Big Bird or Elmo?

Some say Elmo has got to go. At the very least, he’s got to get off the public dole. And what about Cookie Monster? Isn’t he eating up valuable taxpayer dollars?

I got to chatting with Tom Tiding, writer of all sorts of things he proudly dubs “twisted,” about moves by some politicians to end federal funding for things like NPR and PBS.

Tiding will be in Phoenix this weekend to perform an original work in the “Phoenix Fringe Festival” — but was gracious enough to chat with me about other matters when we spoke by phone the other night.

Elmo, world-famous artist, teacher and Sesame Street character--putting my taxes to good use

I wanted to get his take on the controversy surrounding federal funding for public broadcasting — but erred in leading with “Elmo,” the one thing on PBS Tiding says he could definitely live without.

Tiding is more of a “Big Bird” kind of a guy, but we still managed to enjoy a civil conversation. Because truth be told, the “Sesame Street” gang will rise or fall together whatever their fate.

Some suppose that an end to federal funding won’t hinder our furry little friends in any way, since most of public television is funded through corporate and individual contributions. But Tiding disagrees, in his usual “twisted” fashion.

“If you lost twenty percent of your body,” he muses, “it wouldn’t just grow right back.” Even folks who are terribly fond of public broadcasting won’t be in a position to make up the difference when they’re struggling to meet their own basic needs.

I asked Tiding why some folks are making so much noise about needing to defund public broadcasting. He suspects it’s a bit of a ruse. The more attention supporters of PBS and NPR pay to its naysayers, the more distracted we’ll be as other perilous policies move forward.

Seems “Elmo” and “Big Bird” are mere pawns in that old political strategy called “bait and switch.” I see where they may be going with this, but public broadcasting opponents seem to be forgetting that we’ve got “Miss Piggy” in our corner of the ring.

I chose the sports analogy because, oddly enough, it was sports-related content that Tiding most enjoyed as a boy growing up in Minnesota and East Texas. Seems public broadcasting was his only real lifeline to the soccer he loved as a boy.

He’s also keen on shows like the “PBS News Hour,” describing it as “one of the few places you can go and get really intelligent people from both sides.”

Those who live in large urban areas with thriving cultural resources might see NPR or PBS as mere niceties, but they’re necessities for Americans living in outlying areas that don’t have access to many of the things they offer.

Think live theater, music and dance. History and literature. Science and medicine. Health and fitness. Civics and education. Think easy, affordable and equitable access to elements that form the very foundation of a free and democratic society.

There’s plenty of noise out there about all sorts of budget-related issues. For today, it appears, public broadcasting has been spared the ax. But policy and budget discussions involving NPR and PBS will no doubt resurface. So I’m keeping my eye on the prize — preserving federal funding for both.

Trust me, you don’t want to get between me and my “Elmo” — or Tiding and his “Big Bird.”

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about this weekend’s “Phoenix Fringe Festival” (which features mature content fare) and the schedule for Tiding’s performances. Click here for details about “Sesame Street Live” coming to the Comerica Theatre April 29-May 1.

Coming up: Conversations with “Cosette”


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