A few thoughts… On television

By Sandy Compton
Reader Columnist

Bruce Springsteen recorded “57 Channels and Nothin’ On” in 1992. We’ve made incredible — ahem — “progress” since. Thirty-two years later, there are over 100 networks, some of which broadcast on multiple channels; giving us so many choices that even the internet doesn’t know how many we have. In fact, the internet is home to its very own channels. 

Not all channels come with advertising, but most do. Vehicles that make your neighbors jealous while making you, your kids and your pets ecstatic — and improve your sex life. Drugs for every ailment known to humans, carrying disclaimers about what they might do to you that are longer the list of what they might do for you. But they will also improve your sex life. Fast food, slow food, lawn food, dog food, cat food and stuff that looks like food but really isn’t. Beer, wine, hard drinks, soft drinks, golf balls, golf clubs, golf courses, golf vacations, vacation rentals, cruises, airlines, lasik surgery, dentists, toothpaste, toilet paper made fun and insurance. As well as lawyers, just in case you wish to sue advertisers who don’t live up to their promises. 

Some advertisers even have their own channels. But, that’s plenty. 

My wife and I had a television back in the day. To put that timeframe in perspective, I know what a test pattern looks like. We watched the Muppets when each show was brand new — I still love Kermit. Football occupied Sunday days and Monday nights. Baseball was on Saturdays. Golf was on way too often, but that was before I played golf and came to appreciate the nuances of the game. 

Our television was an RCA color portable with a huge 25-inch (diagonally measured) screen. It had a plastic handle on top to make it portable, but it still weighed 60 pounds. If the sound was turned all the way down, which was achieved by turning a knob — remotes were still in the realm of The Jetsons — the hum of electricity running through the various tubes could be heard. It got between three and five channels, depending on where we were living. 

About the time we might have been able to afford a “console” television — with a 35-inch screen encased in a stylin’ faux-walnut cabinet that weighed 150 pounds — we divorced and the RCA went with my wife. I never replaced it, and I’ve been without one since.

My favorite telemarketers over the years have been those from Dish Network who call to tell me about their latest, greatest deal. About two sentences into their pitch, I interrupt. 

“Excuse me, but there’s something I think you should know.”

It gets quiet, and then they ask, “What’s that?”

“I haven’t had a television since 1979.”

Almost every time, the line would go dead with a “click,” but one young woman, after a few seconds of shocked silence, asked, “What do you do?

“Whatever I want,” I said, which may not be completely true, but I’m not riveted to a TV set, either. 

I don’t miss it much, except during baseball and football seasons. I really don’t even miss it then, because television has become ubiquitous. It’s in almost every bar, restaurant and public waiting place in America. Watch television while you get your tires rotated, get your oil changed, wait for the to-go pizza to land on the counter or for the receptionist to call you into consultation with the lawyer about suing the cruise company that advertised on Hulu. 

All in all, though, the Boss is still pretty much right. There’s not much on. It seems like the bulk of content is breathless titillation, doomsday, sensationalist news or weather “reporting” — “We’re all gonna die!” — serial violence, serial killers, serial advertising or serial zaniness disguised as humor.

Some good programming does exist. I admit that if and when I check into a motel or hotel, I turn on the TV. But if I spend the next 15 minutes or so looking for something remotely interesting to watch, and don’t find it, off it goes. Maybe I don’t take enough time, but the ratio of good stuff to mindless drivel is way out of balance. Maybe I’m beginning to feel like I’ve seen it all before. 

Someone once called television chewing gum for the mind. In my case, the chewing gum has reached that point all chewing gum comes to: it’s become a stiff, tasteless blob, one you have to spit out or swallow. I advise spitting it out. Swallowing everything on television will make you ill.

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