Friday, June 30, 2017

Lessons from Television

NOTE: This is an older posting that I just completed today.

Was television always this bad?  Yea, I'm afraid it was.

We are staying in a campground, and I thought I would see what is on television.  We have a small flip-down video player in the camper, which I bought on eBay for $150.  It plays DVDs and such, but does not receive off-the-air TV.   

Another camper was throwing away a new-in-the-box digital television converter (the kind you could buy with a government coupon, back when they made the switch).  I dug it out of the trash and hooked it up to the A/V input on the flip-down television.   Voila, TeeVee!

You can get a lot of channels off-the-air these days, it seems, although most of them are garbage.   A lot of religious channels (send us your money) and a few play old television shows (I dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, that sort of thing) with frequent commercials.

The commercials are fascinating.  One tells you that you have some undiagnosed illness and you should "ask your doctor" about TRAFLYPTIX once-a-day medication.   The next ad is from a law firm advertising that "if you took TRAFLYPTIX and had side effects, you may be eligible for damages!"

It is the old  something-for-nothing game.  A pill will change your life.  If it doesn't, well, you win at litigation lottery.

Other pitches were for "diet supplements" that would make you feel "decades younger" and eliminate wrinkles, etc.  Or, you can get your hair back (two different companies, here, but I suspect they are the same).   Eat an acacia berry.  Or get your own free (or "nearly free") back-brace, if you call this number in the next ten minutes!

Also, interestingly enough, are a lot of pitches for charities.  The ASPCA has a long, long spot with pictures of pitiful pooches (mostly pit-bull roteweiller mixes) that have been abused.  They want you to pledge $18.99 a month (!!!!) to help their charity.   All I could think was, "Gee, that's a lot of money" and "That television ad must have cost a lot of dough!"

A similar ad for the wounded warrior project.   Noble causes?  Yes.   Money spent on television ads?  Staggering.

But it reflects the statistics on charities - poor people will donate far more of their money to charities than the rich, as a percentage of income.   And often these poor folks donate to questionable charities that have very high overheads and very high salaries for their key employees.  Charity is a fine thing and all, but investigate the company (and it is a company) you are giving money to.  If they can afford ads that cost tens of thousands of dollars a minute, you have to ask yourself where the money is going.

Of course, the Jesus channels, staffed by sweaty, overweight white men (or sweaty overweight black men), who put the fear of God into you, ask for $1000 from "40 people" to buy a new fiber optic cable to spread the word of God to Muslims (!!!).  A thousand bucks!   Gee, that makes the ASPCA look pretty cheap by comparison.  Of course, the Jesus channel needs more money as they broadcast 24/7, not just in 30-second spots.

It struck me that the ads were all aimed at poor people and people who had a victim mentality and were sympathetic to the victim mentality.   If you are overweight and feel like shit, it isn't your fault.  All you need is a simple pill!  And when that pill causes your son to grow breasts (I am not making this up) you can sue for damages!   In the meantime, you can latch onto the next cure for a disease you don't have, or help rescue a rotweiller mix from some white trash who tried to beat it to "make it a mean guard dog!"   Dang puppies, always being so goofy and cute!  Need to toughen them up!

But sadly, the number of rednecks in the world who decide they have to have a mean dog is apparently infinite.  Go to any shelter and you will see cage after cage of these inbred mutts, all with short muzzles and large heads, bred for fighting and not much else.   They don't make good pets, so don't bother trying to "save" one.   An elderly friend of mine tried that, and it did not work out well.  The dog was basically untrainable and wild, and when he saw a squirrel, he bolted, pulling my friend off their feet so that they broke their hip.

You can't save the world - particularly if you don't save yourself first.

It got me to thinking, though.  Was television always this bad?  So chock full of poor normative cues?  So utterly stupid?

Well, yea.

The off-the-air programs were old sitcoms from the 1960's and 1970's.    While dreck like I Dream of Jennie and Bewitched and other "Screen Gems" were patently stupid (and recycled the same plot from week to week), even the "progressive" intellectual shows of the 1970's such as All in the Family and Maude (and other Norman Lear dreck) were really idiotic and written at an 8th grade level, if that.   Back then, they were "groundbreaking, thought-provoking" shows because they often dealt with trendy issues.  But the writing and the jokes were lame beyond belief.  You try to watch them today and you just shudder.

Television has always been stupid, I'm afraid.  And only stupid people watch it.  If you are not stupid, and start watching it, you will become stupid in short order.  You can't help it - you are being barraged with an information stream of data that hits your cerebral cortex at the speed of light, without your brain being able to filter or process it, first.

Sadly, there is very little media these days which is analytical, thoughtful, intellectual, or rational.   Most media is designed to capture eyeballs, whether it is sensationalist journalism or explosion movies.   News programs are heavily biased to the right or left, with little in-between.  And sadly, even the newspapers (which are now websites) are resorting to sensationalism to generate clicks and capture eyeballs.

I am not sure what the answer is, other than to unplug entirely and read a good book.