Friday, July 28, 2006

This Old Hypocrisy – PBS Style

All television is educational television. The question is: what is it teaching? ~Nicholas Johnson
I recall when PBS and its sibling, NPR, were bastions of tolerance, who weren't swayed by ratings, didn't talk about target audiences, didn't change their programs to fit the latest fad, and didn't fear knee-jerk criticism. How times have changed.

It's been going downhill for a while. A couple of years ago, NPR kicked Bob Edwards off “Morning Edition”, a program he had hosted since its inception. What made this firing egregious was that within about four months, the program was going to celebrate a major anniversary (25 or 30 years on the air, I forget the exact number), and here was NPR wanting to “meet their listeners' needs” by firing the host of one of their most popular programs. They met these needs by going to the usual two-host, ping-pong style of news program, using generic voices that could be replaced any old time ratings (which NPR supposedly doesn't care about) dipped.

PBS started airing “reality shows” disguised as historical recreations of living conditions. Prior to that, they had blood-and-guts emergency room shows. The network that was supposed to provide something different seemed to be determined to look just like everyone else.

Now they've fired Melanie Martinez, host of “The Good Night Show” on PBS Kids Sprout network. Before I get to that, I must vent a bit about TV programming for pre-schoolers and infants.

Apparently thanks to their crowded schedules, modern young adults have given up parenting altogether. Sprout is aimed at children 3 and under. My satellite TV provider has introduced “The Baby Channel”, a subscription channel, if you can believe this, for infants. For 10 bucks a month, you can roll the crib in front of a television and never worry about singing, reading, or even talking to your kid. Sprout will save you the trouble of telling bedtime stories, at least as soon as they hire a new storyteller.

This is ridiculous. If people can't cope with raising children, then they shouldn't have any. I wonder what the folks who complained about parents in the seventies letting their kids watch a couple of hours a day of Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, and the Electric Company, will think about even younger children being raised by the boob tube. I wonder what the modern absentee parents will think when these channels start slipping in subtle commercials so the babies know which cereal to cry for at the market.

At any rate, back to Ms. Martinez. It seems that PBS discovered that the woman in question had appeared in videos called “Technical Virgin.” They were alerted to this by none other than Melanie Martinez herself. From the brief description of the videos in the article, it doesn't sound like she took any clothing off, but she did present mock public service announcements on how women could retain their virginity.

Whooee, that's pretty heavy stuff!

So, for appearing as an actress in a couple of probably R-rated videos before she ever worked for PBS, and for having the temerity to tell PBS about them so they wouldn't be embarrassed when they made the rounds on the Internet, she got unceremoniously canned. According Sandy Wax, network president, “PBS Kids Sprout has determined that the dialogue in this video is inappropriate for her role as a preschool program host and may undermine her character's credibility with our audience (my italics).”

Say, what? Okay, lemme see if I've got this. According to Ms. Wax, her audience, made up of 2 and 3 year olds, are watching adult videos. She has to be talking about the kids, because their parents clearly aren't watching some woman tell preschool bedtime stories.. No, the parents are in the living room watching some tart on the Playboy Channel tell an entirely different level of bedtime story.

So how can Ms. Martinez's “credibility” be affected? Are the few parents who watch the program going to tell their kids that Miss Melanie talked about doing naughty-naughty? If they do, then they have no right to complain about Ms. Martinez, who am I reasonably sure, did not tell her toddler viewers about “Technical Virgin”. So what's really going on here?

Let's go back, waaaaay back, to the sixties. Ivory Snow, a laundry product that I guess is still around (when I do the shopping, I buy what my wife tells me to), had a lovely picture on the box of an angelic blonde woman holding an infant. Come to find out that the woman was Marilyn Chambers, who had not much of a career as a model, but had a pretty notorious one as a star in adult films. In fact, prior to her Ivory Snow gig, she starred in a legendary flick, Behind the Green Door. Now, I can say in all honesty that I've never seen this particular work of art (well, they used to show this sort of thing in “art houses”), but it was apparently pretty raunchy even by the standards of adult movies of the day.

Now, most people didn't have a clue who she was, but the press had a field day, and, of course, prudes were aghast that Ivory Snow would use a picture of this harlot, who very tastefully clothed and in no way suggested anything prurient on this box. Nonetheless, Ivory apologized to the world and removed the boxes from circulation.

Marilyn Chambers, on the other hand, rode the notoriety to more roles in adult films, at much higher pay, along with interviews and a book (I'm pretty sure there was a book; there usually is). For a time, she was better known than Linda Lovelace.

So, I hope that something similar happens to Ms. Martinez. She should parlay this firing into some primetime gigs. Definitely she should hit the talk show route and get started on the book.

Meanwhile, PBS will have to search for a new host who will not offend whoever it is they think Ms. Martinez is offending. Perhaps one of the Teletubbies could fill in.

If Jerry Falwell doesn't mind, that is.

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