I see a note from my sister on Facebook: “I HATE CABLE TV.” In theory, I’m with her. The cruelest part of getting more channels than you can count is the joke whose punchline we all know: Now you get to watch 500 channels of garbage.
Why then, do I have a satellite dish installer on the roof right now, replacing our old DirecTV dish with a brand-new dish that will enable us to receive a high-definition signal? I think it’s got to be more complicated than we want to see the garbage more clearly.
sLet me catalog the reasons.
–Curiosity: I’ve wanted to see whether HD television really is better–especially for the Tour de France in July.
–Weakness: I know that changing to HD isn’t going to improve the quality of the programming. I know it’s probably not worth whatever extra amount DirecTV will charge us. But we’ve been talking about getting new service for awhile and now I’m just giving in.
–Distractability: I’m as willing as anyone to slough off my chores and responsibilities in favor of a nice “Seinfeld” episode. (Do I still read? That seems to be the culturally correct alternative to watching the tube–as opposed to gardening, cooking, paying the bills, or going to work. Yes, I try to, though sometimes it takes me forever to get through stuff. Right now I’m reading two nonfiction works: a biography of John Brown and a first-person account of Robert Falcon Scott’s last Antarctic expedition.)
–Keeping in Touch with the People: Here’s a self-justification that often pops up in my brain: “I work in the media, so I need to know what’s going on out there with the culture and with media consumers.” That’s partly true; but only partly. If this were really an exercise in keeping current with popular tastes and the concerns and fascinations of my fellow citizens, I’d be watching a lot more “American Idol,” and I’d regularly check in with the crowd-baiters on Fox News. (In practice, I find about 15 minutes of “Idol” fulfills my annual requirement, and I’m so enraged and depressed by Fox News that the only way I can deal with its spew is the occasional Glen Beck deconstruction on “The Daily Show.” Speaking of “The Daily Show,” though, and “The Colbert Report”–I find I can live without them. Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann on MSNBC? Turns out I don’t like left-directed pandering any more than I can stand the right-directed ravings on Fox.)
–The Love that Dare Not Speak Its Name: Well, maybe it’s time for me to come out. It turns out I actually like television. I think there’s plenty of inventive storytelling on the tube. Some of it can be deep, compelling, and memorable. -“Lonesome Dove,” anyone? Or “Band of Brothers”? “The Wire”? “Deadwood”? (I could go on.) A lot of the programming is superficial beyond a catchy gimmick–“24.” Some shows are based on formula and gimmicky, but work the formulas and gimmicks well: the whole “CSI” and “Law and Order” franchises. But the point is: on occasion, there’s real content out there that is–I hope this doesn’t set off a sacrilege alarm anywhere–on the same level of all the popular entertainments of the past, from “The Iliad” to “King Lear” to “Wuthering Heights”–that we have been taught to think of as classics.
Enough said on that. The dish guy is still on the roof.