Big Bird

You know who I mean right? The muppet threatened by cutbacks to PBS? I was listening to the radio this morning about the US election campaign and I was made aware of the enormous power of symbols over human events. Is Romney the Grinch who will steal Big Bird, to mix our symbolic references? That the question can be seriously asked should tell us something of how our minds work.

Who is Big Bird? Is he “real” or “symbolic”? Or can something be real and symbolic at the same time, and yet be entirely the creation of human ingenuity? Well he sure is a character. You know him as well as you know some of your cousins. So he is “real” in some sense. But he is also a symbol. Ideally he would have no existence but for a man putting on a bird costume, and acting in children’s television. It does not worry you that this is so – Big Bird is not less real for being an obvious contrivance, not less symbolic because acted by a man in a feathered suit.

Thus our “knowledge” encompasses knowing fictions as we know persons, and those fictions can instruct us, change our behaviour for better or worse, and provide symbolic benefits whose reality we do not question.

Now imagine if God wanted to create his own Big Bird to instruct the human species. How would He do it?

Man does not live by bread alone but by mystery,love and high adventure.

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Big Bird was great back in the days our children watched the show. However, he is the ‘front’ bird for a very profitable ‘non-profit’. If any show does not need subsidies, it would be Sesame Street, with all their associated merchandising.


As the Wall Street Journal reminds us, Big Bird’s backers are not hurting:

According to financial statements for the year ended June 30, 2011, Sesame Workshop and its nonprofit and for-profit subsidiaries had total operating revenue of more than $134 million. They receive about $8 million a year in direct government grants and more indirectly via PBS subsidies. Big Bird and friends also receive corporate and foundation support, and donations amount to about a third of revenue. Distribution fees and royalties comprise another third and licensing revenue makes up the rest.

At the end of fiscal 2011, Sesame Workshop and its subsidiaries had total assets of $289 million. About $29 million was held in cash and “cash equivalents,” mainly money-market mutual funds. Another $121 million on the balance sheet was held in “investments.”

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