There once was a time when PBS was a showplace for serious culture. I can't image something like this being show today, alongside Downton Abbey, Andrea Bocelli, or baby-boomer nostalgia musical programming.
By this, I mean "Good Morning Mr. Orwell", a New Year's special conceived by Nam June Paik for New Year's Day 1984, broadcast by PBS and French TV. (Does PBS still show the Vienna Philharmonic's New Year's Day concert?) The program hoped to emphasize and celebrate the positive aspects of electronic culture (as opposed to Big Brother's intrusive presence). Ultimately, it's a bunch of artsy, avant-garde weirdos having a good time.
Hosted by George Plimpton (taking time out from whatever it is he does), Mr. Orwell features Laurie Anderson, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Salvador Dali, Alan Ginsberg, Yves Montand, Charlotte Moorman, Oingo Boingo1, Astor Piazzolla, and the Thompson Twins (obviously). Plus videos from Peter Gabriel and Laurie Anderson (you know the song) and Philip Glass (that video from The Photographer that used to always be played on VH-1's New Visions, another show that would never see the light of day today), plus technical difficulties galore! (unfortunately minimizing the contribution form a giant saxophone choir organized by Mauricio Kagel, I believe)
Seeing as this was partly funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, and other various corporate and philanthropic sponsors, it reminds me of a point made by Leon Botstein that I blogged about some time ago, that the reason we don't see so much of this sort of thing is that our nation's rich people no longer spend their money, either through philanthropy or taxes, on things like these.
And that Dali make his appearance before a poster of Chairman Mao, reminds me that this is not the first time a Rockefeller has gotten mixed up with one of those people by sponsoring art.
1Yes, that red-haired fellow in the white suit, singing in a manner that even then verged on self-parody, is one of today's most highly regarded film composers, one Danny Elfman.