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Sheesh. They sound just like Ayn Rand villains.

Not having a TV has led to complete, catastrophic cultural isolation. As an example of this savage, self-caused social disconnect: I never learned to pronounce the name “Duchovny.” And now I cannot tell you whether the name “Kutcher” is sounded like more “crutch-er” or “cooch-er.”

It’s a tragedy of unfathomable proportions.

After first giving up the telescreen, I even had to forego watching great commercials. Since they are among the great creative gems of our time, it was nearly an unbearable loss.

Somehow I soldiered on. Eventually the miracle of YouTube brought the Budweiser clydesdales — and those wonderful Dalmatians — back into my life.

Still, slow, iffy ‘Net connections continue to deny me the right to watch entire shows like “Real Housewives of Peoria, Illinois,” “Who Cares Who Survives?” “Celebrities Who Die After Rehab,” and “Count the Marriages of the Kardashians.”

About 10 years after giving up television, I spent a snowbound night in a motel room in Utah, just me, a pizza, and a TV set. From that I was able to observe that nothing much had changed. Everything had just gotten more jumpy. The same shows but with “smash cuts” and lotso FX. Later I watched some HBO series on DVD and noticed that all barriers against vulgar language had fallen. That was about it.

Now it’s getting close to 20 years sans TV. Thanks to website links, I’m able to catch bits and snips of news and commentary. While I still await hearing some talking head reveal the correct pronunciation of Kutcher, I have finally noticed one real, serious difference between what was in The Box in 1993 and what’s there now: “news” is noise. “Commentary” on the news is ill-informed morons shouting at each other.

Joel gave a perfect example the other day. I’d heard of Rachel Maddow and even though I assumed I’d disagree with her on a fair number of issues, I’d also assumed she’d be intelligent and have some gravitas. I mean, otherwise, how would anybody ever be taken seriously as a commentator? But nope. Just a big, noisy ego with no brain behind it. Just showing off. Throwing tantrums like a two-year-old, and just as meaningless as a two-year-old’s. Just like Bill O’Reilly on the “right” and a bunch of her fellows (Piers Morgan, you listening?) on the “left.”

You’ll have to forgive me for being naive. If you regularly watch news and commentary you know all this. You probably already know that the only real TV commentary on issues is being delivered by comedians like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

I didn’t. I knew, of course, that there were ranters; there’ve been ranters and ravers as long as there’s been a medium to host them and an audience to be buffaloed.

What I didn’t know is that the shouters and whiners and don’t-let-anybody-else-get-a-word-in people had taken over. That they now are the news and commentary.

Maybe in a way it’s a good thing. The calm authority of the Murrows, Cronkites, and Sevareids of old was always an illusion, anyway. The news media leaders of past generations were always just members of the elite, delivering a pre-packaged message designed to keep We the Little People in line. Maybe the Maddows and O’Reillys represent a useful democratization of the media. Maybe their ignorantly loud opinionating (like drunken uncles at a holiday table) helpfully rips away the curtain of legitimacy to reveal what’s really going on in the world of Authoritah.

But just before viewing that Maddow clip, I was reading Atlas Shrugged and thinking how cartoonishly absurd Rand’s whining, sloganeering villains sounded. Rand presents her bad guys as people who’ve given up thinking, who can only parrot slogans, make self-righteous demands, and ultimately devour the brains of their betters. People who have no inner selves, but only a parasitic existance.

I thought how badly Rand overstated her case, how foolishly broadly she drew her villains. Then I went back and listened to Maddow and O’Reilly and Morgan et al. again.


  1. Water Lily
    Water Lily March 18, 2013 9:53 am

    People now believe that commentary is news. Sad. We don’t have TV anymore either, and every so often while traveling, I’ll turn on the TV. I think what disgusts me the most is the rudeness, crudeness, and outright hatefulness of people on TV.

    It took me a year to read Atlas Shrugged, because I only read it on weekends (during a part-time stint supervising (babysitting) a financial call center.) The only thing I liked about the book was the dystopian setting. Otherwise, I found the book boring in places, and poorly written overall. But still, if given a choice between reading it again and watching cable news, I’d re-read Atlas Shrugged in a heartbeat.

  2. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty March 18, 2013 10:07 am

    Being mostly deaf all my life, I never got into watching TV… simply couldn’t understand much of what they were saying. I have read quite a bit about what is being shown on TV and in movies, and long ago came to the conclusion that I hadn’t missed much. πŸ™‚

    I’d much rather read…

  3. Ken Hagler
    Ken Hagler March 18, 2013 10:11 am

    The Atlas Shrugged villains actually sound just like California politicians. The only exception I can remember was a state-level politiician named Tom McClintock, who sometimes talked about freedom, but ultimately decided he hated gay people and people with brown skin more than he liked freedom.

  4. just waiting
    just waiting March 18, 2013 10:27 am

    You nailed it Claire, its all about empty headed ego. When every comment begins with the words “Well I think…” there is nothing news about it, its just a bunch of babbleheads demonstrating their self-importance.

    There hasn’t been real “news” on tv since cable and satelite upped the offerings to 856,239 channels and they have to do something to put content on all of them.

    As for reading AS again, I used to read contracts, grants, court filings and other legal docs for work, Atlas is a light, uplifting read for me πŸ™‚

  5. Pat
    Pat March 18, 2013 11:27 am

    I stopped watching TV some years ago when I noticed the real news was being scrolled across the bottom too fast to comprehend, the best sit-coms came from BBC, and watching HGTV was not worth the price when I could be doing it myself.

    OTOH, I did watch β€œTV” over the weekend in the form of a DVD of The Carol Burnett Show, and enjoyed it immensely! It was the first time I had laughed out loud in a month.

  6. Matt, another
    Matt, another March 18, 2013 11:41 am

    If we didn’t have the medium of TV or Radio and these talking heads only had the village square or local tavern to espouse their beliefs, the country would be a better place. It would also be much quieter.

  7. Plinker
    Plinker March 18, 2013 11:41 am

    There has *got* to be a secret government lab somewhere (Area 51?), where they they are cloning pod people in a vat full of shredded Ayn Rand novels.

    How else can you explain the people on the “talking head” shows?

  8. Kevin Wilmeth
    Kevin Wilmeth March 18, 2013 12:03 pm

    I think that for me, the principal value of a very occasional glimpse of TV is to remind me how much I do not miss it. In that sense, it is quite valuable.

    I was on business travel last June and got my first experience to see Rachel Maddow…perform. “Cartoonish” is both an entirely appropriate and wholly understated one-word description of what I saw; I suppose I may have lucked in on the worst she can be, but frankly my gut feeling says this is just the new normal.

    On one hand, the response is simple: gaaag! But on the other, how can one avoid feeling like Guy Montag, watching his wife and all her friends completely consumed by the wall-set?

  9. Johnathan
    Johnathan March 18, 2013 12:11 pm

    Heh, I’m in the same boat–quite watching the thing back in ’91 and only watch it now when I visit families for holidays or occasionally in airports or hotels.

    One thing I’ve noticed–whenever I watch new channels, I can very distinctly feel my heart rate increase and blood pressure rise. Watch it long enough and I can even feel my IQ dropping πŸ™‚

  10. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal March 18, 2013 1:03 pm

    I never spent a lot of time actually watching TV- even when it was on in the house. I “fidget” and tinker with stuff rather than really watch, I suppose. If I don’t have something in my hands to work with, I can’t sit still or pay attention to the show. Hmmm… I remember that same problem in school.

    I haven’t had TV in a couple of years (I do watch some TV shows on Netflix), but I don’t feel the hatred of TV that I see some express. It is what it is. Of course, I was never a watcher of “news” programs.
    When you are watching TV you are not doing something else that might- or might not- be more important. That goes for reading a book or sleeping or reading stuff online, or any other “value neutral” activity. Don’t place more significance in things than they deserve.

  11. naturegirl
    naturegirl March 18, 2013 1:15 pm

    I never considered tv to be the way to find information. So, with that in mind, I don’t miss it when it’s not around. Once I discovered the internet I really didn’t watch much tv anymore. I HAVE noticed that the internet is overwhelmed with info more lately then it was way back in the early days of my discovering it. And the tone of the internet has gotten bossier than it use to be, too, LOL – there’s more “experts” than there are readers…..Of course I get online to stay connected to civilization that I don’t have normally; I go to such a wide variety of subjects online, and not only just news…..Not a visit goes by where I don’t run into some place that’s telling me I don’t know enough, or the right things, or the right ways, or whatever – the herding of people is out of hand everywhere…..

  12. Shel
    Shel March 18, 2013 2:02 pm

    I have not had cable or satellite for many years. I could waste much time on the History or Discovery Channels, so I choose to avoid them. My rabbit ears (on the TV) will pick up the NFL in the fall, but since they and ESPN harped continuously on Sandy Hook, I’ll probably give up on them, too. I only last a few seconds in front of regular “news” before succumbing to intractable muttering.

    I agree that comedians are often more informative than the talking heads; someone sent me a George Carlin video in which his comments, though nonspecific, would never have made the regular broadcasts.

    I’ll stick with the spectacular old Muppet Show videos, movies like Lady and the Tramp, and the occasional Red Skelton skit; and channel my problem solving abilities towards determining who’s on first.

  13. jed
    jed March 18, 2013 5:01 pm

    I’m not completely down on TV. But then I have no idea what the nightly news sounds like these days, nor any of the latest crop of sitcoms, or whatever it is that’s on. I can think of a few reasons to enjoy TV, e.g. one of the local stations here is showing re-runs of Star Trek TOS. But I’ve turned my TV on just once since last year’s Super Bowl, and that was to watch The Big Lebowski, which refuses to play on my computer. To the extent that I watch TV shows these days, it’s on DVD from the library, on my computer. Just now, I’m working through the Sharpe’s Rifles TV series.

  14. Ellendra
    Ellendra March 18, 2013 8:09 pm

    We have a TV, but it doesn’t get a signal. We use it to watch DVD’s.

  15. LarryA
    LarryA March 19, 2013 12:20 am

    Claire, there is one trend you may have missed. There are one heck of a lot more “gun shows” on TV than there used to be. Quality varies, but I’m seeing students who were first introduced to the legitimacy of gun ownership via TV.

    And it’s spreading. “Top Chef,” a mainstream “reality” show about cooking, aired an episode where the contestants were preparing wild game. They actually had the two women shoot rifles at targets to “hunt” their ingredients.

    And the prime-time cop show “Blue Bloods” had a detective show his young son his Glock, and quote firearm safety rules.

    The times they are a’changin’.

  16. RickB
    RickB March 19, 2013 4:08 am

    I don’t know a thing about TV these days. I haven’t owned one for almost 20 years and didn’t watch much before that.
    I’m not going to bad-mouth network television, though, because it literally changed my life. The show that did it was “Lost in Space.” What a great show!
    My parents were very strict on TV watching. We were allowed to watch national news with them–Walter Cronkite gloating over the body count in Viet Nam. Great fun. After the news we were allowed to watch TV from 7 to 8 PM. Period.
    One evening (I think I was 11 years old) one of my younger brothers called down to me that “Lost in Space” was about to start. I was working on a carpentry project in the basement. I thought about it for a minute, then decided to finish my project. I haven’t been a regular TV watcher since. All thanks to LIS. Though I did miss watching Penny and Judy.
    A few months later I bought my first rifle (at the hardware store) and started spending all of my paper route money on ammo, G&A magazine (Jeff Cooper was my favorite writer) and paperbacks (Heinlen, Abbie Hoffman, Ayn Rand, etc.)

  17. Jacques
    Jacques March 19, 2013 6:40 am

    For me getting rid of cable came 2 years ago. I started noticing on a regular basis that I would “zone out” during commercials. I mean, my mind would go into a semi-trance state, I’d lose track of seconds or even minutes – and when I tried to recall what program I was just in the midst of watching – I drew a blank.

    This would only happen while watching the idiot box.

    There were times I had to literally shake myself back to full consciousness. For a while I started to avert my gaze while any commercial was on – and that seemed to help. But not having broadcast / cable has worked even better.

    I use the TV to watch DVDs and VHS tapes. Other than that, it’s now a mindless drone.

  18. Mic
    Mic March 19, 2013 7:58 am

    I don’t hate TV, but I don’t love it either. I am pretty ambivalent to it. I have a few shows I like to watch like Walking Dead for example and I do watch movies using Netflix.

    I enjoy reading more and read a lot. I am trying really hard to wean myself off all “news” programs, which thanks to hanging out here I have pretty much come to disdain as I realize that Claire’s observations about it are dead on. All of these “experts” who just yell at each other so half the audience agrees with one person and half agrees with the other and neither says anything meaningful or useful that I couldn’t have lived without.

    I am working on cultivating my alternative sources of news and the process is coming along, but still has a ways to go.

  19. Bonnie
    Bonnie March 19, 2013 9:15 am

    Haven’t watched tv in years. Or I should say, modern tv. We often “time travel” & watch Dragnet, Andy Griffith, Perry Mason, & so on. Our public library has many of these on DVD. The tv is almost always on at my sister’s, so I’m exposed to it when we visit – about once a year or so. I’m not impressed.

    We listen to the local news on the radio & often the national “news” that runs before it. But we’ve noticed that what is called “news” is usually about entertainment people (including sports) & we have no idea who they are talking about.

  20. Tim
    Tim March 19, 2013 9:30 am

    I’ve emailed a link to this column to my friends.

    TV is picking and choosing a few diamonds, a few workable stones from the mountain that is s*** — much of what is on is drearily vulgar or consists of such fast camera shots that I’m reminded I am not 10 years old with a ritalin addled brain.

    Thanks Claire.

  21. cctyker
    cctyker March 19, 2013 8:54 pm

    Could “Kutcher” be pronounced like “Butcher”?

  22. IndividualAudienceMember
    IndividualAudienceMember March 20, 2013 9:08 am

    “Sheesh. They sound just like Ayn Rand villains.”

    And they can’t even blame it on having a bad day, or a momentary tactical error.

    The number one thing I don’t miss about TV, the storm-scare.

    The local news would get many people fearful of an approaching storm, otherwise sound people would stay home from work, afraid of a little snow or ice or whatever. Then if a person stayed with it, the national networks would come on and double-down on the storm-scare.

    The final two years I watched TV, they had a storm-scare at the end of the Winter season which turned out to be all bluster and no bite. It was then I noticed the pattern and how effective it was.

    The people on TV are not family and friends.
    It’s too bad that many others don’t see it that way as well.

  23. rickd
    rickd March 20, 2013 9:45 am

    You said:
    “But just before viewing that Maddow clip, I was reading Atlas Shrugged and thinking how cartoonishly absurd Rand’s whining, sloganeering villains sounded. Rand presents her bad guys as people who’ve given up thinking, who can only parrot slogans, make self-righteous demands, and ultimately devour the brains of their betters. People who have no inner selves, but only a parasitic existance.”

    But in truth, or should I say “fiction”, when writing your characters have to be more vivid, more “over the top” and are definitely caricatures of a real person who has all their best and/or worst properties brought to the forefront. I suppose it is what makes characters in fiction, in truth, believable πŸ™‚

    In REALITY I tend to get mad and can rant and rave at times; which certainly detracts from a point I might be attempting to make to an audience. Emotion for the Left however is what drives them, drives their agendas and drives their “wins” when they get them. In our case (The “Right” or Conservative or Libertarian) we all tend to try to be logical, reasonable, explain our positions and try to convince people through such means and data as we have to hand.

    Unfortunately, 90% of the public is a television-watching-stuck-on-Idol-got-talent-zombies-and-drama and can’t truly get past the fiction of television. Every conspiracy theory ever thrown into the mix out there was nothing more than “projection” on the part of those who were actually working out the details of the Fall of American. It’s all coming to bite us in the ass.

  24. Douglas Nusbaum
    Douglas Nusbaum March 20, 2013 11:51 am

    “Ill informed morons shouting at each other.” And this differs from almost all of what is on the internet, especially replies and commentary, in what way exactly?

    I would refer the author the NPR, PBS, and various magazines that do not have pictures of celebreties on the cover.

    Also, the fantasy mystery shows are pretty good. At least good enough that I seldom see the ending coming before 1/2 way through and often not until the end. The mentalist, sherlock. I do not watch “reality” cop shows like bluebloods or CSI. They are repetitious and predictable

  25. Claire
    Claire March 20, 2013 12:31 pm

    “And this differs from almost all of what is on the internet, especially replies and commentary, in what way exactly?”

    It differs in that most of the shouting done on the ‘Net is done by everyday, non-paid, non-showcased folk who are doing it for their own entertainment/passion/neuroses/boredom/bullheadeness, etc. We should expect (and for many years we got) a higher standard from people who are paid millions of dollars for their supposed “expertise.”

    Yeah, I know TV news has just become another form of entertainment and that vulgar, stupid, and loud are selling points, these days. But seems to me if the networks are going to stoop as low as they’re stooping with their alleged news and alleged informed commentary, they’d be just as well off to fire the Maddows and O’Reilleys and let Internet trolls take the stage for free. Save ’em a bunch of money.

  26. steve
    steve March 23, 2013 5:49 am

    I appear to be the oddball here. I watch a lot of news. The big four networks basically. I take care of my elderly parents. They read but only for short stretches before it becomes uncomfortable for them. So they watch tv. They both hate most modern television shows considering them to have way too much potty talk and sexual innuendo. So, my dad watches sports. And, my mom watches the news (all of them).

    Some impressions of mine. I think if all the networks present the same exact take on a story, then I assume it is being fed to them by government sources and I consider it propaganda. If the government (or some portion of it) has to deny something three or more times on the news then it is almost certainly true. It is almost impossible to get a job as a talking head if you are not pro-war (pro every war.) All the networks seem to agree on this. The only exception I can think of is Judge Napolitano (a hard libertarian. and tje loneliest talking head out there) But, then he hasn’t been working since the start of a war. I expect he will either have to change his tune or lose his job when one comes along.

  27. Ken Hagler
    Ken Hagler March 23, 2013 9:14 am

    The last time I watched network television news was years ago when visiting someone I’d gone to school with, who lived in Las Vegas at the time. He insisted on watching the news on the three networks, and I noticed that despite there being three different news shows with different people, at different times, on different channels, they were practically identical–even down to using the same stupid “spontaneous” jokes at the same time in each show.

  28. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau March 23, 2013 7:32 pm

    One wonders whether the “common taters” ever sit down in front of a mirror, like circus clowns of olde days, and ask themselves what the hell they are doing. Or maybe they actually believe the crap they dish out?

    Look at the bright side. The Walter Cronkites might have kept reasonably intelligent people spellbound with ruling class propaganda, but “standards” have gone so low that anyone with half a brain can’t be paying much attention any more.

    Oh, and if I see another edgy series about New York cops, I’m gonna scream.

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