Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Good News: Media giants may darken your TV!

For several years I’ve been among a group of activists encouraging folks to turn off their TVs — at least for TV-Turnoff Week, the third week in April.

With no support from the media (surprise!), it’s been a tough sell.

Now it seems that we have some help from battling media giants. The battle may turn off FOX on the hundreds of thousands of Time Warner cable-connected TV sets.

One of many stories about the struggle is here.

Not surprisingly, the fight is over money. With media, it’s always about money. Ultimately, it’s your money. Think cable subscription costs and the add-on price you pay for advertising.

FOX, the cable content provider, wants Time-Warner, the content delivery corporation, to pay more for Fox’s programming. Dueling full-page ads in the newspapers thinly hide the greed that is behind the industry.

Today’s New York Times ran the vying ads just pages apart.

Here’s FOX’s headline:



The ad tells viewers they may not be able to see the college bowl game in which Cincinnati plays Florida. Horrors!

Or watch the NFL. A real blow!

Or tune in to “American Idol.” Say it isn’t so!

Faced with such dire threats, says the FOX ad, irate viewers should sign an on-line petition.

My suggestion: Let the screen, on all channels, go to black. Give life a try without televised football and “American Idol." Go out and toss the football with your kids or sing idolized (TV) freedom songs together. "We shall over come...."

Now for the Time Warner ad. This one is laid out like a ransom note from FOX. It is headlined with cut-out, askew, mismatched ransom-note letters:


Get it?

Time Warner’s tag line is “Don’t let FOX hold your TV hostage.”

Consider this. How threatening is the demand and how valuable is the hostage if said hostage is actually stealing your time and money?

Is there another hostage here? Could you be hostage to your own TV addiction?

The fact is that whatever Time Warner and Fox work out as their deal is going to come out of the pockets of cable subscribers like you. Could it be that Time Warner is worried you will actually pull the plug on your cable service if FOX goes missing, or if your rates go up?

Perhaps. Imagine, no more inflated monthly charges in this time of economic hardship. And then there's always the competition from the Internet.

No, this is not a life-and-death hostage situation as Time Warner would have us believe. It is take-it-or-leave-it time for cable television.

So just leave it. And leave FOX and Time Warner to fight over programming that is suddenly worthless because no one is watching.

Here are the dueling web sites:

Time Warner’s

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Vagaries of Volunteerism

Something happened in Hillsdale in the last 36 hours that has led me to think about a variation on Joseph Stalin’s chilling quote:

The death of one man is a tragedy.

The death of millions is a statistic.

What happened here is that an elderly couple with dwindling resources was in need of volunteer labor to do a very specific task. The word went out via the e-mail grapevine. The couple’s need was a compelling story. It also seemed to resonate with the holiday season.

The result was that many more would-be volunteers stepped up to help than were needed. A logistical crisis was in the making until someone with a grasp of what was needed said, “Whoa! Let a few of us take care of this.”

In short, the volunteerism threatened to overwhelm the problem and impose itself on the elderly victims.

That might be the end of the story, but as someone who watched this tale unfold (and volunteered to help) I’m trying to capture the excess energy before it vanishes.

Could all of us interested in helping the couple be enlisted to, say, prepare hundreds (including ourselves) for a natural disaster? Afterall, we’ve been warned of the devastation from an earthquake that is predicted to decimate our neighborhood before the middle of the century.

I fear it’s unlikely the desire to help the couple will transfer to the larger problem. It’s not just that the switch from the graphic story of two elderly neighbors to the epic of an entire neighborhood destroyed is like going from “tragedy” to “statistics.” We also go from an immediate, visible need to one that has no visible form — yet.

The question is still worth raising: Can we would-be volunteers envision what the aftermath of disaster might look like — and take it equally to heart? Can we then, with energy similar to that we were willing to direct to the couple, set about mitigating a disaster’s damage?

I wouldn’t count on it, but I’d love to be proven wrong for the same reason I'd love to have Stalin proven wrong.

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