Monday, December 6, 2010

Finding the Middle

I feel like Peter Finch's character in Network--who has become a metaphor for frustration since the film premiered the year my son was born (1976--which probably explains why I never actually saw the movie itself). But the tag line "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" has been floating around my head for the past couple of days.

It doesn't help that I've also been watching Max Headroom, via the bad-transfer DVDs we bought last month--another emblem of a good concept (not unlike Firefly) that couldn't get the ratings it needed in order to keep it in production. Max was a mid-eighties phenomenon that presaged digital media expansion and inhabited a dystopic future similar to that depicted in Ridley Scott's Bladerunner (1982).

Admittedly, I'm rather preoccupied with things dystopic/eutopic at the moment, because I'm writing a Philosophical Perspectives course for the Winter quarter (Technology and Utopia), and am finishing up a short story that involves life after a Coronal Mass Ejection causes an Electromagnetic Pulse, knocking out all solid-state electronics and screwing big-time with The Grid (the stuff I was talking about here last month). The story, however, is a utopia. No, I don't think we'd necessarily find ourselves living in garbage dumps and smacking each other about with machetes after a big calamity.

If all this isn't enough, I'm also reading Charles Robert Wilson's Julian Comstock, a thoroughly engaging literary thought experiment about life after Peak Oil and the False Tribulations. Wilson, at least, hasn't forgotten that it hasn't been all that long since we were doing without electricity altogether (emphasized rather vividly in the two movies we watched this weekend, Silverado and The Illusionist). He's also about the only science fiction writer I'm reading these days, because I'm so not into cyberpunk and military SF/schoolboy warcraft crap. I think that one reason I'm fond of non-zombie-related Steampunk is that it tends to rely on rather imaginative combinations of old technologies and Art-Deco streamline-aesthetics, rather than on blood, guts, and dismemberment by squiddy aliens.

So, yes, I'm being cranky again, primarily because I'm getting more and more frustrated about the state of modern politics, and their handmaiden, modern media.

Why all the movies and old TV shows this weekend? Several reasons: pledge fortnight on PBS (I've paid my dues and I am not willing to sit through hours of drivel from Yanni and Celtic Women which have not one thing in common with regular programming; I want my Doc Martin, damnit!), and the growing number of utterly annoying commercials for pharmaceuticals, primarily the ones that deal with male erectile issues.

My main objection to television these days actually lies in the coverage of the news, and (except for PBS) the apparent inability to report events without hyping them into the stratosphere. The ratings games that gave rise to critiques in the form of Network and Max Headroom are alive and well twenty and thirty years later--and I'm just plain tired.

The demise of civil disagreement and calm, reasoned, argument has driven me away from my television set as a primary vehicle for news. Since I haven't been able to stomach having the tube on before four or five in the afternoon for the last several years, my mornings begin with a good cup of coffee and the Daily Poop, usually the funnies first, and then a leisurely stroll through the various sections. Since I've got my mornings off this quarter, and can afford the time if I'm not grading, I can then peruse a magazine or two either in print or on the iPad, before I have to get to work. I'm frequently rewarded in one venue or another, and today I found an article that warmed my little soul right up: about a new organization called No Labels. According to its website (and a nice little introductory video), its aim is to bring back the same civil discourse I've been lamenting the loss of. Whatever our views, we ought to be able to share them, discuss them, and locate some kind of common ground without screaming at each other, and this organization is grounded in that hope.

Normally, I'm not much of a hopeful person. But that may change if this movement gets up enough steam--before that's all we have to run the show.

Image credit: Hungarian television set from 1959. ORION AT 602 - 1959. By Istvan Takacs, via Wikimedia Commons. The font is "Typewriter" by P22.

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