Friday, March 05, 2010

Curling and Cable

(News-Herald, March 4) It has been almost a year and a half since I gave up cable television.
I’ve been reflecting on this because I’ve had my first strong feeling of deprivation. It was tough to miss the Rose Parade, and I miss regularly watching the Daily Show.
But Winter Olympics time came, and I was not able to watch curling.
I’d never known about this sport until the last winter Olympics, during which the riveting act of sliding a slow-motion stone across ice captured my attention. I glanced briefly, and then succumbed to the sporting equivalent of the just-one-more-potato-chip phenomenon that allows television to magically erase untold hours of a human being’s life.
Curling—the only sport for which there is no slow motion replay because the sport is already in slow motion. Curling—where we see the perfect yin and yang of a hurler who seems almost frozen in time, flanked by the ice-squeegee guys (I may not have entirely absorbed the correct jargon) scrubbing the ice with feverish blurred intensity.
Despite this test of my resolve, cable did not re-appear in my home. I have learned too many valuable lessons in its absence.
Good shows are better in concentrated doses. I’ve been netflixing my way through many series, and they are much more fun this way. I’ve watched the first six seasons of NCIS in less than a year, the first two seasons of Big Bang Theory in just a few months. Turns out tv characters are like real people in one respect—the more often you see them, the more you enjoy their company.
Best part of dvd viewing? Every viewing choice is a deliberate choice, instead of sitting passively waiting to see what the cable might throw at your brain next.
Do you have any idea how many ads you’re watching? Seriously. If you are watching traditional television, about a full third of the time you are paying for is being spent trying to sell you stuff. It’s like hiring an encyclopedia salesman to interrupt your family’s dinner.
Old shows are fun. Okay, some are perhaps not as much fun as we remember. F Troop is still funny, but not as ribsplittingly hilarious as ten-year-old me thought. On the other hand, Moonlighting is actually better than I remember, particularly without the long gaps between new episodes (but oh those eighties shoulder pads and giant hairdos). Jack of all Trades, a vehicle for the awesomely under-appreciated Bruce Campbell, should have survived longer.
And television may not have been any better, but it was surely cheaper. Watching the Man from UNCLE chase bad guys around the same parts of the same back lot is cheesetastic good fun.
Words are so much better than pictures. I don’t mean spoken words, because my message to the talking heads on the tube is “For the love of Mike, please shut up!”
When a South American country gets all torn up and the international tsunami warning system is set at Freak Out, here’s what I need you guys to do: Point a camera at the pertinent images, put up a bottom-screen crawl that includes your two or three sentences of actual information, turn off your microphone, then go out for a hamburger and a round of golf.
News outlets have carried their unreasoning love of pictures and babble onto the internet, where it would be just as easy to post the pictures and the text of What We Know So Far. Some outfits get that (thanks, CNN) but others feel sure that I want to see the same thirty seconds of footage looped incessantly while some poor news reader finds 147 ways to say, “We don’t really know much more than that, so let me repeat it some more.”
Some times—most times—paragraphs of text that are regularly rewritten by people who have taken five minutes to check their facts and think about what they want to say—those old-fashioned paragraphs of text are way more useful than some pretty dolt doing babbling news improv.
It’s amazing what you can get done when you aren’t waiting till the exact hour or half-hour to start. In truth, the single worst thing about my relationship with cable was not the empty wasteland of its content, but the way it could make hour after hour of my life disappear and give nothing in return. That is the very definition of a bad habit. I miss curling, but it’s not worth a return of the monkey to my back.

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