In Theory, I Hate TV

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.

The Tour 2008

With an exception of one day, our TV service has been off for about eight months. The one day we broke down and turned it back on was Super Bowl Sunday, and that just served as confirmation that 200 channels or whatever it is of satellite television wasn’t anything we were missing. For the most part, anyway. I will admit that it’s a little weird to hear people talking about Colbert or “The Daily Show” and think, wow, we just don’t look at that anymore.

And the other thing I’ve realized is that, the vulgar excess of the Super Bowl aside, TV is very much the way I keep up with the sports I still follow. So: no baseball this year and very little sense of how the season is unfolding beyond sporadic reports that the Cubs are doing well and that that poor, poor pitiful team in Tampa Bay is really having a year.

Tonight, though, we are linked up again to the broadcast world. The reason is the Tour de France, broadcast again on Versus. The first stage was today, and we got reconnected just in time to see the tail end of the first rebroadcast of the day. A Spaniard named Alejandro Valverde won in an oddly configured finishing section–a sharp descent followed by a short sharp climb that kept the usual contingent of crazy sprinters out of the picture. Valverde took the stage with a shocking burst of uphill acceleration in the last 250 meters that blew away a rider who looked like he had the stage in the bag. And besides the wonderful action, I knew the Tour was back when I heard Phil Liggett, back for the umpteenth year of melodrama, mispronouncing the winner’s first name. At various times it seemed to come out not only as Alejandro, but also as Alefandro, Alessandro, and, most weirdly and regularly, Alethandro. Phil, I missed you. MIthed you, I mean.

Tomorrow’s stage broadcast starts at 5:30 a.m. here, and we’re having our traditional “first Sunday of the Tour” gathering with some neighbors.

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The Tour 2008

With an exception of one day, our TV service has been off for about eight months. The one day we broke down and turned it back on was Super Bowl Sunday, and that just served as confirmation that 200 channels or whatever it is of satellite television wasn’t anything we were missing. For the most part, anyway. I will admit that it’s a little weird to hear people talking about Colbert or “The Daily Show” and think, wow, we just don’t look at that anymore.

And the other thing I’ve realized is that, the vulgar excess of the Super Bowl aside, TV is very much the way I keep up with the sports I still follow. So: no baseball this year and very little sense of how the season is unfolding beyond sporadic reports that the Cubs are doing well and that that poor, poor pitiful team in Tampa Bay is really having a year.

Tonight, though, we are linked up again to the broadcast world. The reason is the Tour de France, broadcast again on Versus. The first stage was today, and we got reconnected just in time to see the tail end of the first rebroadcast of the day. A Spaniard named Alejandro Valverde won in an oddly configured finishing section–a sharp descent followed by a short sharp climb that kept the usual contingent of crazy sprinters out of the picture. Valverde took the stage with a shocking burst of uphill acceleration in the last 250 meters that blew away a rider who looked like he had the stage in the bag. And besides the wonderful action, I knew the Tour was back when I heard Phil Liggett, back for the umpteenth year of melodrama, mispronouncing the winner’s first name. At various times it seemed to come out not only as Alejandro, but also as Alefandro, Alessandro, and, most weirdly and regularly, Alethandro. Phil, I missed you. MIthed you, I mean.

Tomorrow’s stage broadcast starts at 5:30 a.m. here, and we’re having our traditional “first Sunday of the Tour” gathering with some neighbors.

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