american society, ruminations

Learning How To PBS

Though I believe everything I say in this, I do recognize that the whole thing feels slightly absurd. I decided to keep it that way, either because I have or because I lack good judgment. Which of those two it is, I’m not sure.

Fewer Americans know how to PBS than would like to admit it. This is neither unexpected nor a serious problem. I know it took me a while, and a series of happy accidents, to learn how. But I’m glad I did.
PBS logo
If you were wondering, “to PBS” hasn’t been included in any dictionary to date, but it’s an idea whose time has come. Since I believe I made up this verb, I have the power to offer some synonyms, variously we could have “to NPR,” “to watch documentaries,” and sometimes even “to read.”

As the synonyms suggest, PBSing is not really about the network itself. But to PBS properly one must possess the will, determination, time, or attention span to do it. Preferably you’ll have all four, because it’s not always easy to sit down and watch a program that may not be terribly entertaining but which will almost certainly teach you something.

This week and last, PBS aired the latest Ken Burns epic, The War. The program, roughly 15 hours about American’s involvement in World War Two, takes no small measure of discipline to get through. But if one does, they’ll come away with a deeper understanding of the United States’s involvement in the war, and quite possibly more understanding of this country itself.

Some think that PBSing is a matter of character. That the world’s really made out two types of people, those that PBS and those that have better things to do. I think if such a dichotomy exists, however, its between those who see a reason to PBS and those who haven’t learned why anyone would.

Those who PBS (this includes listening to NPR and other such synonyms) often do it because they want to know something. Whether you’re four and want to know the letter of the day or 40 and want to know what’s going on in the world, you PBS because few other venues are able to convey so much useful information so clearly. Other sources tend to convey less, or do so less thoroughly–though they are often easier to watch.

Speaking of more-fun less-informational sources, I would also offer the word “PBS-lite,” this is for people who would like to PBS, but don’t recognize the difference between PBS and PBS-lite–or perhaps they cannot muster the strength to PBS. PBS-liting includes activities like watching Keith Olbermann or Michael Moore’s “documentaries,” or listening to talk radio.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with PBS-liting, it’s just often different than PBSing. It’s also a lot easier to swallow PBS-lite than PBS. After all, most versions of PBS-lite or either more controversial or funnier, and thus more entertaining than PBS.

I learned to PBS–for the second time, Sesame Street’s different–after seeing Charlie Rose interview Martin Scorsese–I had no idea who Charlie Rose was at the time. Then I was shown a Frontline episode about advertising. Then someone suggested that The NewsHour was the best news broadcast around. Then I was more or less able and willing to PBS regularly.

But PBSing is hard. If I had to choose between PBSing and not, I’d mostly choose not. But that I know I can PBS makes me more willing to do it. And I always know that I’ll learn something worth knowing. Whether or not “PBSing” is a good verb, I’m pretty sure it makes good use of my TV-watching time.

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3 thoughts on “Learning How To PBS

  1. May I suggest that you not only have good judgement, but good taste, as well.
    I PBS, PBS-lite with Keith, NPR, and even AccessTV with Amy Goodman.
    If I have been listening to the radio in the car, I wait until an NPR article is over, and then run into the house to pick up the remainder of the program…

  2. The PMS thing was not intentional, though I did think twice before using the term as I did. I decided it was worth the risk.

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