Monday, March 06, 2006

200 channels and nothing on

While the Emmys and Oscars hubristically celebrate their genius, their audiences are left scratching their unstimulated heads. There is precious little worth watching. Repetitive genres (cop, lawyer, hospital, sit-com, re-make, action SFX, leftist propaganda) have all but wrung the creativity out of their vehicles. And PBS only broadcasts interesting material when it's fundraising, during which it interrupts frequently for fervent shilling, ruining any viewer enjoyment.

Cable television promised to solve the problem with specialized programming, in effect a channel for every interest. It was a laudable, but naive, proposition. It turns out the so-called specialized channels are also quite prone to piling on when the next hot gimmick catches on. There was the Trading Spaces phenom and the "Extreme" take on any theme. And, of course, the forensic crime shows. There are the top-10, the most, the least, the best and the worst "list" type shows and, of course, the "reality" mash-ups that lack even a hint of voyeur titillation. That's about it.

So where are the arts and culture in all of this? Pretty much where they have always been--shoved in the dusty corners of cable, broadcast and film, if you can find them at all.

Where are the concert specials? Non-existent probably due to the objection of touring groups who want fans to buy exorbitantly priced tickets to stadium shows where the sound is awful and the seating worse.

Where are the variety shows? We're stuck with American Idol, a gussied up talent show, rather than a showcase of true artistry.

What about the arts? The visual arts are banished from television as boring and film only wants the tortured souls of the art world. Orchestral and chamber music is pretty much Sunday morning filler. Just ask any major symphony about the interest in broadcasting performances. Once upon a time, you could get a pop music fix by watching music videos, but today you have to sort through pouty pubescents bemoaning their sweet sixteen miseries or rap-wanna-bees belting out their exploitation, drug and violence dreams. If you stick with it, you will notice that the remaining videos appear to be produced for the soft porn industry.

Personally, I was thrilled when BET started its jazz channel, but not any more. What passes for jazz is amazing--soul, do-wop, r&b oldies and "smooth" jazz pablum. Even when you find some choice classic film of the jazz greats, it's interrupted so frequently by infomercials that they forced to cut off performances in mid-solo. That's not jazz, but greed.

So cable and film celebrate and the rest of us wonder what could have been. But, I have a solution. Turn off the TV. Cancel the cable contract. Forget about $10 movie tickets and $5 popcorn. Instead, read a good book. Write a blog. Take up drawing and watercolor painting. Take a class at the art museum. Try dancing lessons. Get into digital photography and Photoshop retouching. Buy a music instrument, take lessons and play to music-minus-one CDs. In other words, get creative. Hey, pick up that dusty camcorder and make your own damn movie.

The Stickler


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