Wednesday, September 14, 2005

"The Medium is the Message" - Marshall McLuhan

This is the first of a number of rants about media. In recent years, the popular question about the media has been "Is it biased?" However, my question for a long time has been "Is it any good?" I'm lightly touching on that, and other questions here, but I'm guessing there will be many more. Comments, as usual, are welcome.

With the help of a few friends, I put a satellite dish on top of the house. I'm not done yet, but I've got enough done so that a few channels here and there can be seen.

What I'm working on is called "Free To Air" satellite, that is, channels that haven't been scrambled. While most common cable channels are scrambled, many interesting radio and TV stations can be seen just by putting up a dish for free. So far, I've seen a few interesting things.

Before I get too much farther, please realize that I don't mean "interesting" in the way most Minnesotans mean it. It seems "interesting" is Minnesotan for "weird," "bad," and usually "wow, that was terrible, but I'm from Minnesota and we're nice, so I'll refrain from calling it that." When I say "interesting," I mean it.

Anyway, there are numerous religious channels for free. Christian, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Scientology all show up in one form or another. After watching some of the Buddhist and Christian channels (I'm waiting until I finish the installation before I can see the Muslim and Hindu stuff), I'm convinced that any religion is going to look silly and incomplete on television. If you want an honest view of Christianity, please do not turn on the TV. If you want a good view of Buddhism, please don't take a celebrity's word on the matter. And if you want a view on obscure Jewish sects, for the love of Metatron please don't ask Britney Spears.

The question of whether or not TV reflects or changes culture has been raging for decades. Personally, I believe the TV is a fun-house mirror, and those that spend too much time admiring what they see won't be able to view the real world rationally. Those who look will, even if temporarily, forget they are looking at a distorted mirror. Those who hope their religion (or their non-religion viewpoints) will be well-represented should not get their hopes up. You can't take a tradition that includes thousands of years' worth of text and ritual and expect it to translate well into a medium that is primarily used for entertainment. And TV is entertainment, right down to the words chosen by a script writer and the self-grooming an anchor does seconds before he goes on the air (another fun facet of owning a dish -- you get to watch unedited "live" news reports.) Even that which is not meant to entertain must still conform to the standards of an entertainment medium. Few ugly TV preachers exist, and -as I learned recently- the Buddhist monks and the Scientology peddlers always have a welcome and encouraging smile on TV as well.

Anyway, the picture on the top is from Dhammakaya TV, which is from a Buddhist temple in Thailand. They have a little broken English now and then, which is quite nice, but they still haven't explained why singing crocodiles in drag pop up now and then during speeches by monks. Anyone with knowledge in Southeastern Asian languages is invited to help me out, since I'm at a loss. Check out the site at the link above, the little "animated" videos are worth the time alone.

Well, that's my first media rant. Since I work in radio, I'll be ranting about that technology sometime soon.


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