Bob Groeneveld: Odd Thoughts

Odd Thoughts: Nothin’ changes from three to 9,999

Television, where nothing's changed since Springsteen's song.

When Bruce Springsteen penned 57 Channels and Nothin’ On in 1992, he captured an irony that has since grown into farce.

I’m embarrassed to admit that my cable TV puts at my disposal several hundred channels… and there’s still nothin’ on most of the time.

Many of the channels are high-definition duplicates of standard deliveries, for those who are blessed with an acuteness of vision that allows them to tell the difference. Unfortunately, while the high definition channels deliver more pixels per inch, it’s just more pixels of nothin’ much.

Sure, there are a few interesting or truly entertaining shows that appear from time to time – but when they do show up, they are milked for every penny (in Canada, that has become every nickel) the producers can squeeze out of them, as they fade into monotony and less creative – but equally enterprising – producers churn them into a new flavour of mind soup that permeates the Great Nothin’ until a rare something finally comes along again and shifts the paradigm towards yet a new mediocrity.

The channel indicator runs from one to one shy of ten thousand, leaving room for thousands more channels to meet the spatial needs of the Great Nothin’.

It seems, indeed, that the availability of quality programming is inversely proportional to available bandwidth.

It occurred to me, as I browsed through my hundreds of channels to see if anything was worth the attention of my PVR, that the response to my insatiable lust for something where Nothin’ prevails has not been an effort to switch to Somethin’, but instead, we’ve seen tremendous progress in technology allowing us easier and great access to Nothin’.

Back in the day of Springsteen’s 57 Nothin’s, we had bulky VCR tapes which, through the mind-numbing complexity of the machinery involved, were far more discouraging than the titillating knowledge that we were probably committing theft by watching 21 Jump Street or the Larry Sanders Show outside of their assigned time slots.

By the time VCRs became reasonably user-friendly, and the 100-channel barrier lay in pieces on the family home theatre floor, they were replaced by DVDs – not really much better, but they took up less space.

Overall, there’s still just about the same amount of intelligent programming as there was when the sum total of our television access was Channel 2, Channel 8, and Channel 12.

Back then, Channel 2 was a CBC that Canada could be proud of. It was easily superior to the private stations (Channel 8 was a Canadian private broadcaster and Channel 12 was American). That was decades before paranoid politicians cut budgets to turn our public broadcaster into a rump of its former self.

Just watching TV was a task – and changing channels took significant effort.

You had to get up off the couch and change the dial on the television set – manually!

Channel 12 was on its own aerial, which required either changing the wires into the back of the set or, if you were technologically advanced, as we were, there was a jackknife switch to throw.

Switching between Channels 2 and 8 required sending one of the kids outside to point the other in a new direction. Fine-tuning consisted of instructions – “More… more… back a bit… not that much…” relayed out the living room window. It was a bit of a bother.

But back then it was Three Channels with Somethin’ On.


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