Wednesday, October 13, 2010

KCET Leaves PBS and the Future of PBS

One of the largest Public Broadcasting stations, LA's KCET, announced last Friday that it will leave PBS and go independent. As always, the dispute was over money. KCET had received a $40 million grant from British Petroleum, with the provision that the money not be used as dues to PBS. PBS in turn wanted that money, and raised dues to about 20% of KCET's operating revenue instead of the usual 13%. [Dues are on a sliding scale of operating revenues, in this case the scale slid considerably.] Other LA area stations pledge to pick up the slack, while KCET plans to be one of the few independent public broadcasting stations in the country. PBS will not allow KCET to run programs a la carte, so viewers will have to surf around to find their favorites.

But this brings up a larger question. Should PBS exist at all, and what should it do? Certainly today PBS serves no real useful purpose at all, for the most part, but within its fairly corrupt recesses is the possibility of a cultural mission that America needs: a reconnection with the glorious culture and past of America. PBS should not be destroyed, only reformed. Given a new mission other than the current one of minor cultural irrelevancy.


PBS currently broadcasts, intermittently and poorly, various operas and symphonies, and jazz at the Lincoln Center. These are poorly publicized (few people know about them) and poorly broadcast, often with chatty, uber-gay gossipy style backstage presentations instead of a more masculine and newcomer friendly about what to listen and look for in the performance at intermission and before the start. America has some premier opera and symphony companies, often world-class, and always with considerable government support. Ovation TV, a premium cable channel, covers this, but it is expensive, as are movie theater based pay-per-view showings. In the meantime, taxpayers directly support these companies (and there is a solid argument that as part of the cultural patrimony, the various state, local, and federal governments should provide some support).

Rather than dumb down culture, PBS is the perfect means to shore it up. By broadcasting professionally (the way NBC does "Sunday Night Football") and naturally, at far lower cost (no multiple camera angles needed or instant replay) a full season of Opera and the Symphony and Jazz and even, yes Ballet. PBS would also need to buy commercials, publicizing its coverage, and pushing it as something high class and free. A bargain performed as a public service, and fun in a high-class way, for ordinary people. Rather than Dancing with the Stars, super-star dancers. Rather than American Idol, proven and beautiful songs sung by the best singers in the world. Along with symphonic performances more moving that a John Williams sound-track. Or native music with the power and mastery of folks from Duke Ellington to Wilbur de Paris.

America has had, along with most of the West, a long slow slide into appropriating the culture and mores of the lower class as proper, "right" behavior, and part of reclaiming America's culture can be done by making PBS a weapon in providing upper class culture. But it need not and should not stop there.

Rather than broadcasting idiot leftist propaganda like "Frontline," PBS should not only bring government supported opera, ballet, jazz, and symphony companies to the masses (and provide a stable, easy to find broadcast of it every week), but also America's great museums and National Parks. Few people can afford to visit the Smithsonian, the Air and Space Museum, or the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. Much less the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, or the Norton Simon in Pasadena, or other world-class museums scattered across America. Nor some of the more populist, such as the National Football League Hall of Fame in Canton Ohio, or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. All supported by considerable tax payer dollars. People deserve the ability to visit, by TV, these places their dollars support. PBS is the natural and the only venue for this, and of course if PBS is broadcasting a tour of the Smithsonian, it keeps them from running "Frontline" and "poor jihadi" type of material.

Then of course are the National Parks. A good number of which are fairly inaccessible, and yet stunningly beautiful. People deserve the ability to see what they paid for, and PBS is just the venue to provide it. Naturally, allowing great masses of people to see something they can never visit personally, would create a great deal of support for the parks. As a national broadcast of opera, ballet, symphonies, and museums would do for those institutions. Something that would be immediately apparent to most of the cultural left.

Abolishing PBS will create, reflexively, a fight to the death on the issue by all the people entrenched in it, who have made a living off the taxpayer dime. So too would tilting it obviously to the right, by forcing it to broadcast say, Milton Friedman's "Free to Choose." But, the cultural left can be co-opted, and given a mission they'd largely agree upon. The hereditary, trustafarian folks in and around the arts and PBS, lack a mission and much respect and support from the wider public. Giving them a mission, which they'd largely agree upon in the first place, of making America's premier cultural institutions, its symphonies, opera companies, ballet companies, museums, and national parks, a far more important and loved place in the average American's heart, provides both a mission and a win for them. The cultural elite would have a much higher profile, for Average Americans. One that at least, stop doing harm, and would be more meaningful.

Pouring spaghetti-ohs over yourself, is not a way to mass respectability and fame, something the cultural elite oh so desperately craves. Being the host, or co-host, or even part of the production team of a Saturday Night broadcast of the Opera, known nationally and respected, is entirely different.

At heart, it’s a bribe or a bargain with the cultural left and elites. They get a pride of place, a mission, probably more money, and they are fenced in to the high culture of America, and told to promote it. Will they put a leftist spin on things? Certainly. But the music of Beethoven, or Mozart, or Aaron Copland, is so powerful that the spin would be like spitting into a hurricane. So too with Verdi, or Puccini, or the Rites of Spring, or the Spirit of St. Louis, hanging in the Air and Space Museum. Or a quiet morning in Arches National Monument, as the sun rises.

Would there be a place of Masterpiece Theater, or Mystery? Certainly. These broadcasts do little harm, and provide entertainment to many. In the case of Mystery, the source material (unraveling the crime to restore order) is in itself conservative, though many do not recognize it. As is the preservation of the West's and America's high culture, yes including Jazz (created by Black people, and now to their horror embraced mostly by White audiences).

From a larger perspective, Mozart, Shakespeare, Benny Goodman, Aaron Copland, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Verdi, and Back deserve an effort to bring them to more people. They have enduring, time-tested meaning and messages that transcend politics to pure human emotion and uplift, that bring joy to those who have read, seen, heard, or viewed their art in performance. It is ultimately, conservative to conserve their works, which is part of the American and Western heritage, from a tiny ghetto of only a few.

Will their sheer artfulness drive out the awfulness of current popular culture? No. Gresham's Law of bad currency driving out the good is likely to apply to culture as well. But marginal gains instead of transformational ones are not to be dismissed either. Each additional young man or woman who discovers these artists, or older people rediscovering them, means a marginal loss for the crap of popular culture epitomized by "Teen Mom." Not to mention that it keeps the current folks in PBS out of mischief with a mission they can endorse. Who would be against Mozart or Louis Armstrong?

Therefore it is hoped that a Republican House of Representatives, will, at some time, pick up the reformation of PBS as a banner. Arguing that it is time to spend some more money on it, and make it a cultural preservation and enhancement institution. One that has actual meaning, a purpose, other than mindless leftist cultural bashing. Even a hard-left ideologue could not argue that say, broadcasting an entire Opera season with performances picked from America's premier Opera companies, in prime time, and publicized, would be a bad thing, as opposed to endless "American Experience" shows about Mexican families that not even (or especially) Mexican families watch. Because the hard leftist would see how much more fame and respect the broadcast and his friends making the broadcast would get showing a Mozart Opera would receive, versus some show no one will care about.

Would this be easy? No. Would there be compromises? Yes. Including messy ones. At the minimum, stopping the long slide into cultural oblivion in America will not be easy, and likely the work of generations. And reforming PBS is not itself more than a first baby step. But conservatives have to start somewhere, and using the built-in snob appeal of the SWPL makeup of the cultural elite to produce a productive bargain for PBS is as good a place as any.

Newton Minnow, after all, in his "Vast Wasteland" speech noted: "When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better." He was right. PBS is currently an obscure an minor part of the vast cultural wasteland. It is time for it to be good, and be better than the theater, magazines, and newspapers.

13 comments:

no mo uro said...

Should PBS (and NPR) exist at all?

No. M'kay?

Not a single Founding Father would have approved of government sponsored news and entertainment. They would have understood at the outset (as we have discovered in reality now) that the potential for abuse is so great that any possible good is outweighed by the potential for evil.

A news or entertainment entity which cannot exist in the private market economy doesn't deserve to exist at all. If an independent station like KCET can make a go of it in a market heavily populated by leftists via private donations, bully for them. Otherwise, no assistance, and no money.

When we have problems like overpromised and underfunded public pensions, bankrupted state governments, potential hyperinflation, etc., spending money on public broadcasting outlets for radio and television which are little more than shills for cultural Marxism, transnationalism, and collectivism is the height of foolishness. Even if that money would put only a small dent in the problems I mentioned, it is better spent there than for PBS and NPR.

ERM said...

Not a single Founding Father would have approved of government sponsored news and entertainment.

Who gives a crap what they'd think? They're dead. This is our country, to do with what we want. Anyway, frankly if Madison, Adams and all the rest were resuscitated and given a tour round the Republic, I think they'd find plenty of other things to be horrified of well before it occurred to them to be disturbed by subsidized arts TV.

Not that I trust the doctrinaire libertarian view of what the Founders (peace be upon them) would prefer anyway. They may well have appreciated the option. I can't find the precise date now but I clearly remember reading that the premiere of Beethoven's 5th in North America was sometime in the 1830s. It was finished in 1808.

no mo uro said...

"I clearly remember reading that the premiere of Beethoven's 5th in North America was sometime in the 1830s. It was finished in 1808."

Well I guess that makes alla'us 'merkins a bunch o' ignunt hick subhumans, huh?

You mus'be reel smart n s'fisticated.

Anonymous said...

"Who gives a crap what they'd think? They're dead. This is our country, to do with what we want."

And without the guiding light of our founding fathers, we're stuck with a bunch of progressive who are reaming out America with complete disregard for our traditions, our founding documents and the law.

What a childish and petulant comment.

feeblemind said...

I agree with no mo uro. pBS should be defunded at the federal level. The states can do as they wish.

The GOP needs to be seen rolling back Government even if it is the equivalent of taking a hammer and knocking a pebble off of the Rock of Gibraltar.

The cutting needs to start somewhere.

Whiskey said...

I'd prefer to fight my battles over Affirmative Action, rather than PBS. There is only so much political capital.

Besides, I am a conservative in the Philip Larkin or JRR Tolkien or CS Lewis tradition. PBS is something I grew up with, I have affection for it, I don't want to see it destroyed. Just fixed so it does no harm and some good.

There are far worse ways to spend money on, and the idea of co-opting some of the cultural elite appeals to me. Besides, ordinary people are hungry for this sort of thing that can be provided in no other fashion. Who can visit DC and see the museums there? Damn few. But everyone can see them on PBS.

Or the Opera, Ballet, and Symphony companies fed with tax dollars. Why should only the coastal urban rich see these performances?

If nothing else, a bit of high culture is an antidote to the tidal wave of low, low, lower brow culture ala the Kardashians and such. Driven by the constant fame-whoring impulse of modern society (and a mostly younger female audience).

Would you rather have Shephard Fairey making Obama posters in the style of Mussolini, effectively, or publicizing a Mozart Opera? Would you rather have younger women watching exclusively "the Kardashians" or a few perhaps check out the Ballet? Would you rather have PBS harmless and doing some good, or running Frontline about how "evil" Republicans are?

Not even Reagan could dump PBS. Its a battle not worth fighting (like hitting Tarawa instead of bypassing it). Even if you win, you'll take so much casualties, politically, its not worth it.

Now, Affirmative Action, that's a battle worth fighting.

no mo uro said...

Whiskey, we can agree that AA is worse.

I do not agree that getting rid of public broadcasting isn't worth the effort.

I'll go with the Rudy Giuliani philosophy, the tipping point way, which is to say that you start with not tolerating the little stuff, because if you let the bad guys get away with the little stuff then the big stuff becomes inevitable. Crime creep. Giuliani knew that you had to start by having zero tolerance for even graffitti, otherwise you'd be sending the message that worse stuff might be OK, too. This was his basis for cleaning up NYC, a ground-up approach, and it worked extremely well. I suspect that the same principle applies here to federal waste.

I would also say that if everybody gets to make exceptions which contradict our core philosophy and policy goals, based upon their personal ox getting gored, nothing will get done.

Feeb is right, you have to start somewhere. Crawl before you walk, and all of that.

You say you have personal, nostalgic affection for PBS/NPR. You're right that we have a lot of lowbrow culture and that some more uplifting and truly Western entertainment would be refreshing. The question becomes how to get out the good things without sacrificing basic principles. The answer is the 'net, not taxpayer funded braodcast outlets.

You ask if I would like public broadcasting to be made harmless. In a perfect world, I would. But Whiskey, there is no way to make it so. That sort of venue will always attract Gramscian termites, and there isn't a way to stop it.

Reagan couldn't get rid of PBS/NPR for a lot of reasons that don't exist now. There were a lot of radio/TV markets which had no alternatives to networks. Rural areas had limited reception, cable hadn't made the inroads it has now. But the biggest one is that there was no internet in 1985. All of the stuff you claim to want to put forth is available now on the web, and basically everyone in America can access it. Pics of national parks, music, all of it. No need to spend taxpayer money because it's all out there for free already and without snide leftist asides accompanying it.


What about the millions that don't care to see their taxes pay for ballet, especially when it is a lead-pipe cinch that it will come with both Gramscian and overt leftist propaganda? Their tastes and priorities must be factored in with yours, be they highbrow, lowbrow, or middle of the road. They're taxpayers, too. I'd rather remove the possibility of a government funded leftist propaganda outfit entirely, even if it meant having to come up with new and different means of getting the good things you mentioned. Is your desire to see the things you mentioned being broadcast with tax money more important than my desire to remove federally funded leftist propaganda? If so, why?


In the coming times, all of us are going to have to make some sacrifices. As a fisherman and hunter, I may have to get by with less funding for fish and wildlife departments. As someone who likes the arts, you may have to get by without PBS or NPR.

In the end, the battle to do this is a lot more like Guadalcanal than Tarawa. Lots of casualties, yes, and not all that strategic in the present, but important for establishing the precedent and the future.

I'm a big fan of Tolkien and Lewis myself, not just their writings but the men as well. From my take on the men, I don't know if they would have wanted public broadcasting created in the first place, which sort of makes moot the question of wanting to see it destroyed.

Anyways, great subject and thanks for the discussion.

no mo uro said...

Whiskey, we can agree that AA is worse.

I do not agree that getting rid of public broadcasting isn't worth the effort.

I'll go with the Rudy Giuliani philosophy, the tipping point way, which is to say that you start with not tolerating the little stuff, because if you let the bad guys get away with the little stuff then the big stuff becomes inevitable. Crime creep. Giuliani knew that you had to start by having zero tolerance for even graffitti, otherwise you'd be sending the message that worse stuff might be OK, too. This was his basis for cleaning up NYC, a ground-up approach, and it worked extremely well. I suspect that the same principle applies here to federal waste.

I would also say that if everybody gets to make exceptions which contradict our core philosophy and policy goals, based upon their personal ox getting gored, nothing will get done.

Feeb is right, you have to start somewhere. Crawl before you walk, and all of that.

You say you have personal, nostalgic affection for PBS/NPR. You're right that we have a lot of lowbrow culture and that some more uplifting and truly Western entertainment would be refreshing. The question becomes how to get out the good things without sacrificing basic principles. The answer is the 'net, not taxpayer funded braodcast outlets.

You ask if I would like public broadcasting to be made harmless. In a perfect world, I would. But Whiskey, there is no way to make it so. That sort of venue will always attract Gramscian termites, and there isn't a way to stop it.

Reagan couldn't get rid of PBS/NPR for a lot of reasons that don't exist now. There were a lot of radio/TV markets which had no alternatives to networks. Rural areas had limited reception, cable hadn't made the inroads it has now. But the biggest one is that there was no internet in 1985. All of the stuff you claim to want to put forth is available now on the web, and basically everyone in America can access it. Pics of national parks, music, all of it. No need to spend taxpayer money because it's all out there for free already and without snide leftist asides accompanying it.


What about the millions that don't care to see their taxes pay for ballet, especially when it is a lead-pipe cinch that it will come with both Gramscian and overt leftist propaganda? Their tastes and priorities must be factored in with yours, be they highbrow, lowbrow, or middle of the road. They're taxpayers, too. I'd rather remove the possibility of a government funded leftist propaganda outfit entirely, even if it meant having to come up with new and different means of getting the good things you mentioned. Is your desire to see the things you mentioned being broadcast with tax money more important than my desire to remove federally funded leftist propaganda? If so, why?


In the coming times, all of us are going to have to make some sacrifices. As a fisherman and hunter, I may have to get by with less funding for fish and wildlife departments. As someone who likes the arts, you may have to get by without PBS or NPR.

In the end, the battle to do this is a lot more like Guadalcanal than Tarawa. Lots of casualties, yes, and not all that strategic in the present, but important for establishing the precedent and the future.

I'm a big fan of Tolkien and Lewis myself, not just their writings but the men as well. From my take on the men, I don't know if they would have wanted public broadcasting created in the first place, which sort of makes moot the question of wanting to see it destroyed.

Anyways, great subject and thanks for the discussion.

no mo uro said...

My last comment got swallowed, so here goes again.

I agree that AA is a bigger problem than this, but I'm not sure that makes a difference.

Whiskey, this battle is more like Guadalcanal than Tarawa. Lots of casualties, yes, but important - necessary - for establishing the precedent.

I like the Rudy Giuliani, "tipping point" approach for dealing with the federal spending beast. He knew that you couldn't even tolerate graffitti, because if you did you'd be sending the message that bigger transgressions might also be seen as OK. This ground-up approach is how he very successfully cleaned up NYC.

If we all let our private oxes being gored allow us to make exceptions, nothing will be done, period. In the coming years, we are all going to have to make sacrifices. As a hunter and fisherman, I may have to get by with cuts in fish and wildlife budgets, you may have to get by without PBS/NPR.

Reagan couldn't get rid of public broadcasting, but 1985 was so different than now that really doesn't apply. In those days, cable tv hadn't penetrated rural areas as much, and the internet was basically nonexistent. All the good things you want people to access - music, plays, pics of national parks - are available to everyone now online, for free, and without accompanying Gramscian or overt propaganda.

I am also a fan of Tolkien and Lewis, not just their art but of the men themselves. From my understanding of those guys they would never, ever have supported the formation of publicly funded outlets like NPR/PBS in the first place, which makes any discussion about how they would have reacted to wanting them sut down sort of moot.

I don't believe that these broadcast outlets can be made harmless, either. The sort of person who would use this sort of thing will always be drawn to work there, and there's nothing that you can do to stop it. Put on as many sweeping vistas of Yosemite as you want, they'll just be backdrops for the spewing of some Gramscian termite. If you don't believe me visit the Norman Rockwell Museum sometime.

At any rate, excellent subject and discussion.

Anonymous said...

"mass respectability and fame, something the cultural elite oh so desperately craves"

On this point, I'm afraid you're sorely mistaken. The cultural elite eschews mass respectability and fame. That's how they know they're elite.

Anonymous said...

"Uber-gay gossipy"? It doesn't take much to invalidate your perspective. Oh, and what was that about elitism?

Watch PBS Channel said...

This is a bad news to the PBS Channel viewers that the Public Broadcasting stations, KCET, announced to leave PBS and go independent. I know this all happened with the money dispute but as KCET had received a $40 million grant from British Petroleum, its a big money. But still PBS is able to handle all the things and it will.

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