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I’ve heard many reasons for why people have stopped watching commercial TV. Most times the cause given is dissatisfaction with programing. Such complaint, mine included, don’t intend to be elitist, but often end up coming across so. In earlier days we griped about the shallowness of TV sit-com fare, but we watched no less and were ready followers of Edith Bunker or Ralph Kramden. Inadequate as they were these, like Ed Sullivan, were cultural common ground.
With this attitude it is easy to see why I was disappointed with the presumed “better” alternative of serious, pay-for channels touting history and discovery. They did provide some of that but it was gussied up with questionable drama and science done blandly homogenized. A so-so educational program wasn’t much better than a conventional sit-com. Shallow conventionality is a stalemate with tepid science. The thing that turned me from commercial TV was simply too many choices with regularly increasing costs. Sit-com TV, flawed as we thought it, was free and not as loaded with advertisement as pay-for. Viewing perhaps six channels, an additional two hundred had useless value to me so I divorced from commercial TV. Other than local news and weather I didn’t miss it. I mean at ALL.
After more than a decade of no contact with commercial TV I see it again and am not surprised by a thing. Maybe the best way to describe my current association with TV is to call it my white noise. I can’t hear the wind or lake so the magic box playing softly all night blots out the sounds of cars, doors, etc. I call this TV white noise because I don’t need to watch what dribbles from the screen because there is not much program to watch compared to the flow of repetitious advertisement. Advertising replaces program time; a good deal for providers who do not have to pay for as much costly program time. That this practice effectively cheats viewers of program they are paying for is of no consequence to producers or advertisers. We pay. They win. It is hard for me to see this as a good program or good deal.
The content that annoyed me a decade ago seems now to be significantly worse. Successful programs appear based around themes taking a handful of mental patients and having them sell racing tires for school busses or a clan of homeless building a small nuclear reactor to fuel their moonshine still in suburban Chicago. A contrived premise with odd characters is not so different from Ralph and Alice or Archie and Edith. Honestly, I’m glad there was never a Honeymooners Naked and Afraid or All in the Family Outlaws, but there’s obviously potential equal to Pick Trash for Cash or Pawn My Weird Junk. (Oddly, a pawn theme show dishes out more useful info more consistently than a picker show tallying cash value. Who thought History meant cash value? Is the important question what is your cultural residue worth or what did it accomplish and add to the human experience?)
The really striking thing is how much empty content and attitude replaces factual content. One promo promises to show things I never imagined. Indeed, I did not imagine that doing little but outrageous poses was an accomplishment once you left Grade Two or that a lack of talent/ability was admirable as a skilled performance. On the other hand this is exactly the sort or material to work beautifully as white noise and fill time with little chance to stir anything but a deeper awareness of the holiness of fast food. Content doesn’t need quality if it can get by being cheap, loud, and noisy.
I’ll quit griping on this topic, but not before I express bewilderment at producers thinking history and related themes not suitable (dumb enough) without trumping up an absurd non-critical populist slant. I am glad of the effort to make History more interesting, but I don’t see much value in debate over the role of First Lady except as a vehicle for chatty talking heads to take cheap shots. I’m OK with snarky comment, but shouldn’t there be something more to discussion than one-sided pot shots between second graders intent on upstaging each other? Given the chance showmanship will upstage content and allow attitude to replace analysis.
It is harmless amusement to see entertainment educators’ fancy dance over fact. They say most anything to get an approving laugh. But, mouthing off from both sides of the mouth is not detailed analysis; a goal counting for little in entertainment. This makes Harry annoyed, especially when a slick and easy punch line replaces critical analysis. The worst offenses are from experts giving sanitized generalizations. An entertainer, of course, does not have the same standard or objective as a critical researcher who doesn’t aim at laughs or popularity. It soothes an audience to assure it all beliefs are essentially equal in value. You’ll hear this surprisingly often but is as factually fraudulent as saying the problem with Nazism was in the small minority who ran gas chambers or shot Jews on the streets. Not all Nazis were activist extremists, but that does not mean the system they quietly supported was equal to civil society. A supposed expert who misleads is a hazard dealing in dangerous deception as real coin. Fact is some beliefs are more dangerous than others. It is not religious discrimination to recognize a committed Quaker is less a societal threat than the followers of some other groups. Unless a person is an appeaser or deceiver they should be sharp enough to grasp the difference.
Understanding requires critical appraisal of fact. History tells us we cannot rely on most faiths to do this. Belief had thousands of years to get it right but accomplished little compared to the progress of civil and personal liberties gained over the past two centuries of science and secular government. The lesson I read says never yield ground to tyranny of faith or authority. Science showed us how to fly. Religion led men to fly planes into civilian targets. Our task is to oppose what is objectionable in any faith or politic.