You know I love me some PBS. Typically, during my dinner prep time, you will find some PBS show going on my iPad. For instance, Antiques Roadshow, History Detectives, and Secrets of the Dead (which isn’t nearly as creepy as it sounds). And don’t get me started on Masterpiece Classics. But despite being publicly funded by viewers like me, I have discovered that PBS doesn’t love me, or at least my worldview, quite as much as I love it.
I have come to expect the ubiquitous liberal themes of sexual “liberation,” reproductive “rights” and man-made climate change to be woven into the fabric of a number of the fictional shows PBS produces. Obviously, they have the right to represent their point of view, putting aside the fact that as a nationally funded organization they should be representing us all. But the perspectives are often one-sided, not to mention anachronistic. Nuns in the fifties justifying incest and covering up botched abortions. Earls raving at the idea of one of their daughters marrying “beneath” them but defending the homosexual behavior of their servants. Clergy men with no compassion and prostitutes with hearts of gold.
This doesn’t just offend anyone who doesn’t hold their perspective; it makes for rather boring and uninformed viewing. Rather than creating caricatures and blatant straw-man fallacies, isn’t it more interesting to create plot lines in which two opposing points of view come into conflict?
It’s easy to look back and mock those who held views that are now out of fashion, some with good reason. But isn’t it more illuminating to look back and consider how otherwise rational and descent people held beliefs different from our own? Surely there is much more to be learned from such examinations than can be gleaned from exercises in back-slapping your own team while alienating the opposing side.
As I said, I have become accustomed to the agendized nature of PBS’s fictional programs but was recently shocked to find a blatant example in one of their non-fiction programs. Having run through all of the Antiques Roadshow episodes known to man, I turned to Genealogy Roadshow to see if it possessed the same folksy charm as it’s antique brother. It felt a little more staged but still, as a fan of genealogy shows such as Who Do You Think You Are? and Finding Your Roots, I found the mixture of history and human interest stories enough to keep my interest. That is until the show incited my disgust.
The premise of the show is very similar to Antiques Roadshow. Genealogists invite people to come and learn about their heritage and share a little about the history of the area in which they are filming. People learn that they aren’t really related to some famous person despite family lore to the contrary or discover how their families came to America, etc. Harmless enough, right? Well, a woman was told that one of her ancestors had been tried and convicted of murder. Her ancestor was a doctor who had illegally performed an abortion in the 1800s. The woman for whom he had performed the abortion had died and during a contentious divorce the doctor’s soon-to-be ex-wife spilled the beans regarding his illegal activities. Both the ex-wife and husband went to jail for several years. This story is sad but hardly shocking until you come to how the woman and host responded to it. The woman and host waxed poetic about how proud she should be of her ancestor for doing what he felt was right despite the social mores of the time. What?! This man took an innocent life and killed a woman in the process and she is proud of his moral conviction? What really gets my goat isn’t just that the host, the woman, and the producers of the show would find this story inspiring but that they can’t imagine that others would not.
I am weary of this blindness to the perspective of others. I grow attached to the shows I watch, to the characters and their troubles. I don’t expect the writers to agree with me on every issue, but as the viewer I want my views to be taken into consideration, not dismissed or ridiculed.
Maybe when PBS says “viewers like you” they mean “viewers who agree with our particular worldview.” So maybe my love affair with PBS is a tale of unrequited love that ends in tragedy. Or at least with me changing the channel.