Monday, May 15, 2017

Using Television to Denouce Television? How Television Ruined Your Life

A BBC series, without irony, tells you how television ruined your life.

I harp a lot on television in this blog.   I was born and raised with it and assumed it was like oxygen - something that you needed to survive.  And for many people it is - they cannot live without their cable TV.   And it is everywhere, in bars, restaurants, airports, elevators, even on the gas pump ("gas TV" they call it, or some such).  The idea of not watching television is alien to most Americans - or indeed anyone in the Western world.

Recently, the FDA allegedly was ordered to switch all their televisions to Fox News.   People were "outraged!" by this, of course, but no one bothered to ask why the FDA would have televisions in the workplace to begin with.   What is it that the FDA does in any capacity that requires anyone to watch television?   Even in waiting rooms or other facilities open to the public, televisions are not necessary.  In the offices or break room?   No.  Just freaking no.   Tee-Vee has no place in the workplace!

Sadly, as Americans, we watch a lot of it.   Depending on whose survey or ratings system you look at, the average American watches 4.6 hours a day.   That's pretty much every waking hour you are not working, eating, or shitting.  The messages we get from this brain-programming machine are not all that great either.  In addition to the ads, which suggest to us that owning a new SUV or watching more television are great ideas, the programming is designed to make us fearful and depressed - so that we will be even more passive consumers than before.

And in this regard, the first episode of the BBC series tries to address this factor - in a humorous way.  The problem is, I don't  think you can denounce television on television.  Even Sideshow Bob had the guts to acknowledge the irony.

The problem with television - and indeed the Internet, as it slowly turns into television - is that the main goal of programmers isn't to entertain or inform, but to keep you watching.   And nowhere is this more evident when you try to watch a commercial show, such as anything from the History Channel, in a non-commercial environment.   A 30-minute show is reduced to 22 minutes, and of that, maybe half is squandered in "recaps" after each commercial break, to let the short-attention-span viewers and channel-surfers know what was going on before the orgy of SUV ads.

When I worked for a cable-TV hardware manufacturer, and later on a major telcom company, representatives both told me that the goal of television wasn't to entertain viewers with programming, which was in turn paid for by advertisers, but instead to sell eyeballs to advertisers.   Their "product" wasn't the programs, but in fact the consumers, who they sold off like whores at a slave auction, to the highest bidder among the major corporations of the world - or outright scam artists - they didn't care much which, so long as they paid top dollar.

This was a paradigm shift from the old-school model.   If you watch early television from the 1950's, you realize it isn't that compelling.   They don't use teasers or tricks to get you to "stay tuned!" for more drivel.   They interrupted the programs - and not very often - to have the stars of the show or the announcers, talk about the product, often unconvincingly.  I am not sure Milton Berle sold many Buicks, or Groucho Marx sold many DeSotos.  But that was the way it was done, old-school.

Today, it is all about getting you to watch and getting you to keep watching.   Back when we had three channels, there was no problem getting you to watch and keep watching.   There were not many choices, so you basically watched what everyone else watched.  Variety shows were popular, as they appealed to large audiences.   Now we have 500 channels of cable, YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, and a host of other online services.   The choice of "what to watch" has expanded dramatically.

So getting you to watch and getting you to stay engaged is harder and harder to do.   You need to use fear and outrage to keep people connected and engaged.  And this is why Fox News - the fear and outrage channel - is the most popular news channel in the country.   People who watch it are convinced that crime is through the roof and the government is so vile and corrupt that it needs to be overthrown.   This causes users to be engaged and is good for their ratings, but bad for our society as a whole.

This won't change until people turn away.  And maybe that is the fundamental flaw with this "Television Ruined Your Life" series.   Yes, the network executives put on drivel that is designed to appeal to your baser instincts.   But no, we don't have to watch it.   We have been TV-free for over a decade now - no cable, no over-the-air television.   And we don't miss it a bit.   And increasingly, we find we don't watch much "online" television anymore either, as it has devolved into soap operas and "channels" that are little more than Internet versions of old broadcast television.

Not being constantly connected to the media is always an option.   And if Television Ruined Your Life, guess what the smart phone is doing to it?