October 04, 2005

Bring back the rock crushing machine

This summer we spent a night in a motel. After camping all week, the six of us crowded into a small motel room, mainly to take showers and sleep. What caught the kids' attention, though, was the big television, with all the cable stations. (We watch very little television at home, and we only get five channels.)

I am not sure how Shaggy Hair Boy ended up with the remote control. When I came out of the shower, he seemed to be in charge. Tired from travelling, I piled onto the bed with everyone else and watched the screen. Somehow, he had found a program that showed a big rock crushing machine. It was actually kind of interesting. This big machine took rocks from a gravel pit and crushed them into smaller rocks, the type that would be used for driveways and such. Mesmerized, we all stared at footage of this machine crushing rocks. And more rocks.

"Why are we watching this?" Daughter finally said, just when we were all in danger of being hypnotized. "All these channels and we are watching rocks getting crushed ... over and over again?"

She took the remote and said, "Hey, Mom, let's find shows you will hate."

It wasn't hard. Daughter clicked through a series of shows so bizarre that I felt like I was on another planet. One show featured celebrities who had apparently been told to lose weight. Well, the show said they were celebrities, but they were people I had never heard of. Anyhow, the pump but pretty celebrity would come out and weigh herself, and then a panel of other people, who I think were also supposed to be famous, would say really mean, shaming things to her because she had not lost any weight. Really. That was the whole show. An entire show based on shame about the human body. I am guessing the celebrities must have been the kind of people everyone loves to hate because otherwise I just don't see the appeal of that kind of show.

Another show featured a good-looking young man who apparently had so few social skills that he was relying on a television show to find him a date. The absolute strangest part, aside from the fact that there was somehow a group of equally desperate and good-looking young women willing to date this young man, was that the young man was told to go on a date with each of the mothers of the young women he was getting hooked up with. Yes, the mothers. Really. And the mothers were all women about my age. So this hot young man would take a woman my age to a sushi bar or night club or park, and then listen while she tried to pimp out her daughter. I wanted to start screaming about the whole premise of the show, which is that women are supposed to compete for male attention, but I couldn't even deliver my usual snarky trirade and gender analysis as I stared at the screen; the show was that weird.

We saw commercials, too, most of them promoting products that seemed completely useless. And the main message of the commercials seemed to be that there is something truly wrong with the human body. But not to fear, there are all sorts of products you can buy to cover up those defects. Gunk to put on your eyes and skin. Perfume that has special powers. Apparently, it even matters what detergent you use on your clothes. And what kind of shampoo. Choose the wrong shampoo, and you will never get a date.

I don't know how long we watched before I felt like my head was going to explode. I couldn't take much of it. Soon I was begging to go back to the channel that featured rock crushing. I wanted to forget this dreadful glimpse into the dominant culture and lull myself to sleep with the image of a big machine crushing rocks. And more rocks. At least there was something soothing about that image.

20 comments:

Teri said...

Those shows are the reason we don't have cable even though we have cable internet. (Well, that and the cost. And the fact that I'd never be able to pry my husband away from ESPN...) I don't want my kids watching that crap. Blech.

Not Scott said...

We haven't had cable since we moved, and the reception is lousy in our apartment, so we've only watched DVD's for the last 3 months. Until football season started. While I can still get caught up in a game, I had the same reactions to the commercials. They were so much worse than I remembered. For a truly depressing look into gender and race depictions in contemporary America, I'd recommend Monday Night Football. Yeesh.

Although, J and I do find it really amusing to watch these African-American actors lined up at a bar trying to look like they enjoy listening to this good ole boy singing the MNF theme song. They may be just bad actors, but I don't think anybody is that good an actor.

Lilian said...

I heartily agree with you, Jo(e), and I've been actually thinking of writing a post about TV, and why I despise it. Like you, we only have an antenna, and get about 10 channels, 3 of which are PBS stations (yay!). With two very young sons at home, I don't want to get them addicted to TV, not even to Sesame Street, which they watch very sparingly.

PS. You made my day yesterday with that post about Birthday Parties :) But then, your writing is so great, it always makes my day :)
I've planned just 4 b-parties to date, and, well, I've baked the traditional cake my mom would always bake for our birthdays. The ones for the boys' 1st birthdays didn't have actual themes (only "1st birthday" decorations, which I recicled - including the candle, from one son to the other), but I've done a "Noah's Ark", and a "Train" party.

PS.2 and you made my day the other day too, when you commented in my blog!!

Running2Ks said...

So funny. We always say we have 600 channels and nothing to watch.

But I have to admit, I haven't seen the rock crushing channel yet.

Nels said...

I've seen more than one episode of both those shows.

Yep.

Paris said...

Sometimes I don’t notice the low quality of shows I’m watching, but “date my mom” was never a hit in my book. Now that I’m away at school I have cut back my TV watching about 95%! I read a lot more for classes and I’m sure it’s a lot better for me. I never really understood the parents who I would baby-sit for that wouldn’t let their kids watch TV. It would always get me a little perturbed because the glowing box made sitting a breeze. As I’m getting older I seem to sympathize with the parents that don’t want their kids getting sucked into the world of television. When it comes down to it there is a lot more crap out there than good shows. Before I left for school I was really into the Discovery Times Channel. The channel has really interesting documentaries comparable to a good NOVA or PBS special. What truly fascinates me is that there is such an ability to reach and shape young minds but our society decides to spend money supporting shows about a young man dating a young girl’s mother.

listmaker said...

We never had cable when the kids were little, didn't want them watching a bunch of crap, especially MTV. A couple of years ago, as part of my mid-life crisis (more about that some other time), we got one of those dish thingies. Yeah, we have a zillion channels, but there's still nothing worth watching.

kyra said...

ahh, what a great post. I completely agree. Even though I have tons of time on my hands right now, I never turn the TV on... unless it's to watch a DVD. Every once in awhile, I'll watch a bad reality show because it's so intriguingly awful. The longer you're away from TV, the more bizarre it is when you turn it on.

jess said...

I do the same thing - I was in a hotel room by myself last month, and I watched TV because it seemed so novel. I just watch movies at home, but I found myself getting sucked into the channel flipping, which has no appeal at home. But I always ended up with something like a PBS special on Jews in America or an old movie I'd seen before.

Scrivener said...

Actually, I think the fundamental message of every commercial is exactly the same: your life is deficient, so buy some products to fill in that hole. I don't even think it especially matters to the advertisers whether you decide to buy the specific product they're promoting. If you accept the fundamental premise that you need to buy stuff to fix your life, then they'll get their share.

jo(e) said...

Scrivener: I suppose it's not just the commercials but most of the shows as well. I mean, why would any advertiser sponsor a show that didn't support a culture of consumerism? So I really shouldn't be surprised when I watch television ... but I usually am.

How is that you are leaving coherent comments in the middle of the night? I cannot even think in the middle of the night. Typing this word verification thing is even a challenge.

La Lecturess said...

I'm completely with you on this. I've never owned a t.v. myself, mainly because I grew up watching very little of it (this wasn't a policy on my parents' part, and they aren't unusually literate or cultured people--they just rarely watched more than a couple of shows per week themselves).

I try to keep up on the popular shows by watching them now and again at my boyfriend's place (the really good shows I'll rent on DVD), but I always find myself getting so fed up and actively ANGRY at the stupidity of the ads that I often just have to turn the thing off. And as for reality shows or music videos, I'm forever saying, "Wait. I don't get it. What just happened?" (To which my friends always respond, with the patient voice one reserves for the mentally slow, "it's a music video, LL. you're not supposed to get it.")

Mona Buonanotte said...

The rock-crushing machines are KEWL!!! We are prone to watching the Food Network, and last weekend I made a spicy Ethiopian cookie with the Boy-child, and he pretended we had our own cooking show. What a riot!

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

Ok, I'll be the one to defend TV.

When I was in high school I read two cartoons by people I thought were the most subversive, creative artists around. One was "Life in Hell" by Matt Groening and the other was "The angriest dog in the world" by David Lynch. By the time I got to college, those cartoonists had the two most popular shows on TV, The Simpsons and Twin Peaks.

Right now there is more quality TV on than any time since the beginning of the medium. The proliferation of channels really does mean that there is good stuff out there. (Right now I am hooked on the new Battlestar Gallactica series, but that just might be because I am a huge geek.)

Most TV shows are dreck because most of anything is dreck. Most music is dreck. Most books are dreck. People don't condemn books or music as categories of art, so why TV?

I know this isn't really a debating blog, but I felt the need to defend my consumptive habits.

ccw said...

We have enough cable channel crap to make you vomit. I hate it and the cost, but Mr. S , who seldom watches TV, needs these channels. I guess he gets comfort in knowing they are there if he should want to rot his brain.

Called about heating oil this morning, $2.89/gall was the cheapest, so I am hoping that I can convince Mr. S that the cable money would be better spent on heating our house.

Yankee T said...

another TV-hater here. The kids don't watch at all during the week, and are limited on the weekend. The Attorney and I don't watch at all, except for the occasional disaster update on CNN since Katrina. I hate the stuff, and am saving tons of money not having cable.

Nels said...

Rob, I'll join you. I love TV. I study it and teach it and watch it several hours a day. And it does seem like the quality has risen this season. Lost is so amazing in terms of narrative structure and character development.

And even dreck can have positive effects. Sure, Date My Mom is laughable in so many ways, but when they did the lesbian episode, it meant a lot to me that (1) we were watchng three mothers who absolutely adored their lesbian daughters and (2) the idea of women dating women received the same attantion as heterosexual dating. It was treated as normal and ordinary. I wish, when I was a gay teen, that I had seen shows like that.

And MTV still has some of the best documentaries around. The one on breast augmentation? Amazing. The one on Iraqi teens? Fascinating. MTV is full of crap, but it can be amazing, too.

listmaker said...

Okay, I'll amend my previous post in support of Rob and Nels. I think there's quality stuff out there, only it's so hard to find and I'm just not up to the task of sifting through all the junk to find the few that are worth my time.

jo(e) said...

I don't have time in my life for television -- I think I would almost always choose reading a book or some kind of direct experience in the outdoors instead -- but when I do watch television, I end up analyzing the shows for what they say about the culture we live in. And that is almost always pretty depressing.

RussianViolets said...

People think I'm snotty at times, but this kind of shit is why I cannot stomach the TV most of the time. I would have chosen the rock-crushing show, too.