A Cultural Life
by Joseph Sherman
In the end we paid $88 for this year’s version of the small television we abandoned at a local repair shop over ten years ago, and which had cost us over twice that figure. It wasn’t that we desperately wanted another after so long, but diversion can be hard to come by unless one is willing to steeplechase the threshold. Even two measly channels can divert for an hour or so daily, if such diversion is desired.
I’m doing my best not to remember showtimes, so there’ll be less temptation to abandon any of my projects and root myself before the wrong box. I’m already puzzled by the mind-numbing repetition of commercials (this is deliberate, huh?), news broadcasts that seem the same day-in and day-out, and programs (some of them Canadian) that are as diabolically appealing as lint-polished pocket change. What gives CBC radio its local flavour several hours each weekday is diminished, on TV, to half an hour. Ah, that global village.
I spend most of the broadcast day, as it used to be described, exercising avoidance, and that includes late-night CBC movies (as a teen I had the requisite ichor-infused stamina), some of which I’d love to see. But a 3 a.m. bedtime is not conducive to diurnal hunting and gathering. Who stays up that late and then does anything but kip ’til noon …shift workers? Well yes, I suppose that’s it.
We’re not acquiring a DVD player or VCR. More distractions, and without stereo and a flat screen, who wants to see anything blockbusterish? I’d rather make my viewing of contemporary film into a true excursion, one I can share with others.
With few exceptions, television is mind-mint at its most exuberantly artificial, the kind of confection in which chemical sweeteners top the ingredients list; there is naught good to be ingested. Reality shows, so called, are no better or worse than most of what passes for scripted programming, though they mean less work for schooled actors. Reality players are no more real than paid actors, and own less ambition. Sports have their place on television. And there’s a babysitting function. Plus there’s been a recent spiked interest in crime scene investigation as a career …fancy that.
Declaring you aren’t owned by a television elicits the same sort of reaction as admitting you don’t own a phone. (Will the phone companies soon make us all listen to ads before dialing out is permitted?) If its power to distract, lull, and corrupt is now being shared with all that computer culture can offer, at least a computer requires more than an easy chair and one hand free to tickle the remote. The remote …isn’t that something? I don’t even know how they work. I can point ours at any of the cats or our resident rhesus, Pieces, and still change the channel.
Some believe that screen action, large or small, represents Nature’s cultural advance on live theatre. Not so. Live performance requires participatory mobility, mental and physical, and a willingness to engage, as opposed to the feelings engendered by any screen’s translucent fourth wall. Live theatre is an implicit dialogue (ever wonder why theatres don’t serve popcorn?); a thrown image is a monologue. Heads and faces rendered too small or too large operate to no good effect; they may as well be animated. Sure, the effervescing screen reaches teeming millions, but so what?
In today’s paper I read that a new kind of TV screen becomes, when off-powered, a perfect mirror. Oh, but doesn’t the symbolism take your breath away?
Note to companeros: The seductive test pattern of yore, it turns out, was an illusion. It was an image of an image etched on the aether. It cost me my innocence.