Nov 9, 2009

Everyone Jerk Your Knees Simultaneously

No. Seriously, you want to see what real knee jerking looks like? This week we're honoring the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street. In fact, it will turn midnight while I am writing this post and a jewel in the crown that is the United States public broadcasting services will officially be teaching its third generation of American children how to count, to spell, to read, and to express themselves in a broad variety of ways, and how to tolerate how others express themselves. The influence of Sesame Street is undeniable.

The show has come under fire recently for a sketch it did that mentions parodies of news network stations. The clip that started this backlash follows.

Conservatives were outraged over this seemingly innocuous sketch. Missing from the clip that people like uber-conservative 'reporter' Andrew Breitbart have circulated is context in which other news networks (including Oscar's network, GNN) are parodied in a generally grouchy way. As any of us hip to Sesame Street know, things in Oscar's world tend to be trashy, slimy, and gross in a very harmless and non-offensive kind of way. Sesame Street also loves word play and creating a child-safe mimicry of the real world.

Now few people can deny that cable news as a business is trashy. Even stodgy CNN appeals to the lowest common denominator, especially during prime time. Ever watch Nancy Grace? Lou Dobbs? Don't some of the things said on the Ed Show and Keith Olbermann make your skin crawl? Fox News is a trashy news channel. But Oscar doesn't say FOX news. He says POX news - get it?

The episode was originally aired over two years ago but was rebroadcast on Oct 29. Some Republicans link the episode with the White House's stance towards Fox News as an entertainment, and not a true news channel. The White House is reported to have told a Democratic strategist not to appear of Fox News - probably because most people in their right mind attempt to avoid Fox anyway. Despite the large gap of time between the production of the episode and the election and first year of Barack Obama's presidency, they seem to believe that somehow Barack Obama or the Democratic Party has infiltrated the Sesame Street Workshop (which has also produced shows like the Electric Company and 321 Contact).

Republicans have essentially started accusing Sesame Street of political indoctrination. The charge is so serious but the premise of the sketch in question is so ridiculous - it is hard to believe that some on the right jumped on the bait because they were offended by the sketch.Most of the Republicans I know are smarter than that. Why would Andrew Breitbart try to manipulate the not-so-smart people in the Republican Party like this? Isn't that a terribly irresponsible thing for a journalist to do? It is easy to blame the people who have joined the attack, but the provocateur, in this case Breitbart, is far more dangerous. Look, Andrew Breitbart is a great journalist, but his story selection betrays his ideological bent. A man whose objectivity is so compromised would do better as a blogger and commentator. In a way, he is committing the same sin as Fox News.

What is probably at work here, in my opinion, is the intense dislike of libertarian conservatives for any successful arm of the government. Remember that the Republican party and the conservative movement have tried numerous times to destroy PBS, and it has remarkably endured. There are other federal agencies that have suffered from intentional neglect from Republican leadership over the past 30 years: Amtrak, the Post Office, port security, immigration, the National Park Service, and the IRS come to mind. It was politically unpopular to kill the programs and the spending lines, so they have simply been squeezing them for all these years. These folks have every incentive to create a conflict here and this reeks of hyperbole. It is another non-story turned into a GOP talking point. Lets get back to debating health care, cap and trade, and infrastructure repair and leave Sesame Street to the kids.

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Keep it civil and pg-13, please.