Friday, July 19, 2013

Prole for a Day

My Right Wing Acquaintance RWA1 is on a crusade to try to stop our local NPR affiliate from removing the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast from Saturday afternoons, and replacing them with talk shows.  Though he's not alone in this enterprise, he and his allies evidently don't have enough clout to make the station back down.  The station's operation director told the local paper that after "Car Talk" and "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me" (from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays), listenership drops off dramatically, and he wanted to get those numbers back up.

This would be fair enough if public broadcasting were supposed to be about selling airtime to the highest bidder.  It's supposed to run programming that isn't necessarily commercial or popular.  There's also the problem that the decision was made by management at the top, so to speak, and presented to the public as a fait accompli.  The manager said he welcomed a "lively discussion," but as another local critic complained, "a 'lively discussion' following a decision already put into force is not the same as one before. And that’s worrisome."  It reflects the great corporate dependence and commercial orientation of NPR (and PBS for that matter) over the past couple of decades, as government support has dwindled under pressure from the Right.  RWA1 would prefer not to see that trend as having anything to do with him, of course, but it does.  Free markets are for other people, not for him -- especially when it comes to forcing the decadent culture of Old Europe down American throats.

That is the big irony for me.  Last year RWA1, in a conniption over May Day protests around the country, wrote this on the dry-erase board outside his store:
Nor should we listen to those who say, "The voice of the people is the voice of God," for the turbulence of the mob is always close to insanity
--Alcuin, ca. 800 A.D.
He kept it there for months, when his usual practice was to change those messages every few weeks.  It still hasn't occurred to him that he's one of the turbulent mob, close to insanity, and the station management probably sees him in just those terms.  Why not leave the running of the station to experts, to professionals?  They and not the ignorant rabble know what's best.  I'm being sarcastic, of course; it's entertaining to watch RWA1, like so many right-wingers, flipflop between playing the elitist and playing the prole.  But he's used to being part of the elite who runs things like the local Republican Party or classical music scene.

RWA1 went so far as to join the hippy-dippy self-esteem Left by starting a petition against the programming change.  It has, so far, four signatures.  I don't feel any particular Schadenfreude about that -- in fact, I just looked at the page for the first time and was mildly shocked to find it had gotten so little response.  I know he has more allies than that: RWA1 knows a lot of people connected to classical music, and Bloomington is a good town for it, what with the IU School of Music here.  I'm not an opera queen, though I like a lot of Euro-American art music, but I'm concerned about the state of public media in this country.  I support our community radio station, and I don't think that listenership (or sales) should be the only deciding factor in what is available to audiences.  The low response to the petition, combined with the failure of efforts to reverse the decision, indicates that support for the Met broadcast is far lower than I expected.  I'm amazed that so few people cared enough to bother.

Opera used to be popular music, but that's what happens to popular taste.  I wonder if, in a couple of centuries, there will be a similar dust-up over the cancellation of a Classical Hip-Hop program from a public station -- if we even have radio stations by then.