"There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers." ~ Richard Feynman
Defending Al Bundy's Life
O.K., . . . I'm probably going to get roasted for this, buttfuquette, as they say in Lewiston . . . .
I will now attempt a point-counterpoint style riposte to a recent essay appearing on my favorite website, LewRockwell.com.
Written by Karen DeCoster and Brad Edmonds, whose work I enjoy immensely, the piece is entitled, "TV Nation: The Killing of American Brain Cells." It is admirably incisive, and a richly condemning indictment of what I have previously called the most powerfully influential tool of persuasion ever devised by mankind: television.
The pernicious nature of the visual broadcast media, as wielded according to established corporate government parameters and agendas, I do not wish to dispute. I have long appreciated and railed against this shadowy spectre, but there has always concurrently existed entertainment programming available, I think, largely uninfluenced by social engineers and manipulators, ostensibly serving only the profit motive.
Therein lies the root of any "good" TV, such as it may be, and though I concede the authors their general contentions, I perceive in their analysis some small danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water. In defense of modern television, it seems to me that the advent of expanding cable outlets, and an increasing modicum of pragmatically market-rooted competition somewhat diluting the boardroom network hierarchal programming monopolies, corporate/government fare may be giving way to more apolitical and/or libertarian quality entertainment products.
At the very least, all considerations of entertainment value aside, television remains a vital tool for keeping a finger on the pulse of assorted slimy cheeseballs, weasels, and megalomaniacs, blithely playing their horrible games of life and death in and around the mystical, distantly removed halls of imperial power. At any rate, the general subject of TV being one of my lifelong passions, a love-hate relationship to be sure, I am going to indulge myself herewith.
DeCoster and Edmonds-- "As adults, neither of us watch TV, at least since the days of M*A*S*H and Northern Exposure. Well, except for sports, sports news, and the occasional late night show. We hate TV. We loathe it. Okay, the only contemporary shows ' of all the sitcoms and dramas and reality stuff ' both of us will give some credence to are The Simpsons and Cops."
I think the authors contradict themselves by proclaiming not to watch TV and their loathing and hatred for the smallbox, while in the same breath invoking their past favorites and listing their current viewing menu.
O.K., O.K., . . . I confess. I also kinda loathe and hate the little bastard box, and I still watch it, too. I'll grant M*A*S*H and NE as substantive, worthy fare, and I will admit a hypnotic fascination with golf telecasts, LPGA telecasts particularly (and a rare inning or two of World Series baseball) . . . but sports, in general, suck the big one. C'mon, man!
I'm sorry, but even a hard-core athletic fanatic must wince keeping a scorecard of the chameleon-like rosters of any current major league sporting franchise. Teams these days change their lineups of mercenary, spoiled-brat gladiators as frequently as I change my underwear. High school basketball is infinitely more compelling than the NBA, ever since Bird and DJ said their final, bitter-sweet farewells.
Sports news??? You're kidding, right? Late night shows? Very light weight stuff, I'm afraid, with the sparkling exception of Leno's "ask the man on the street general questions" schtick and periodic, if infrequent flashes of semi-brilliance on Conan and Kilborn. Letterman? Please see Norm MacDonald's immortal, Late Night with David Letterman parody (MacDonald is the guy SNL fired for "not being funny"--go figure).
The Simpsons? I've never watched one in its entirety. Whenever I see about a minute's worth of an episode, I'm instantly reminded of how much it sucks. For TV cartoons these days, try Comedy Central's smash hit, "South Park." I was pleased recently to experience five "South Park" episodes, and four of those shows were as funny as anything I have ever seen in my life. Seriously! I'm hesitant to watch another episode knowing full well it cannot hope to match the excellence of those I have already seen. Case in point: that fifth episode I mentioned. King of the Hill also deserves credit as a quality animated comedy for being consistently amusing and clever.
O.K. I really have to take exception to your "giving credence" to Cops. It's sickening and inconceivable that you prominent freedom and liberty expounders find some perverse pleasure in viewing that base, sadistic kind of police-state muscle flexing. I can only hope I may have overlooked this statement as having been made with tongue in cheek.
DeCoster and Edmonds-- "Walk into the home of any friend or family member, say hi to the kids, and they don't dare turn their face away from the tube to acknowledge that you've walked in, because they just can't be distracted from their daily dose of obedience to their visual master. Their faces are frozen to the tube because they are unable to lose their trance for even a single moment."
Agreed, this is an awful reality to witness. I believe, however, that this condition is symptomatic of an elementary parental failure to effectively supervise and monitor their children's viewing privileges rather than any inherent evil on the part of television, as a device in and of itself. Sensible parents should exercise more discretion, as far as TV exposure allowed their young, malleable charges. I mean, you don't leave the guns, the booze, or the heroin out where irresponsible or unwitting youngsters can get their mischievous little hands on them (likewise, any sharp knives, porno tapes, and heavy explosives). Ditto the clicker.
DeCoster and Edmonds-- ". . . some good reasons to not watch TV: . . . Opportunity costs: You could spend the same time doing such things as reading something job-related that might make you more successful in the future; reading something intellectual that will make you more fun at parties and less gullible to advertisers and government propaganda; doing something job-related that will make you more money right now; or exercising so you can better enjoy not only the extra money you'll earn but also the people you'll spend it with."
Man! Work more and exercise more!! You guys are wearing me out! I'm already pushing my threshold in those departments.
DeCoster and Edmonds-- "Direct costs: TV stupids you. The intellectual level of major-network sitcom dialogue and situations is (we're guessing) 6th grade . . . ."
Well, yeah . . . that's why we generally don't watch stoopid (sic) programs . . . we don't want to be "stupided!"
DeCoster and Edmonds-- "Moral costs: Sex in the City, Fear Factor, Temptation Island, and other reality shows focusing on sexual fidelity/infidelity, shows that normalize or glamorize violence, and other down-defining (to paraphrase Rush Limbaugh) presentations have an impact on people's behavior: garbage in, garbage out. The more you watch people behave immorally, the more you consider the behavior normal and permissible. This may not apply to you personally, but when the images are presented night after night, year after year, to a population of 280 million people, there are effects on the population. If our founders were correct in stating that their highly libertarian experiment required a religious, moral populace, we may have in television a partial explanation of the "progression" from our minarchist 1780s to the American socialism we have today."
The authors cite here more very, very stupid shows which we routinely eschew. I'll be the first to grant that there are now, and there always have been ignorant peoples and licentious rulers, and today's America is certainly a socialist nation, but to what degree aided and abetted by television I think is infinitely debatable.
DeCoster and Edmonds-- "There's more than snobbery in being able to say you don't watch television ' for example, there are practical benefits, such as being able to find the people you want to meet at parties..."
Snobbery? For shame, Karen and Brad, the vain pretensions!! It's not that you don't watch television, it's that you don't watch certain television shows! And dammit, we don't do much partying any more . . . at least I don't, I shake my head ruefully.
DeCoster and Edmonds-- "There's a difference between a string of sitcoms and a rerun of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest; and there's a bigger difference between watching mud wrestling and watching a chess match."
You bet your ass, there is! Umm . . . you mean watching mud wrestling and watching a chess match . . . on TV, right?
DeCoster and Edmonds-- ". . . These boob tube people all have 'their shows' every night . . . . They even obsess on the early evening reruns of shows they've watched over and over already. They eschew all the glories of life for static TV viewing. Our formerly intellectual American culture is sunk. Perhaps it is lost forever . . . ."
Oh, my God! American culture? A mere pie stain on the annals of recorded history, American culture may be lost forever? Heaven Forbid!
And I wonder if religiously watching the aforementioned NE reruns, oftentimes both daily airings, over the course of some six years, qualifies someone as one of the "boob tube people"? Oops!
DeCoster and Edmonds-- "It's stunning how easily so many people are amused by the stupid and meaningless. The stupider the sitcom, the more people like it."
That reminds me of something a former boss of mine was was wont to frequently explode, in his down-to-earth, homespun, Northeastern clip. "There ain't nothin' any more numb-er than people!" he would repeatedly wail. My old boss's wisdom grows eternally more sage with every passing year.
DeCoster and Edmonds-- "As a matter of fact, we voted 2-0 on Friends being the most brainless TV series ever. Or should it be Married With Children?"
Friends is painfully stupid and unwatchable we agree . . . but Married With Children brainless? Please! Surely, Brad, you must appreciate Christina Applegate's deliciously svelte, perfectly rendered "dumb blonde," . . . and Karen, the sublime agony of the whole world's weight upon the stoic shoulders of O'Neill's "oppressed individual" must appeal to the streak in you that "lends credence to Cops." Seriously, though. Have you two ever even watched Married With Children?
TVs don't kill American brain cells. Americans do!