Planet Earth is probably ten years away from having one cable provider. It will sport a moniker like “Onlychoice Cable” or “Mondo-Goliath Media.” Just fork over your first-born child in order to see “Young Zombies in Love,” or whatever dreck is all the rage in 2027.
Enjoy the company‘s catchy slogan: “It’s Us or Nothing,” or “Bow Before Us, Peasant,” or the ever-fresh “Cross Us, And You’re Stuck Staring at Your Toaster.”
Several mergers, buyouts and hostile takeovers later, the company will buy the color spectrum, meaning a hefty fee to use your own eyesight.
Speaking of fees: for laughs, I like to fire up the ol’ electron microscope and peruse the fine print on my cable bill. It’s all there: fees, taxes, the fee tax, the tax fee, the fee-processing fee, the tax on the fee-processing fee, etcetera. (“Etcetera” is an actual item on the bill.) And I’m still subject to the British Stamp Act of l765, somehow.
And what am I paying for here? Twenty-three shows hosted by Steve Harvey? Among them: game-show versions of “Go Fish!,” “Celebrity Go Fish!,” “Kids Say Things That Are Occasionally Amusing,” and an infomercial for a special facial harness that lets you eat corn on the cob while driving.
I get to enjoy the exponential growth of new ESPN channels that have forced humanity to invent new sports just to fill the time slots. There’s a guy throwing rakes on Channel 865. Enjoy Duck-Duck-Goose highlights on 954. Check out the Women’s Serbian Semi-Pro Handball Fantasy League Draft on Channel 541.
How many shopping channels do I need? I’ll go out on a limb and say zero. Maybe fewer.
The pro-cable crowd will argue that I’m paying more, but getting more options than ever. If anything, I‘m getting too many. I’m up to my armpits in shows I’ll never see. Now I know what those fabled “infinite monkeys at infinite typewriters” are doing. They’re cranking out scripts for Lifetime movies.
We now have approximately 674,551 scripted television series on broadcast TV, cable, internet, etc. What am I supposed to do just to see a tiny fraction of them? Quit my job? Forgo sleep? Hire someone to watch TV for me?
For some, the answer is binge-watching. You know, when you point your face at a TV over a weekend, in lieu of feeding yourself or rudimentary hygiene. Maybe I’m wallowing in my own filth when it’s over, but at least I polished off season five of “Veep.”
Or I could follow three shows at once. I’ll keep each eye on a TV, while using my hands to read “House of Cards” scripts in Braille.
Or I can watch TV on the go, since I now have a blur of quasi- entertainment-related gibberish pouring out of every appliance I own. God forbid I should go nine consecutive seconds without being entertained. Give me my phone and a chair in a dentist office waiting room, and I can catch up on “The Real Housewives of Liverslide, Indiana.”
“The promise of the birth of the dawn of a new vision of a birth of a promise,” brags my cable provider’s new Hallmarkesque commercial touting services and features my mortal brain can’t possibly comprehend. To see this ad blitz, you’d think the cable guy is not merely gatekeeper to an oasis of television delights, but the All-American Renaissance man who will water my lawn, sponge-bathe Uncle Fred and help the kids start a small business.
Don’t interpret this harangue as an endorsement of some dish-based system. Au contraire. That would mean every problem described here, plus rain fade.
No, I guess I’m advocating the glorious return of rabbit ears. And radio. And your friendly newspaper. And binge-watching the insides of books.
If I am stuck with cable, at least give me a device to filter out the Kardashians.
Toby Gibbs of Lexington works for a local TV station. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.