they present the hawk position as mainstream and they have considerably reduced the number of serious anti-war voices one hears on that front. Some say this is because Obama is pres, but I think it has more to do with their own desire to not rock the boat at this time on their news programs. I just read that Doug Henwood of Left Business Observer is preparing a piece of which he states “I want to write a polemic denouncing NPR as more toxic than Fox News. Fox preaches to the choir. NPR confuses and deceives people who might otherwise know better.” I suspect I’m going to agree with his essay when it comes out.

  3. To the extent that I have any impression of NPR’s ideological bent, it is the talk programs (though not Fresh Air, because Terry Gross’s vocal affect annoys me), not the news, because the only news program broadcast by NPR I’ve ever listened to with any regularity is the BBC World Report.

  4. I think the main reason NPR can be pegged as “liberal” is their friendliness towards identity politics. On economic and class issues they have shifted decisively to the right, though I suppose you can make the argument that the Democratic Party has been shifting this way as well.

    On Caillou, I agree, that is generally a show that the kids watch alone. Strangely enough, neither Caillou nor his father are annoyingly whiney/limp-wristed in the French version.

  5. Pingback: Yeah, what’s up with that? | The rose in the cross

  6. Leah

    I’ve never understood why public TV/radio has this reputation for being so liberal. My local NPR station does classical music for about 70 percent of the day. The rest is news shows, like the BBC, All Things Considered, and Morning Edition. Nothing terribly subversive. People who want unabashedly left-wing radio go to community radio stations, not NPR. The bottom line is that if a society values something, it needs to support it. In addition to funding off the wall avant guard stuff, the National Endowment of the Arts also funds traditional institutions, like the Metropolitan Opera. I am more than willing to fund some nut using his own blood as a medium if I can keep watching the Met Live in HD. For many people, public radio and TV is their own means of exposure to the high arts. If the people at First Things don’t understand that and aren’t willing to support the arts, then they have no right to complain when Junior prefers to watch “The Human Centipede: Part Infinity” to “Madame Butterfly.”

  7. Interestingly, in my (suburban MD) neck of the woods, we can get both WETA’s kid’s channel and a commercial kid’s channel (Qubo). There is massive overlap between the two, and much of the rest of the material comes from Canadian educational/kids TV (a lot of Nelvana material, for instance, and then there’s Jacob Two-Two, a slice of Canadian weirdness which has to be seen to be appreciated). The kid’s stuff is, by and large, extremely innocuous; the exceptions tend to be more annoying to onlooking parent than problematic in content. Nearly everything has some sort of moral. The advertising on Qubo, by the way, is strictly 1970s-era “but wait, there’s more” stuff.

    The stuff on public television that I find problematic is their dabbling in fringey religiosity. They seem to be suckers for pantheism and gassy spirituality. Sister Wendy is not adequate compensation, and when they do step up to substantive history of religion, they prefer people from the skeptical/revisionist edge of the academy. But really, there’s not that much of this stuff.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s