Today’s WTF: The right gets their panties in a wad over the Million Muppet March

YET ANOTHER UPDATE (10/16): OK, it seems there may be some legal issue here…the page is now back on Facebook, but it is called the Million Puppet March. Must be some Muppet lawyers getting unnerved in some way…still not sure about the Twitter though…will see what I can find if I have time before my trip. 

UPDATE (10/16): I have been informed by a reader that the links to the Million Muppet March pages are not working. I checked it out myself, and sure enough, their Facebook, Twitter, and main site are all offline as of now (middle of the night between Monday and Tuesday, pretty much). I have no idea if this is something they did themselves for some reason, or it there is something else going on. I hope it is nothing problematic and that they will be back soon, but this is definitely a bit unusual and unexpected. If there is any news I can come up with I’ll try to get back here and let y’all know…

Alright, I have already discussed the Million Muppet Marchin this blog a couple of times before (here and here), but I had to bring it up just one more time today. Here’s why: while checking my WordPress stats over the weekend, I noticed that one of the search engine terms used by people who had found my blog was “don’t let million muppet march happen”. And that same search was used not once, but 7 times, to lead people here between Saturday and Sunday. I was curious about how/why that one would come up, and about who would even be searching for something like that in the first place. So I did a little searching myself, and what I found was a post from this past Saturday on the Michelle Malkin website, which mocks the Million Muppet March, as well as the two guys who came up with the idea. This particular post was not written by Malkin herself, but was penned by a contributor named Doug Powers. I’m not going to link to it, because I don’t feel like providing Ms. Malkin with any additional traffic via my page. If you’re so inclined, you can Google it, but the basic idea of the post was to scoff at the idea of people organizing a march in support of public television. With so many other, more important things to worry about, Powers reasons, why would anyone be motivated to march for Muppets? Why not a march against terrorism, or taxation, or unemployment? And why should people get frantic about the threat of cutting federal money for PBS, when the amount of money that PBS gets from the government is relatively small anyway (only about 12-14 percent of the PBS budget is provided by federal funding)?

Here’s why I have a problem with this line of thinking. To begin with, the Million Muppet March is meant to celebrate public television and the programming it provides to millions of Americans. It isn’t really just about Big Bird in particular, or Muppets in general. The Big Bird reference made by Mitt Romney in the first presidential debate was a convenient way to frame the discussion, but it is about far more than just this alone. According to Chris Mecham, one of the organizers (along with Michael Bellavia) of the Million Muppet March:

“Romney was using Muppets as a rhetorical device to talk about getting rid of public broadcasting, which is really so much bigger than Sesame Street. While he was still talking I was thinking of ways I could express my frustration at that argument. Before the debates were over I had put up the Million Muppet March Facebook page.”

Ironically, Sesame Street might be one of the PBS programs least affected by a funding cut. Their use of character licensing and sales as a means to generate funds is highly successful. But this is not an option for the vast majority of the other shows that PBS broadcasts. There is no market for t-shirts featuring Judy Woodruff or Gwen Ifill (as awesome as they may be), nor will any parent be rushing out to buy a stuffed toy version of Bill Moyers for the kiddies. Sesame Street is definitely an American institution – and it has become a worldwide educational phenomenon and one of this country’s most successful exports as well, with over 140 countries airing some version of Sesame Street to children around the globe. But PBS offers so much more than one show, with other acclaimed children’s programming, entertainment, news, history, science, financial, international and local programming as well. All of this enriches the lives of Americans both young and old, and serves as a top-notch source of information and entertainment for even those in lower-income or rural areas, where the multi-channel world of cable or dish television may not be the norm.

It’s true that the funding provided by the government does not make up the bulk of the PBS operating budget. However, it is crucial nonetheless. Most of the money that PBS receives via federal funding is used to support local PBS stations around the country. Without that money, smaller community stations that provide public television in their areas would be severely affected. According to a statement released by PBS in response to Romney’s debate comments:

“A key thing to remember is that public television and radio stations are locally owned and community focused and they are experts in working efficiently to make limited resources produce results. In fact, for every $1.00 of federal funding invested, they raise an additional $6.00 on their own – a highly effective public-private partnership. Numerous studies – including one requested by Congress earlier this year – have stated categorically that while the federal investment in public broadcasting is relatively modest, the absence of this critical seed money would cripple the system and bring its services to an end.”

When conservative writers like Doug Powers dismiss the significance of the funding that PBS receives from the government, it belies the reality behind the way the PBS budget works. It also shows an inability to see the bigger picture behind the Million Muppet March. Since only a portion of the public broadcasting budget is provided by the  government, where does the rest come from? Well, a great deal of it is contributed by individuals and private entities (like foundations and corporations). And when the contributions aren’t coming in the way they used to, the budget for public television becomes harder to stretch. An event like the Million Muppet March provides a way to remind the public about how important PBS programming is to all of us. It garners enthusiasm for the shows and characters we have come to know and love. And hopefully, it spurs some fresh momentum in the efforts to find and increase those private contributions a bit.

There is also a larger mindset among conservatives that is key to this PBS discussion. The idea that practically everything should be privatized – Medicare, Social Security, education, you name it – has become a well-known Republican mantra. Why not allow absolutely everything to be financed by the free market, right? Mitt Romney really wasn’t dropping a surprise bombshell on anyone when he mentioned PBS funding in the debate – he’s been saying it for a long while now, including a campaign talk in December of last year, when he told voters in Iowa, “We’re not going to kill Big Bird, but Big Bird is going to have advertisements. Alright?” Well, no, that’s actually NOT alright. PBS is the one place where ALL Americans can watch commercial-free television, and for the millions of children that tune in every day, that is an especially rare and wonderful thing. Kids already have ads in their faces everywhere else they go – even their schools, which have been forced in recent years to compensate for reduced funding by accommodating sponsors left, right and center. The school a few miles from my house has the name of a prominent local car dealership plastered all over the walls of its gym, and the cafeteria is papered with ads from local orthodontists, sports supply shops, and pizza places. Is it so hard to understand why having one lousy non-commercial TV channel might actually be a GOOD thing for kids today?

Regardless of the issues that right-wing pundits and voters may have with it, the Million Muppet March is a worthwhile event. I am amazed that people might be searching the internet for anything like “don’t let the million muppet march happen”, but that just goes to show the utter lack of ability some folks have to live and let live in this polarized world. You don’t like the idea? Fine, don’t go. You think it’s trivial? Fine, organize your own march about something that’s important to you. But those who would actively be looking to target this event or its organizers need to grab themselves a heaping helping of “go waste your precious time on something else” pie, with a big dollop of whipped “what’s it to ya?” right on top.

P.S. – Sorry that I am behind on reading posts and comments – I’m headed out of town later this week and am strapped for time, so forgive me for being lax. I may or may not even have time to write something up after the debate on Tuesday, so if I’m MIA for a week or so, that’s why. Hopefully I’ll be back on a more regular schedule ASAP, y’all. 🙂


6 thoughts on “Today’s WTF: The right gets their panties in a wad over the Million Muppet March

  1. It always surprises me when people say that we shouldn’t march/protest/speak out about one issue because there are so many other issues we should be worried about. Like: You American women, so worried about equal pay but if you lived in Afghanistan you wouldn’t even be able to work…see, you don’t have it so bad, now shut up! the logic makes no sense, but it serves to keep us quiet.

    The PBS issue is emblematic of the way Republicans see fit to do business…all for profit, nothing for the sheer good of doing it. Its not just Big Bird – like you said, it’s commercial-free learning time for kids, which they seldom get anymore. And that’s why it’s worth standing up and fighting for.

    Have a wonderful trip!

  2. Have a safe trip. Killing off PBS is just a foolish, silly ploy to punish liberals. Let’s focus on all the pork in legislation first, why don’t we? Do we really need an astronomically huge defense budget?

  3. Chris, good post. PBS is viewed in the same manner as NPR by the extreme conservative right. It endeavors to present news in a fair and informed manner, yet the folks who get their news from biased shows like Fox News believe it is yet another part of the liberal media. When you hear news from that lens, even real news appears liberal. My Fox watching backdoor neighbor said PBS Newshour was biased – PBS Newshour??? So, that is the context. PBS will survive irrespective of whether it is funded by the Feds. On the children front, this is the best, far reaching educational approach to pre-school toddlers. That, in and of itself, deserves funding. So, Big Bird is a metaphor that should be used. I do agree there are other important things, but we have to many looking at this as a zero sum game. Somebody has to win and somebody has to lose. I would say if kids are impacted by this, we all lose, especially the kids. That is my two cents. BTG

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