Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Elmo Vendetta

In Today's Denver Post, columnist David Harsanyi defends the GOP's recent attempts and long-standing desire to withdraw federal funding from NPR/PBS because though he believes, "NPR is under-appreciated ... what practical argument is left in the defense of federal funding for entertainment or journalism in an era of nearly unlimited choices?" While I appreciate his perspective on the government's role in providing entertainment and information through NPR, I feel he overlooks one important aspect of the medium, and that is (generally) commercial-free programming.

As a parent, I am careful about exposing my children to excessive marketing, and that is why my children (ages five and eight) have only watched PBS children's programming. As they mature, and we consider allowing more access to networks and computer entertainment, I am often shocked by the excessive marketing. Additionally, with PBS there is no chance that my children will be exposed to commercials for adult entertainment - shows like CSI and Two and Half Men or horror and action movies.

Certainly, he could argue that I don't have to use any audio-visual entertainment with my children and, thus, could avoid the problem. However, by arguing that NPR funding isn't necessary because of the ample offerings of the private sector, he ignores the goal of providing information and entertainment outside of a corporate agenda that is not often in the best interest of my family.

Granted, the counter-argument is that people simply avoid corporate bias in exchange for ideological bias. Yet, that hardly seems to be the case with Arthur, Sesame Street, and Clifford. Thus, I feel there is legitimate rationale for funding commercial-free educational programming, especially because, as you note, the budgetary "saving" is arbitrary and not the reason behind the push to de-fund NPR.

While this certainly won't change any minds, I feel my perspective is worth considering,


Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

The whole thing ought be scrapped. Let's not think that even little kid programs don't contain objectionable content:

I don't want to fund this crap. And Ellen appears on Sesame Street with Elmo? Come on, we know where the sympathies of the people who produce this stuff lie. There are also very highly religious themes running throughout the show. Did you see this episode as a good example?'t_Eat_the_Pictures_(special)

I don't imagine I'm going to change your mind, either, but let's not fool ourselves that these people somehow are all sweetness and light and have no agenda with our children. I'd rather be able to just skip tv altogether should I choose than be forced to fund this stuff for the entertainment of others.

Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

PS And Clifford is VERY anti-American. There is an entire episode in which they celebrate "fall feast." Um... yeah. I can do without funding self-hate in my American children as well. It's called THANKSGIVING. It's a holiday in which we give THANKS to GOD.

Don't like it? OK, don't celebrate it. But I don't want to fund shows like that, either.

mmazenko said...

Wow, I couldn't disagree with you more. And I don't even know where to start. Clifford is un-American and Ellen appears on Elmo?

Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

Yes, Ellen had a cameo appearance on Sesame Street with Elmo. Seriously, I cannot make stuff like this up. There's far worse out there, grant you, but still.

mmazenko said...

Far worse out there ...? And Ellen should be banned because ...? You want to cut off funding for "commercial free educational programming" because an openly gay woman was a guest on the show? Who's pushing an agenda now? If Sesame is "crap" then I have no idea what you would view as acceptable.

The idea that Clifford's show is un-American because it featured a Fall Feast is completely beyond the pale. Harvest festivals have been around as long as civilization has existed - the idea crosses borders and cultures. In fact, each year in my middle class, conservative, suburban community, we celebrate a Fall Fest, a Winter Carnival, and a Spring Fest. They aren't about subverting religion - they are seasonal celebrations.

Certainly, Thanksgiving is commemorating the Pilgrims' first harvest festival, and it focused on giving thanks for the harvest. It wasn't a national holiday until Lincoln sought the use a national day of thanks as a way of easing the wounds of the Civil War.

Additionally, your religious agenda ignores the long-standing tradition of blending pagan and Christian rituals, not to mention the tolerance for individual rights that is the foundation of the American Constitution. Ever teach your kids about the Easter bunny? How about dying some Easter eggs? Or perhaps have a Christmas tree in the house? All pagan symbols/rituals surrounding the natural rhythms of the Earth - and meant to honor and give thanks for the bounty of the earth.

"There's far worse [than Ellen] out there?" Well, that's about all we agree on. The "worse" that is out there is prejudice and intolerance. And while I understand we don't agree on cultural politics, your comments on this post are the most ridiculous I've seen in years of you commenting on my blog.

Sorry to have offended you. The post is about "commercial free" programming, especially because a group of educators would have a significantly different agenda for a show than a toy or soft drink company. That's the only relevant point here.

steven said...

Why should people have to pay for something they don't want, Michael? Because you think it would be good for them? There are lots of religious fanatics out there who think it would be good for you to attend their church services and follow their rules. Do you think that their ideas should govern your life?

I have a suggestion. You and other people who want the programming pay for it, and leave the rest of us out of the loop.

mmazenko said...

Democratic republics operate some basic functions of society on the "common good" idea - hence, roads, police, military, public health, and, yes, education and news information. We know you Steven, being an autonomous entity, operate outside of borders and civilization and that common good. But those of us who live in the real world agree to pay taxes to support those basic foundations of civilization. Though the moon is always open for your colonization. Good luck.

steven said...

All of those things you mention could be had without a coercive government, Michael, if people want them enough to cooperate with each other. Your error is in thinking that without coercion none of that stuff is possible. If it's in people's interest to work with other people for their mutual benefit, which in most cases it is, then no coercion is required. Most people are happy to do what serves the interest of others if they can be convinced that it also serves their own interest. That's what exchange is all about.

Or do you think that you are you one of the very few people alive that would prefer to prosper in a society that values peace and cooperation over the alternative? Most people don't want conflict. They want to prosper and get along with each other. That's just common sense (which is not very common these days).

mmazenko said...

It's not coercive, Steven. It's a republican form of government in which representatives make the decisions for the masses who generally have neither the time nor the inclination to stay informed about the daily expenditures of government. It's not about "wanting them enough to cooperate." We elect people to make these decisions - and vote against the ones we disagree with. And as rational people, we conclude that requiring 100% consensus would mean nothing is ever accomplished. And people are in favor of most ideas of government that on a daily basis they won't actively decide or"cooperate." Research on automatic enrollment for retirement savings supports this. Most people don't "opt" in to plans, mainly out of laziness or lack of awareness/time. However, if people are automatically enrolled, they prefer it and don't opt out even if given the option. Medicare is another example. Not many of the elderly poor were clamoring for such a program - until it was instituted. Now, when there's talk of cuts - people go balistic and say crazy things like "keep your government hands off my Medicare."

I agree most people simply want to live calm lives and prosper. However, your understanding of human nature and the actual functioning of large scale societies is quite naive.

mmazenko said...

A few questions: Would the United States have been able to wage World War II if the only the people who were willing to pay for that particular military incursion actually submitted funds voluntarily? Do you think the average citizen will voluntarily send a check regularly to the fire department and police as "insurance" against crime or disaster happening? Or would people forget or simply play the odds that the tragedy won't directly affect them? These are the issues that the average citizen - who just wants to live a calm life - leaves up to his representatives. And he accepts that majority rule works the best - as opposed to a society made up of all generals and no soldiers.

steven said...

Why wouldn't the average citizen voluntarily pay for police and fire protection if they wanted to be protected from crime and accidents involving fire? Is that so hard to imagine? Do you think that people would just cower in their basements waiting for criminals to victimize them if the government didn't provide police protection? Would you? Do you pay for life insurance and homeowners insurance voluntarily, or do you play the odds that nothing bad will ever happen to you?

Why do you think that 100% consensus is required to accomplish anything? Can a group of people accomplish something for themselves while leaving others alone?

mmazenko said...

I don't think 100% consensus is required - apparently you do. That's why I support a democratic republic with a basic taxation system. You seem to think everything should be funded on a voluntary basis - which I already argued with great specificity would be inefficient and ineffective. Of course, people want police and fire protection. That's why they vote for reps and taxes that give them these conditions. And these decisions are based on majority rule - which you seem to oppose. Because you ignore the basic points I made about people actively choosing these taxes and services, rather than passively, through representative government accepting them, I can't even figure out what you want or mean. But in terms of taxes - coercion in your view - the answer is found in negating the Articles of Confederation and moving to the Constitution - with the ability to tax, or coerce, for the basic functions of government. I swear, Steven, sometimes you seem so informed and knowledgeable about history - and then you seem to be completely clueless. I don't get it.

But I do appreciate you stopping by and commenting on the blog. It's always a pleasure to spar ideologically with you/

steven said...

Michael, please explain how majority rule is consistent with protecting the natural rights of each and every individual, which is what our country's founders claimed is government's only legitimate purpose.

steven said...

I enjoy sparring with you as well, Michael. Sorry that I get carried away at times. Please just write it off as me acting like a jerk (although a passionate, caring jerk - I wouldn't want to be too hard on myself).

mmazenko said...

How isn't it protective of natural rights? Public service like courts and police do that. Majority rule is the way governments provide those common services like public service and protection. Explain how we defeat Hitler or respond to natural disasters or respond to 9/11 or provide daily police service on a voluntary payment program.

steven said...

The job of courts and police is to interpret and enforce the law, Michael, not to protect the natural rights of individuals, or even to protect the safety of individuals (the courts have ruled many times that the police have no obligation to protect anyone from harm - their only obligation is to enforce the law). If the job of the courts and police was to protect the natural rights of individuals, then why are there so many people locked up in prison, where many of them are subjected to violent sexual assults by other inmates, for doing things that may have violated the law (positive law, not natural law) but harmed nobody? I'm talking mainly about laws that prohibit the use and sale of drugs. Millions of people are now in prison for violating those laws.

And if majority rule protects the natural rights of individuals, then why aren't gays in California allowed to marry each other? The majority overruled that one?

One more thing. If you say that we should be governed by majority rule, then you mean that whatever the majority decides is what we must do. Meaning that there is no middle ground or right to dissent from whatever the majority decides. If the majority decides that we must kill all the Jews, then we must kill all the Jews. Right? If you say that no, there are some things that shouldn't be decided by majority rule, then I'm going to have to ask you how it can be decided what those things that shouldn't be decided by majority rule are and aren't. Should we take a vote?

Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

Hi Mazenko... I missed your comment (obviously!).

I don't think what Ellen DID on the show is problematic. But the fact that they HAD an openly gay person on the show IS. It wouldn't be ok for them to have Fred Phelps on, would it? Well, then it isn't appropriate to have controversial people like Ellen.

Maybe you are so liberal that you don't see how having Ellen on a CHILDREN's show is problematic. A news show for adults in which several opinions are presented? Great. Not a problem at all! Preschool show? No.

Unlike "steven" I do understand that we don't need 100 percent agreement before spending a penny of federal funds. We'd get nothing done that way. But it's a reasonable thing to eliminate funding for public television. Certainly we have other priorities on which to spend our money.

PS. In answer to your question, NO, I do not lie to my children about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I don't get that whole thing either. We didn't have a tree until two years ago when our neighbours decided we needed one and gave it to us... pagan or not, I didn't have the heart to tell them we didn't have one for exactly the reasons you outlined.

So I do keep one up over the holidays because my neighbours are good and generous people. I would likely keep a Greek god statue up too if they gave one to me out of neighbourliness... :)

Anonymous said...

I don't have a problem with Ellen, Elmo or Easter bunnies.. I do have a problem with the origins of Sesame Street - and the other freaking messages absorbed by generations. I feel guilt for letting my daughter watch it when she was little. Seriously - you're worried about the gay woman most kids only know as Dory? I'm worried about all the other messages the government has "taught us" with sweet furry muppets. Keep paying, stay tuned and they will tell you what to think regarding PBS.