Monitoring the transmissions

Many of you know I don’t have cable. That may seem odd for someone who runs a site that reviews TV and films. Thing is, I completely stopped watching TV in 2001, and discovered a level of happiness and contentment I’d never known before. It’s the news that makes you crazy. Some of the commercials. Not the shows, or at least not necessarily the shows.

As those of you who use TiVo and downloads to handle your TV viewing have probably noticed, something changes when you stop seeing local news and cut back on commercials. You find you worry less. You find you’re more sure of your opinions. You find you have fewer things to chat with co-workers about, but that’s okay because suddenly you realize your co-workers who still watch the local news are bring programmed. They come in every morning with some panic about new information indicating sugar is bad for you, or the latest scandal from DC and how the so-and-so’s are finally going to get their comeuppance, or their fascination with which celebs are dating which other celebs.

And you blink and realize you’re totally at peace with not knowing this stuff because: you already knew sugar was bad for you, and if the so-and-so’s in DC haven’t gotten their comeuppance by now they never will, and if celebrities were sleeping with people you actually knew it wouldn’t make them any more interesting. You have escaped the program and gained perspective.

But herein lies the problem: it’s all well and good that you and I have achieved enlightenment by killing our TV’s, but what about all those misguided souls who continue to watch and think they are the only people in the world who don’t believe there’s anything normal about sitcom families? Who find the local news’ latest diet scares implausible, but can’t seem to find an alternate take anywhere else? Do we just save ourselves, or do we try to save others?

It is for these reasons (and BBC America) that I have decided to get satellite TV and start watching some of the shit that’s out there, so I can ruin your favorite shows for you with authority. I’m researching options right now, crunching my limited budget, and trying to find a formula that factors the cost of this venture against the likelihood that I’ll have any time to watch stuff at all. I’m close to making a choice and ordering something.

In the meantime, Twisty’s continuing her reviews, and giving a fabulous explanation for why this must be done:

I’m sayin’, TV is the dominant culture’s self-image, instruction manual, and church all rolled into one. I must monitor their transmissions! If I don’t, a curious sensation of peace and contentment washes over me, and I start blaming the wrong things, like the weather, or my mother.

TV really is the opiate of the masses. “Donna Reed” and “Father Knows Best” weren’t “what the audience wants to see”. They were about creating a norm – the nuclear family – a tight little insular unit which had no room for live-in grandparents or ties to family lands or traditions. The nuclear family centered on Dad and his job. They lived where Dad worked. They didn’t annoy Dad when he was tired from work. Dad absolutely could not be expected to pitch in around the house because he worked so hard. Dad absolutely could not get too involved with his kids because he worked so hard.

They were conditioning us to hold this world view, and it worked. And since TV parents were always good and right, real life kids in fucked-up families had no model for how to deal with bad parents. Did Father still know best when he wanted to stick his hand up your skirt? There didn’t seem to be any other interpretation. It must be something you’d done to make him do this.

In the years that massive brainwashing campaign, Americans were treated to the shocking sight of their young adults opting out of the system. Somehow, independent thought had survived. Kids were looking at their lives, at their families, and recognizing it wasn’t the Donna Reed show.

TV would have to be more subtle… and it has been. The messages are still there, they’re just hidden in a tasty lump of sugar that makes them go down easier. The 1950’s submissive kitten is still there, she’s just hiding behind a facade of mouthiness that evaporates in the presence of Her Man. The 1980’s “Man shortage!” panic chick is still there – she just has to be coaxed out from behind a facade of professional success so she can discover that without marriage, you really haven’t got anything. And so on.

TV’s giving the audience what it wants to see? My ass. It’s giving us what the patriarchy wants us to see. It’s training us to take our rightful places in society, based on gender, race and other factors that have nothing to do with talent and ability.


  1. scarlett says

    As a media/mass com student I find it insanely difficult to accept that knowing what’s happening in the world is a bad thing. Having said that, I steer clear of commercial news (unless I’m too lazy and then I skim through the news on an Australian website)because its full of tripe, mostly ill-informed scaremongering. Unfortunately most people accept that as ‘the news’ (yeah, try to national or community channel, mate, or better yet, somewhere like Reuters) because they’re too intellectually lazy to pursue a more informed bigger picture. God forbid the bigger picture might actually present situations that don’t have nice clear resolutions! I guess this is why the commercial channels (and WA’s only daily paper!) would rather run a series of stories on footballers behaving badly then John Howard’s refusal to take troops out of Iraq.
    Conclusion; being informed of what’s happening in the news is not bad; watching commercial news which is, at best, infortainment and letting yourself believe it’s news is bad.

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    Exactly. The local news here in the US is all diet tips, police car chases, scaremongering (the average American probably hears the phrase “Are your kids safe” 8 billion times a year). The best it offes would probably be the little positive local stories to make people feel good about their communities, but that’s maybe 1% of what you see.

    The national news and CNN and all those… I honestly feel are just as full of crap. Political slants, underreporting… I don’t feel I know what’s going on in the world by watching them. I just feel I know what delusion everyone’s embracing this week.

  3. scarlett says

    I’ve found reuters isn’t too bad. Depends how cynical you are, but the actual sources (there are a couple, but Reuters is the only one I can think of by name right now) tend to be less biased and ulterior-motive driven then television stations, papers etc. And they actually cover stuff like international affairs what feels like quite factually. Plus I’ve been told I have a fairly keen eye for bias so I take anything that feels like someone’s trying to sell me an opinion with a grain of salt.

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