Matthew Lederman

March 26, 1991

Joan Ganz Cooney: The Manchurian Candidate?

At least once a year, although it seems like once a month, the people at Public Television come at the public in a desperate attempt to satisfy their extraordinary appetite for cash needed to keep themselves on the air. They have wasted all the money they extorted from us in the last fund drive. They have exhausted all the money that corporations have bestowed on them in exchange for commercials without stigma. They have milked their subsidies from all levels of government dry. They have swallowed enormous grants and gifts with just a little more than an electronic burp. They just take a breath, square their shoulders, set their jaws and start all over again. They call on the telephone and they write letters and they broadcast on the tube. Their tactics are abhorrent. They work on the guilt of the people who watch without contributing. They work on the fear of those who think erroneously that something would be lost if public television was taken off the air. They are terrorists of the intellect. They are the storm troopers of the middlebrow.

Public television trades on three elitist, self-created and incorrect assumptions. First, public television contributes something to American society and culture. Second, public television is noncommercial. Third, public television has a high moral and intellectual purpose.

What does public television really contribute? Mindless dramas in which pretentious, uninteresting people drone incessantly in English accents about things not even deep enough to merit a mention on "Dallas." Inane children's shows that pander to the stupid and uncaring parents who are not capable of providing their own children with moral, intellectual or spiritual direction in the first place. A news program that gives new meaning to the word "pomposity" and that seems to exist for the sole purpose of allowing McNeil and Leher to prove that you can be just as shallow and ignorant in an hour of public television as you can in three minutes of network television. Yes. They show opera. Yes. They show ballet. The one real contribution of public television is that people can sit at home and be cultured. And the cost-effective part is that the people at public television can run the old tapes after they have driven all of our cultural institutions into insolvency.

Why do we allow them to call it public television? They might have a claim to that name it were noncommercial and viewer supported. But, when IBM or Mobil sponsors some dreary, but politically correct, masterpiece and then mentions with extreme dignity that they have done so it is just as much advertising as the man floating around a toilet in a little runabout, except that, for all the awesome solemnity of public television sponsorship, there is none of the honesty associated with the mariner in the blue water of the porcelain atoll. As offensive as commercials on network television are, at least they do not pretend to be what they are not. Further, the programming for children on public television is essentially a collection of thirty-minute commercials for toys and useless, but cute, paraphernalia that contribute only slightly more to the well-being of the viewing children than the shows that shill for them, only because the children must use some physical and mental energy to interact with these items. There are enough muppets in the stores (and incidentally on commercial television) to populate many excruciatingly cute parallel universes (in fact it is amazing that Carl Sagan, public television sage has not tried to contact them in his guise of the thinking man's Geraldo). There is so much public television related junk for sale that it is amazing that they still need to raise money. Could it be that the people at public television are worse at business than they are at art? It is almost unthinkable.

What is the purpose of public television? To entertain? Except for some old movies, the public television concept of entertainment is poorly produced, painfully dull and English. Go read a book. To educate? Does a whiny frog bemoaning the difficulty of being green really have any effect on the racial attitudes of the children who watch it? All the kids in Bensonhurst grew up with Sesame Street. Worked real well there. Does an eight-foot tall bird of dubious sexuality and questionable intellect contribute anything a child's understanding of the alphabet? What a role model. A-C-D-C-E-F-G.... Why are there no studies correlating the 20 year slide in SAT scores and the two-decade television run of Sesame Street? Does the education establishment have too much invested in this moronic experiment? Why has the media never investigated this incredible coincidence. The fact that a child can sit down in front of the television and memorize the jingle in an advertisement does not mean that the child has any new or increased understanding of anything deeper than "Um, um, good." The related fact that a child can count to ten in a bad Transylvanian accent does not mean that he or she even knows how many fingers he or she is supposed to have. Who entrusted Joan Ganz Cooney and the Children's Television Workshop with the education of our children? To our shame, we did. The KGB could not have orchestrated the destruction of American society as well as the CTW. Joan Ganz Cooney stalked the American intellect like a brainwashed madwoman. A heroine on the outside, a killer on the inside. And what great evil power is controlling her? Who would benefit most from a generation of illiterate zombies trained to stare into a television set? Hey! The guy at the garden party. He looked like a younger, slightly heavier Akio Morita.

Copyright 2005 Matthew Lederman. All rights reserved