Tuesday, May 3, 2011

SyFy Bean Counters...or "Stargate: Universe" Lament

There was a time when commercial television viewership was actually considered to be almost an unspoken contract between the producers and the viewers. If a user picked up a show, especially one that was serial in nature, the expectation was that the story would be satisfying and continue through its cycle to the end. The arc of the story would ebb and flow; there were times when things grew really exciting, and then weeks would pass relatively calmly while the writers set up for the next hill on the roller coaster.

Today, though, we have something completely different: A business completely run for the sake of mounting piles of $$$. There is no care for the person at the other end of the signal. The folks at SyFy--the ones who are actually making the decisions about what stays on and what goes off--simply don't care about the core SyFy viewership. What they do care about is getting cheaper shows on board so that they can maximize their profits, culturally similar to the Ferengi from the Star Trek Universe.

The core SyFy viewership is, by my estimation, an intelligent bunch. These people are well read, technologically savvy, and forward thinking. SyFy viewers lead busy, vital lives. Not all of them can catch a show on a regular schedule, so the advent of online, on-demand viewing has been a boon to them. 

SyFy viewers have great imagination and tremendous hope for our future as a species of enlightened beings. 

Hope springs eternal.

Common sense usually wins. 

Some of us remember when the television season actually lasted from September through December. Every year, like clockwork, the shows would premiere in September, then finish up in December with the Christmas special. There were a few that would continue after that through around mid-February. Then the networks would pull out all the stops in May with "sweeps", and summertime was filled up with reruns...but nobody cared anyway because everyone wanted to be outside. 

Today, the job of tracking when a season is supposed to end and begin again has become difficult. The timetable seems very helter-skelter to me; completely out of rhythm and, to be honest...frustrating.

And now I find myself in the regrettable position, once again, of having gotten attached to a fairly new show on Hulu, only to have it ripped from my grasp just two seasons into its story arc. Say it ain't so, SyFy...say it ain't so.

You can bet on one thing: The people who watch Stargate: Universe are NOT the same people who are going to tune in week after week to watch reality shows or WW-Whatever Wrestling. I would just as soon learn to speak Romulan: In other words, that's just not my world, man. Sure, some people may get into watching low-paid actors and models carrying out various pranks and pratfalls, i.e. so-called reality TV. It's just that I've seen enough people make fools out of themselves in my life that I really don't need to see any more. I mean really...if I want to see fools, I can just tune into FOX News. 

I think I'll just curl up with a book.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Harsh Realities about Empathy in 21st Century America

An acquaintance of mine recently expressed his concern at a study that showed empathy among American college students to have dropped by 40% since the mid 1970s. He asked for my opinion. I said:

I can only speak about what I see happening in the United States because that is where I live. I believe the world is becoming a less empathetic, even meaner place. Just look at how we entertain ourselves aside from the Internet. Television has become increasingly disturbing, to the point that I have had my cable disconnected and no longer turn on that particular glowing rectangular box. Our young people have grown up with a decade of war under their belts, and it's just not that unusual any more...it's a way of life. 

I was born and reared in the Midwest, and as an adult have lived on the West Coast, the Southeast Coast, and in the American Southwest. I even lived in Australia. Now, I have returned to my Midwest roots, and I'm happy to be looking out the window right now at a glistening snowscape. I returned less than a year ago, after spending 6 years in the Phoenix, Arizona area.

Phoenix was not at all the enlightened society for which I had hoped. I found it to be, in a word, mean. I could never discern if people were angry because of the hot weather, or if it had something to do with group-think, or if it was just because the Phoenix area is populated primarily with people who are from "someplace else." I do know this: Maricopa County, Arizona is one boiling hotbed of anger and resentment. I came to call the local TV newscast Fear and Loathing in the Valley of the Sun. Now, understand this: Fear and Loathing is business as usual for the folks in Maricopa County. It's a way of life. You take any young person, and saturate their mind with enough violence and hate, this way of thinking becomes completely normal to them. In fact, it has to become their personal norm, because otherwise they would find themselves spiraling downward into a generation-wide depression from which they would not be able to climb.

I was recently engaged in a discussion regarding the need for some type of healthcare coverage in the US that would ensure all citizens have a right to and are able to afford at least the most basic care, including things like treatment for chronic illness. My partner in this discussion was a young man who is near 30 years old. He goes to my church. He is dead-set against any type of national healthcare plan. I asked him what I should do if were ever to lose insurance coverage due to job loss or other unforeseen circumstances. He replied that I could die, but that I would be in a better place.

Seriously...I do believe in the Lord, and Heaven, but I'm in no hurry to rush to the end. If that were a popular point of view, we would see more cases of mass suicide i.e. Jonestown. Other young people I have talked to, in general, about this gap in the American social system seem to think that if a person has no insurance, they can just go to the Emergency Room to be treated. Show me an Emergency Room that will diagnose and treat something like, oh, cancer, and I'll show you an honest to goodness jackalope. The truth is: Neither exists in reality. 

Also...it is most definitely not loving nor is it an empathetic stance to tell someone to die simply because they have no healthcare coverage. 

If you're worried about the capacity for empathy of future generations:
  • Turn off the television and get the magazines out of your personal dwelling.
  • Take your kids to volunteer at a local home for the aged, senior citizens center, homeless shelter, or hospital.
  • Teach your grandkids how to care for other living creature, such as a bird, a hamster, a cat, or a dog...or even a houseplant.
Above all, teach through your own actions:
  • When someone comes up and asks you for a dollar, don't judge; if you have the dollar, pass it on.
  • If you notice someone at the theater, the mall, or the restaurant waiting area who looks lonely or sick, ask them how they're doing, or if they need anything (and mean it).
  • If another driver pulls out in front of you or cuts you off in traffic, don't lose your temper, especially in front of your kid or grandkid: It's not the end of the world!!

Don't forget the so-called universal Golden Rule: Treat others as you want to be treated. Take it a step further, and love others the way you want to be loved. Brotherly love, compassion...These are not words to describe emotion--they are words to describe action. Take action, and make a difference in the future.