I was perusing the Kitchener Record the other day; the January 25th edition; and among some of the articles that caught my eye was one entitled Mobile App Gives Rewards For Watching TV. There was a couple of reasons that this one in particular peaked my interest. One of them was because I tend to view this as a disturbing trend of the incessant assault of corporate interests on our daily lives. The gist of the article is that your IPhone and Ipads listen to what is on and recognizes what you are watching then rewards you with points. If you get 7,500 points than you are rewarded with a five dollar gift card from Burger King, Starbucks, Apple’s Itunes and C.V.S. Basically if you watch TV every night for three hours for three weeks you can get enough points for a latte. The company offers extra points for shows like American Idol. Although it is not stated I figure this to be a marketing ploy for shows that Apple is sponsoring. Unless they are rewarding people for watching lame shows; I wonder what points you would receive for watching Judge Judy or TMZ?
Don’t get me wrong; I am not a pretentious elitist or like Sideshow Bob (The Simpsons); who refers to television as a sludge pump, a bottomless chum bucket or a chattering cyclops. There are some shows I like to watch on a regular basis and over the years TV has produced some great programs. I like anything that is engaging or informative.
I can blame reality television and some of the other mindless pap that is churned out as the catalyst for my increasing alienation from the medium. When I look back beyond the misty lens of nostalgia though I realize that there has always been a lot of crap on TV; the ratio hasn’t changed; it just that there is more of an abundance of television shows and channels.
One of my grievances against the medium is the fact that I don’t like to be manipulated; hence my loathing of canned laughter. My biggest complaint is against the pervasiveness of commercials. Nowadays you spend almost half your time watching commercials as you would the actual program. Sometimes I feel like I am doing a penance by being subjected to the persuasions of the corporate sponsors just for privilege of watching a show I like. As for watching a movie on TV; forget it. The sheer volume of commercial breaks and the amount of adds crammed in each break disrupt the sequential flow of the film and takes me right out of the experience.
Television is not produced to merely entertain the general public. Aside from the news (which is misdirection at best); TV is used to indoctrinate us into specific sets of cultural values and acts as a propaganda beacon. I think shows like Twenty Four was put out to help legitamize the Bush/Cheney/Neocon doctrine of torture and to reinforce the fear of terrorists hiding around every corner. The concept of bread and circuses was invented by the Romans; when their civilization began to decline that is what they gave the population to distract them from the greed and corruption of the nobility.
Marshall McLuhan described television as a cool medium because of its low definition that involves the audience participation to fill in the gaps; perhaps this is the culmination of that theory. To me this is a further indication of the Super class making further inroads into our private lives by monitoring our viewing habits. Much like the Facbook’s failed Social Add campaign; that when users wrote something positive about a product Facebook would use their names and images in advertisements to send to friends in the hopes an endorsement would induce other users to purchase the product. That was one of the reasons why I canceled my Facebook account; because I figured they were storing and sharing my information without my consent; I am sure that they still have my info on file. Now Google has announced that they are doing the same thing. Nothing is sacred in the digital age. We are living in a digital version of a panopticon where you can never be sure whether or not someone is watching you. I am caught in it too; I may be able to cancel facebook but I would be hard pressed to stop using Google. Who can be sure that other search engines don’t stoop to the same practices? Whats to be done? Do I go native and stop using the Internet, stop texting and using cellphones? Maybe I will just watch some television and forget about the fact that television is watching me as well.