The Needle and the Damage Done

Calvin: It says here that “religion is the opiate of the masses.” What do you suppose that means?
TV: It means Karl Marx hadn’t seen anything yet.

This Friday I was again reclined with a needle in my arm, as I have been regularly since high school. Although I can’t say that I have given blood every eight weeks since then, I have done my best to do so. Generally, it’s not a big deal–we all give what we can, and I can easily spare a pint–at times, however, it becomes a harrowing ordeal, as it did on Friday.

Friday was likely the first time that I’d been tempted to rip the needle out of my arm and stab someone with it. I restrained myself because it would have been to no avail–the people I wanted to stab were the hollow heads and screaming teeth who pass themselves off as journalists on Fox News. After years of avoiding the unfair and unbalanced network, someone found a way to make me a captive audience of it–pin me down.

What I saw made me realize why so many Americans have forgotten that we’re at war, or that an unbalanced dictator has built several nuclear warheads within easy range of thousands of American military personnel, or that millions of working Americans are still internally displaced refugees as a result of Shrub’s failure to respond to a catastrophic natural disaster. What Americans who watch Fox can’t forget is that there are white women in trouble, like Anna Nicole Smith and Britney Spears. In fact, Fox must have a There are White Women in Trouble bureau working on these stories, which explains why they don’t have any money to spend on fluff pieces like war, nuclear war, or natural disasters. Screw the humanity, Blondie’s lost in Aruba!

The TWWIT bureau appears to have money for an army of well-dressed pundits with obscured credibility. One member of their army of suits–legal experts who looked more like screaming paralegals dropped onto the set of L.A. Law than lawyers–stated that Smith was the goose who laid the golden egg and that the egg was her son. That has to be about the most fair and balanced way I can think of to describe both childbirth and the straits that a child finds himself in shortly after the death of his mother. All I could think is that this kid needs King Solomon and he got Uncurious George.

I don’t mean to belittle the crises that Smith, Spears, Holloway, et al. are forced to confront, but a national news organization should spend more time on events that affect the course of history or the success or demise of their own nation than they do chasing hearses and rubbing elbows with the paparazzi. These days, however, I can’t name one news outlet that does. The media, particularly the visual media, has the power to focus public attention and deliver a large volume of information with startling efficiency and effect, which is a great power, especially when so many of us seem to have little time for gathering and parsing information on the larger issues of our day.

And if the media attempts to claim that they don’t have an effect on their viewers, I’d ask them to explain why companies are willing to spend millions per minute for advertising time on TV if those ads will have no effect on their viewers.

So when TV media outlets fritter away their days on petty dramas and fear mongering and ignore the tremendous and terrifying sacrifices that thousands make, they promote the superficial over the meaningful, they promote the selfish individual over the collective good, and they are helping to develop a culture that is, for example, less concerned with the intellect or character of women than it is about their skin color and weight. And perhaps this is why, now that Mama and I are considering giving up our satellite dish, relying on the ‘net and Netflix for our video entertainment, that I don’t feel like I’m going to miss anything. Or maybe the reason is that it’s likely better that 3B grows up without this influence. Or maybe the reason is that, because for the last seven months, we haven’t had time to watch any TV.

We’ve given ourselves until Friday to think about it, but if we can’t come up with a compelling reason to hang on to our dish by then, we’re cutting the cord. What about you? What do you do for your video fix? And is there a downside to us killing our television?

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  • For us, no downside. Any news “content” that we might have received via TV is available online. That’s what Yahoo’s Most Viewed News Stories are for: white bimbos in trouble (Paris Hilton broke a fingernail!), oddities of medical science (They finally separated those twins joined at the duodenum!), and inane political commentary (Obama: black, or not?)

    We use Netflix to choose our movie pablum, and our TV gathers dust the rest of the time. Real news is available online, or–GASP–from actual newspapers you can hold in your hands.

    And considering our wireless access is free and Netflix is $7.95 a month, we can’t complain about cost.

  • Great takes on Fox, though local news really makes me want to slit my throat. I actually play cards with a reporter on one of our local network new teams, and I just saw him on TV last week for the first time…and I’ve known him over a year.

    I stick to online news and these things called newspapers.

    As for the boob tube, twice in my life I’ve killed my cable and gone cold turkey. It was hard but it was great. Both time I wrote novels. Granted, I couldn’t sell them, but at least but they were rewarding experiences none the less.

    I say go for it. If you’re really jonesing, you can alwaysd go back.

  • I had cable once, for about a month. Watched the Tour de France, then shut it off again and returned the box. I expect I’ll get it again this summer, then shut it off again when the Tour de France is over.

    Back in the Dark Ages, when I lived in New York, I had a little black-and-white TV with about a 4″ screen that someone had given me–a portable you could plug in at home or in the car, with a cigarette lighter adapter. The channel selector was a tuning dial like radios used to have, not a digital selector or even a tuner with channels preset. You’d tune as close to a TV frequency as you could, then watch. This was O.K., because with the picture tube so small, you were always sitting close enough to reach out and tweak the tuning if the reception started to wander.

    The picture tube on that started to crap out a couple of years before I left New York. I only used the TV every now and then anyhow. I’d be watching, and the picture would grow shorter and shorter, then get squeezed into a bright flat line. Audio was fine. It was a different TV watching experience.

    No cable.

    I left that TV behind when I moved to California in 2000.

    About a year after I moved to California, Mom woke me up one morning to tell me about something she’d heard on the radio, then gone to watch on TV. My uncle called not long after–by then I was already up, hunting through Internet sites on my DSL connection, trying to find some coverage there. When Mom called, she said “they” had hit both towers, and she thought they might lose one of them–it looked like it wasn’t standing quite right anymore. I couldn’t believe it and wanted to see for myself. I’d been to the top of those towers. By the time my uncle called, he was able to tell me from his TV that one of the towers had gone down already, and he bet we were going to lose the other. I don’t believe I ever got a story that morning from any online news site. They were all either swamped with hits or down because a communication hub had gone down in the World Trade Center basement.

    Around then I decided I could see the virtue of having a TV around for this kind of news.

    About six months later, I was in a Sam’s Club and picked up something cheap, with a VCR built in.

    In the L.A. area, I get plenty of broadcast channels, enough that I can watch any of the major broadcast networks. I couldn’t tell you which is on which channel or anything–I turn the TV on only now and then, mostly when I’m too tired to want anything more engaging. I do watch DVDs, and even that’s only from time to time–I understand the premise of Netflix, and it sounds good, but I don’t watch enough movies to bother.

    As I said, I’ve only hooked up cable the once.

    So I’d keep the TV and the broadcast channels for the odd occasion when there’s something you want to watch live, but I’ve never really been on the side of people who spent so much free time watching TV that they felt like spending monthly money on extra channels. I understand there’s some good programming on cable. It’s just not something I make time for.

  • Yeah, we’re chugging along without cable or dish. We had cable several years ago, but the longer we had it, the more I felt compelled to watch it, since I was paying so much every month.

    I still watch a lot of TV… more than I’d like, but at least I’m killing off my creativity and initiative free of charge. 🙂

  • Do it! Down with the boob tube oppressor!

    I’ll echo Mr. Jumbo. Before 9/11 we had been without a television for 18 months or so. We went out and bought one the night of.

    After a while, you’ll wonder why you watched the news at all. There are lots better ways to get your information…

  • I grew up without a tv – my parents were/are readers (and hippies) and wanted us to be readers, too.

    Aside from a missing fifteen-year chunk of popular culture trivia and references, I missed nothing and, in fact, gained much by not having a TV.

    It’s amazing how much more time one spends talking to each other and reading when one does not have the TV. Of course, those were the days before computers …

  • Anonymous

    I know a girl who didnt have TV until she was 15. Then she only got one because her grandparents were killed by a drunk driver. Then the TV was only on once a week for wallstreet week. Her parents got and still do get all the news and info from ONE newspaper.They are not very aware of the world around them and it shows.If it happens outside of a 40 mile radius then its really news to them.on Sept 11 they had no idea until late afternoon. And then were shocked more than anyone we had known. Simply because they didnt know about the people who did this or thought that there were people like them or Timothy McViegh or Eric Rudolph in our world. Read that again they didnt know.

    So now we fast forward to 1999 the daughter having been through college years and some work years meets a boob tube guyy. Who grew up with Gilligan, Beaver,Mash, 20/20,Nightline,Mary Hartman etc.

    Shes an avid reader, but sees the value of the TV as a source for many different views.Also we like sports.She was only about 9 when the hostages were taken in Iran. One of my neighbors was a hostage. We used to watch every night in wonder. And now that we have recently relived that crisis in book and TV info she knows about it as well. My first news experience was moon launhes. Then I can remember watching the watergate hearings. In college I skipped alot of classes for TV, it was the Iran Contra hearings, thats no lie.

    Anyway this girl turned out pretty great. And now old shows are all new to her. She recently found Green Acres. MASH has become a favorite.

    TCB I only shot one TV

  • In April 1961 John F. Kennedy gave some remarks to newspaper publishers in an address called “The President and the Press,” which you can find in various spots on the Web.

    One of his points: The press is “the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution, not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply give the public what it wants, but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate, and sometimes even anger public opinion. This means greater coverage and analysis of international news. For it is no longer far away and foreign, but close at hand and local. It means greater attention to improved understanding of the news as well as improved transmission.”

    After 9/11, I knew theoretically well-educated people who were shocked–shocked!–that there were people in the world who didn’t like the U.S. A real eye opener. To me, at least. But I had seen first-hand the editorial and commercial choice made in the 1990s to cut back on international coverage, because the public would spend more to hear about the world they already knew.

    So according to Mr. Kennedy, if Blondie’s in trouble in Aruba, or being buried in the Bahamas, that’s international news, and so worth covering. I really don’t understand what you’re complaining about.

  • I never rely on TV for news. I am strictly an NPR girl. I wish I could give up TV, but it is my one major vice. Although these days when we have time it is usually netflix or something DVRed after Chins goes to bed. Of course as the networks keep cancelling anything I deem worthwhile, I do watch less and less. Mostly we keep the satalite for the DVR feature so we can watch when we want, oh and The Daily Show. I say if you are not going to miss it, lose it. You all will be better off.