Why TV Is So Boring

Let me begin by saying something that might sound totally fatuous to some people. Here goes. As times and circumstances change, so do various fields of human activity.

Wow, that’s deep. Good job, Ruggero.

Well, anyway, no matter how productive or lucrative a field was when it first hatched, when the conditions that brought it to life evolve or devolve, it must either adapt or vanish.

Abandoning the idea of the “philosopher’s stone” (a legendary substance supposedly capable of turning inexpensive metals into gold), alchemy blended itself into ordinary chemistry. Astrology separated itself as far as possible from astronomy when the latter, due mostly to the invention of the telescope, became thoroughly materialistic, discarding the spiritual aspect of the Universe’s structure as something it had no use for. And so forth. (The new “philosopher’s stone,” a.k.a. “alternative fuels,” is really a combination of two ideas: turning trash into energy and launching a perpetual motion machine (the kind that produces more energy than it uses, another dream inherited from medieval inventors). Ideas change their appearance, but hardly ever their essence).

Television as we know it (not the tube itself, but rather the broadcasting industry) dates back to the 1950’s, when the main purpose of advertising was to announce products rather than splice their brand names onto the human psyche. We have come a long way since then. Only a few products can be advertised in prime time today. Cars; pharmaceuticals (including dental products and shampoo, i.e. stuff you buy at the drugstore); junk food; new movies; cell phones, lawyer services; and insurance. Gone from your evening TV experience are department stores, appliances, coffee, music, and painting collections. Ah, the time when you could catch a commercial touting a huge sale on Manet or Sargent originals! Those were the days.
But I digress.

Even back in the 1950’s, some folks cynically suggested that television was an advertising medium, and that the actual programming served only to fill the gaps between commercials. That was not true back than; nor is it true today. The reason television performs fellatio is far more prosaic, alas.

The current model for TV broadcasting consists of two layers of pseudo-advertising, and nothing else. The first layer, i.e. the actual programming (shows, concerts, movies, news) serves to get the viewer’s attention. The second layer, the “commercials,” does not actually try to sell anything (in prime time, they run up to eight car ads an hour – how many cars can an average viewer possibly buy in the course of just one day, goodness – how often does he or she actually buy a car? Once in two or three or five years? At four hours of TV per day, and a brand-new car every three years (quite a stretch) – that comes out to 35,040 (thirty-five thousand and forty) car ads between purchases!). Rather, the “commercial” layer tries (successfully so, we must admit) to keep viewers’ minds in car-buying mode all the time.
The studios pay for the shows, and the advertisers pay the studios. The actual viewer is kept out of the loop.

This may be a wonderful (and witty) solution for providing free entertainment for the public, only there is no such thing as free lunch (case in point: the philosopher’s stone enterprise and perpetual motion research still have to yield any results). The studios have no choice but to bring the overall quality of the programming to the lowest common denominator in order to get as many folks as possible to watch TV. The model has no provision for the specialized interests of some viewers, niche programming, demographic-oriented programming. A show that could potentially attract fewer than a million viewers (roughly speaking) gets rejected more or less automatically.
Cable was expected to balance out the “dumb-down” factor by making the viewer pay actual money for the packages he or she purchased. The model used by cable television, however, differs but little from traditional TV. The viewer pays a ridiculously small monthly sum and is served a whole bunch of channels featuring shows that are not of the viewer’s choosing. The quality is only marginally better than that of the big networks. As an acquaintance of mine once put it, “There’s 500 channels and nothing to watch.”

The crux of the matter is that both models are essentially anti-free-enterprise and, in the final count, stubbornly and aggressively un-American. Which is a shame, of course, since modern technology can easily make television a truly wonderful source of quality entertainment for everyone, and not just the “masses.” Yes, there is a way to make TV perform fellatio less, and do some quality work for the good of the American people.

What I’m going to say now may sound nearly unthinkable, and even ridiculous, to some taxpayers and voters out there. It is nevertheless true.

Here goes. It is the Federal Government’s job to rescue television from the clutches of corporate-sponsored, watered-down socialism.

Remember that like land, air, and water, airtime belongs to the nation, and not just a few faceless corporate entities. Remember also that public space (and airtime certainly qualifies as public space) is subject to government regulation. No one should tell anyone how to run a business; and yet legitimate businesses are run in accordance with laws, and laws are made by the Legislative Branch.

False advertisement is an actionable offence, and yet this law is openly disdained by the current TV model. The networks claim they provide knowledge (the news and History Channel) and entertainment (everything else), while in reality they provide nothing apart from advertising. Our technologically advanced epoch, so different from the 1950’s, calls for a new Federal law that would effectively ban companies from generating income by selling anything other than their own product.

Clothing companies sell clothes; farmers sell produce; landlords sell living and office space. TV pretends to sell knowledge and entertainment to the viewer, whereas it really is in the business of selling public airtime to a handful of corporations.

To summarize.

TV performs fellatio because it is impossibly, insufferably, criminally boring.
TV is boring because the current model of television programming is not conducive to making entertaining broadcasts.

The current model is not conducive to making television entertaining because it is rooted in an epoch that from today’s point of view seems prehistoric; because that model was fallacious to begin with when it was first hatched; because it fails to take any advantage of the superlative, unprecedented technological means available today. Palm reading is more technologically advanced than television, for goodness’ sake.

Suppose you were a farmer, growing strawberries and spinach. Suddenly a middleman comes over to you to buy out, or even just claim, your field and crops, with the idea of turning it over to a corporation specializing in genetically modified corn. You have no say in the matter; as a consolation, you are allowed to visit the field for free any time you like.

But, you might ask, how would the networks make money if they weren’t allowed to air commercials?

Simple. The American way, that’s how. Create a product; announce it; hope and pray that someone would buy it; and charge for it when they do.

As a matter of fact, the model already exists, even though it could use a lot of improvement. It is called pay-per-view.
The way it looks, the only way to bring television up to date achieve this would be to ban all advertising from it, forever. Consider that cigarette commercials were banned because they endangered public health. All advertising on TV should be banned because advertising-sponsored “shows” are a hazard to the public psyche. The current model has had its day, and it is time to toss it into the dusty, malodorous pile of historical trash.

What would television be like, with advertising banned? Who knows. Some heavy-duty deregulation would probably be in order. Anti-trust laws (the latest signed by George W. Bush in 2002) would have to be applied to it. Limits would have to be set on how much public airtime a company can get – three hours? Four hours? And electronic tracking system (meters) would have to be installed (a TV set would become much like a cell phone, and simpler than the current pay-per-view format – get an account, pay for how much you watch, pay only for what you watch on a show by show basis; no bulk discounts). The revenues would then be electronically distributed among the appropriate providers of content.

Competition (real competition) would do the rest.

The debilitating, mind-numbing effect the current model has on the population would be eliminated forever. Remember your favorite show – sitcom, talk show, news, whatever – that you sometimes feel a bit guilty watching, thinking there must be better, more constructive ways of spending your time, and paying for the mildly stimulating, soft content with having to endure the boredom and annoyance of “commercial” interruptions. Imaging that instead of boredom and annoyance you had to use real money. No more ads. The show goes on, uninterrupted. How much would you pay for it – the one show you watch three or five times a week? Three dollars a pop? Five dollars? Five hours of TV a day, every day, would then amount to $168, or thereabouts, a week. No one in their right mind would pay that kind of money to just watch TV as we know it, or any kind of TV for that matter. Parents would instantly find a thousand infallible ways of keeping their children away from the tube. Strict TV budgeting would enforce itself in every household (with the exception of very wealthy households which, even today, are not sufficiently numerous to make any difference in the matter). The ratings (the real ratings, measured in actual dollars rather than fuzzy numbers extrapolated from flimsy telephonic polls) would start falling so fast and so hard that studios would have to start finding ways to improve their product dramatically in order to be able to stay in business. The precious three or four hours of TV a week would have to become worth the viewer’s while. (The studios would discover real quick that American audiences are by far not as dumb as everybody used to think).

Hidden Camera Laws and Legal Advice

If you are planning to install a surveillance system in your home or business it is wise to examine your states privacy laws and consider areas where you may be in violation, which could result in hefty fines and/or a jail sentence. It is unlawful to install covert or hidden security cameras in areas considered to be a private place.

United States privacy laws define a private place as somewhere one can be assume to be safe from unauthorized surveillance. This includes areas such as locker rooms, changing stalls, bathrooms, bedrooms and hotel rooms. This means that you cannot install hidden security cameras or listening devices in these areas without prior written permission from the individual. State laws regarding security cameras are not uniform across the board. Only a small number of them have statutes regarding hidden camera installation. They are Alabama, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, South Dakota, and Utah.

In most cases evidence gathered using hidden video cameras will still be admissible in a court of law if a crime is committed whether permission was granted or not. While it may be illegal to install a security camera in a retail store dressing room, footage capturing shoplifters in these areas is still often used to prosecute criminals. The two circumstances covert observation is considered illegal are when the owner of the premises has not authorized observation, or the recorded video/audio is used for illegal means.

Privacy law and the use of hidden security cameras is currently an area of major controversy. This technology has improved rapidly over the last 10 years and laws are still being developed to deal with its implementation. Tools that were once only available to high end law enforcement and government spies can now be purchased by anyone. A fully functional wireless security camera setup including transmitter, receiver, or built in data storage can be purchased for as little as $50. This double edged sword has allowed individuals and business a sense of security previously unattainable, but the easy installation of wireless security cameras has also given way to significant abuses. Research has shown that even a large portion of lawful security cameras are regularly used for voyeuristic purposes.

Unfortunately they way it sits right now there is very little that can be done to prevent people from installing illegal spy camera. As a business or homeowner you can keep yourself out of trouble by checking your state laws or consulting a private investigator or lawyer about your security system setup.

Bound in Human Skin

The art of bookbinding has been around since the 1st century AD. Over the course of time, various mediums have been used to cover the outside of the books. Leather and cloths have been the most common materials used in the binding of book. Would you believe the most unusual material used to cover a book was that of human skin? It is said to feel very soft, much like suede. It is also said to be reasonably inexpensive, durable and waterproof. The practice of binding books in human skin, also known as anthropodermic bibliopegy, appears to have been most popular during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Many of the first books covered in human skin were medical books. The skins were primarily from amputated body parts and unclaimed corpses of the poor but were also obtained through executed criminals. As gruesome as this seems, the medical profession viewed the bodies being used as a compliment to the deceased. Dr. John Stockton Hough, from the University of Philadelphia, was known in for diagnosing the cities first case of trichinosis. He had four medical volumes bound from skin of three of his deceased patients. Another doctor, Dr. Charles Humberd studied gigantism and had a book on the topic bound in human skin. The skin was from an eight feet six inch Ringling Brothers Circus Giant by the name of Perky.

There are also circumstances in which the author or owner of the text donated their body for the purpose of becoming the covering of the book. A book written in 1837 entitled ‘Narrative of the life of James Allen, alias George Walton, alias Jonas Pierce, alias James H. York, alias Burley Grove, the highwayman. Being his death-bed confession, to the warden of the Massachusetts state prison’ was bound in the author’s own skin. The finished book was then sent to John A. Fenno, one of George Walton’s victims who successfully resisted the robber during the attempted theft. This book was later donated to the Boston Athanaeum, an independent library in Boston, Mass. It was not uncommon for an executed convict’s body to be used to cover the court journal and presented to the victim’s family or for a book to be published about the criminal. Another book bound by the skin of its previous owner is found in the Cleveland Public Library. The book is a Quran, the sacred text of Islam, and its owner was an Arab tribal leader.

Most of the best books bound in human skin are in private libraries throughout the world. One would be surprised how many of these books are in the nation’s finest libraries, including the Harvard University Libraries. There are several books bound in human skin throughout the various libraries, including two at the medical school library. The Harvard law school library purchased a copy of a 1605 practice manual for Spanish lawyers for a mere $42.50 from an antiquarian book seller in New Orleans. The last page of the book was inscribed with:

“The bynding of this booke is all that remains of my deare friende Jonas Wright, who was flayed alive by the Wavuma on the Fourth Day of August, 1632.” (The Wavuma appear to be an African tribe.)

Other human bound books can be found at Brown University, University of Memphis in Tennessee, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Clendening Library at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

The Real Men Behind True Grit’s Rooster Cogburn

Was Rooster Cogburn a real historical figure? According to Charles Portis, the author of “True Grit”, Cogburn was a composite of several men. In the novel, a young 14-year-old Mattie Ross from Yell County, Arkansas, hires deputy U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn to hunt down the man who killed her father, Tom Chaney. They are accompanied by a Texas Ranger named Le Beouf, and they all set out into Indian Territory to find the killer. It is a great tale of revenge told through the eyes of a young girl. In the book, Rooster is a surly Civil War vet, and rode with William Quantrill, and that is where he lost his eye. He had been married, but his wife had left him after bearing a son. He is described as the toughest marshall working Indian Territory, who “never knew a dry day in his life.” He has killed approximately 23 people in his service as a U.S. Marshall.

Charles Portis, born in 1933 in Arkansas, and having grown up and attended college at the University of Arkansas, was very familiar with the various legendary Fort Smith deputy marshals. There were many famous stories of the rugged outlaws and lawmen during those times. In the late 1880s, the border of western Arkansas with the Indian Territory of Oklahoma was the basically the western frontier. During the Civil war, the entire region was rife with skirmishes and guerrilla warfare. This was raw country, not far from the brutality of Bleeding Kansas. After the Civil War, the area had become overrun by outlaws, and “Hanging Judge” Parker was notorious for his dedication to bringing law and order to the area. Oftentimes, criminals would find refuge in Indian Territory. Interestingly, Judge Parker, appointed by Ulysses S. Grant, sent more criminals to the gallows than any other Federal judge in U.S. history. The law he was required to follow offered no other form of penalty other than hanging.

“True Grit” is fictional, but lawmen such as “Heck” Thomas, “Cal” Whitson, and Bass Reeves all played a big part in defining the character of Rooster Cogburn. Bass Reeves shot 14 men during his career. However, “Cal” Whitson, was the only one-eyed marshall in Judge Parker’s court, and many believe he is the one who Cogburn is primarily based upon.

Whitson, born in 1845, enlisted in the Union army, in 1863. He served in the 3rd Arkansas Cavalry, and after only a year of service, suffered an injury to the left side of his face. This resulted in blindness in his left eye. The Army declared him disabled, and discharged him in 1864. He spent some time as a lawman in Texas, but mostly spent his time in the Fort Smith area. According to local registers, it appears he was married four times and had five children. His son, Billy, was killed in a gunfight with the outlaws Wesley and Watie Barnett. He became a deputy marshall in 1889, and in 1890, he had his eye removed because of chronic pain. Whitson died in 1926 in Fort Smith.

True Grit’s Rooster Cogburn shares many of these same characteristics as Whitson. Another interesting point is that the National Archives employee that recorded some of the data about Whitson’s military career was named Daggett. In the book, Mattie Ross’s trusted family lawyer was also named “Lawyer Daggett.” Portis rarely speaks about his writings, and rarely grants interviews. This leaves us, the readers, to speculate about the curious characters of his novels. There seems to be a strong association between Cal Whitson and the character of Rooster Cogburn, don’t you think?

The Fort Smith area of Arkansas has enjoyed a flurry of attention because of the new release of ‘True Grit’. A local event known as True Gritapalooza was even held on opening day at local theaters. It’s a great annual event to celebrate the local history and to socialize with other True Grit enthusiasts.