How many television stations do you have access to? Hundreds, if you have a cable or satellite hook-up.
Hard to recall a time when the public did not always have access to a TV station smorgasbord, especially for those living relatively close to New York City.
As cable operator Comcast’s pending acquisition of NBC-Universal moves closer and closer to closure, I am reminded that when Gilda and I moved to Seymour, Conn., after we married in January 1973, we were media-deprived. Though living less than 90 miles from the media capital of the world, and just a dozen or so miles from New Haven, Bridgeport and Waterbury, our television, like most others in the Lower Naugatuck Valley, could receive just one station, the New Haven-based ABC affiliate. That meant we didn’t get any NFL football games except Monday Night Football. No Johnny Carson. No Yankees or Mets games. No Baseball of the Week game. No World Series. No Walter Cronkite. Or 60 Minutes. No Masterpiece Theater. Not even the Channel 11 Christmas Eve Yule Log.
While I went off to work as a newspaper reporter (see http://nosocksneededanymore.blogspot.com/2009/11/valley-of-remembrance.html), Gilda’s political science degree offered little interest to local employers. But she did find an office job with a new company hoping to make an impact in the Valley. It was the local cable franchise. For less than $20 a month, customers could get all the New York City-based networks as well as several Connecticut affiliates. From having just one station, customers would have immediate, crisp reception from 10 channels with the promise of more to come.
It was, simply, the easiest sales job anyone could imagine.
It also serves as a reminder that proximity to information is no guarantee it will be accessed or used intelligently. The U.S. is in danger of losing its superpower status because we are not cultivating a culture of knowledge. Sure, we have a near monopoly on Nobel Prizes for most sciences and economics. Our universities and colleges are among the best in the world. But few would argue that our public school standards are slipping. Sure, there are hundreds of TV stations to choose from, but people, in my opinion, are just getting dumber and dumber. Perhaps it’s because, I fear, they are becoming more conservative, and in my mind conservatives have a narrow-gauge view of the world, often a selfish view.
I’m not going to argue the point with you here. Rather, I’ll quote Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy, an animated comedy that airs on Fox and often satirizes, offensively, public norms (for the record, I’ve never seen Family Guy, though one of its writers, Andrew Goldberg, is the son of friends). Commenting in an article in Tuesday’s NY Times on a banned TV episode of Family Guy, MacFarlane said, “People in America, they’re getting dumber. They’re getting less and less able to analyze something and think critically, and pick apart the underlying elements. And more and more ready to make a snap judgment regarding something at face value, which is too bad” (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/20/arts/television/20family.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=macfarlane&st=cse).