Posts from — June 2008
So there I am, standing in line at the post office, watching the ubiquitous television silently running through the standard montage of daily disasters. Homes falling into rivers, people being mugged on security cameras, twenty car pileups on the highway, and on.
Just another day among my fellow citizens in the public square. And I ask you: Is this information we need to help us build fulfilled lives? Does it better our democracy?
No. It’s cheap entertainment. And since it comes by way of other people’s misery, (hurricanes, floods, unsolvable dilemmas), it’s entertainment at another’s expense, and for cable news profits.
That, dear readers, is called exploitation.
About a year back I had to go to the local cable TV store, the place where you exchange a busted remote or set-top box. And there they were: Three TVs tuned to Lifetime, keeping the folk well sedated during the wait, I suppose. They were running some sappy “romance” movie, and a woman was being raped and beaten while we stood there watching.
It was the most surreal event you can imagine – not just because a woman was being sexually abused before our eyes, but that most people yawned and scratched themselves as if nothing was wrong with it.
Why is it OK that people are raped, pillaged and beaten across 500 channels all day long and it’s OK with us? What’s happened to our sense of perspective? And why must we – and our kids – be subjected to this junk at public spaces? More and more you run into television intruding onto our public world. My bank’s got them, the doctor’s office uses them, even the diner I used to like put them up. We don’t eat meals in my house with the television on; why would I go to a restaurant to sit dumbly in front of one there?
This is one of those political arguments that transcends party. Right-wing, left-wing, we ought to all feel outrage over the excesses of commercial entertainment and its intrusion into our private lives. (And if you want some warm and fuzzies check out Mr. Obama’s eloquence on media and kids here.) That’s why I also love organizations like White Dot, in the UK, a country which frankly is miles ahead of the US in terms of recognizing the negative impact of media on our lives. You can even choose a “media-free” car on the London-Heathrow train. Imagine that.
I think the awareness in the US is starting to jell. Although – sadly – the website for TVTurnoff appears to have gone dark, the Center for Screen Time Awareness seems to have picked up the slack. (If anyone has information on either of these sites, please let me know.) Many people I know profess embarrassment at watching TV, a welcomed sign-of-the-times. Still, the next time you enter a public space and there’s a TV blaring away, just zap the thing with your TV-B-Gone. And help bring a little more peace into the world.
I’ve been a Mets fan – a fanatic, really – for over thirty years. Since 1976, when I was 10 years old, the first thing I’ll do in the morning is grab the newspaper, turn to the Sports section, and soak up Mets news. I’m talking about a thirty-year-old habit, which I’ve extended to the online realm, like checking www.metsblog.com ten times a day. I do this in January as much as June. I’m that nuts.
If you want to know why I can tell you about my grandfather, his coming from Russia to New York, his love for the NY Giants and the hours we spent together watching the Mets. Or my own psychology behind my letting a baseball team’s loss ruin my good mood when there’s plenty of other disasters in the world that ought to do a better job. But the bottom line is that I’ve been a Mets fan all my life and that’s that.
If you follow the sport or if you live near a big-media zone like New York, you know the madness that can surround a team when the media smells trouble. In the 70s the Yankees had the Bronx Zoo, a daily soap opera among Reggie, Billy, and The Boss. Embarrassing, really. But I didn’t care – I kind of reveled in watching the hated – and perpetually winning – Yankees roil through turmoil, especially because my team was so terrible at the time.
But that was the tame 70s. Who knew how insane the media circus would become, with blogs, social media, and the wild appetite for celebrity news? I’m 41 years old now. I have zero interest in celebrities lives or celebrity gossip. It’s just more bread and circuses.
Yet now this same media concentration is swallowing up sports. The news around the Mets recently (recent winning streak aside) has read more like something out of Us Magazine than Sports Illustrated. Headlines had been railing about the “firestorm” over what the manager said, what the closer said, what the first baseman didn’t say. ESPN spent multiple innings covering this junk during a Sunday night game, with tight closeups of players’ faces as they “struggle” to overcome the “stress” of playing through the turmoil.
Gimme a break. What is this, high school? I’m a fan of the game on the field, the thinking-person’s part of the game. Strategizing along with the manager. The anticipation; not what’s happening but what’s ABOUT to happen. This is what makes baseball so excruciatingly wonderful.
“He said, she said” is not a game that interests me. At all.
Truth is my 30-year love affair with the Mets – with baseball – has been in jeopardy for while, mostly due to the endless stream of advertising that they slip into every possible nook and cranny of a broadcast. The DVR lets you skip the ever-lengthening commercials between innings but there’s little escape from the in-game interruptions, the “pitching change brought to you by…” or “the game-time temperature,” or “this broken bat” or “spit through the teeth” and on and on. But now the celebritizing of the game makes me pretty much skip the Sports page, the pre-game show and the all-sports radio station here in NY, WFAN. I still watch the game itself but the love affair is being killed off by the endless product pitch and non-sports related carping out of the maddening media. Who needs it?
Anyone who reads this blog knows about my passion for shutting out commercial infotainment, which uses emotional manipulation to push a seductive agenda of satisfaction through purchase. Meantime, we grow more ignorant about government shenanigans because fewer of us are paying attention, or getting real news. But I always excluded sports media from this mix, which in some ways has represented a very honest model of media taking those in charge to task. Imagine if the President had to face a room full of reporters asking key strategic questions about that day’s administrative decisions without any concern for being “fair” or “balanced”? Or if we as citizens spent our time on the radio like sports talk listeners do, arguing about real issues that really mattered, instead of “value” issues about pastors or flag pins or gay marriage diversions that represent the appearance of debate.
Sports coverage and sports radio has always seemed to be the most democratic discussions on the commercial dial, because it transcends political ideology for the bottom line: winning. So while I rail about “smashing the TV” on this blog the truth is I’ve kept mine running because I watch baseball, my last excuse for keeping the thing.
I’m starting to rethink that now. And so that noise you next hear might be my foot aimed squarely at the center of my Sony.