Recent exchanges on Facebook with idiotic partisans over the confirmation hearings of Inevitable Justice Sonya, who, mark my words, will go down in history among the least intelligent of all confirmed members of our highest court (she misuses easy words with the frequency of W, if that tells you anything) has left me itching to spit acid on the commentators and pundits of both sides. But I vowed that July would be free of politicality, and I'm tired of breaking promises to myself. Hence, this will not be an elucidation of the leftist pundits who, having written about how horrible and unqualified she was in the past, have had to become apologists for her now. Neither will I be listing the words she misused and asking: If I hated that about a certain Caucasian Cowboy, why do I have to accept it in a "wise [read: racist] Latina?" [editor's note: one of the words was "province." Well, she actually said "providence" as in, "it is the providence of congress to deliberate etc. . ." She obviously meant to say province.] And when if comes down to it, it was the exchange that offended, much more than the Justice or the hearings. And in the end, it just isn't worth the effort to even discuss people who are too stupid to understand the importance of an opposition party to question presidential nominees.
So, instead I will be asking the age old question: What has happened to TV?
As a child, I remember spending hours watching it. Hours. I didn't even need cable. M*A*S*H was on twice a day where I grew up. The mornings were replete with the golden age Game Shows. And what with the delicious re-runs on the UHF station, from the blessed perfection of Andy Griffith, to I Dream of Jeannie, from Gidget to One Day at a Time and right up through Diff'rent Strokes, you could literally spend an entire day watching (I did, every single time I was sick enough to stay home from school), and be entertained every moment. Saturday morning was Loony Toones and Smurfs and Trolkins and the entire stable of Hanna Barbara legends who took you into ABC's Wide World of Sports. It was TV that didn't seem to care if you were the only one watching. And I swear I learned at least as much from I Love Lucy marathons and Gilligan's Island as the kids who weren't lucky enough to be sick.
The intervening years have seen me get away from Television. Just a little. I don't have one. I watch the shows I love on DVD or on line. And they are few and far between. Perhaps my absence made the Television angry. I don't know. But last week I had the opportunity to volunteer at a facility that cares for the Elderly. Spent the day there. One of the things they do is watch lots of TV. (I guess in the TV sense, getting old is like being young. At least the part when you were too sick to go to school). The odd thing is, beyond certain obsessions, (Oprah for some; 6 O'clock news for others; Animal Planet for a few) they don't really care what they watch. Actually, what they really crave is sleep, and the TV serves as a distraction for the people who might otherwise try to keep them awake with annoying sing-alongs or childish crafts.
So there I was, remote in hand, ready to re-live the halcyon days of yore, to reclaim the ability to waste time, so alien to people who have the weight of the world on their shoulders. First order of business was The View. I've said before that this show is one of the proofs that hell exists. We need not speak of it further. The channel just happened to fall on whatever satanic station happens to run it. We quickly ran up the dial--two hundred channels up--to Animal Planet. I was anxious to love it, because I have always been an animal documentary junkie. My parents mandated that Sunday viewing be educational, and I took the occasion to fall deeply in love with Jaques Cousteau, and the entire crew of the Calypso. I even love films like March of the Penguins and Winged Migration. Ask my son, who only consents to watch our Planet Earth DVD (AGAIN!) because it is his best hope of an hour's nap on a Sunday afternoon.
Suffice it to say that Animal Planet left me bitterly disappointed. Between the abject depression inspired by "Animal Cops," a show about people who abuse animals in large cities and the people who cite them, and the sensationalistic shock shows about animals gone awry, I was left pining for Nova, or the old National Geographic, or Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. I learned nothing from watching a deer jump through a plate glass window and tear up an apartment. Not the first time they showed it. Not the 50th time. Not even from the 25 times they showed it in grainy slow motion. I had to change the channel. [ed. note: Animal Planet later redeemed itself, ever so slightly, with an actual documentary about Wild Russia.]
I then had to navigate through a barrage of Judge shows. All of which seemed to be trying to one up the others in the all important "yelling at the participants and telling them how stupid they are" category. It seemed that to watch 3 minutes of one was to get the point of 3 hours of any of them. My soul sank deeper into the gulf of dark ennui that TV was digging in my brain.
All the news channels, ALL OF THEM, were instantly soul killing. Toggling between MSNBC and Fox is like flipping a rigged coin. Heads: you lose--RNC spit takes that aren't funny because that's actual spit and it lands on your face. Tails: Keith Olberman pulls his head out of the anus of DNC marching order headquarters and smears you with the intellectual offal that passes for commentary in the minds of people who think he's any different from Sean Hannity. And I know they don't always have 'round the clock posthumous lionization of Michael Jackson and Walter Cronkite, but even if I caught them on a bad week, let's not pretend that another viewing will find me nodding and saying: "wow, their shameless advertisements for Obama's socialization of the health care system have left me feeling informed." The situation was not improving. [Speaking of Cronkite, it was fascinating, which is to say, sickening, to watch how CBS stretched out their reportage, whilst the other networks truncated theirs. It was as if the former was desperately trying to say, "See how Katie lives up to his legacy?" and the latter were proclaiming "legacy? What legacy?" But perhaps it is fitting that "the most trusted man in America" is worth hours to the network that owned him, and 30 seconds to the networks who can only wish they did. Can't you just hear the board meetings? "Let's not be overly sentimental here people. How can we use this?" vs. "Let's not be overly sentimental here people, he was CBS. Let's just hope Brokaw kicks the bucket during sweeps."]
But I think I'll stop complaining there. Not just because prime time has a good deal more to offer. (LOST and a hot minority of highly entertaining, cutting edge shows save the day.) (Also, I am a closet sports junky.) (Did I mention Lost?) And not just to avoid the shame of revealing how certain shows like "extreme makeover, home edition" (which I caught on line once) make me cry as if the TV just gave birth to my firstborn child. I just don't want to pretend that TV has nothing to offer. As Homer Simpson said: TV gives so much, and asks so little.
Still, how can it be that when there were five channels, I had a more satisfying viewing experience than now, when there are 500?
It doesn't take a fuddy-duddy, or even a curmudgeon to point out that the modern age of television is not an embarrassment of riches. It's just an embarrassment.