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As Long as We Remember...

March 20, 2017

The Death of Big Bird

Edward Lulie III

The new budget from President Donald Trump apparently seeks to cut all federal funding from National Public Radio (NPR), the National Endowment for the Arts, Corporation for Public Broadcasting and reduces funding for the EPA.


The Left, in general, is seething although they seem to have reached a state of indignation overload. Those on the Right old enough can recall memories from the 1980s when Newt Gingrich (the Left just called him "Grinch") sought to cut funding as well. The howl thus produced in outrage balked Newt's attempt to strike down the icon of five and six year olds everywhere.


It also reminded me of a sketch on the long gone "You Can't Do That on Television" show on Nickelodeon on which the redoubtable cigar chewing Barth, the school cook, was asked what they would be serving at the Big Bird Celebrity Banquet. Much to the dismay of the kids, he proudly wheeled out a well-roasted Big Bird as the "dinner." One of the children lamented, "awwh I wanted his autograph!"


Well, Big Bird didn't die then, and he won't die now. The Sesame Street gang may be less visible these days on public television, but they are all over cable and satellite. It isn't the ‘80s anymore.


Back in those cold hearted days of Ronald Reagan, there was programming on cable and broadcast television, but the choices were nothing like the Internet and satellite provides today to viewers. The need for choice and diverse programming to far rural areas is pretty much a thing of the past.


As a result the public outcry over proposed cuts in funding for public television and NPR will probably be limited to those voters who are still weeping over the election of President Trump. Their outrage will be mostly based on political opportunism and won’t be genuine. They just can't miss the chance to whine over "mean spirited" evil men who would dare to attack Big Bird.

On the Right there have been cheers over NPR, commonly referred to as National Peoples Radio, being defunded. This has always been a bastion of progressive thought and bias. Calling it "National" gave it the stamp of authority and has been a thorn in the side of those right of center for decades.


Defunding it throws red meat to the GOP base but will undoubtedly draw sneers from some, such as Sen. John McCain (R. AZ), and other allegedly Republican elected officials. I am sure some excellent people are in fear over cuts that will threaten their jobs, but the Trump base will not have much sympathy for that as they have watched layoffs, plant closings and salary stagnation for the last 20 years.


Once again this is a clash of cultures. Urbanized progressives, and those who live in "flyover country," do not see the same reality. The viewpoints of NPR which were progressively leftist in the ‘80s and early ‘90s are on steroids now at places like MSNBC, CNN and other legacy media places. They cannot understand how Fox News, with its (in their opinion) false news and skewed viewpoints, are growing in market share and audience while reality TV (i.e.: legacy media) is failing.


I doubt that anyone who has raised children in the last 20 years really dislikes Big Bird. It is true that the program was endlessly preaching good "liberal" values but never created the loathing that a certain purple dinosaur inspired.


At a Frederick Keys baseball game years ago, the San Diego Chicken appeared, and in his act attacked and beat up a facsimile Barney to the cheers of those in the audience. He got sued for that and eventually won; apparently the judicial system also hated him.


Big Bird will survive, maybe without federal funding, but he will continue on reruns, cable, satellite and Internet to reflect the wonder and curiosity about the world that all young children share.


I don't think the tall yellow bird ever shouted down, insulted or disparaged anyone. That is one lesson that still deserves to be taught these days, even if it is only on reruns.


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