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.
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).