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.
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!
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.