Sunday, December 23, 2007

Now With Less Patriotism!

At this point in my life, I've learned that for me, a New Year's Resolution is a meaningless gesture, because I never keep them. But as I watched The Today Show this morning, a new goal for the future occurred to me. The Today Show almost always annoys me, though certainly less so now that Katie Couric is gone. I watch it because it's less annoying than the other morning shows, and it is a lifelong habit to have television on as background noise, especially while eating. Plus, the day's weather predictions are useful to know, and traffic information is occasionally helpful.

This morning, though, I was particularly depressed by the themes, and I realized they are always the same themes, morning after morning, year after year. First and foremost: consumerism as patriotism. This theme is particularly clear during the holiday season. Daily there are gloomy predictions about how reduced holiday spending is likely to doom the American economy for the year to come. Buried in the story so that it is almost unnoticeable is the fact that when they're talking about reduced spending, they're usually talking about reduced growth in spending. Somewhere they'll mention that spending through the holiday season this year is up only 4 percent over last year, which is slower growth than over the past X number of years, etc. Then they talk about how it's a snapshot of the economy, and Wall Street is pessimistic, and gloom doom gloom doom gloom gloom gloom. Consumption is good!

Next they jump into an environmental story. Today it was about the melting of the polar ice and the several reasons why this is bad, and how it's tied to carbon dioxide emissions, like those produced by automobiles and the burning of coal for electricity. When our children are having children, they will live in an entirely different global climate. Consumption is bad!

Then we cut to commercial after commercial telling us what a great Christmas gift a Lexus makes, and diamonds, and sweaters, and housewares and appliances and toys and electronics and more and more and more. The message is always that happiness and satisfaction and individualism are achievable through consumerism. Consumption is good!

There is never once a sense of irony on the faces or in the voices of the anchors or the reporters. This morning there was a segment on Tools! For Women! The reporter presenting the segment was breathless and nearly shouting her excitement over this empowering trend! Yet the segment began with "Tupperware parties and kitchen gadgets" being the old expression of the female realm of homemaking and Tools! For Women! being the new, more equitable expression of the still inherently female realm of homemaking. The entire segment, as are so many morning show segments, was an extended commercial, with brand names and prices conveniently provided.

Now, I'm still trying to process what I think and feel about this, so I'm not sure how to wrap it up. I know that it's just a morning show. But I still feel like, even with the expansion of the number of channels that cable and satellite have meant over the last thirty years, network television is one of the broadest expressions of shared American popular culture. And network news, and network morning shows, are a large aspect of that expression of popular culture. It's just such a corporate, mercenary culture.

So anyway, I'm going to do my best in the days ahead to turn off the TV more. I've been enjoying Discovery and History Channel shows lately, but when you watch a weekly show's daily reruns, you run out of new material pretty quickly, and I've noticed the boy staring blankly at the TV when we're playing on the floor. Already, without even the context or language to understand what he's looking at, he gets sucked into the box such that he can't pay attention to the Tummy Time. It really should be off more.

Does that make me a poor patriot? I hope Homeland Security doesn't come calling.


PureLight said...

I think your insights and observations are right on, as well as the instinct that is telling you to pull back a bit. We are finding that the need to scale down rises naturally with maturity (okay, getting old), and I don't mean solely related to the economics of retirement. I mean the knowledge that having less stuff in your life is liberating. But you will feel some conflict between seeing the value of less and the desire to give your kid everything. Good luck with that!


Tracey R. said...

Well just last night Rich and I watched the History Channel's "Missing Books of the New Testament" while wrapping presents. Of course, this was after watching TBS's showing of the 40 Year Old Virgin.

We're eclectic in our television viewing.

Anywho, I don't tend to be bothered by the contradictions you pointed out. I usually laugh (if I notice it at all) because it's all just so ridiculous.

Yet, I love it. Half the shows I watch I say "I can't believe I'm watching this" even as I eagerly look forward to them. I spend so much time "thinking deep thoughts", I love the mindless escape of the boob tube. I'm not ashamed. :)

anniemcq said...

It's why I can't watch morning tv. Or afternoon tv for that matter. And it's why JH knows that during the commercials for toys on Nick Jr., the children are not really that happy to be playing with "X", they are paid to LOOK happy playing with "X"

suttonhoo said...

yes. yes yes yes.

I hate the way that magic box sucks my brain.

I've never been a fan of morning TV, except for awhile there I was in the habit of turning on CNN when I was on the road. I realized though that it had a numbing effect on me, so I've trained myself to look up the local public radio station when I'm in an unfamiliar town so I can put on NPR in the morning, like I do at home. so much better for the brain, and it doesn't suck my visual attention.

Jennie said...

I get so frustrated with the local morning news that I don't watch any of it. We watch tons of nerd TV in our house, and it feels so much better than before we had cable and we pent the entire evening watching Everyone Loves Raymond reruns. Gag.

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