“The tedious, annoying complaints of public radio listeners.”

Via Instapundit, a great column about, well, what the headline quote says.

I listen to NPR all the time.  As I have written before, I really, really like it.  It has a reliably liberal slant — and should not be funded with taxpayer dollars — but it is also reliably good radio.  Most stories feel like reading a well-written magazine article, and the subjects are diverse and interesting. 

But there is something about the interviewers and some of the shows that just sucks.  I have never been able to describe it in words very well, but I will try here. 

There is a certain smug snobbery that reveals itself in the oddest moments.  Steve Inskeep, for example, does a great job overall and a good interview (keeping in mind his obvious liberal blinders).  But he laughs oddly, and rather uproariously, at things that seem to me to be mildly amusing.  At best. 

Similarly, the audience on Garrison Keillor’s show presumably pay for the pleasure of spending a Saturday afternoon in an uncomfortable theater (they all are) listening to mostly bad singing, some good singing, and bad not-very-funny puns strung into mildly amusing stories. 

I am the first to admit that my tastes are often, ahem, a bit pedestrian.  But so are most peoples’.  Two-and-a-Half-Men is the most popular show on TV for a reason — it is laugh-out-loud funny.  Dirty, crude, stupid, mean, etc., but c’mon, it’s damn funny. 

NPR, on the other hand, has this strange sensibility that results in puns and fart jokes (Keillor) and semi-witty comments (Inskeep) being elevated to grand humor.  And the audiences laugh as if it were.

Back to NPR listeners’ complaints.  I have heard lots of them, and they are often incredibly petty, condescending, wanna-be elitist, and annoying.  And therefore highly entertaining.  

An example.  Back in the 1980s, I was in high school and very much into heavy metal.  I have been running a lot lately, and classic  heavy metal can be great running music.  So I thought I would revisit some of the bands I enjoyed back then to see if the music held up (it mostly has). 

While downloading tunes from my youth onto my iPod, I inadvertently introduced Mrs. Hound to classic heavy metal.  She really liked some of it (mostly Led Zeppelin), so I made a heavy metal playlist for her that includes Ronnie Jame Dio of Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and solo fame.

Coincidentally (I hope), Dio died around that time.  Surprisingly, NPR (All Things Considered, I think) did an obituary retrospective of Dio shortly thereafter.  Shortly after that, a flurry of letters took them to task for defiling the NPR bandwidth with such trash. 

My reaction at the time — For crying out loud, stop being such stiffs and at least try to understand what that crap you don’t like is all about.  Dio was one of the founders of heavy metal, and it has endured ever since.  If you are as intellectually curious as NPR listeners pretend to be, shouldn’t you want to know just a bit about why long-haired kids are still listening to his stuff forty years later? 

But many NPR listeners really don’t really want to consider all things.  They want their shows to reliably deliver a certain standard of fare (they say high, I say limited) that will never abuse their tender sensibilities.  So topics such as Dio or Justin Bieber should never darken NPR’s door (as reluctantly as its hosts demean themselves to present it):

 “Was it really necessary to spend any time, even four minutes, on one account of teenagers being mean to people online?” wrote a listener from Olympia, Wash. “I hope ATC isn’t turning into a tabloid!” tsk-tsked someone else. Another Valentine’s story—a three-minute piece about Mattel’s new marketing campaign for Ken and Barbie—elicited yet more anger. “For a few seconds, I felt my ears were deceiving me on two fronts,” said a guy from Beverly Hills. “One, that I was hearing an April Fool-type story when I thought it was Valentine’s Day. And second, that my radio had somehow mysteriously changed from NPR to a commercial channel.”

While I have a few more complaints about NPR than our intrepid Slate reporter who wrote the linked column, I certainly share this one:

For proof that NPR letter-writers are the stodgiest, whiniest, most self-importantly insufferable snobs of all time, just search through the network’s archives, which records the letters that All Things Considered and other NPR shows read on-air once or twice a week. Among the many, many topics that listeners have deemed off-limits for NPR, you’ll find blogging (“another example of the slow decline of our once-educated society”); Tiger Woods (“what a waste of my time”); the National Enquirer (NPR’s citing it as a source “shook me to the core”); adulterous Gov. Mark Sanford (“Can’t NPR reporters find more important events going on in the world?”); comedians Adam Carolla and Mo Rocca; the rapper Waka Flocka Flame (“For this, I donate part of my precious pension?”); Twitter (“the CB radio of our era—just as much hype, just as much lasting impact”); Bristol Palin (“The only thing this story provoked me to do was change the station”); Levi Johnston (“We do not care about this subject”); Mel Gibson (“Shame on the producers of ATC for allowing such a scrape at the very bottom of the barrel”); heavy metal legend Dio (“You didn’t have to do it just because he died recently”); e-books (they can’t compare to “the smell of new paper”); the iPad (“a foolish waste of time”); . . . and, perennially, sports. “You can’t mention sports without someone saying, ‘Why are you covering sports—it’s just a bunch of Neanderthals, it’s just a bunch of fascists!’ ” says NPR sports correspondent (and Slate sports podcast “Hang Up and Listen” panelist) Mike Pesca.

So often, the complainers are just wandering about in left field, lost in the weeds of their own supposed superiority.  Blogging turned out to be an incredibly important media source.  The National Enquirer broke a story (embargoed by more “serious” media)  showing that the recently defeated Democrat VP nominee is scum on earth.  And so on.  Some of the stories and persons are unserious.  Others are not. 

But for so many NPR viewers whose self-regard is often both immense and grounded in their own peculiar view of open-mindedness, these stories and persons should not be allowed to sully their beloved institution. 

Anyway, this post is getting long and my thesis is a bit confused.  My point is this — NPR, for your own self-preservation, continue to cover train wrecks like Charlie Sheen.  You do a good job of it (and everything else you do, just with a certain slant).  People like me already want your public funding to end.  If you succumb to the snobs, you will lose the fence sitters as well.  I don’t want to lose the fight; I just want it to be fair.

Published in: on March 2, 2011 at 11:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

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