“Reading Rainbow” is just a word for stuff we do together, without the government
posted at 9:31 pm on May 29, 2014 by Mary Katharine Ham
As far as I’m concerned, a win for LeVar Burton has always been a win for America.
Today is no exception, though this time it has the added bonus of being a win for private do-gooding and a teachable moment for those who believe a beneficent state must prop up any decent endeavor. Burton, the longtime host of “Reading Rainbow,” a PBS TV show that ran from 1983-2006, began a Kickstarter campaign Wednesday to fund a new web-based version of the show. He asked for $1 million. He’s already made that and more.
Why? Because “Reading Rainbow” is a great, simple product with a good goal. It has a loyal audience hungry for a generous helping of nostalgia and a killer theme song. In short, it’s worth money to the people it serves. My mother was an elementary school librarian. I watched this show on loop every summer as I sat in her office and got paid for piecework for putting protective mylar covers on children’s classics. I had access to nearly every title Burton’s cast of ’80s-tastic kid reviewers made, so I didn’t have to take his word for it. I would have gladly bought old episodes on DVD or iTunes if there weren’t a new version. And I’ll likely donate to the Kickstarter for “Reading Rainbow 2.0” or pony up for a subscription so my daughter can enjoy the show. Many others did the same, voluntarily. The government doesn’t have to be the vehicle by which we do cool things together, and it’s depressing and demonstrably false to argue all the time that it is.
Such a lack of imagination is downright un-LeVarian, and Burton was luckily unafflicted with the condition. He had already launched a very successful “Reading Rainbow” app in 2012 (which I wrote about at the time, but I can’t seem to find my post).
I’m sure some will argue “Reading Rainbow” could not have existed in the ’80s without the support of taxpayer money due to the limited number of TV outlets. Yes, there were fewer opportunities for crowd-funding and far fewer distribution channels then, but there was also good kids programming that made a go of it without PBS as a host. And, PBS programs such as “Sesame Street” are so successful that they make millions in merchandising every year, yet as we saw in the 2012 elections, liberals still find it insane to think we could take Big, um, Bird off what amounts to corporate welfare. At any rate, most of us can agree that it’s good to have more distribution and funding opportunities now, so as to make this and many other worthy children’s projects possible without bringing the stench of Congress and its forcefully gotten funding into the mix. In a fun twist, this new privately funded “Reading Rainbow” will even be subsidizing its own distribution to classrooms, so taxpayers and schools won’t be footing the bill for it. (And, yes, I’m sure there will be some lefty pablum children’s books in the mix, but the show has always been pretty straightforward in its noncontroversial message of “Reading = good.”)
So, bring on the Rainbow! Congrats, LeVar! Here’s an adorable video of Burton learning he hit the $1 million mark. Good on him for recognizing the power of the brand, its fans, and the combo of the market and new technology to bring it back to life.
You can donate, here, thought I’m betting they have more than enough to get this thing going. He’s up to more than $2 million, and we didn’t even have to watch one of those annoying pledge drives.
The Washington Post came along to crap on this effort with the kind of skepticism it can never seem to muster for public programming we’re forced to pay for.
All this adds up to a criticism that has been levied at high-profile Kickstarter campaigns before: Crowdfunding is theoretically supposed to bolster charities, start-ups, independent artists, small-business owners and other projects that actually need the financial support of the masses to succeed. It’s not supposed to be co-opted by companies with profit motives and private investors of their own … which, despite Burton’s charisma, is exactly what the Rainbow reboot is.
How’s any of that different from “Sesame Street” except that Jim Henson’s affable, one-percenter Muppets are still on the dole? Unfortunately, none of us are able to “reconsider” that “donation.”
Exit question: The greatest theme song evah?