“I like PBS. I like Big Bird.”
If this was all that Mitt Romney had said about the Public Broadcasting Service during the first presidential debate this week, I would have had nothing to write but, “Me, too.” Instead, he declared that he would cut government subsidies for PBS as a way to save money and put it toward “more important” uses.
PBS is important, beloved and powerful, but I will not argue about its worth in comparison to other government programs. Instead I want to explain why I appreciate PBS — for being the home of my favorite aardvark, Arthur. I credit “Arthur,” the animated PBS show that began airing in 1996 and is still on today, for reinforcing positive values and serving all sorts of educational purposes in my life and the lives of all its viewers. If you have somehow forgotten about “Arthur” or never watched it, it’s about an impossibly cute aardvark and his family and friends, who are an assortment of friendly animals who stand upright on two legs, wear clothes and go to school. And you’re probably less well adjusted. No offense to you, or Jim Lehrer.
“Arthur” emphasizes the importance of family and friends and education. The “Arthur” theme song tells us to believe in ourselves and “get along with each other.” And it’s catchy. “Arthur” is basically The Beatles of the late ’90s, but with less obvious drug references. Arthur Read, by virtue of his last name, made reading cool. If you tested the audience of “Arthur” against people who never watched it, the viewership would spell “aardvark” correctly in infinitely higher numbers, because everyone who ever saw the spelling bee episode remembers Arthur repeating “A-A-R-D-V-A-R-K.”
Whenever I spell aardvark or hear about Ohio (“Ooooh Ohio!” said the kids), I think of Arthur. Thankfully, it’s still on TV for a modern audience of four- to eight-year-old kids to watch. New episodes have taken on green living and recycling as values and lessons to be portrayed by the Read family and the rest of their Elwood City cohorts. “Arthur” has gone on living and inspiring audiences, but we watched it when it began. We are the hipsters of early education.
Television has the power to teach, to influence, to inspire. It reinforces norms and builds norms and occasionally breaks them down. Entertainment is never just entertainment, especially for children, and PBS takes the time to make its programming educational and worthwhile. So we’ll keep our PBS, Mitt, and our Netflix subscriptions, Mom!
And thank you, PBS! Thank you for doing something useful with government money. Thanks for “Arthur,” “Dragon Tales,” “Sesame Street” and “Masterpiece” miniseries. Don’t even get me started on “Wishbone” — that dog really prepared me to read the classics.
Savannah Kopp ’14 loves old books, hates old movies and still watches television on the daily.