Posts Tagged ‘television’

Crimes Against Eyeballs

April 21, 2010

blue soapbox  A recent article in the Piedmont Post sang the praises of TV.  You know, social change, cultural idiom, blah blah blah.

Well, what that piece neglected to mention is how hard TV can be on the eyes.  And not in the way that reading without adequate light is hard on the eyes.

Cosmetic Surgery. The Nightmarish Excess prize should be split between Joan Rivers and Garry Shandling, both virtually unrecognizable.  Honorable mention:  Billy Crystal.  Are these guys trying to make sure their faces are as funny as their standup routines?  Arianna Huffington’s jawline has become so rounded, she looks like she has the mumps.  And musician Paul Simon, who shares a name with the late U.S. Democratic senator, would appear to be aspiring to his namesake’s current look.

Coiffure.  Remember when the comb-over was the undefeated champion in the contest for most horrifying male hairstyle?  Never did I imagine that guys with full heads of hair would find a way to be every bit as wince-worthy.  But the day has come, and we are smack in the middle of an epidemic of dye jobs that are two shades too dark.

Dudes.  You have every right to color your hair, but as you age, you need to go lighter or risk being mistaken for a corpse.  See how Donald Trump looks more natural than Robin Williams?  I rest my case.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have Amy Goodman of Democracy Now. Amy, Amy, Amy.  You cannot continue wearing that overly earnest “I don’t color or style my hair because I’m way too busy doing important work” look, yet phone in kneejerk leftie ideology much of the time.  Either you have time for thoughtful inquiry, or you have time for your hair—I’m leaving it entirely up to you, but you do need to choose.

Scary Mustache contest winner—previous U.N. Ambassador John Bolton.  Eyebrows That Terrify award—author Richard N. Goodwin.

Underage Reporting.  We hear all kinds of news about underage drinking, crime and sexual activity.  The elephant in the room?  Underage commentators, forced into servitude on major news networks.  The Nation’s Christopher Hayes, who looks like Tintin and probably shaves about as often, talked recently on MSNBC about that 11 year-old boy whose mother died for lack of health coverage.  Did you notice his empathy?  Well, that’s because 11 year-olds are his peer group.

Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times goes so far as to sport a wedding band on his left hand, when anyone can see he hasn’t had his bar mitzvah yet.  Ezra Klein writes for the Washington Post and Newsweek before having become eligible for a driver’s license.  This kind of exploitation—it’s just wrong.

Gratuitous Idiocy.  OK, when will writers of “realistic” TV dramas notice that people don’t bolt upright in bed after a nightmare; they lie rigid in terrified paralysis?  And that people don’t get a dial tone when someone hangs up on them; the phone goes dead?

TV.  You gotta hate it.

Published in the Piedmont Post, April 21, 2010

In Defense of TV

March 17, 2010

blue soapbox  I’m not one of those literary types with a “Kill Your Television” bumper sticker on my Volvo station wagon.  I don’t own a Volvo, I’ve never quite identified as a literary type, and I happen to like TV.

There are juicy dramas like Mad Men whose writing is better than most current movie screenplays.  There are some brilliant comedies.  There’s Rachel Maddow for brains, charm and guts, Bill Maher for well-informed iconoclasm, and Jon Stewart for wit and cuteness.  There are even a couple of decent classical music stations on cable.

Indeed, most of my favorites are on cable, something not everyone can afford.  But there’s a lot to be said for the regular stations, too.  In fact, mainstream TV has been an important vehicle of progress over the last generation, bringing us into an era in which we can talk about previously taboo topics.  Some would argue we’re talking too much and thinking too little.  Nonetheless, we can’t very well champion the idea of positive social change and then turn our noses down at it because it came from TV.

In just a couple of decades, things have gotten dramatically better for gay, bisexual and transgender people, battered spouses, incest survivors, mixed-race couples, sufferers from psychiatric conditions, physical disease and disabilities, people with learning differences, and alcoholics/addicts and their families. Thank you, Phil Donahue, for blazing the trail, and thank you, Oprah, for paving it.

The effects are apparent even in thoroughly awful shows.  The very presence of out-of-the-mainstream characters in comedies and dramas, and the ubiquitous exploration of previously closeted issues, probably sends more of a message than overly earnest “tolerance” indoctrination in the schools.  I’d even argue that a crummy drama involving a domestic abuse survivor or an openly bipolar person is as valuable in its way as a well-written, nuanced show from a less psychologically sophisticated era.

There are times, too, when TV is uniquely able to convey the impact of a major event.  I remember the morning of 9/11, when a family friend—clearly disoriented—called and said she’d never liked the twin towers anyway.

I ignored the offense.  “Turn on the TV.”

“I’m listening to KQED radio,” she protested.  “I don’t get my news from—”

“Turn it on!” I repeated.  There was no better way to grasp the situation.  Stations were criticized for airing the footage over and over, but in a way, the looping helped it all sink in.

But it’s not worth it, you say.  “News” shows give airtime to shrill insanity.  “Reality” shows are…well, unreal.  Pharmaceutical ads include baffling disclaimers narrated by some guy on uppers.  It’s an assault, it’s crass, it’s insulting.

Hey, I’m not suggesting you attempt all this without the Mute button—or, more to the point, the on-off switch.

But if you can’t sleep and keep reading the same paragraph in The New Yorker over and over, there are always reruns of That 70’s Show.  The only drawback is, you might wake up your entire household by laughing out loud.

Published in The Piedmont Post, March 17, 2010