Saturday, October 08, 2005

Sesame Sponsorship

It’s nearly forty years since Sesame Street’s maiden program, but periodically, no causal association apparent, like pain from an old wound, the rage re-wells in me. "Sesame Street is brought to you by the Letter A."
I’d heard that a PBS show was coming, supposed to give kids a leg up in literacy, its eye on the underprivileged, and I’d been looking forward to it. I was a teacher in those days. bk was just a toddler. I was sure he’d get all the lift he needed without any PBS special program. I myself had arrived in kindergarten already half-able to read. All it had taken was an older sister who was herself learning. I saw what she was doing and tried it myself.
Don’t get me wrong; teacher or no, lover of John Donne, of ee cummings or no, I’ve never been an uncritical supporter of literacy. I believe that civilization was far less toxic in pre-literate times. A writer myself, I’ve still long suspected that we might be better off if we threw all our writing away, starting with the Bible, and not protecting Shakespeare either. In 1969 or so I hadn’t yet encountered Claude Levy Straus’s explanation that literacy’s utility was social control, but I’d been anarchist enough to be ready for it all my life.
Were we to throw our writing away I’d support starting with the Bible -- never mind how much I love it and cite it and return to it, because I also see it to be an endless well of harm: no evil more apparent to me than the idea that existence is property, that God owns everything the way the maker of a puppet owns the puppet, that we owe God gratitude for an existence I have no memory of asking for. I’m glad to be alive much of the time. I’m also sorry to be alive some of the time, embarrassed by my society nearly all of the time. But damn it, I don’t feel and don’t want to feel, don’t want anybody to feel, any debt. The way I love god has nothing to do with indebtedness. I emphasize that so I can segue straight back to my point: Sesame Street was sponsored by some alliance of public TV, corporations, and the public itself. It was a terrible lie to iterate to preschoolers that it was sponsored by a reified element of literacy: the Letter A.
Indeed, advertising is my sorest spot with regard to TV anyway. Program developers could have appealed to the public for direct support of programming in the first place. I remember no such appeals. No, we were intended to be captives of commerce all along.

Captives of commerce

In general: if the public doesn’t voluntarily pay for something, then the public shouldn’t have it: not school, not defense, not anything. Nothing enslaves us more than sponsors.

I love the joke about the teacher complaining to the parent that little Rocco is rude and disrespectful when given his milk before nap time in grade school. "Don’t give ’im no fuckin’ milk," says his mother. Right on. If the public doesn’t voluntarily pay for twenty-four hours times N channels of mind-bludgeoning entertainment, don’t give ’em no fucking entertainment.

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