Saturday, February 19, 2005

A Note to PBS


The embattled PBS is in the Hour of the Wolf. Besieged by conservatives from all sides (FCC, Congress), they are in the crosshairs of the cultural right and up against the wall. And righties have a point; come on, we all know PBS leans in the direction of, oh -- Martha's Vinyard, The Writers Art, the French language, the Manhattan-DC-LA Elite, and Toyota Priuses. Sesame Street teaches phonics and tolerance; Nature is after a sane environmentalism (Snowflake: The White Gorilla? Secret Pinko-Stinko Subtext: Be Tolerant of Albino people); and Now is to the left of 60 Minutes. Science and Nature are infused into most of the programming, and token right-of-center gestures, like Wall Street Journal Editorial Report and Tucker Carlson Unfiltered carry the not unwelcome, but definitely after-the-fact aroma of lagniappe. PBS is the very embodiment and legacy of The Boomer Left, emphasizing the virtues of sophistication.

Conservatives emphasize the virtues of wisdom. Therein lies the deepest nature of the struggle: Left versus Right; Mommy versus Daddy; Religion versus Fly Fishing; Sophistication versus Wisdom. The conservative full-frontal attack on PBS on the grounds of "indecency" is really attack on PBS's "worldly sophistication." Is PBS a saucy little strumpet? Cannot common ground be achieved in this twilight conflict?The Corsair wrote of this mortal conflict back in October:

"Tina Brown has, in the past, made an dead-on analysis on American politics (as, perhaps, only the foreign born --titled? -- can make) about the differences between what she characterizes as the 'Daddy Party,' i.e. the Republicans, with their emphasis on competition, loyalty, hard power: a strong military (domestic security and a "firm hand abroad" -- no pun intended), fiscal responsibility and the importance of growth and the virtues of the acquisition of wealth, over and against what she calls 'Mommy Party' -- i.e. the Democrats -- who emphasize nuance and sophistication in rhetoric (championing the nature of diplomacy itself), the more traditionally 'feminine wiles (nuance),' and, policy wise: the importance of the caring of children and the elderly, a sound educational system, international cooperation (play well together, boys), temperance with regards to the environment and reasonable drug pricing (and all relating to heath care), as main concerns."

And, one could arguably add government funding to that Mommy Party formula, a source which is rapidly drying up. The Old Gray Lady wrote this week:

"... Corporate underwriters have been less willing to finance PBS programs, which has left the network increasingly dependent on Washington, where Republicans criticize its programming as elitist and liberal.

"The network has also struggled to develop popular new shows."

The Corsair would like to offer a hugely naive, monumentally idealistic programming suggestion: Why not sponsor a "Great Works" series, part conversation. By "Great Works," The Corsair means The Great Books of the West, plus The Great Books of the Eastern Canon, and, of course, the contributions of every other civilization on earth past or present.

The conversation of Western civilization can be extended to The East. Imagine a veritable United Nations of intellectuals -- liberals and conservatives; East and West -- discussing, in a carefully structured and immanently friendly symposium these issues on television (say, an initial run of 6 weeks, nightly, prime time), with the reading lists given in advance, so the audience could "participate." Added bonus: It might be an added infusion of adrenaline to the publishing industry. Ridiculously naive, you say; Who discusses ideas; What intellectual, or pundit, or wit (or politician?) would show up for something as preposterous as all that?

There is a lot of what the Japanese call "face" to be gained from such a "naive" idea; legacies could be enhanced by a fine showing. And, what better way to to appropriate funds and smother the bias already present at PBS? The UpadeshaSahasri of Shankara can inform Plotinus' Concept of Soul; Cambodian Temple Architecture could dialogue with Chartres; Music from the Royal Court of the Bagandan Kings and Stravinsky's Rites of Spring could be performed on the same stage; Emily Dickinson and Andrew Marvell can speak to the poets of the T'ang Dynasty; the Tao Teh Ching can enhance the reading of Hegel's phenomenology of Spirit; Noh Masks, side by side with African Masks, examined during the course of a discussion of identity in Hamlet; and al-Khwarizmi addressing Isaac Newton on the Scientific Method. That sort of thing.
Of course, this is not going to happen, we are under no illusions, but The Corsair wants to put it out there. That's what this blog does on occasion -- throw an idea against the wall to see if it sticks. Surely, the Right would not objection to, say, a documentary of the lugubrious History of the Peloponnesian War, or one on Edmund Burke, or a program with Henry Mansfield on Machiavelli. But they would -- ideally -- have to let the Left have the odd performance of Ibsen's Doll House, the documentary of Rorty on Dewey, some edgy dance here, some outsider art there, Peter Brook's Bhagavad Gita, and, in return, the right gets their Gotterdammerung.

PBS is not the cultural property of the Left, although it has become that. Compromises must be made if it hopes to achieve current (or, hopefully better) appropriations. But compromise doesn't have to be a bad thing. A channel that combines Liberal sophistication and internationalism with Conservative traditionalism and wisdom is, The Corsair believes, in his Gemini heart, a good thing. And that PBS left-right collabo would be good for our democracy, for the understanding alien cultures in this age of the war on terrorism, and just plain good business: What channel -- cable or basic -- could possibly compete with an international culture-Western Tradition mission?

Just a naive thought.


Unknown said...

A Fair & Balanced PBS? Naive, perhaps, methinks the right would rather pummel the living shit out of anything liberal, including PBS, before initiating a more balanced approach to its programming. I think your idea would work terrifically, after all it is Public Broadcasting and we're all this together. Nice article Ron.

The Corsair said...

Thank you Divine Ms. C. Yeah, I'm hoping for a shared approach with the best of "tradition," combined with "sophistiacted" programming. As always, your comments make my day. Without that feedback, The Corsair would simply evaporate.