By Bill Marx
The opportunity to protest the presence of Tea Party mega-funder David Koch on the board of WGBH this Wednesday should not be missed by anyone who is interested in preserving the soul (and/or sanity) of public broadcasting.
Over 50,000 people have signed the petition to demand that WGBH remove climate denier David Koch from their Board of Trustees. Now, we have the opportunity to bring those voices directly to WGBH.
On October 9, WGBH’s full Board of Trustees will be gathering for their quarterly meeting and they’ve granted our request to address the board with our concerns. Since only a handful of members will be allowed in the meeting, the rest of us will gather outside to greet arriving board members with the message: “We want a Koch-Free WGBH!” The more people there are to greet them with signs and chants, the more likely we are to attract media attention and convey our message. Can you join the Rally for a Koch-Free WGBH Wednesday, October 9, at 3pm ET in Boston?
Can’t make a gathering dedicated to making things a tad hot for a rabid, superrich conservative trying to turn public broadcasting into a consumer friendly lapdog of the Right? Then sign a petition to have a documentary, Citizen Koch, which has been squashed by David Koch and his craven allies, aired on PBS.
Dear MoveOn member,
We have started a petition on MoveOn.org urging our local public television station, WGBH, to ensure that the documentary Citizen Koch—which exposes the billionare Koch Brothers who helped launch the Tea Party—gets shown to the public.
Now that Tea Party Republicans have shut down the government, it’s more important than ever that we expose the Tea Party and its funders.
We need Citizen Koch on the. Will you sign the petition I created urging WGBH to take action?
Click here to sign the petition I started on MoveOn.org urging WGBH to make sure Citizen Koch is aired, and then pass it along to your friends.
The petition I created as part of a massive joint-organizing campaign launched by the organizations MoveOn.org and Working Families, says:
PBS should stop the self-censorship and air “Citizen Koch” on WGBH.
Here is an observation about the brazen hypocrisy of WGBH having David Koch on its Board of Trustees. On September 17 I attended a public discussion in Boston entitled “The Importance of Live Theater in Our Culture: The Art of Making Humans More Human.” It was presented by the Elements Theatre Company after a late afternoon staging of its production of Yesmina Reza’s The God of Carnage. On the panel were arts critic Joyce Kulhawik, executive director of StageSource Julie Hennrikus, actress Georgia Lyman, Fr. Thomas A. Kane, and Jared Bowen, WGBH’s executive arts editor.
The innocuous discussion pumped out the usual round-up of cliches about theater’s medicinal efficacy, its magical power as storytelling, its miraculous ability to create community. (The latter claim made to a crowd made up of aging, middle-class whites — economically challenged and ethnically diverse audiences have yet to get the Kumbaya memo.) Joyce Kulhawik was her usual charming and vivacious self, proclaiming the power of the stage to generate understanding of the Other. Julie Hennrikus made her customary stirring plea for funding, though she has no particular interest in where the funding goes — more theater is good, less theater is bad, even if it means The Jungle Book IX: The Lion King’s Revenge. Jobs are jobs. Fr. Thomas A. Kane said something about the spiritual nature of theater (God blesses Pippin?). WGBH’s Jared Bowen is photogenic and well-spoken, a pleasant pitchman (even his words sound as if they have been air-brushed). He hasn’t a critical bone in his body. Only actress Georgia Lyman asked for theater that takes artistic risks, suggesting that Boston’s stage companies are playing it much too cozy and anodyne. But really, why ask for more to be at stake — shouldn’t it be safe, rather than challenging, to become more human?
Needless to say, reality (or criticism, though there were two reviewers on the stage) didn’t intrude on the oh-so-inspirational proceedings. There was talk about the great benefits of local theater, but mostly the big names: only Company One, among the smaller groups, made the cut. Shakespeare, Ibsen, Shaw, Chekhov, Pirandello — no playwright of genius would reduce their notion of theater to mere “storytelling” or see it as a means of making people human (i.e., increasingly empathetic). We are shrinking the boundaries of theater to fit our age of TV-sized entertainment. Art is not a cure for what ails us. It provides patterns of reason and tension that organize our experience and give meaning to life — and thus purpose. No one on the panel saw theater as a place for considering provocative ideas, or indicated that the imagination serves as a powerful defense against the emptiness of consumerism, the soul-killing banality of politics. Theater’s role is to assert value in a cultural vacuum. From that perspective, Reza’s The God of Carnage is yet another version of the bourgeois blues: it presses a few hot buttons and then calls it a day — it is far too easy for the audience members to distance themselves from the feuding families.
Of course, the grandmaster of the feud, the czar of division, is David Koch, executive vice president of Koch Industries. He and his brother are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to fund politicians and organizations who are currently happily shutting down the government. He is piling on the dough to destroy the affordable health care law, to neuter attempts to deal with climate change, to short-circuit gay marriage, to cut funding for public broadcasting, etc.
In the context of take-no-prisoners conservatism, the arts are treated by WGBH as a fundraising chit designed to draw cash from the upper-middle-class and above. Bowen is not likely to rile Koch by demanding (or encouraging) art that subverts the status quo or lets the unruly imagination loose. His “Up With the Arts” huzzahs for online and on-air are generally reserved for the kind of expensive, hoo-ha entertainment that garners donor dollars and celebrity buzz. It comes off as a calculatingly underfunded, token exercise, and the station knows it. In fact, WGBH doesn’t appear to care about Bowen’s efforts. Note its latest fundraising letter, which says the money goes to the production of
independent news, first-rate drama, thought-provoking documentaries, world-class performances and more on WGBH.
Maybe arts coverage is where WGBH …
fosters love of learning, celebrates the arts, explores our cultural history, offers in-depth reporting and enriches the lives of everyone in New England.
. . . but no mention there. (Also, why no hoopla for the hours of superficial talk radio? What about all the NPR programming the station shares with WBUR? Nothing about Donor Development Strategies, LLC, which is paying people ten dollars an hour to go door-to-door to drum up money for WGBH?) Could it be by celebrating the arts WGBH means eviscerating its jazz programming? The massacre has deeply enriched the lives of everyone in the jazz community. Just ask them
Everything Bowen celebrates about good theater, everything he finds valuable about the arts — that they generate togetherness, that they make us more human, that they empower, that they add beauty to our lives — is anathema to Koch, who is the real God of Carnage, a virulent ideologue who spends millions and millions of dollars to generate vacuums within vacuums that are hostile to the very cultural work that WGBH claims it is collecting money from listeners to create. For a few pennies (to him), he sits like a clot at the heart of WGBH.
Bill Marx is the editor-in-chief of The Arts Fuse. For over three decades, he has written about arts and culture for print, broadcast, and online. He has regularly reviewed theater for National Public Radio Station WBUR and The Boston Globe. He created and edited WBUR Online Arts, a cultural webzine that in 2004 won an Online Journalism Award for Specialty Journalism. In 2007 he created The Arts Fuse, an online magazine dedicated to covering arts and culture in Boston and throughout New England.