An Open Letter to Big Bird
October 4, 2012
by Shawn Bean
Dear Big Bird –
It’s hard to believe that after 43 years in the same job—making oooooo and eeeeeee sounds; holding up big, Styrofoam letters; arguing with a stoned woolly mammoth—you might be getting laid off. I don’t know if the Count told you yet, but if elected president, Mitt Romney will give PBS zero (not vone, not two, but zzzero!) in government subsidies.
It’s hard to imagine. Seeing Big Bird in an unemployment line would be like seeing Big Bird in an unemployment line. What else can you do for work? You could be the mascot for Chic-Fil-A, but then there’s that whole Bert-Ernie connection. Hmm. Better scratch that.
It’s kind of silly that the morning after a presidential debate, the topic that’s trending highest on Google is a giant yellow emu. (Or are you an ostrich?) But for us here at Babytalk and Parenting, two brands dedicated to kids, this is a huge deal. Not only because you’ve helped our children learn letters, numbers, shapes and colors, but with all the thousands of line items on the federal budget, Romney picked on you.
Let’s put this into perspective, shall we? The government annually gives public broadcasting approximately $450 million. The U.S. government’s 2013 budget states that it will spend $6.4 trillion next year. That means PBS takes up one fifteen thousandth of government spending. And according to Sesame Workshop, which produces Sesame Street, 93 percent of production costs for the show are covered by licensing activities or corporate sponsorships. (But seriously, how much can you all be spending on production? You have on-air talent still living in garbage cans.)
Unfortunately, this is where my sympathy ends for you, feathered friend. Back in the 70s and 80s, an era before cable, DVDs and YouTube, Sesame Street was basically the only kid’s entertainment on television. During Sesame Street’s reign of felt-covered terror, many other children’s shows came and went: Their ratings stunk; advertising dollars were slim. So they were cancelled. Meanwhile, the puppets on Sesame Street never had to sweat it. They didn’t have to worry about ratings or advertising dollars. (There aren’t even any commercials on PBS.) The government ensured that Sesame Street was here to stay.
Fast forward to 2012. Cartoon Network. The Hub. Nickelodeon. Nick Jr. NBC Kids. Disney XD. Disney Junior. Boomerang. A number of networks—all funded privately—have come into prominence. (Other networks, like Fox Kids and Discovery Kids, didn’t make it.) A slew of new charismatic characters began helping our kids with letters, numbers, shapes and colors: Dora the Explorer, Diego, the Bubble Guppies, the Wiggles, Joe on Blue’s Clues, Bob the Builder. Suddenly, you had some serious competition, but you still want your government birdseed. Sorry, Big Bird. It was a good run, nearly a half-century long. We all still love you. But it’s high time we pushed you out of your Fiat-sized nest. To survive in the 21st century, you’re going to have to stand on your own two orange, purple-ringed legs.
But ultimately, here’s why we didn’t like Romney’s statement: He came into our homes last night, and threatened to fire our kids’ babysitter, our kids’ tutor, our kids’ friend. It felt callous. After 43 years of promoting literacy and learning, teaching kids to sing, and taking them around the world, you deserved better than being put on notice on national television.
That said, I know a guy at KFC. Just sayin’.