Sunday, September 07, 2008

Someone is Stealing My Television Set

Someone is stealing my television set.

In the global scheme of things (11 million children dying each year of easily preventable illnesses for example), this is not a big affair. But still, a television is a television.

I remember after the levees failed in New Orleans, stealing a television set seemed to mean something. It seemed to count for something. It seemed to signify the demise of Civilization-as-we-know-it. It seemed to merit coverage on MSNBC, CNN, Fox News. Saturation coverage.

But then the term was “looting”, and people of the wrong complexion were observed with televisions that did not belong to them. In the aftermath of a “natural disaster” people were preying on their fellow man. Not for food. Not for survival. But for profit. It was, “horrible”.

The main problem with this picture of course is that it was not a natural disaster. The failure of the levees in New Orleans was a man-made disaster, caused by negligence, incompetence, and corruption: a failure of governance on an epic scale. It was not Katrina, but misrule that savaged the city, and subjected it to a kind of meteor-ideo-logical waterboarding. As thousands of people, (almost all black people) outside the New Orleans Convention Center chanted for “help, help, help, help,” and the man in charge of disaster relief asked “where is the convention center,” major news media found time for saturation coverage of a television being stolen.

But if the problem here was an abandonment of governmental responsibility, if the problem here is misrule, then stealing a television set is an entirely appropriate reaction (you do what you can to survive, I’ll trade you a television for a ticket out of the city). After decades of rule by an ‘every man for himself’ philosophy, it is hardly a surprise to find the occasional everyman acting for himself.

Which brings me back to my television set.

The same government that waterboarded the people of New Orleans has ordained that my television will stop working on or about February 2009. Whereas you may say this is not stealing in the technical sense, preventing the proper functioning of my television set by changing the broadcast standards amounts to theft just as much. You could say they are stealing the function of my television set, not the set itself. But I never would have bought the television in the first place if it wasn’t going to function.

Of course there are converter boxes. There are subsidies for buying converter boxes. But these are sops to try and make me less angry that my television set is being stolen.

But my real point is how amazing it is that no one calls this theft.

Not just one or two televisions are being taken in an environment of emergency, up to your ass in water-moccasins as the case may be, but millions, tens of millions of television sets being looted by the same people whose negligence caused the New Orleans flooding in the first place, and so far as I know not a single word of protest or objection is being raised anywhere.

When I was a child my parents would often tell a tale from Konrad Lorenz’s book “On Aggression.”

If a low ranking monkey was trained to operate a machine that gave out bananas, other members of the monkey tribe would go to that monkey and demand a banana from the machine. But if a high ranking monkey was trained, he would teach other monkeys to operate the machine for themselves. Which is to say that whether or not something is “theft” depends on the social rank of the people doing the stealing.

For over a decade now we as a society have been planning the development and delivery of HDTV, and the biggest of big players have been sharpening their cleavers for an appropriately-sized share of the action. When large corporations with names like Sony, and GE, and Panasonic, and Philips get together and agree on a schedule to reallocate the nation’s bandwidth resources, the result, whatever it is, is not theft.

Certainly it will not be reported as such in the news media that are owned by Sony, and GE.

And so on the third anniversary of the waterboarding of New Orleans, watching the faith-based coverage of the faith-based political conventions that amount to democratic thought in our soon to be HD world, I am not much worried about my television being stolen. It has been a long time since there was anything on worth watching. Come next year there will be nothing but noise, and static, fuzz and blur.

Over all, a big improvement.

1 comment:

E said...