Saturday, September 10, 2011

Vast wasteland 2.0

I have been taking a break from television thanks to Comcast, The World's Shittiest Cable Company. ("We didn't get rich enough to buy NBC by providing quality cable service!") Tomorrow someone will install yet another reconditioned cable box, in time for me to catch up with the endless iterations of 9/11 -- the pageantry, the speeches, the bagpipes. The Second Amendment guarantees that every American has a significantly better chance of being shot by a robber, or in a drive-by, or by accident, or just for the hell of it, than ever being within a hundred miles of a "terrorist," but all those billions of dollars spent to make us "safe" can't be wrong, can they?

After the solemnities comes the new television season, and the signs are not good. MAD MEN has evidently spawned two imitations, set in the Sixties when women wore uncomfortable uniforms and did as they were told; I predict early cancellation for both PAN AM and PLAYBOY CLUB. TV has long tried to cover both ends of the crime-fighting spectrum, state-of-the-art science as well as shows where some woman talks to dead people; this year there's a lawyer who chats with his dead wife. (No, it's not called THE DEAD WIFE. They didn't think of it in time.) I think it's meant to be taken seriously. And of course, "reality" rolls on and on.

It's been a brutal year, though, by any standards -- earthquake, drought, excessive snow, floods, hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes, numberless challenges to what we laughingly call the infrastructure, and the intractable economic mess. The public is in a mean mood, restive, pacing, looking around anxiously for something else to go wrong. They're just a little jaded, hungry for fresh thrills such as these shows used to provide. Americans want distraction, and they want it bad. "Reality TV" may just have to turn up the voltage. After all, it's a truism that people go to auto races (and air shows, and boxing matches, and let's be honest, high school football) hoping that death, as Tom Lehrer put it, will brighten an otherwise dull afternoon. What if it were a certainty?

"Survivor." Really? Watching somebody get voted off an island is a little too much like our pointless electoral process -- idiots in, idiots out. What if they were hurled over a cliff into a shark-filled cove? Would you watch? Just to be sure they don't turn up a week later on The Tonight Show?

"Toddlers, Tiaras and Traffickers." Just following a line of thought. Did I cross a line? Sure, moms dress four-year-olds like tiny hookers, but I'm the pervert.

For our more mettlesome friends in the UK, "The Real Housewives of Whitechapel." Every week a spoiled, useless, facelifted, drink-hurling bimbo is eviscerated in an alley. Relax, you get to vote on which one. Best thing on BBC America, which isn't saying much.

There have been complaints about "Dancing With the Stars," no dancing and this season no stars. What if they revive apache dancing, a performance style popular in low-end French cabarets in the 1920s? The man hurls his partner sadistically about the stage in a display of machismo calculated to cause bruises and broken bones. (Clueless about most things American, the French apparently thought this was how Apaches, i.e. savages, treated women.) Hard to picture? Wait till some NFL veteran grabs Nancy Grace by her ankle, pinwheels her around and tosses her away, her head splitting open like a pumpkin! If you don't have hi-def, this is the time to get it.

Ice may love Coco, but market research says a hefty share of the public wants to see him go Ike Turner on her ass. Vox populi, vox dei, nome sane?

And finally, we're tired of waiting for the Jersey Shore crew to develop skin cancer. How far is it from the shore to the Pine Barrens? If you know what I mean.