Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Junk on Television

WARNING: What follows is almost a reprint of an essay I wrote in 2006. I don't have many new thoughts anymore. I even gave it the same title because I couldn't think of a better one.

There's a lot of stuff on television.
There are shows about fat people trying to get thin, people who collect junk, people who sell junk and people who try to keep people from getting fat or collecting junk. It runs the gamut.

They don't show movies on network TV like they used to. We used to have "Saturday Night at the Movies" or something similar, where a network would program a 3-hour block and show a movie. Now, they take the same 3-hour block and program three shows about people trying to survive on an island, navigate an obstacle course or prove to three jokers that they can sing.

Movies have been relegated to pay-cable channels. Partly because programming "reality shows" is cheaper and partly because commercial-free pay-cable makes watching movies on network TV kind of pointless. Originally, it was the point of pay cable. Then, they discovered that they could produce their own TV shows too.

One of them is a channel called American Movie Classics. They show movies with commercials and edit them for language and content. The part that strikes me as odd is that the films they show are indeed classics, but they choose to edit some of the very things - language and images - that made them classics to begin with.

They show films like "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Taxi Driver," and remove some of the scenes and dialogue, toss in some commercial breaks and seem to be pround of it. And for those of us who are credit readers, they have made that experience impossible. They shrink the screen by two-thirds, speed up the crawl and use the remainder of the screen to tell us which classic film is coming up next.

A lot of television involves telling us what is coming up next. There are tiny people jumping around in a corner of the screen, words flying by and ill-timed announcements of COMING UP NEXT, while we are engrossed in a delicate plot point. Note that those things never come up during the commercials. We are supposed to pay rapt attention to those. You don't want anything distracting you from the 25 side-effects of a boner drug, after all. Never mind that we're paying for television to begin with. But I digress.

It's possible now to stream movies and television shows on your laptop computer, hand held cellular device or iPad. There is a strange juxtaposition over content. On the one hand, we are obsessed with 3D, Imax and other such large-screen video. On the other, we seem to enjoy it in a format that encourages viewing it cross eyed. The gang at Netflix even charges for the privilege. For a few dollars a month you can spend two hours in front of your computer screen staring at the latest video offering. I enjoy my sofa and a large TV that I don't have to squint at, thank you.

It's all part of this grand digital age. Some of it is practical, while some of it is technology for the sake of it. I figure that the horrid experiences will weed themselves out and people will settle into where they are comfortable, and I can't believe that they are comfortable watching "Avatar" on a 6-inch screen when they can see it on a 50-inch one.

Maybe we just enjoy sitting really close to things?

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