A few years ago I went back to New York and the neighborhood I grew up in for the first time in several years. There were numerous changes to the community as one would expect; but one in particular caught my attention.
An old Italian pasta store had closed. For years the store had sold homemade Italian pasta. I mentioned it, and it was noted that it had been closed for over a year; and we lamented how this community landmark was no more.
But why? After all, in the 24 years I called that community home, we never once set foot inside of it. I doubt we had even eaten a single noodle that came out of that building when we visited friends or went to parties or other social gatherings. We had heard the pasta was good, but who knows who told us that, or how long ago it was that we heard it.
Was our lack of business what doomed the landmark institution? Well, it certainly did not help that we never went there; of course, the fact that it closed meant that a lot of other people never went there either. In fact, the changing demographics of the community, both culturally and generationally, probably had a lot more to do with it closing than whether or not we ever darkened the door.
Younger generations saw no need to buy expensive homemade pasta as opposed to generic pasta sold in the local grocery store; and while a predominately Italian community would spend the extra time and money on their pasta, other ethnic groups would not.
In short, if it were economically viable to keep the place open, it would still be there today; but it wasn’t, so it closed.
Which brings us to PBS, which in a recent proposed budget saw deep cuts to its federal funding, followed by the very predictable outcry from people bemoaning what might be in a world without PBS.
But remember the pasta store: if it were economically viable, there would be no question.
How many of those bemoaning the cuts to PBS actually watch PBS? And not just watch during pledge week when the specials are broadcast, but watch year round when the normal day-day programs are on?
If it were economically viable, there would be no questions asked.
PBS was created at a time when the arts and culture were limited by funding and by location. If you were outside a certain area, you could not get to museums or concert halls, or any other culturally edifying institution.
But remember how younger generations buy their pasta today. PBS was created at a time of only 3 channels on the standard television. Today, there are over 100 on the average cable package; not to mention hundreds more for a few dollars more a month allowing for even more access. Or, there is Netflix and Hulu offering even more options; and don’t forget the internet. What was once out of reach, both literally and figuratively, is now available at the click of a button.
Everything PBS offers, is now readily available on other channels. If PBS went away, Ken Burns and the other documentaries would go to The History Channel; Nature would go to National Geographic; Masterpiece Theater would go to Netflix; and the children’s programing would go to Nickelodeon or Disney, except for Sesame Street which is already on HBO. The news division? Easily transferred over to CNN.
If PBS were economically viable, there would be no questions asked about funding or its future. But, PBS is operating on an antiquated ideal, which no longer exists.
Will we all miss it? Absolutely.
But it’s not like any of us were watching anyway.
And like the building that held the old pasta store, eventually something new will come along and take its place.