Chapter 215 of 'What I Hate About Television.'
(Forgive me, but I'm feeling pissy.)
I may have mentioned somewhere that TV and I don't really get along. There are a couple racing series that I record on the DVR, and (as I have previously confessed, like a sinner cowering in the box) I keep a few Law & Order episodes on hand, also on the DVR. But I try to make a point to watch specific things as a deliberate act of choice, and I will not as a matter of principle watch programming real-time or troll among the network fare when I have nothing else to do. I will occasionally flip through the channel guide looking for a movie to record, and even this brief experience is like an hour spent in the golden shower of a visit to Wal-Mart--I always wish I could dip myself in some kind of sanitizer afterward. I feel, by an overwhelming margin, that were television as it is currently constituted to suddenly vanish the loss of the little bit of quality network TV programming would be a small price to pay to be freed of the endless hours of inane and harmful garbage that went away at the same time. I would personally sacrifice the one for the other with glee and a clear conscience. I am always flabbergasted by people who have the TV on 24/7 in the background when they're not really watching, which seems to me tantamount to keeping an open sewer running through one's living room--and I'm convinced the practice is nearly as dangerous to children as that would be. In fact, I've long been convinced that TV as an electronic babysitter is actively harmful without the strictest monitoring.
At work--where I am now, sitting in the Air Services Center--there's a TV in most every room, always tuned to one of the big networks. It's usually the baldly partisan Fox News channel--helping protect conservatives everywhere from the insidious influx of inconvenient "fact-based" news coverage--but sometimes we find ourselves being kept company by one of the other networks. The last hour or so it's been the signally insipid Regis and Kelly, (they're not really my friends; in fact, they don't give a shit about me) followed now by what appears to be a version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? God. What's next? Televised Texas Executions? Or maybe Lifestyles of the Botoxed and Liposucked? (It strikes me as I type this that neither of my sarcastic little titles is any worse than programming that already exists.)
These days, the source of my despair is American Idol. It's especially difficult to escape that show lately, with former winners and near-winners being played on the radio or being seen in record store displays, and with all manner of other media coverage of the show, in a kind of runaway nuclear meltdown of TV feedback that is spreading its poison fallout far and wide, contaminating the furthest reaches of society. Even for someone like me who has his head in the pop culture sand, one can hardly keep from knowing the judges and the general thrust of the show, and even the names of some of the final contestants. It's hard not to hate this ubiquity when the subject matter is so banal and mediocre. But what else could we expect from a show driven by the votes of a network television audience? From what seeps through my protective barrier, it seems the votes always go to the cheesy spectacle and empty fireworks that, apparently, get to stand in, in TV land, for any kind of true musicality. This is what gets the votes; this is what the voting audience will pay for in a CD store. What has always had an artistic thrust is thus homogenized by trailer park vote. Art by popular decree. The only elevation or sublimity is that of big-dollar television production values.
I just think we should run away from this, screaming, as quickly as possible.
This is all driven by forces far removed from the search for quality or a quest for learning, which is something that seems to uniformly escape our collective consciousness. Television is all about advertising. It's all about dollars, huge dollars coughed up for access to a potential audience of millions. The rest of it is window dressing to get you into the store, the sweet fruit which is really about spreading the seed. These dollars in turn make a relatively small group of media movers & shakers immensely wealthy. It's all about them. This show, like the rest of network prime time fare, is the product of a team of strategists who are trying, in a fierce competition with the other networks, to come up with the magic formula that will capture the largest market share (and, ergo, the most massive advertising revenue).
History demonstrates with almost perfect linearity that this is not a process which births things of lasting quality. Quite the contrary: network television's legacy is one of finding innovative ways to aim lower and inexorably lower. The goal seems to have become one of titillating the dimmest member of a demographically dim audience. That lowest common denominator, around which control of network programming seems to flock like a hellish Council of the Stupid, is depressingly, soul-sappingly low. And they've somehow managed to bring the less-dim portion of the audience on board, keeping them from raising a fuss at the sheer inanity of what oozes from the screen pretty much all the time.
I suppose complete despair is not entirely in order. We have greater and greater choices available through cable and satellite programming, such that the big networks can be bypassed altogether. There's even a good bit of advertising-free programming, stuff for which I will happily pay a bit. And that's a little slice of light in our new dark age, since obviously television is in no danger of the extinction of which I dream. There are good things available, if we can just inspire people to aim a bit higher in their entertainment aspirations.
Or we can just do the unthinkable and simply
turn... it... OFF!