Wednesday, June 01, 2005

I have to admit that as for TV, the trashier the better. My dream day begins with “Elimidate,” and “Celebrity Justice” followed by “Springer,” and back-to-back “Judge Judy”s. My afternoon would have to include “Style Court,” “Craft Corner Death Match” and “The Dog Whisperer.” But evenings call for more serious fare. That’s where PBS comes in.

I get the feeling that for a lot of people, myself included, PBS is kind of like a cultural Arctic Wildlife Refuge—a pristine and magnificent place we may never actually visit—or rarely—but it’s good to know it’s there. PBS is one of the few organizations I contribute to, albeit a modest amount, but their seemingly endless pledge drives (they say it happens only once a year, but it seems to last ten months) keep me away a lot of the time, and the fact that commercials—yes, actual commercials—have crept into their programming rankles me on principle.

The lion’s share of adult programming on public television is downright anodyne. Like the superabundance of home improvement shows totally indistinguishable from anything on commercial television. You’ve got your cooking shows and your travel guides. And fluff like “Antiques Roadshow.” You have to go deep into the heart of this cultural refuge to get past the cultural refuse. But there are some rare, exotic creatures in there.

One such national treasure is Bill Moyers. I have always found his take on things thought-provoking. He is one of the last of a nearly extinct breed of journalists and public thinkers: an unflinchingly honest, reasoned and humanistic voice in what’s become an increasingly hysterical national shouting match. Moyers doesn’t strike me as an ideologue. He is something much more dangerous in the current cultural climate: a free thinker.

With the ascendancy of the GOP apparatchiks in every sector of society, you knew it couldn’t be long before a non-party member like Moyers came under sustained assault. The Republican chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Kenneth Tomlinson, has launched an old-fashioned Soviet-style intimidation campaign against any and all in the media who refuse to tow the party line. Moyers won’t back down, but he may soon be purged from the PBS playlist, replaced by such complete zeros as Tucker Carlson, whose new PBS show “Unfiltered” (the title an unclever wink to the party faithful), offers absolutely no insight into the news. A trained parrot could host his show.

Every war is ultimately a war for resources, and the present culture war is no different. We lend value to things in great part by withholding them from others. This is where cut-throat capitalism and democracy come to loggerheads. The right has come to the realization that while knowledge is power, withholding knowledge is, too. This is clear in their stance on everything from evolution and sex ed to the War in Iraq. PBS is next. And a PBS without Moyers is like an Arctice Wildlife Refuge riddled with oil wells: no refuge at all.


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