Something weird happened the other night. I wrote a Facebook status wrought with sarcasm and self-deprecation that ended up, in hindsight, being one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever written in social media (posts about my dog Lady not included).
I, like most of my friends and family, was watching the presidential debate, waiting to catch Mitt Romney slip up and say something that could be made into GIFs and Tweets of humiliation. I eagerly sat by my TV with my laptop in front of me and Facebook on the screen, hoping to see funny and/or seething status updates run through my news feed. It was when Romney, smiley as ever, said he would cut funding to PBS if he became president, that I decided it was my turn to make an immature, sarcastic Facebook status sharing my dislike for Romney’s plans for America.
Did Romney really just say he wants to stop subsidizing PBS?! Who is going to broadcast my Downton Abbey???
You can attack my healthcare, you can attack my environment, and you can even attack my morals. But don’t you dare attack my Downton.
At the time, I was pretty embarrassed to be posting this, but really just wanted to get in on the conversation. What I didn’t realize just then was how much I really meant it. Okay, so I obviously was being sarcastic by saying that I’m okay with Romney threatening my health care, morals, and environment but not okay with him attacking my viewing of Downton Abbey. But my upset was conveyed with full honesty.
PBS is a lot more than the American broadcaster of Britain’s best export since tea time. PBS has meant a lot to me since I was born, as it has to so many hundreds of thousands of Americans. Like most American kids, I first learned that “C is for Cookie” from PBS’s hallmark show, “Sesame Street.” And when I grew out of my “Sesame Street” days, PBS was right there by my side with “Zoom,” the only TV show my parents let me watch on weekdays. “Zoom” taught me how to make ice-cream using old cans, salt, and ice, and it inspired me every day after school to try new things, invent my own languages, and paint animals that only exist in my imagination. While my mom needed an hour to work in her studio, the cast of “Zoom” kept me company, just the way Elmo and Big Bird did for me when I was much much younger.
And then of course we come to today, when I have once again outgrown the PBS shows of my childhood, and PBS is right back at it again, broadcasting the BBC’s romantic, enchanting, and dramatic “Downton Abbey.” Sure, Downton isn’t the most educational show, and at 22 it probably isn’t doing much for my intellectual development as Sesame Street and Zoom surely did. But I really love Downton Abbey. Watching Downton was something I did with my best friends. In our senior year of college when we had no time to see each other between classes, internships, clubs, and job interviews, taking an hour to sit next to each other, agonizing over Mary and Matthew’s inevitable romance or debating whether or not that crippled soldier really is the long-lost Grantham heir, meant just as much to me as hanging out with Big Bird did when I was only 4.
Public television matters. It is all of the babysitter, the storybook, the documentary, the theater, and the teacher that all Americans can share equally. In a time when just about everything from the high schools we attend to the coffee we buy discriminates based on class, it’s nice to have something that doesn’t care if you’re in the 1% or the “47%,” or if you live in suburban Connecticut or downtown Cincinnati.