Sunday, March 20, 2011

Remote Controlled

A question I liked to pose to incoming freshmen when I was a member of the committee concocting topics for a writing sample was:

“Soon our television will be offering us 500 channels of broadcasting. Will that result in an Eden of cultural quality or a great cultural wasteland?

I was reminded of that question when my cable company obligingly sent me their latest channel lineup,. It seems I underestimated the number of channels we were going to be allowed to choose from. What with music channels and high definition duplications, I can access over 900 channels with a flick of my remote. I have to admit, though, that I am not the right person to definitively answer the question I posed above, for I watch barely a handful of the available channels and, thus, have no idea if what lies beyond my little patch of viewing is a lush land or a desert.

One channel that I do watch a lot is Fox Soccer Channel, which I like for two reasons: it broadcasts matches of the English Premier League (the top level of that nation’s game) and FSC’s California-based hosts have to get up pre-dawn to introduce the shows. Now, it must be admitted that FSC is not one of this nation’s prime sports broadcasters. And that is borne out by the fact that the major advertisers on other sports networks—the greasemeister hamburger and chicken mega-corporations and what Harry Pearson (in The Guardian) called “the gassy I-Can't-Believe-It's-Not-Piss excuse for beer” purveyors—are mostly absent. Instead, the commercials on FSC seem to be aimed at three distinct groups: the credit-challenged, who are enticed to pay for reports that they entitled to get for free; immigrants, who are invited to phone overseas by a small-print-loving telephone company (which at one point had—and perhaps still has—as an executive a former New Jersey Republican politician one wouldn’t touch with a barge pole); and the dermatologically-flawed, represented in the commercials by young women (all seemingly named Pam or Dawn) who slather on white gook that we can have shipped to us free thanks to an apparently never-ending limited-time offer. Recently, the Pams and Dawns were joined in the gook commercials by another young woman, one who looked as if she was created by Pixar. This unreal personage is apparently a non-celebrity celebrity (you know, one who has to be identified, so we know it’s a “celebrity” hawking the product), identified as “singer/songwriter Katy Perry.” Now, I must admit here was a true non-celebrity for me. I had never heard her name before, much less heard her sing. But the other day that all changed. I was trapped in a medical waiting room that had a ‘light rock” radio station piped in (the kind of offensively inoffensive noise that makes your gums bleed), when the announcer proclaimed that the next number would be by the above-cited K. Perry. Who sounded like nothing other than a skinned cat.

There are a few things in life I understand, but one of them isn’t the thinking of advertisers. Oh, I get it that the credit-challenged probably have no jobs and are glued to the TV all day watching whatever and that immigrants (more than us native-borns) love what the rest of the world calls “football”—but what I can’t figure out is how many acned young women would spend a Wednesday afternoon watching the replay of a game between Wigan Athletic and Stoke City.