I have an ancient television set. It’s one of those old-timey models, with the ovoid, bulbous screen set in a façade of good, brown wood. There are little patterns carved into the wood and the “feet” of the set are molded into graceful spirals. Classy, yet sturdy. I was born before the “golden age” of television, but I sometimes like to imagine all the wonderful old sitcoms my television set was beaming out back in the day. Who knows how many Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet have come a-pulsating through its perky “rabbit-ear” antennae? Whenever I fire up another episode of The Munsters I feel myself to be a part of that wondrous lineage.
But those days are over. About one year from today — on Feb. 17, 2009 — those well-worn rabbit ears will pulsate no longer. Something called the “Federal Communications Commission” has decreed that all television sets from that day forth shall operate using strictly digital signals.
This “FCC” claims that these new, digital signals will free up something called “bandwidth.” This means that certain broadcast frequencies — which has something to do with determining which channel I Love Lucy is on, I gather — will now be open, allowing the government to auction off the bandwidth. They also claim that there will be even more “digital channels” beamed into the average set. There will also be more “high-definition” television. This is all good for me, the average consumer, or so they claim.
But I, for one, don’t like the idea of some bureaucratic arm of the government just knocking analog signals out of their path wily-nilly. I’m not sure how this process actually works, but I imagine it to be something like that movie, Hackers. In that fine film, the titular hackers engage in virtual, electronic combat with their nefarious foe, a bearded, skateboard-riding, computer-security man. There are big glowing green boxes in this “cyberspace” where various Greek letters and math equations float ethereally around. You win by roaming amongst these boxes until you find the right letters, thus causing an acerbic taunt to flash across your enemies screen.
I don’t think this is an appropriate activity for our government to be engaged in — sending horrible insults to analog broadcasters and then selling off their newly-won green electronic box space. I am also uncertain if there is anything to truly be gained from this increase in digital television channels or high-definition programming. I have 900 channels already. Many of them, I am not allowed to watch. They require a subscription. I have tried to find ways around paying this, but their system appears to be well-secured.
And from looking at those channels I do have, I cannot imagine what new kinds of things could possibly be broadcast. Right now, I could watch a kindly old woman teach me the proper way to fry up a filet of rabbit, an animated construction worker demolish a sandbox city, three prostitutes negotiate the intricacies of first-time customer relations or a clean-scrubbed lad hit his baseball through his crotchety neighbor’s bedroom window — again! What more is there to do?
This is an ambitious and possibly pointless undertaking. It makes me very nervous. While I am glad that the government has agreed to pay out up to two $40 coupons per household in order to facilitate the switch — will folks be able to collect on this generous handout through some sort of fake-analog trickery? — I don’t take kindly to the idea that the government will have a very specific sort of electronic, digital device installed in every household in the country.
Who knows how these electronic signals work? I certainly don’t. It seems to me that ensuring that every American — and what American doesn’t watch a sizable amount of TV these days — will be exposed to the electronic machinations of their instruments. It seems to be the ideal way for the government to surreptitiously transmit pro-U.S. propaganda — for instance, making everybody believe that the switch from analog to digital television reception was beneficial.
I have witnessed the power of massive electronic contraptions. Standing in New York City’s Times Square the other day, inundated by those marvelous, omni-colored electronic billboards, I felt an overwhelming urge to walk up to that United States Army enlistment booth they have stationed conveniently next to the five-story Gap. Is it a coincidence that the U.S. Army’s NYC recruiting station is situated right in the heart of electronically-pulsating Times Square? What’s your angle, FCC?