Friday, June 29, 2012

Jazz Exceptionalism and The Media

We all have to reckon with the fiscal concerns at the center of what happened at WGBH, but it also behooves us to make a case for the exceptionalism of jazz.

To begin with, we need to differentiate this campaign from previous grassroots media movements, like Action for Childrens Television or the groups that sprung up to keep Joss Whedon shows on the air. People who lobby for a certain show don't want to kill or resuscitate a type of show. They want their teen angst show. Or, they want certain kinds of advertisers not to pollute kid's shows. Tactically, to get this done, you can target specific sponsors-or networks-and this has worked.

The jazz situation is different. We're talking about the elimination of an entire genre of music from the public airwaves.

"Market forces" are inevitably cited to explain the shrinkage of jazz on WGBH and the radio dial (TV exposure was lost long ago), but jazz advocates can't slough this off as the triumph of crass philistines. The battle won't be won on the basis of good or bad taste. The taste argument leads back to audience size and money, every time.

Instead, look at the historical precedent for a public media mission that allows more than money to be at play in programming decisions. It was a damn good thing back in 1934 and 1967 and is just as important now. Ask the question: what would art, music, theatre and literature in the US look like if they had always been forced to compete in a strict media marketplace environment?

We are asked to hand over our money to the IRS every year for a panoply of nonsensical and reprehensible uses. It makes sense to stand up and demand that valuable aspects of American culture be supported. The evidence that we don't is sobering.

Public media outlets like WGBH must be forced to question whether or not they have drifted from their mission. The need to perpetuate the existence of the organization needs to be balanced by asking the question "why are we here?"


6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excellent article!
— Sergio Brandão

Steve Provizer said...

Thank you, Sergio.

Bliss said...

Thanks for getting to the heart of the matter,i.e. what is the purpose of publicly supported national broadcast media, based on the original intentions, and current modifications due to changing political and economic forces? If it quacks, looks, walks like a duck, then it is a duck. In this case, it appears that there has there been an undeclared shift from "commitment" to diversified programming, representative of this country's varied cultural influences and traditions. If so, any and all sponsors/supporters, individually and corporate, who seek affiliations that brand them as a socially inclusive good citizens, should revisit their assumptions in terms of this shifting landscape. At this point they can no longer be confident that the public will see them in the original light; the public may critically respond to those maintaining the pretense of culturally inclusive programming being advanced via public radio and TV. The public may become more critical of the actions of programming decision makers who privilege "talk" as the only valid way to convey ideas, raise questions and explore the human condition.

Existing supporters also have an opportunity to assert their wish to reaffirm the founding principles of representative, inclusive programming and demand a return to that stance.

My, my I didn't expect to unleash all of this, but it feels good to have done so. Thanks for prompting and extending this discussion, it goes to the heart of the role and responsibilities of citizenship in this society.

Steve Provizer said...

Thank, Bliss, for your comments. I think this is a case where radical (i.e. "roots") thinking needs to be mobilized to blow away the fog of "common wisdom."

Unknown said...

AMEN!!!
Thank you.

Steve Provizer said...

You're welcome!