Ken Auletta reported recently in the New Yorker magazine that the Vice President’s wife once suggested to the head of PBS that a series of hour-long TV programs starring herself might be a jolly good idea. And so it might –especially if PBS wants White House support in the next congressional debate over the network’s budget. But Lynne Cheney’s show idea seems to have crashed and burned. It may be that even from their supine position in relation to the holders of the public purse, PBS’s directors could see that giving public air time to the wife of the country’s second highest-ranking official was just a tad out of line.
On the other hand, it may also have been that Cheney’s idea of a kids’ show based on her “Patriotic Primer” (“A is for Abigail”) needs a little creative assistance. It sounds dull. How about adapting a different book instead — also by the Vice President’s wife — but before she became a conservative culture warrior?
In 1981, Lynne Cheney wrote a very juicy little novel called Sisters that lends itself well to performance. (I know, because theaters across the country have presented a stage adaptation of Cheney’s book in connection with my own, BUSHWOMEN; Tales of a Cynical Species.)
Published by Signet, Sisters is full of sex and romance and condoms and lesbian lust in the 19th Century American West. It’s just the thing to raise PBS’s ratings out of the doldrums.
Entertaining, educational, “L is for Lesbian,” (or even “C is for Condom”) would be sure to please PBS viewers –and underwriters (it’s certainly working for Showtime.) Moreover, such a production would have the added advantage of actually serving the PBS mission which is to educate the public.
A look at Cheney’s 1981 novel reveals just how recent is the political Right’s conversion to the war on sex and culture. The protagonist of Cheney’s SISTERS is a libertine called Sophie who has nothing but pity for those who would set human equality back by denying to women the pleasures that come from planning their families and enjoying sex without necessarily getting sick or pregnant.
Lynne Cheney’s Sophie thinks sex should be pleasurable for women, and contraceptives should be freely available. The author writes, “She had encountered this idea, that no respectable woman would use preventive devices. It seemed senseless to her.” Marriage on the other hand, should be optional. Sophie only agrees to marry her dead sister’s husband and raise his children –after enjoying protected sex with him in front of the living-room fireplace. It’s a far cry from “abstinence-only” and “marriage-promotion” on the public dollar.
It’s not that Lynne Cheney used to be a liberal. In 1978, she stumped for her husband in the wake of his first heart attack, and helped him get elected as Wyoming’s sole congressman on a program of opposition to busing and to the abandonment of the Panama Canal. But it wasn’t until after the rise of the religious right, the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell et al, that the neo-cons like Dick and Lynne saw reason to embrace starch collars and cultural austerity.
Exciting the public about things sexual and cultural turns out to be a grand way to keep voters distracted from what’s happening on the economic front. Not to mention, Christian Coalitioners will help get you and your pals elected. But for corporateers like the Cheney’s the culture wars have always been more about blowing political smoke than expressing deeply held convictions.
A televised adaptation of Lynne Cheney’s SISTERS on PBS would be surprising, sobering, and enlightening, just the kind of programming the public has a right to expect from its own, Public Broadcasting Network.
Sadly, it’ll never happen.
LAURA FLANDERS is the host of “The LAURA FLANDERS Show” on Air America Radio, (Saturday and Sunday 7-10 pm, www.airamericaradio.com.) The next performance of “BUSHWOMEN” will take place at 7 pm, Monday, June 7, at the Lakeshore Theater in Chicago, to benefit Peace Pledge Chicago. For more information, check www.peacepledgechicago.org, or call 312.494.5840.