Television: crap for jerks.

I don't watch much TV. When I lived in a house with cable TV, I didn't watch it much, because it seemed like the only thing that was ever on was terrible shows for idiots, advertisements, and advertisements disguised as terrible shows for idiots. I liked The Daily Show and the Colbert Report and a handful of cartoons, but for the most part I found almost everything else completely intolerable. When I moved into a house without even a regular antenna on any of the TVs, I didn't miss the tard-tube at all. Being a bit of a nerd helped, because I was able to get any of the shows I liked via the internet, often without having to see any ads at all. I set up my computer to automatically download whatever shows anybody in my house wanted to see to a shared folder that anybody could access over our WiFi network. I did this until I started running really low on hard drive space, and then phased it out. It was no big deal, as we had Netflix and TV shows on the internet were getting more and more accessible to non-geeks. I watched some TV over the internet at work, both to stick it to The Man and to entertain myself, but after I quit my job in July, I pretty much stopped watching any TV at all.

That is, until recently.

I don't know if TV has gotten stupider, or if I had just forgotten how stupid it was. It seems like almost everything is insultingly patronizing, treating the viewer like they absolutely must be a complete fucking idiot. Just turning on the TV makes me lose a little more faith in humanity. Are people so stupid that they're suckered in by the advertisements? Do people genuinely enjoy watching programming that not only doesn't require you to think, but actively requires you not to? Sadly, the answer to both questions appears to be yes, otherwise it wouldn't be the shit filling up the airwaves 24-hours a day. What can be said of a culture where the average person spends four hours a day sitting in front of a screen where the most intelligent thing they can watch is a cartoon about foul-mouthed children who do a lot of on-screen pooping?

Much has been said about the offensiveness of South Park, but I honestly believe it is one of the least offensive shows on TV. Below is just a brief catalog of some of the outrageously ridiculous shit I've seen during my recent adventures back into the world of television viewing.

The Jerry Springer Show / The Steve Wilkos Show
I had a professor in college who was a very active communist. He encouraged us to come to rallies and demonstrations, and he made a communist newspaper available for free to any students who were interested. He was a firm believer in overthrowing the government, and would talk about the rise of fascism ("It's just capitalism with the gloves off," he would tell us). One of the main signs of impending fascism, he told us, was a "culture of dehumanization." Each time he'd mention this, he'd cite The Jerry Springer Show as an example. Poor people go on TV, fight and cry and make fools of themselves, and we laugh at them because they are subhuman trailer dwellers, and we are better than them. Their misery is our entertainment. I remember finding the show mildly entertaining in high school, but always thinking, Jesus Christ, what a fucking circus!

I hadn't watched it in years, and when I finally did, I was shocked. They somehow managed to make it even more of a fucking circus. They now have sideshow freaks moving randomly around the set while the poor people fight and cry and make fools of themselves. They used to have a segment towards the end of the show where audience members could verbally abuse the guests, generally making fun of them for being poor and/or unattractive. They still have it, only now chicks in the audience randomly show their boobs, often taking the stage for this activity, in exchange for Mardi Gras beads.

Even more shocking was the revelation that one of the bouncers from the show, Steve, who I remember the audience chanting for in the old days, has actually been given his own show. I wondered how this could have happened, as it certainly wasn't because he's an articulate guy who can carry a show with his wit. I watched, fascinated, trying to figure it out, when it hit me: it's got the poor people for us to feel better than, AND it has a physically intimidating guy who throws chairs, denies guests the privilege of sitting down, and then yells in their face. Awesome.

Crazy knife-hunting guy
There's a network on cable that seems to be devoted exclusively to hunting and fishing shows. It seems like this would be a niche market, and the cable companies would opt to sell it as part of a fancy package with a million channels, but around here it comes with your standard basic crap cable that doesn't have any of the channels that have anything worth watching (Comedy Central and Cartoon Network). I didn't catch the guy's name, but one show was about a guy who was going to hunt a pig. With a knife. Viewers were treated to footage of the guy training by running around in the woods, stabbing a fake pig, and ranting about what it means to be a man. Very early in the show, he gave a speech that went basically like this: "Never before in history has there been a time when more men were acting like women and more women were acting like men. I'm not trying to attack you personally, but men are not doing man things. That's why I'm going to hunt a pig. With a knife." He told us that the last time he went on a hunting-a-pig-with-a-knife trip, four of his dogs ended up getting killed. I may have missed it, but I don't think he said whether or not he ended up killing a pig that time, which leads me to believe he didn't. It seems worth it, though, four dogs for one pig. Or no pig. Whatever, as long as he's a man. He said that "anti-dog" groups were against hunting with dogs, but I don't see how that could be true. If I hated dogs enough to join a group devoted to hating them, I'd wish jerks always went hunting pigs (with knives) with their dogs. He also ranted about how people don't like his show, because it's too brutal, but that's just how nature is, so it's OK. He cited the fact that wolves were, at that moment, tearing apart a deer as a reason why hunting a pig with a knife is alright, taking care to avoid mentioning that around the globe, animals are also eating their own feces and the feces of other animals. And then he stabbed a pig.

Public access
Holy crap, why did I only now start watching public access? Public access cable channels are a source of real, honest to god, genuine fucking comedy. Where else can you go for crap like this?
  • A lone hippy on the screen with the colors all mixed up, noodling aimlessly on his guitar in a boring, masturbatory jam that goes on for half an hour.
  • A talentless jackass reading terrible poetry for a room full of jerks so pretentious that they don't laugh him off the stage, even when he fills the gaps between his "poems" by playing "music" on one guitar string tied to some posts and hooked up to a string of distortion pedals.
  • A "performance art" piece where a young woman rambles almost incoherently, yells at some invisible, nameless person, and then wraps herself in cellophane while continuing the crazy talk. Again, for a room of pretentious jerks who find value in her art.
  • A show called Forbidden Knowledge where a paranoid conspiracy theorist speaks without details about the cops trying to shut him down for spreading "forbidden knowledge," and then answers phone calls where people ask questions like, "Where can I find a kit that turns a regular bike into a gas or electric bike?" and the he gives answers like, "I don't know, exactly, but you should look on the internet."
  • An ultra-feminist college professor giving a presentation on sexism in advertising, and finding extreme oppression of women in the most innocuous of things. "In this ad, the shot of the woman is cut off at the feet, so they're trying to say that women shouldn't be allowed to move around, like men, who have feet. In this ad, the women appear playful and happy, which means that all women are stupid idiots who have fun."
  • More than half an hour of a ridiculously-dressed girl walking very, very slowly, outlining her foot with chalk after each step, and being followed by a jerk who erases her chalk lines. That's fucking ART, man!
Yes, indeed, public access is the best thing that comes with basic shitty motel-cable.

Cops 2.0 / G4
Ah, G4, the network for dweebs: people who are socially retarded and desperately want to be nerds, but simply aren't very smart. The programming that is exclusive to this network relies heavily on average-looking chicks pretending to like video games (average looking chicks + appreciation for video games = really super hot chick), and caters to viewers who like to imagine they're tech savvy, but who don't really know how to use the internet. Seriously, any time I've watched Attack of the Show!, it's just a rehash of what I read and saw on the internet the day before (although sometimes I find myself transfixed; if the female co-host had a show about making toast, I'd probably tune in occasionally).

Another show on G4, Cops 2.0, is clearly geared towards dweebs. It's exactly like Cops, except a good third of the screen is taken up by a box that makes the screen look like a website. It has tabs that look like you'd be able to click on them if it were the internet, but since it's TV, you wait for them to click themselves. The box lists random factoids of little to no value, and quizzes about what you've seen within the last 30 seconds. One of the tabs, when it reaches its rotation, displays a question like "What would you do if you got attacked with a knife?" followed by a scrolling list of answers entered by dweebs who bothered to log on to the website to answer it. They're always very bad attempts at being funny. I'm entirely convinced that the big stupid box on the bottom of the screen appeals exclusively to these jerks, because it excites them to see their internet handle displayed on a TV. Yeah, HaLo_n1nJa14, you're a famous fucking awesome guy now.

Late night TV preachers who give away free stuff
I really dig the late night TV preachers who give out free stuff. It's never particularly good stuff, and the preachers themselves are clearly unscrupulous douchebags praying upon the stupid (unlike anybody else who advertises on TV), but still, it's free stuff, and it's weird, creepy voodoo stuff. I got a green prosperity cloth that came with very specific instructions on how to put it in my wallet, FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY!!!, in all caps with exclamation points so I knew it was serious business, and then send it back to the preacher with my monetary seed that will surely grow. When I didn't send it back, I started getting phone calls from the pre-recorded preacher saying, in a very concerned tone, "I sent you the green prosperity cloth, and I haven't received it back from you. Are you OK?" He ended up sending me another one, this one cut into a weird hand shape instead of a square like the previous piece of felt. I also got a sample of holy water from none other than Leroy Jenkins. It came in a little plastic packet that looked like a sample of sexual lubricant, and also had the name "Leroy Jenkins" written on it. Awesome.

Late night TV preachers who don't give away free stuff (specifically, Jack Van Impe)
Jack Van Impe is a crazy televangelist who preaches about the coming end times, repeatedly saying things like "As seen on the history channel" when giving specific end time dates. He's crazy as hell, and entertaining on his own, but the real draw of the show is his wife: Rexella.

Rexella wears a look of constant surprise on her face, reacts with great concern to everything Jack says, and is also in charge of delivering world news. The news bits are the best part of the show. They simply display different articles, both from the web and print, and Rexella reads the headline of each without any context at all and sort of connects them with a few words in between. If you watch closely you can see how the dates of the articles are all over the place, and what she is saying doesn't make any fucking sense at all. It's something that really needs to be seen to be believed, so it's fortunate that you can catch the most recent episode at their web site.

I know that airtime in the middle of the night when people are asleep is the cheapest, but I always have to wonder if people get stupider during these hours. Regular commercials are bad enough, but it seems like only the stupidest of stupids would buy the crap they're peddling. It's always some basic item that has been around forever and is available everywhere, like a blender, minus much of the functionality of the original product, but plus one extra function that you will use 3 times before realizing you're a fucking idiot and you wasted your money on a grossly overpriced product, shoddily crafted from only the cheapest of shitty materials. I think they rely on people being half asleep, because they make outrageous claims that nobody in their right mind would fall for. "Are you worried this knife won't be sharp enough to filet a fish? Well watch what it does to a tomato!" Last night, I saw one that claimed you should buy from them, rather than from a store, because stores pay for advertising, and therefore have a higher overhead and have to charge you more. They always ask how much you'd pay for an item, and then have somebody give a grossly inflated price that absolutely nobody would ever consider even thinking about paying, and then they tell you it's much less than that, so it is clearly a deal.

I saw one infomercial that claimed you would pay "less than a fraction" of the original price they give. I briefly thought that nobody would ever fall for that, but after thinking about all the other shit on TV, I'm guessing that the average television viewer thinks "less than a fraction" actually means something.

So there you go, folks, a big wad of anecdotal evidence that TV is crap. For jerks. Goodnight, and have a pleasant tomorrow.


Gary Gygax made all my friends for me.

I got up early yesterday morning and checked the mail. There was nothing there, so I went back to sleep for an hour. When I woke up, I checked the mail again, and then went back to sleep for a while. When I got up again, I checked the mail, and then played guitar for a while, occasionally going out to check the mail. I didn't end up getting what I was waiting for, which was a Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook. (I realize that the fourth edition comes out in a few months, which will render this edition of The Player's Handbook obsolete, but I couldn't wait. I only spent a few bucks, buying it used over the internet.)

When I finally got around to going online and seeing what was coming through the tubes, I immediately learned that Gary Gygax had passed away just hours earlier. For those of you of less inclined towards nerdism, Gary Gygax was the co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons, and considered by many to be the father of role playing gaming. He was the only reason I had any friends at all in middle school.

I first discovered a shelf of Dungeons and Dragons books at a bookstore when I was in third grade. I was familiar with the cartoon, but didn't know what the game was. All the thick, hardcover books filled with charts and tables and illustrations of monsters fascinated me, though. I immediately asked my mom, "Can we get Dungeons and Dragons?"

"What's that?" she asked.

"It's a computer game," I told her, oblivious to what it really was. I couldn't imagine it could have been anything else, especially with all the tables full of numbers.

"We'll see," she said.

One of my fourth grade teachers was an avid gamer, and he explained to me how Dungeons and Dragons and other role playing games (RPGs) work. It's basically story-telling, with each of the players controlling a single character in the story, except for one player, who controls the world the story takes place in and all of the minor characters. Dice are thrown to determine the outcome of events, like whether or not your character is able to slash an orc with a sword, and how much damage is done if you succeed. Dungeons and Dragons was even cooler than I imagined. I quickly became an RPG enthusiast, buying the first complete game I could find and was able to afford, D.C. Heroes. (I wanted D&D, but it required the purchase of several expensive hardcover books and a set of dice. D.C. Heroes was self-contained in one box.)

I wasn't yet playing Dungeons and Dragons, but my teacher taught me all kinds of cool things about the D&D universe. I had always been a monster enthusiast, and I suddenly found myself being more and more fascinated by the denizens of fantasy worlds like the ones created by J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis. I traded a couple of action figures for a Dungeons and Dragons book full of monster statistics, and then began drawing my own monsters and making up statistics for them. Since I didn't have the D&D rule books, I made up my own rules for using the statistics in my own role playing game.

My class in fourth grade was less than 10 kids. We were in a windowless room, once a storage room attached to the library, in a middle school. We were secluded from the rest of the students because we all had behavior problems too severe for them to let us interact with the normals. Because of this, my friends were probably just my friends because they were the only kids I could have been friends with, and they were only friends with me for the same reason. Still, we played D.C. Heroes and the games I would invent to go with the monster statistics I made up.

In fifth grade, my aunt gave me a $20 gift certificate from a comic book store. When I went to the store, I saw that they had a role playing game section. I found the only self-contained RPG I could afford, Call of Cthulhu, and bought it, thus beginning my lifelong appreciation for H.P. Lovecraft, whose stories I had never even read before.

In fifth grade, they started bussing me for the first half of the day to the local elementary school, where I was put into the smart kid class. I didn't really have any friends. One kid, Brett, tried to befriend me on the first day. I ended up following him around for a couple weeks before I realized he didn't really want to be my friend. I didn't want to play sports with him and all the other kids, because they laughed at me when I pathetically tried to kick or throw a ball. Brett thought D&D was stupid because it involved too many dice. I began spending recess alone on the swings, occasionally talking to kids but never really hanging out.

I was relieved every day when I went back to the crazy kid class, where I had friends. They had nobody else to be friends with, so we played Call of Cthulhu. As a reward for good behavior, my teacher bought me the Dungeons and Dragons Rules Cyclopedia, so we were able to play D&D, too.

In 6th grade, I was almost fully integrated into normal kid school. I got to spend one cherished study hall period per week in my sanctuary of spazzes and miscreants. The rest of the time, I was an outcast, and walked to class alone, where I sat and waited silently for class to start, my head buried in a D&D book most of the time. I would try to act cool, but mostly only succeeded in feeling awkward. I wanted to be funny, but nobody laughed at my jokes or antics. I resigned myself to authoring adventures nobody would ever play, full of monsters nobody would ever fight and treasures nobody would ever find.

It seemed like forever before I made a friend. When it happened, it happened suddenly. A kid in my science class, Mike, saw my D&D Rules Cyclopedia on top of my schoolbooks one day.

"I don't get Dungeons and Dragons," he said.

"You should come over to my house, and I'll teach you," I told him. He agreed.

It was a big deal to my parents for me to have a friend from the world of normal kids. It had been years since I had had a friend over who I didn't meet in one of my social-retard programs. I had been in "special" schools and classrooms since second grade. My parents seemed to do everything they could to impress Mike and his parents so that he would keep coming over. He did, and we kept playing Dungeons and Dragons.

It was a good thing that Mike noticed the book when he did. When my science teacher, who was very popular with all the cool kids, discovered my love of fantasy worlds of monsters and wizards, he disliked me even more than he previously had. He told me not to bring Dungeons and Dragons or any other fantasy books to class. I later found out that he was among the many idiots who believe that D&D is all about Satan worshiping.

The next friend I made was Gordon, who I had always admired. He was sort of a class clown, and I often tried to emulate him, but failed miserably. People liked him. They didn't like me.

"Oh, no, not one of those books again!" he said, pointing at my Rules Cyclopedia on top of my English books. It turned out that Gordon had received some Dungeons and Dragons books for Christmas. Once again, I had made a new friend just by having a D&D book in my possession. Being friends with Gordon made people like me more, and I was able to talk to more people and make a few friends through him, though I was still a nerd. Through Gordon, I met Eric, who told me, "We used to see you walking around by yourself wearing your jacket all the time. We didn't know what your deal was."

The oddest friendship I forged in 6th grade was this stoner kid, Tim. He was a badass and a thief and popular with all the tough, stupid kids. Tim made almost all F's on his report card, with a D in gym class. Tim was friends with an even more popular tough, stupid kid, a stoner named Alex.

To get a good spot in the lunch line, I went straight to the cafeteria after class without stopping at my locker. There was a shelf in there where I could stick my books. One day, after lunch, my binder was missing. My schoolbooks were there, but my binder, which was a black vinyl thing that was popular at the time, was gone. I went to study hall, pissed, and noticed Alex sitting in the corner with the same kind of binder that I had just lost. He was drawing all over it with white out, and kept turning around to look at me.

I immediately knew the binder was mine, and knew how to prove it, assuming he didn't throw away my folders. Inside the binders were some folders that I had decorated with collages made from cut up comic books, and then laminated. My name and address was printed on a label inside of each one. I asked around and somebody told me that they had seen folders like the ones I described. I told the principal, who made Alex give my binder back. He had written all sorts of stupid, nonsensical shit like "TRIPPLE XXX" all over it, and ripped my labels out of my folders.

The day after I got my binder back, I was at my locker with my books on the floor, fishing out a book for the next class. Tim, Alex's friend, came up and grabbed my binder off the floor. He was about to walk away when he saw my D&D Rules Cyclopedia.

"Whoa! You play Dungeons and Dragons?"

He handed my binder back and I had a new friend and an in with the tough, stupid kids who did drugs and stole stuff. People liked them because they were badasses. Suddenly, the badasses accepted me. Some even liked me.

I used to look at the cool, popular kids standing in circles talking between classes. I always thought they were doing drug deals. One day, I found myself standing in one of these circles. Holy shit! I thought, I'm standing in a cool circle! It turned out that nobody was dealing drugs, they were just talking about boring bullshit, but they were fucking cool.

Dungeons and Dragons earned me a few friends in 6th grade, and with those connections I was able to make more friends, though my core group was always the D&D nerd group. I don't think I had a single close friend in 6th or 7th grade that wasn't a gamer nerd.

In 8th grade I went to a new school. I was ready to make friends with nerds, but somebody recognized me as the kid who cussed out Mrs. Norris in fourth grade and got permanently removed from school on the first day of class. I was instantly popular and friends with the tough, stupid kids. I carried around my Rules Cyclopedia for a couple weeks before one of my best friends shamed me into being less of a nerd and more of a jerk.

"Dungeons and Dragons: Nerd Encyclopedia!" he said, and then, just to clarify, "That's what it is, you know. It's just for nerds. The nerd encyclopedia."

I didn't play Dungeons and Dragons again for years.