Thursday, February 5, 2015

Scott Walker, Wisconsin Public Radio, and The Taliban

     In the vast cultural wasteland that is commercial radio, I sometimes bounce from one channel to the next in search of something that doesn’t offend me on multiple levels. I go from one station where Ted Nugent is glorifying having sex with underage girls and ZZ Top is singing about having sex with prostitutes only to find the same songs played shortly after on the next station. I hear DJs that can’t seem to find a topic of conversation that doesn’t involve poop or body parts. But then I discovered Wisconsin Public Radio. Sure, I guess I always knew it was there at the end of the dial, but I never really listened. Until I did. And the more I listened the more I realized there was nothing else on my dial that could remotely compare to it. It was intelligent conversation between opposing viewpoints that maintained a degree of respect for the other as well as the listener. It was humor that had a degree of sophistication and a lack of cruelty. I could hear world music, the blues, classical, jazz, folk and all kinds of variety that is lacking elsewhere on my radio dial. It was old time radio programs being rebroadcast and advice on gardens and all the important speeches of the day.
     It was all the things that The History Channel and A&E and CNN and others were supposed to be but weren’t. I’ve heard entire hour long programs dedicate to various founding fathers, Aristotle’s influence on science, and Ornette Coleman’s album A Love Supreme.
     And it was free! It was free and so it was available to everyone with a radio, which is pretty much everyone. I like knowing that people have this option. I like to think people who are looking for something more than scatological humor and three chord tunes have some place to turn. Not only was WPR free of charge but free of commercials. Think for a moment of how often your consciousness is invaded by commercials and you will appreciate how much that one distinction is worth. Advertising shouts at you from billboards as you drive down the street, call to you from the corner of your Facebook page, and annoy you every few moments while watching TV or listening to commercial radio.
     It is the one, the only, alternative to commercial radio. There is nowhere else to go, no other state culture outside the mainstream. And of course Scott Walker had to go after it. Of course he said it was nothing personal, but decisions had to be made.
     I can’t help feeling that Scott Walker’s decision to defund Wisconsin Public Radio is comparable to the Taliban’s need to blow up the statues of Buddha in Afghanistan. Seriously. The mindset is: let’s blow it up because we don’t understand it. Let’s blow it up because it offends our small little understanding that we dogmatically follow. And at least part of the reason for both the Taliban and Scott Walker is: blowing stuff up is fun. I like to blow stuff up. It makes me feel powerful, makes me feel like a man.
     It’s an overly patriarchal view of the world that believes everybody must be punished. This isn’t an attack on masculinity or men, it is an attack on an unhealthy perversion of masculinity, one nurtured on a philosophy that qualities such as kindness and unity are weaknesses, that everyone is out to get me and that I’ve got to get them first. It’s the belief that even the smallest bit of sharing or charity is a sin that will spread weakness and dependency like ebola.
     Scott Walker, if you cannot appreciate the value of Wisconsin Public Radio, there is something wrong with you. Not only is it valuable on its own, it set Wisconsin apart, was a jewel in its crown. WPR provides us with culture, which is something utterly lacking in commercial media. And culture is important to society, as important to society as a pancreas is to the body, although both are difficult to explain to someone who is uninterested in knowing.
     Great societies need culture. It is the glue that holds a people together. It provides a pool of knowledge and viewpoints and gives us something from which to build a common vision. But we are heading into a new dark age, and that is not the bold new idea you want to propose.
     You don’t have to enjoy something yourself to acknowledge its benefit to society. I seldom drink water straight from the tap but I’m glad it’s there and safe for those who need it. And I’m willing to pay so that it stays that way. For everybody.

     And if you believe in the trickle down theory, that by giving to the top it will filter down to the rest of society, know that it is true for culture. When those interested in history and current events are given a source of information, they will help disseminate that information to everyone they come in contact with. But if you insist on tearing down everything that does not easily fit in with your narrow view of the world, history will more likely compare you to the Taliban than any great visionary. I have the same feeling in my heart now regarding WPR as I did then about the statues of Buddha, that a cultural treasure was being destroyed by narrow-minded fanatics.


  1. Spot on. Wonderful. Although, I'd say, from a musical standpoint, that Zz Top and Ted Nugent are part of the 1% that "made it" in music because they are very musically talented, but your point stands nonetheless. Taking away knowledge, and the ability to gain knowledge for the purpose of free-thinking, IS terrorism, in a sense. Restrict the flow of information to YOUR information, keep the sheep in their places. Its a small step towards the annihilation of accessibility.

    1. I think the comparison to the Taliban was that they are willing to destroy something beautiful merely because it does not fit their rigid and narrow view of the world. I want to be clear that I did not use the word terrorism, because I don't want my argument to be dismissed on those grounds. But thanks for sharing and caring.

  2. I agree 100%. I've been a listener to NPR/WPR most of my life. Nothing compares.
    One minor correction. A Love Supreme is by John Coltrane, not Ornette Coleman.

    1. While I respect Jazz, I've never been a real big fan. Nevertheless I am deeply embarrassed by my mistake. Thanks for the correction.