We interrupt our humorous discussion of books to consider the alternative. TV.
I don’t mean to get political, but I’d like to join the discussion that began the night before last about slashing public funding for Public Television.
At issue was whether or not it was worth borrowing from the Chinese to pay for it. Not that anyone is blaming the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for the national debt, but when you’re balancing a budget, I believe the point was that every one eight-thousandth of a percent counts.
And it’s not that Public Broadcasting is totally dependent on the government. We, the people, provide only about 15% of PBS’s budget through our taxpayer dollars. But if you had to part with 15% of your annual budget, say, through paying that much in taxes (or even less) you might likewise feel that every 15% counts.
Regardless of your political bias toward one or the other of these views, I would like to share some perspective from my political bias. That is, from the interest of my own children.
PBS Kids is the only network TV I let my kids watch. We do it on Wednesday mornings, when my daughter is home from preschool.
Other than Friday and Saturday movie nights, that’s practically the only time we turn on our TV. (Sorry if that seems weird.)
What’s so special about PBS? Well, the educational aspect is nice, but that’s not the most important thing. And the escape from addictive violent imagery is a bonus, but not our prime consideration either. And I do appreciate that they don’t sexualize everything for all ages, but again that’s not the draw.
What’s special about PBS is the absence of commercials. The rock ‘em, sock ‘em, buy-buy-buy brainwashing that consumes a full quarter of the viewing experience on broadcast TV and a third on cable. I used to write commercials for kids’ TV, so I know exactly how much psychological research is exploited to transform young innocents into rabid consumers. “Still persuadable” is what they call the younger demographics. In other words, gullible. Suckers. Prey.
We need a safe haven from that. PBS is that safe haven.
I know parents who need to hold one kid spellbound while scooting another off to school while changing the diaper of a third. Sometimes the TV is the only affordable assistance.
In an old friend’s neighborhood, a kid who wants to live long enough to finish high school and maybe, just maybe, be the first kid on the block to escape the cognitive debilitation of poverty and violence, and attend college, TV offers not only companionship during those lonely years, but also a supportive voice. And a window to a world where positive life opportunities do exist.
Commercial TV does not offer that voice. Commercial TV doesn’t want to wait for that kid to develop into a well educated, well paid consumer. Commercial TV wants that kid’s money now. Or certainly no later than the end of this fiscal quarter. Commercial TV wants to instill in that kid the same short-term, immediate-gratification thinking that it has.
Kids are our future workforce as well as our future market. They are the people who will be paying our Social Security when we are older. And the ones who will be caring for us in our dotage.
Like it or not, TV will be a strong influence on the kind of people they become.
Still, we’re talking about a value judgment, and some might not consider giving our kids a chance to escape blind consumerism to be worth going into debt to China. So look at it a different way.
We already spend more than 25 times as much on Chinese-made toys for kids under 12 alone than we do on funding public broadcasting. Sheltering them from incessant advertising — funding PBS Kids — could result in fewer US dollars in Chinese hands.
And having smarter, safer kids who can grow up and compete with the Chinese — and everyone else — in the global marketplace would be a pleasant bonus.
So, a few more federal bucks for Big Bird? That’s not debt.