Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Why millions are turning off their television sets...

I have developed a slight hearing loss, especially when it comes to sounds in the higher register. I have been tested. It is not yet serious. Millions of Americans are in the same category, I was told. Millions.

One of the problems is that it has become difficult to pick a voice out of the sounds of background noise in a bar, at a party, or from the god damned background music that movie and television film makers insist on piling onto their sound tracks simply because they can. I mean, music to accompany the so-called reality shows we see these days is certainly a far cry from reality. So there is no real reason to have any music accompany the action. There is a detective, for example, bending over a corpse in the desert, wondering to his partner how …how… Hell, I don’t know what. The symphony orchestra out there on the sand in the dark is drowning out his words!

I see the network is canceling “The West Wing.” I do not know why, but am reasonably sure that if viewers watched in high enough numbers, it would be renewed again. I do not know the reasons each of the viewers has left the show. But I know why I have. And dozens of others I have talked to about the problem say the same thing, perhaps with a milder vocabulary. The actors in that drama do not enunciate. They speed-speak without moving their mouths and mumble while background music there in the White House drowns out the words. Especially the women characters whose voices, typically, fall into a higher register than the male voices. When Allison Janney and that straight haired, straight faced, unsmiling blonde aide banter, it is impossible to adjust the volume so that one word in ten is understood through the loud music.

I have punched in the closed captioning feature a number of times. But it takes more work than I am often willing to expend to sit still and read what I cannot quite hear, though it is a relief to turn down that god damned symphony in the White House and just go with the story.

At a neighborhood party last week, the “West Wing” cancellation was discussed. No one in the group watches the show any more. And the reasons were all the same. “I cannot hear what the hell the characters are saying!”

Now before you chalk all this up to the title of my blog and decide I am more curmudgeon than anything else, let me say that I understand every word of nearly every commercial! In fact, I turn down the volume when they come on. So you see, it is possible for sound engineers in TV land to allow viewers to understand the words. I also understand every word of news broadcasts on both network and cable channels. Male or female, I understand their talk! It is not the speaker system of my television nor my ears! I can understand newsmen and commercial actors! I also understand every word Charlie Rose says, and everything those he interviews say as well. I hope his producer never decides to heap orchestrations onto the sound track, simply because he knows how.

When CNN shows the fighting in Iraq, there is no music. When ABC News shows the scene of a plane crash, no band drowns out the FAA investigators being interviewed. I, therefore, understand everything that is said.

So I channel surf looking for something to watch for an hour or so. Hey! A program on the Adventure, or was it the Discovery, channel called “The First Eve.” Great. And there are early humans wandering among the trees 35,000 years ago or so as a narrator describes how it all came about, and a god damned symphony orchestra tries desperately to drown him out. Did you know that a full orchestra accompanied the first humans out of Africa, playing loudly all the way?

Tonight the last straw fell and I shut the television off to vent right here. Public broadcasting showed a film called “The War That Made America.” All Right! And there were Indians, French, and Red Coated Englishmen fighting one another in a forest somewhere while a narrator tried in vain to tell me about it above the god damned noise of the symphony orchestra accompanying the fighting. I watched for three minutes and understood nothing I heard.

I would complain to whoever might make a difference if I knew who that was. All I know is that millions of Americans do not watch television as much as they would if they could understand what was being drowned out by that god damned background music that is anything but reality. Millions!

Friday, January 13, 2006

You take that back!

If the neighborhood where you grew up was at all like mine, then you were occasionally denied your American right to say whatever you wanted, without repercussions. An older sibling, the neighborhood bully, or a friend who took umbrage sometimes changed your mind. You saw your buddy in fifth grade walk a whole block after school with a girl, for example.

“Tommy’s got a girl friend; Tommy’s got a girl friend,” you chanted as an American free to say what you thought. Until Tommy grabbed you, shoved you to the ground, twisted your arm behind your back and demanded, “Take that back!”

So you did. “Ow! Ow! O.K, I take it back!” Tommy let you up, and you skipped away from his grasp, laughed, and said, “No I don’t!” And you ran.

Well, of course you didn’t “take it back.” Neither Tommy nor anyone else ever thought that you really meant it when you “took back” the words, whether you accused him of having a girl friend, being a “cry-baby” a “tattle-tale,” or having a mother who wore army boots! You simply claimed to take it back, and then laughed. The rest of us laughed, too.

These days Pat Robertson regularly spouts juvenile nonsense that he seems to believe passes for religious thought. The Uber Christian recently implied that Israel Prime Minister Sharon suffered a stroke as divine retribution for returning land to the Palestinians. After several days of rebukes from Israel, from evangelical leaders, and from members of the mainstream media, Robertson has apologized. He “takes it back.” So are we to believe that he no longer holds the ignorant ideas he voiced a week earlier? Or is he just sorry he said them so publicly?

A second example: The overall World Cup champion downhill skier, American Bode Miller, was asked on camera about his party ways and the effects of drinking on his skiing. Miller admitted to having skied while “wasted.” A large portion of the world was outraged. So Miller has said he regrets the “confusion and pain” he has caused. “The most important thing,” he said, “is that I wanted to come straight out and apologize to mostly my family, friends.”

Everyone who believes that is truly the most important “thing,” stick your finger in your eye. What is Miller actually sorry about? His behavior, which he will now change? “Yes, of course, I take it all back, really.” Or is he simply sorry for having admitting skiing while wasted?

Since we all know that bending someone’s arm behind him until he “takes it back” is nonsense, why do we seem to put so much stock in wrenching apologetic words from people who say stupid things that they really mean? Why don’t we adopt the code of childhood and just laugh them out of their standing in the neighborhood?