Wednesday, June 07, 2006

I'm Ba-ack! - Thoughts From A Week With A US Satellite

Hey guys, I'm back at the old stand and glad of it. The past week was fine, don't get me wrong but I'm glad to be back home with my on bed, my own computer, and my own TV. Well at least I will be once I contact my cable company and see about dealing with some maintenance issues. All of my premium digital channels go all pixellated (blocky) if they show up at all during the hot days of summer - which started a couple of weeks ago around here - which used to be bearable but seems to get worse each year. Shaw Cable gets a call tomorrow.

I think I can mine this experience for maybe three articles. I forgot to take my notebook with me (well maybe forgot isn't quite the right word) so a lot of this is from memory but my memory is reasonably good. First up a bit of an overview in the style of my weekend Short Takes pieces. Warning, there's a bit of comment on softcore porn in this one - nothing explicit but it's there.

The Boss was right: I am of course referring to Bruce Springsteen's immortal 57 Channels And Nothin's On, and while I won't go so far as to say that everything was a waste of the ether, let us just say that if there was pick and choose in satellite TV there's a lot that I (and a lot of sane people) wouldn't be choosing. We all know that there are people who don't like sports who would eliminate all of the ESPN and Fox Sports channels from their lives, and I can certainly live a very full and happy life without most music channels but there's more. So many of the channels seem to be depending on an ongoing diet of reruns of shows that were produced a long long time ago by better people than them, or alternately on shows that were done on shoestring budgets - sometimes broken shoestrings at that. Maybe I wasn't watching at the right times - certainly I seemed to be looking in on a sort of cusp between old and new seasons for a lot of shows - but on the whole I found it difficult to get excited about a lot of channels.

God and Mammon: I actually did some counting while I was changing channels trying to find something worthy of my TV viewing time and there seemed to be something like thirteen different shopping channels. There were almost as many religious channels (or maybe it just seemed that way) and that's without counting ABC Family (which is contractually obligated to air Pat Robertson's 700 Club daily and occasional Christian Broadcast Network telethons on weekends) or the BYU network from Brigham Young University. The vast majority of the religious channels took an evangelical point of view, although there was Eternal Word Television which is a conservative Catholic channel. On the other hand the shopping channels seem to be aimed at a variety of markets. My "favourite" is a channel that seems entirely devoted to selling various sorts of knives. Suffice it to say that when this channel is selling "little toothpicks" they aren't selling bits of wood with which to remove stubborn pieces of the evening's steak dinner. (Looking this up I think it's the now dead Shop At Home Network.)

Who do you have to kill to see a ballgame on this thing: People frequently complain about too much sports on cable and satellite TV I had the opposite problem - not enough sports, or rather not enough of the sports I wanted to see. For whatever reason my brother had to get his subscription with a New York State billing address. It doesn't matter much for most things (he doesn't get local stations for example, not that it really matters to him) but is a major pain if you don't happen to be a Yankees or Mets fan (or a Rangers, Islanders and Devils fan in the NHL). Naturally enough I wanted to see the Red Sox games that Greg was attending - you know, try to see him in the crowd and that sort of thing - so I checked out NESN. Result: a black screen and the words "This program not available in your area." Then I checked out FSN (Fox Sportsnet) Detroit - same thing. Then I checked out every other sports channel where there was a baseball team that might be playing at the same time as the New York teams. The only ball games available were the Yankees and the Mets. I don't know if my old Diplomacy buddy Rich Goranson reads this but I seem to recall him complaining in the Montreal Expos newsgroup about how the New York City teams basically screwed with Buffalo's attempts to get a major league team, part of which was the fact that they were able to claim all of New York state as part of their media market but Buffalo wasn't allowed to claim Niagara Falls Ontario (right across the river) as people who would come and sit in the seats for a ball game. Still there is something jarring about being able to see the NESN pre-game show and then get a blank screen until the game ends.

I know now why they call it Skinamax I did see the late night Cinemax offerings and let's just say that a lot of silicones died for this channel. The shows I'm talking about are the nightly softcore porn shows and I gotta tell you they didn't work for me. Maybe I'm too old (almost 50 is too old for porn?) or maybe it's because I've seen too much but I didn't find their shows at all arousing, which after all is the point of both softcore and hardcore porn. There are a lot of problems the biggest of which seems to me to be that the shows don't seem to be having fun (that and the fleshy zeppelins that seem to be requisite for the women in the Cinemax shows - I'm not a fan of boobs that don't move). Some of my favourite soft core films from the 1980s were comedies that recognised the basic absurdity of the situation. What's wrong with a good old fashioned sex farce that takes things to the ultimate conclusion. Instead the "story" is usually a very lame excuse to get people naked and (faking) having sex.

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