Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Life out of balance.

According to the Hopi dictionary, the Hopi word koyaanisqatsi is defined as "life of moral corruption and turmoil" or "life out of balance." The prefix koyaanis means "corrupted" or "chaotic", and the word qatsi means "life" or "existence" literally translating koyaanisqatsi as "chaotic life."

First, a few facts:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The ranks of the nation's poor have swelled to a record 46.2 million — nearly 1 in 6 Americans — as the prolonged pain of the recession leaves millions still struggling and out of work. And the number without health insurance has reached 49.9 million, the most in over two decades.

No politics, no spin - just numbers. It's plain to see that more Americans are living below the poverty level than have since the 1980s. The other half of the equation is the poverty line:

For last year, the official poverty level was an annual income of $22,314 for a family of four. Measured by total numbers, the 46 million now living in poverty are the most on record dating back to when the census began to track in 1959. The 15.1 percent tied the level of 1993 and was the highest since 1983. For an individual, the annual income is $11,139.

Now that we have established a bench mark, consider that there are those living in poverty and those living in extreme poverty. They have measured those numbers since 1975, and they are roughly the equivalent of someone being obese or being morbidly obese. You're still poor, only now, you are so poor that we have invented another chart for you. One with an adjective.

Now that we know the numbers, something that happened today has me perplexed. Somebody named Missoni created such a buzz over his (or her) fashion designs that Target's web site shut down and the store had a rush on the stuff to the point that TV paid attention and they actually ran out of product.

It isn't as though Missoni was selling food or something that could help people. They are selling dinnerware, shoes and clothing; presumably things that we can live without, especially when you consider that large numbers of people are living below the poverty level.

Somewhere in America there are people who will jam up a web site and line up at a store in September for some designer stuff that they presume to be a "bargain." I'd guess that these aren't people who are living at or below the poverty level. So, it leaves me to wonder where the separation is and what predicates people above the separation level to behave in such a manner. I'm lower-middle class, and I had no idea who this Missoni person was until I read the story on the Internet. Am I uninformed?

Regardless of the "incredible bargain" prices that may have existed for this stuff, it leaves me wondering how a society that can produce 46 million people living in poverty could also produce a large number of people willing to spend money on stuff like that. The Hopi had a word for it. Koyaanisqatsi. Life out of balance. If you haven't seen the film, I highly recommend you search your Netflix account and spend a couple of hours with it.

Is our life out of balance? It surely is. And don't call me Shirley.

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?