Are you as tired of munchkin TV as I am? How people watch their spiffy new widescreen TVs is an indicator not only of how savvy they are technically, but an indicator of intellectual development and the capacity for critical thinking. It also sheds some light on their political views.
We've just returned from a three-week road trip. I'm getting a handle on motel travel in the 21st century. I carry the laptop into the office and make the clerk stand there and work with me until we can make the wi-fi work. Next, I ask which cable provider they use for the TVs in the rooms. Once in the room, I go to my TV log web site and change my location to the current ZIP code and pick the cable provider indicated by the desk clerk. I get a complete TV schedule on screen so we can switch on our favorite shows immediately.
But, finding out what's available to watch is only the beginning. The set has to be configured for proper viewing and most motel televisions are not. Once the TV is on, you have to fix the picture unless the room has an old-style cathode ray tube (CRT) television with a 4:3 aspect ratio. It's always screwed up if the room has a modern, widescreen, flat panel display with a 16:9 aspect ratio. It never fails. Hotels, like the overwhelming majority of Americans, have TVs with horizontally stretched-out pictures. This distortion has now become the norm. Many people now consider this strange configuration "right" and will take umbrage if you try to use the monitor's controls to restore the image to a normal aspect ratio. In other words, they steadfastly insist on keeping something screwed up and glaringly wrong that could easily be fixed and work much better with minimal effort.
Digression: Does that found familiar? People who watch messed up television are a lot like brain-dead Republican dupes who "don't want no dang-burned socialized medicine!" They bitch and moan about the failure of the schools to educate the young, but won't authorize taxes to fund improvements. They want government services, but are afraid to tax the rich to pay them because that's "class warfare". They don't believe what their eyes tell them and think the TV is "set up right" because the moron who installed it and all their ignorant friends told them so. It's clearly a denial of an objective reality that they refuse to acknowledge.But, back to TV pictures. The stretched displays look ridiculous and makes me nauseous. Everyone, even a skinny model, looks like a dorky little hobbit. Dancing With The Stars was totally ruined for my girlfriend; it was just ugly to watch. On American Idol, Jennifer Lopez's ass was huge, and not pretty at all. The girls all looked Ukrainian, with no neck, thick-set bodies and wide, oval faces. This makes scrawny skanks look almost cute, but normal girls, and especially the more voluptuous ones, look like pigs. They guys all look like midgets. It's downright freaky.
You've surely seen this in sports bars: Munchkin athletes with chunky, fat, baby arms scramble around the field, their stubby, little legs pumping furiously and propelling their squat bodies around with amazing speed and surreal, long strides. On the basketball court, the NBA players look like people around 5'6" tall instead of the elegant, elongated wonders of nature that they are. This is just wrong and you know it. If you try to watch dancers or acrobats, they look ridiculous and freakish. Normal people look like hobbits. Short, chunky people look like trolls. The visual esthetic of every beautiful image is destroyed, replaced by an abhorrent, fun-house specter. It begs the question, "We've switched to digital TV and upgraded to widescreen, high-definition monitors for this?"
If the motel supplies the controller that came with the TV, you can adjust the aspect ratio and zoom to fit the show and channel you're watching (e.g., 4:3, 16:9, 16:9 letter-boxed in a 4:3 format). If they supply only the cable box controller, you're screwed unless you can figure out how to use the monitor's display controls using the buttons on the bottom, back or side of the set. Installers of motel TVs always put it in "stretch mode" where the 4:3 standard definition (i.e., "basic cable") signal is spread out to fit the 16:9 display of the new, ubiquitous, flat-screen TVs. If the channel is letter-boxed 16:9 to fit into a 4:3 display, it's stretched out wide, with black stripes at the top and bottom. If they just put it in zoom mode, everything would look fine. They seem to think the spread display is "right". Go figger.
If they used zoom mode as a default, mandatory setting, then the letter-boxed shows would look right, and fill the screen, with no truncation of the image. With a simple zoom-up, 4:3 formatted shows would still have the proper aspect ratio but have 25% of the total picture truncated in two strips at the top and bottom of the screen. You'd still be able to watch the show with the right aspect ratio, and only lose 25% of the picture overall.
Have you noticed how shows now allow more unused space in the image, especially on the sides, to allow for truncation? Most people will not even notice truncation when it occurs because the signal is now formatted so that no important information is shown anywhere near the top, bottom, left or right sides. Have you noticed how the logo "brand" of the network or channel is 1/8 of the screen width in from the right edge and 1/8 of the screen height above the bottom edge? Have you noticed how text overlays always start 1/8 of the screen width from the left edge, and 1/8 of the screen height below the top edge or above the bottom edge? They're making sure that if someone sets up their TV to truncate part of the image, they will still see the logo or the text overlay.
I'm getting the impression that most of the people in the country are watching horizontally stretched-out TV now. It's gotten that no one expects people on TV to look like normal human beings any more. Whenever I've mentioned how the TV in a public place or someone's home is not set up properly, they give me an argument and insist that it looks right to them that way. I've even demonstrated how to fix it and they usually want me to "put it back the way it was". It almost makes me cry. It's like going back to the B&W days after color TV became universal.
Here's what triggered this essay. I stayed at "The Palazzo" in Las Vegas, Nevada, on the trip. (They never, for some reason, refer to it as a "hotel". Why?) The owner, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who was Gingrich's biggest contributor, likes Fox News. The TVs in all public places always have Fox News on. Being the classy, hi-toned place in town that it is, every TV in the hotel is a modern flat-screen monitor with a 16:9 display. (Our suite had three of them!) Despite such a commitment to quality TV viewing, Adelson's minions have opted to go cut corners with the cable feed for the hotel: It's standard definition with a 4:3 aspect ratio. This big-shot, pretentious palace has a low-rent, cheap-ass, basic cable TV feed. To me, a guy who fancies himself as something of a techie because of 30 years of work with computers and video, that's hilarious. All the fancy amenities in the room, including a fax/scanner and high-speed internet access, are combined with the kind of TV that some guy in a trailer watches on a second-hand, 13", 4:3 aspect ratio, CRT set using a coat hanger for an antenna. (Snicker, snicker.)
I want you to picture this. I'm in the Palazzo's "Prestige" hospitality suite, sipping a hearty brew (Guinness) and my companion, the oenophile, is already into her second glass of premium wine from a snooty winery in California that we visited three years ago. We're sitting on gaudy, overstuffed chairs looking out the window at the view of Treasure Island across the street, which is exactly the same view as from our suite one floor above. The drinks are complimentary and so are the gourmet hors d'oeuvres we're nibbling on. It's quite posh. As I bite into my third prosciutto-wrapped, oversize shrimp, I glance up and see the Faux Nooz talking heads yammering, mouthing their usual panoply of inane, mendacious drivel. Mercifully, the sound is turned down enough so you can't hear it unless you're right under the set. Unable to hear the TV, I'm looking at the image as purely visual data, colored dots of light magically presented to my view, rather than as live people talking and conveying information. It's distorted, stretched out horizontally, just as every other TV in the hotel is by default, including the three in our suite. But, this channel is a little different than most on the cheesy 4:3 cable lineup. The local Fox channel has letter-boxed the image so people who have an old-style, analog, cathode ray tube set with a 4:3 aspect ratio will be able to see the whole 16:9 image. On such sets, there will be black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. On the wide screen TV I'm looking at, the bars are still there, but the image is stretched out to fill the full width of the display. If you've read and processed the preceding text, you'll know how they should have set up the TV. The longer I sit there eating one tasty tidbit after another, and washing it down with equally high-end beverages, the more incongruous this messed up picture seems to me. I expect this in the type of run-down, grungy dive I generally frequent, where they don't have Guinness or particularly good wine, but not here, not at "The Palazzo"!
The squat, fat-headed commentators are even uglier than they are in real life. Karl Rove looks like Humpty Dumpty. Gretchen Carlson looks like one of those Scandinavian troll dolls with the wild, day-glo hair. Sean Hannity looks like Spanky McFarland. I'm actually enjoying this up to a point. When I start reading the crawl at the bottom of the screen, though, I have to look away. It might spoil the taste of the skewered chicken breast pieces slathered in chipotle sauce. Maybe I'll have one of those tiny polenta disks with fussy toppings to clear my palate before having another drink and some more of those stuffed Asian noodle sheets tied with a tiny bow of seaweed. More cheese and crostini? Please! One can only stand so much triple-cream, soft-ripened Cambozola, brie or Gorgonzola. Maybe I'll just have another vegetable empanada and a few crudités. I've got to save room for an espresso and a crème brûlée, or maybe the raspberry parfait, or the baklava -- oh, what the hell -- I'll have one of each. They're small.
Just as you can't tell brain-dead Republican dupes that socialized medicine won't kill them and that, in fact, it will make them healthier, and at a much lower cost, you can't tell intransigent, single-minded, arrogant billionaires, or their sheep-like toadies, how to configure their TVs. They won't listen because they know what's right, and, by God, they don't want to be confused in their certitude. For the TVs, you have to change them one by one as they come under your control. (I did this in every hotel room on the trip.) Maybe they will stay the way you leave them for a while before someone restores the distorted image. Maybe a few people will notice that the TV looks different, and better than it used to, before it's changed back. Maybe some of these who do get the picture, literally, will return home and fix their own TVs.
For medical care, we'll have to put the system in place, despite all the squawking and caterwauling from stupid, silly people, before we the general consensus to change. Eventually, most people will come around to appreciate single-payer, universal health care, but only after it's a fait accompli, and has been so for a good while. Some people in Britain were skeptical for a while after 1948 when the National Health Service was established, but only those who were wealthy enough to afford decent health care on their own. The working class loved it right away because suffering for want of medical care ceased abruptly. Now, everyone likes it and fiercely protects it, except the obscenely rich (the top 0.01%) who can easily pay to get customized, top-flight, private care and not consider the expense. The British consider universal medical care as part of their patrimony, extended to them by a benevolent government in gratitude for their staunch defense of the homeland during World War II. In other words, health care is a human right, something they have earned and richly deserve.
We think health care is something you have to purchase dearly, and do without if you can't afford it, because not having enough money to pay for the care you need presupposes laziness and defect of character. We think this mainly because most of us are under the delusion that our woefully inadequate health insurance policies will take care of us in the event of a health catastrophe. This illusion is only dispelled when you get sick, can't work, lose insurance coverage and are financially ruined by medical expenses. No one really believes that they will be totally screwed by unexpected illness until it happens to them, a family member or a close friend.
It's completely a matter of perception, and not at all an ideological issue. Those most vehemently opposed to "Obama-care" are often those who want and need universal health care the most, old people of moderate means who rely on Medicare. Those who finance this negative frenzy are those who have the most to gain by preventing the shutting down of health insurance companies and the absorption of all private medical facilities into a tax-funded, government entity. Once the insane perception is dispelled that no-cost-per-incident health care will kill you, impoverish you or otherwise diminish your quality of life, universal health care will be resoundingly instituted by popular demand. That's the problem, though. The Lumpenproletariat are still skeptical and afraid to vote in health care advocates because they are afraid of everything that is new and unfamiliar to them. Prudent gun control, equal rights for gays and lesbians, control and dominion over one's own body, enforcement of a secular system of government, peace, equitable taxation, publicly-financed education, environmental stewardship -- and universal health care -- are perceived as unseemly only because they are presented that way on biased, corporatist, flagrantly propagandist news media. Even fairly objective news organs like PBS are forced to countenance tea-bagger "crazy talk" as it were rational discourse. The progressive agenda seems weird to you, but only if you are living in the insulated Bizarro world where that is all you see and hear on your wide screen, HD TV with an SD signal stretched horizontally to fill the space. If you've ever lived in a developed foreign country for a while, and you were not fabulously wealthy, progressive ideas aren't weird at all and make a lot of sense. Usually, that's the way things have been for as long as anyone can remember.
If we consider the acceptance of correct TV display configuration as an analogy to acceptance of universal health care and other progressive goals, we can see how it will go. Now, a minority of viewers have their TVs set up right. It's higher among the better educated and those who have enough money to afford a high-definition cable signal. It's higher among technical professionals and the young. I've found it to be highest among those who objectively reason and are not afraid to delve into a little technical detail to get to the truth of the matter, you know, the kind of people who read and have informed opinions. In a couple of years, expect to see more people get on board with the proper display of 16:9 video. Once the little cartoon light bulb appears above your head and is turned on, it's obvious how silly and totally unnecessary it was to watch munchkin TV. Let's hope we get socialized medicine set in place soon and that the populace at large has a similar epiphany about it.
The poll is about your TV picture. I want to sample how progressives deal with television, and compare that with how the populace at large deals with it.