Monday, January 29, 2007

Op-Ed: In a World of Depressing T.V., the NFL is a Saving Grace

Written by Zach Warsavage and Illustrated by Jeremy Schlangen

There’s a line in a Jean-Luc Godard film that goes, “If you cannot afford LSD, buy a color television.” I thought about that line over break when I tuned into the one thing left on television worth watching: football.

Over break, I watched every NFL playoff game. I was screaming for 10 minutes straight in my basement while I watched Dallas and Seattle play out an incredible finish, culminating with Tony Romo fumbling the snap on an easy field goal. It blew the season. I was at the Eagles home game when they won on a walk off field goal. And watching Peyton Manning come back against Brady, to go to the Superbowl, was beyond scripting.

But, when it wasn’t the weekend, the other real life hits on major networks were not about glory and feeling good. They were about feeling extremely bad.

The first show I saw was American Idol's season opener. These preliminary episodes involve the judges choosing only a handful of singers out of thousands in each city. The focus was not on good singing, but instead a revue of contestants more closely resembling a carnival act: people who not only sing poorly, but were ugly, dumb, and worst of all, thought they could make it. People who waited two days in the rain so they could be included in a montage of losers, who chose the same song as them. These two-hour long shows were designed for one thing: humiliation. This tactic, watching others at their worst moment, seemed to be the best way to satisfy an American audience.

After I changed the channel, the next show was of a very different kind of mediocrity, and not about trapping fox. The show, called "Catch A Predator," was part of NBC's Dateline. The anchor seemed to believe it was a journalistic crusade of sorts, the kind of show that could help change the world and make it better. In it, a team of NBC journalists, pedophile-hunters and police lured pedophiles to a house with a young looking 18 year old girl, and arrested them. As if this were not enough "entertainment," the host, a rich looking white man in a suit with a microphone, humiliated the mostly minority men with a barrage of questions under the guise of protection, but what appeared to be more for profit.

The suits at the networks must be real geniuses, because apparently, the secret to good ratings is making people look like fat assholes and criminals.

Mortifying everyday Americans creates the illusion that these people are the disgusting and embarrassing dregs of our society, the untalented and the perverted. Yet, the viewer can somehow stand on the outside looking in. The audience is assured that they are safe from this and can call people they know during commercials to laugh and reinforce how they are so much better than the people they see on TV. But this is an illusion and the viewers are the reason the show exists. TV is the drug that gets us addicted to hating everyone. Appropriately, most advertisements I saw were for medication. It was as if to say, “This depressing program is sponsored by Prozac.”

We are fed negativity through the airwaves to control our perceptions and promote hating each other. The scariest part is that some of the funding comes from advertisements for medicines to make us like it. The culture on TV gives viewers the ability to feel nothing, and want more. So as I watch color television, and wish I had LSD, I know I will not be tuning into any of the shows that depict our reality. Because I’d like to think of reality as not including prescription drugs and schadenfreude.

Football is purer than all that. When Romo ruined the season for Dallas, people around the league said they felt for him and all of his hard work. Even though he was humiliated, and even though I enjoyed it as an Eagles fan, the best part was the exciting game, and not watching him cry afterwards.

Naturally the NFL is about money, too. It is on TV, after all. And it does have more pill ads for old men’s limp trouser snakes than any other program. But, I don’t feel like a judgmental vegetable afterwards. That said, take my advice: if you can't afford HBO, watch football.

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