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The Truth, Mainly - 04/10/1995

PC War: Dittoheads vs. PBS

I think we're about to get to the bottom of this.

I mean the reason Limbaugh dittoheads in and out of Congress can't stand PBS.

I've never been convinced by the reasons they gave before. PBS is an elitist playpen for the rich? Why would that bother people who generally favor making the whole country a playpen for the rich?

Or cost? Congress proposes a $63 million tax break for Rupert Murdoch, but balks at $1.09 per person per year in tax money for PBS?

Or the most picturesque objection of all—the one from Rev. Joseph R. Chambers of Paw Creek Ministries in North Carolina. He warns us that the PBS kid show, "Barney," is straight out of "the world of demons and devils," further evidence that "America is under siege from the powers of darkness." That explains why North Carolina keeps re-electing Jesse Helms to the Senate.

But we got down to the hard core last week in Mona Charon's Sunday column. The really serious deep-down gut reason dittoheads can't stand PBS is that "Barney" and other kid shows are shot through with "political correctness."

"Political correctness" has become the most vile phrase a dittohead can utter, having replaced "dirty rotten pinko commie anti-gun bleeding heart" as Most Cutting Epithet by a unanimous vote of the 1994 National Dittohead Convention.

PC, once a useful term that meant something fairly specific, now is a catch-all label for anything dittoheads feel passionately negative about. Wayne Booth, professor emeritus of English at the University of Chicago, says PC almost always is used now to mock one or more of the following:

"(1) decency; (2) legality; (3) moral or ethical standards; (4) justice, fairness, equality of opportunity; (5) tact, courtesy, concern about hurting people's feelings unnecessarily; (6) generosity; (7)kindness; (8) courage in defending the underdog; (9) anti-bigotry; (10) anti-racism; (11) anti-anti- Semitism; (12) anti-fascism; (13) anti-sexism; (14) refusal to kneel to Mammon; (15) sympathetic support for the jobless, the homeless, the impoverished, or the abused; (16) preservation of an environment in which human life might survive; (17) openness to the possibility that certain right- wing dogmas just might be erroneous."

That brings us back to Mona Charon.

She says PBS kid shows are "cultural propaganda" attempting "to push an agenda at those impressionable little minds."

I suppose any TV show has a "cultural propaganda" agenda if you define the term broadly enough. The question is whether Barney's agenda is a good one.

Ms. Charon thinks it's a bad one because it's soft on divorce. She points to a Barney song that goes like this:

"I know a boy named Tim who lives with his mom./His dad lives far away./And though he sees his parents just one at a time,/They both love him every day." The refrain concludes that all families differ, "But mine's just right for me."

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She says that's part of the disagreeably tolerant notion that "TV owes it to [kids of divorced parents] to make them feel 'normal' and loved and accepted," but all it really does is "to assuage the guilt of parents."

Assuaging guilt may be politically correct too.

Ms. Charon also dislikes the Sesame Street song "We All Sing With the Same Voice," calling it "one of those feel-good universalist themes that pockmark the program."

In the spirit of reconciliation between those who think divorcees should wallow in guilt and those who think little kids should be made to feel good ("normal," loved, and accepted), I offer a modest proposal: What we need is not less public TV, but more. Not just PBS, but a parallel network we'd call NEWTV.

It would be full of kid shows from Dittoland—and all of them shot through with Dittoland's own peculiar brand of political correctness.

Barney would still be there, but on NEWTV he'd sing sterner songs about kids from troubled families: "Hurry, hurry, drive the fire truck./Hurry, hurry, drive the fire truck,/Hurry, hurry, drive the fire truck./Papa chased Mama up a tree."

The new Barney theme song would be "I smack you,/You smack me./We're a dysfunctional fam-i-lee."

Sesame Street on NEWTV would show three little kids of European descent sitting around one whose people come from one of the other continents, and they'd ask the viewer "Which one of these things doesn't belong?"

And the NEWTV Mr. Rogers would sing "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood,/So long as you're the right neighbor./Could you get out of here?/Would you stay out of here?/Don't you be my neighbor."

After a year of PBS and NEWTV going head to head, we could choose between the two brands of political correctness. Those who prefer the Dittoland version could vote to re-elect the dittohead freshman congressmen. Those who prefer the PBS version could vote for the challengers.

And we'd lower the voting age to six months.

We'd have fun, boys and girls. Can you say "political correctness plebiscite"?


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.


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