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February 1995, Week 1


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Henry Jenkins <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 7 Feb 1995 16:46:21 CST
Your message of "Mon, 06 Feb 1995 13:29:49 CST." <[log in to unmask]>
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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----------------------------Original message----------------------------
I want to appologize in part to Larry Jarvick. Part of our problem here
is that delay in getting things back on line puts my original post out of
context. It is clear now that you are willing to debate the proposition and I am
appreciating, though not agreeing, with you spelling out your position. As
I tried to suggest in my post, I have strong ambiguities here. I do not think
PBS has a consistently liberal bias; it seems to me muddled at best and has
shown itself to be cowardly in its treetment of TALES OF THE CITY for instance.
 I do think that the arguments to promote it are elitist if the programming
itself isn't. I do not think the case can be made that it is significantly
better than popular television. I find it middle-brow at best. I do think the
limited amount of funding it takes is a drop in the bucket in terms of the
federal budget and is a worthy expendature of my tax dollars. I would rather
see my money go to that than corporate subsaidies, agriculture-oriented
give-aways, much of the national defense budget, etc., though I doubt that
these programs will suffer the same kinds of cuts from the New Congress. I
do think it is an example of where government-private partnership is working,
as some of the democratic representatives were arguing at the hearings, and
my understanding is that the effects of the cuts would be more significant
than conservatives suggest because much of it is used for seedmoney to
attract matching grants and without it, projects would be much harder
to initiate. I don't buy the suggestion that people CHOOSE not to subscribe
to cable. I'm sure some of them make that choice: my in-laws for instance.
Many more, however, choose not to get cable in order to pay rent (as I
had to choose for a number of years) or to buy food (as my brother and his
wife have to choose, in order to support their families without going on
        Larry's comments about how the panel was composed is helpful. I think
it points to a basic problem in how congressional hearings operate. Everything
is allocated according to sides with only two possible sides on most
questions and certain key groups chosen to determine who represents their
sides. I have no quarell with the idea that the critics of PBS should have
been given equal time in this context nor with Larry for making his research
known on this point. I just think that this is an area where media scholars
might have made a meaningful contribution to public policy but their views
were not sought out by the committee independently of the specific advocacy
groups for PBS. This makes the whole thing a political show, rather than
an investigation that might lead to constructive public policy.
   I suppose I feel in the end that some changes in PBS's policies would
be beneficial: I would agree that BARNEY and company should pay their share;
I would like to see the sallaries made public since they are made at
taxpayers expenses and should be public record. (Of the people I know who
work at PBS, most are grossly underpaid and overworked, so I suspect it would
be in their best interest to dispell some of the claims being made about
their fat-cat status.) I would like to see PBS forced to confront its
elitist rhetoric and justify its claims to be better television, 'cause I
agree with Larry that I don't tend to teach PBS shows in my TV class, I
don't tend to watch that many of them myself, and as the AMERICAN CINEMA
discussions suggest, I am not sure they are doing their job in terms of
taking risks and allowing alternative viewpoints to be heard. (Unlike
Larry, however, I would see part of the selling-out of recent PBS decisions
to be directly linked to the move towards privitization and do not think it
will produce better quality programs.) But, having agreed to those criticisms,
I think PBS needs to be there and needs to be supported, at the cost of
roughly one dollar per citizen, by the government. In the end, I am not
convinced by the limited government argument for several reasons. First,
I don't see an effort to consistently limit government and I think PBS
has become a focus for purely ideological reasons. When Bob Dole will vote
to cut grain subsidies and Newt Gingrinch will go after Peanut payoffs, then
I may start to take some of these claims seriously. Second, I would see the
function of government to deal with problems which are national in scope
and which individuals are unable to deal with themselves. In my opinion, PBS
falls into that category.
   Let me close by again retract my personal comments about Jarvik. We should
spend less time here questioning each others motives and more time focusing
on the central issues. I frankly admire Jarvik for being willing to publically
take a conservative stance on this issue within a Media Studies community which
 is so heavily liberal/radical in its politics. I always value and respect
healthy debate with thoughtful conservatives and know some who feel silenced
by the prevailing climate at SCS and elsewhere. (I recognize, of course, in
making that statement I risk having my own left-of-center credentials called
into question.)
-- Henry Jenkins
p.s. I would make a distinction, by the way, between "advocacy" in the
classroom and "advocacy" in a public forum. We would probably disagree on
what is appropriate in both spaces. But, it seems to me that the nature of
this space certainly allows for "political adovocacy" as well as intellectual
discussion since we are speaking here as individual citizens, part of a
virtual community, and not as authority figures in a classroom setting. I
don't think posts to a net should be judged by the same kinds of standards
of scholarship as academic articles and so I don't see the point that Jarvik
was originally making against the discussion here.