Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Another Shot In The Culture War

When does the government become responsible for material produced with grants it provides? That is a hard question to answer when you think about it. I have and I will continue to be a supporter of the good work that PBS does in the area of children’s programming. I remember watching Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers growing up and they are good memories. I also remember that my mother or father never had to explain an episode of either of those programs. This is the dilemma that faces many parents today.

The Boston public television station, WGBH, which has given us many great children’s programs such as Dragontales, Sagwa, and Arthur. They now bring us Postcards from Buster, which features Buster Bunny from the Arthur kids show. The premise of the show is that Buster travels with his father who is a private pilot across the country meeting people and having adventures. In every episode Buster meets new kids and families, many of which are bilingual and/or bicultural. Now if you did not know anything else about the show, and you have kids, you would most likely let them watch this show based on that description.

As with most things, there is more to this then meets the eye. Sorry, I just dropped a Transformers cliché, won’t happen again. Seems that during one of Buster’s adventures he travels to gay-friendly Vermont and meets a little girl with two mommies. Now I have not seen the episode because my local PBS station has decided not to air it or if this report is correct, it was not distributed to the nation's PBS stations. It seems that the new Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings has some serious objections to this particular episode and has asked PBS not to air it 3 times. As of early Tuesday morning, the parent station of the show’s producers still has the show scheduled to air on Wednesday afternoon at 5:30pm, Eastern Standard Time according to their website.

The new Secretary of Education states that her objection is simply a result of concerned parents not wanting their children exposed to such lifestyles as such a young age and it being paid for with public money. According to PBS’s own information, the demographic likely to be watching this show ranges from 2-10 years old. Spellings told PBS that she had serious concerns about this episode in particular because of the inclusion of a pair of lesbian parents in the storyline. As I stated, I have not seen the episode and can only go by the synopsis on the PBS website. I quote “Buster seeks a gift for Mother's Day and is helped by Emma and Lily”, seems pretty innocent huh?

I have no idea who Emma and Lily are or if they are the lesbian parents, but according to this report in USA Today, the focus of the episode is on farm life and maple sugaring. I don’t hear any mention of lesbianism or domestic partners in that description. According to WGBH’s vice president for children’s programming, Brigid Sullivan, “The series, she says, is a "direct response to a request" from the Ready to Learn program, which is administered by PBS on behalf of the Department of Education, for a show about "diversity and tolerance in modern America for school-age children." I have no reason to doubt that statement but consider this, PBS’s website breaks down their funding this way: 16.4% of its funding from the federal government through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, grants and contracts, and 18.3% from state governments. (Members contribute 23.5%; businesses, 16.1%; state colleges and universities, 6.5%; foundations, 5.5 %.) Now if PBS was a normal corporation they would most likely tell the Feds to take a hike. Does the Secretary really believe that her measly 16.4 % entitles her to editorial control of the finished product?

As someone who favors smaller government and less intrusion by said government, I quite frankly am torn in my feelings on this “issue”. Hell, I am not even sure this is an “issue”; I mean the Chicago Tribune ran the story on the 25th of January and it took USA Today 5 days to even pick up on it. At that rate, it should grace the national or local news in about a week or so since they are generally about 2 weeks behind any issue, unless of course it’s bad news for the President or about Iraq, another story for another time. Let me lay out my thoughts on this “issue”. I typically believe in the mission of PBS as far as it applies to children’s programming. The rest of the time with the exception of some of the Ken Burns pieces, I think they put out leftist propaganda horseshit. As someone much more famous then I once said you have to take the good with the bad. So I do and give them money once a year to fund the shows that my children enjoy.

The problem I have with this show and don’t get me wrong, I applaud their efforts to educate kids about the differences in the world and that they should accept people for what they are. But I also don’t expect to have my children educated by television, unlike too many parents now a day. It is my responsibility as a parent to teach my children to be tolerant of others even if I or they disagree with their choices or beliefs, not PBS’s and most certainly not our government. That being said, I can’t say whether or not I would let my children watch this episode of Postcards from Buster since I have not seen it.

I will say this, my concern is that children that young have no concept of sexuality and can’t gasp the idea of two mommies or two daddies. At that age, there is no reason to force such a complex subject such as human sexuality down their throats. Again it comes back to the responsibility of the parent to educate their child when the parent thinks the child is ready. Too often, these concepts are force-fed to our children before they can deal with them and either through weakness or laziness the parents do not step up and take the responsibility to protect the child and just let them be a kid without the rush to make them adults. I think the Feds need to take a step back and PBS needs to re-think their programming choices, let the kids be kids they will grow up soon enough.

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