At the very end of The New York Times article discussed in my last post, historian Douglas Brinkley suggests that book reviews should be subsidized like public television. "I think that just like public television — I think book review sections almost need to get subsidized to keep the intellectual life in America alive."
Good heavens, man! Do you not watch public television? Do we really want the book review equivalent of hours of Peter, Paul, and Mary retrospectives, documentaries on the British royal family, and self-help programming for baby boomers?
I am now imagining this.
Bad. Oh, so, SO very bad.
It would't have to be like that! Have you seen "90 Second Book Review: Austenland" on YouTube?
Reading books seems to be like eating vegetables or exercising for people. So I guess it depends on what kind of country we want. A bunch of couch potatoes with a bag of cheetos at hand, channel surfing between The Biggest Loser and Survivor, and being able to talk about how stupid a particular episode or contestant is with whoever calls during the commercials, or a country where people are encouraged to actually go out and do things, read intelligent fiction and essays, and discuss what relevance it has to current events or their own lives.
We've mostly chosen cheetos, but I'm going to keep dreaming of people bicycling to the theater and book readings.
Brinkley's thoughts on this are right on.
Seriously, I have doubts about what we'd get for quality with government subsidized book reviews.
Publicly subsidized television has become pretty mediocre over the years. (My opinion, of course.) And in my state, public radio is now all talk. That format, at least, is all over the AM dial. I don't see that we're getting something terribly unique and valuable there. Of course, some would say that that is because public television and radio are mainly subsidized by their viewers/listeners now, through fundraisers, and that the stations have to meet viewer/listener expectations.
But the thing is, all subsidies come with expectations. What would the expecations be for government subsidized reviews? Should only certain works that appeal to so-called average taxpayers be reviewed because so-called average taxpayers are paying for them? Should the criticism reflect so-called average taxpayer views, again because so-called average taxpayers are paying for them?
By no means do I mean to disparage average taxpayers. But who gets to determine who average taxpayers are and what their views are? I see that becoming a big stumbling block to freedom of expression for reviewers/critics.
I think government subsidized book reviews would be foolhardy if not damaging. I hope Brinkley was joking.
I just got back from watching the 90 Second Book Review: Austenland. I have to say, I don't really get Barbie. Is she an acquired taste?
I watched the ending twice because I thought a cow suddenly showed up. But now I think it's something like a guinea pig. That makes more sense, doesn't it?
On the nonfiction side, we actually already hae a place where nonfiction book reviews abound, as Douglas Brinkley knows as he appears there frequently and often. That place is non-profit C-Span which is NOT funded by taxpayer $$ but rather by the cable industry itself. So in a way, the cable viewing public IS subsidizing that network.
Public financing would devolve to Moody Blues retrospectives and Suze Orman financial seminars. Just look at how insipid even an icon like Sesame Street has become. Masterpiece Theater has not even tempted me to watch for months and months now.
But then I like crunchy Cheetos and I read books. Never at the same time though. I would never want orange smears on my books.
I think my cable company dropped the C-Span channel that carried the book programs. It wasn't something I ever found in the local TV listings, and I had to just stumble upon it while channel surfing. I haven't seen it in a while.
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