I haven’t watched much television recently. By much I mean none, and by recently I mean a year… at least. A short enough time to appreciate the joys of being without, but not long enough to break the psychological dependency. The last televised thing I recall was the horror of the general election – who could forget it, but who wants to remember? But now the Cricket World Cup is here and the news shows have all started up again it seems like enough excuses to go back to old habits, to repeat the same pathology.
The set top shit box we were forced to buy when the government turned off analogue signals – the one that promised free viewing – cost about $80. The outer provincial areas aren’t covered by the built-in FV tuners so we have to buy a separate box for satellite. This is the sacrifice of the fringes to make it commercially viable. It is resented, vehemently.
Last year – probably within a few seconds of the warranty expiring – the Freeview shit box fucked out; or at least began the tortuous process of fucking out. The process of deliberate self-destruction retains just enough confidence through the initial stages of dysfunction to lull the viewer into thinking it will come right, and then after stringing you along for a painful journey of checking, rechecking and hauling wires out from the back of old Bug-eye, it then dies completely. And when you have truly given up, when it senses you really don’t care anymore, it suddenly does come on again – because its a leap day or whatever – and then, it will cut out just as hope is restored. This is the way the shit box has been developed: not just planned obsolescence, but planned inconvenience. And it is all terribly frustrating and you regret very much not having thrown it against a wall or knocked it for six in the backyard like you would have done the first time had you known it wouldn’t work again.
If that is $80 worth of free viewing sitting there on the driveway in a mangled mess with a cricket bat edge indented across it – if that is what an official Freeview badge gets you – then how much do you have to pay to get more than 14 or so months of free television? Pay for one over $100 – will that be enough? or do you have to pay more than that to get proper free television? Over a lifetime how many thousands of dollars will someone in a provincial area have to pay to recieve free television? No, it used to be free – when it was analogue. It only started costing money since Freeview. It is a fiendish deception.
TV, being as shitey as it is, means there didn’t seem much point buying another shit box. But you do. Pathologically. Addiction not quite broken.
The first image that came on was actually Steven Segal. All greasy haired ponytail, piss hole rodent eyes, wearing a jacket without a collared shirt and trying to chat up this woman with 90s hair. A complete anti-climax and I wasn’t going to stick around for the silly slap hands fighting that was sure to follow. Then the other channels. Ads and stuff. A sports channel had come and gone in the interim, so the only difference than a year or so ago was that all the first ten channels are now full. Unfortunately full of the same stations an hour later. I didn’t notice any new channels. The TAB racing channel had gone. The whole thing was anti-climactical. The Simon and Wendy dolls on the news, the atrocious Hosko etc. it was all a bit shit. Watching X Factor the other night wring out every drop of suspense was just the sort of editing overkill that makes reality show formats so unpalatable. It’s all just stuff, just garbled bits of different channels as your fingers twitch over the buttons of the remote control.
Looking back on a year the most interesting viewing was Dot Com’s mega ‘Moment of Truth’ at the Auckland Town Hall. It was the first live net broadcast I’d seen. At least the only one I remember and that kept my attention for any length of time. I watched it all the way through with someone else and it kept both of our attention the whole way – about two hours (and without any ads of you don’t include Kim’s jarring plugs). For me this was a watershed moment. The essence of television is as a live medium – not as an outlet of prerecorded content. Some TV channels resemble archives rather than the moment, but that is not what TV is about. Most networks have content available from their websites anyway, but nothing going out live. What the Moment of Truth did was present a live staged event across the Internet. It was popular, it had star pull, it was local, it was international, it resembled or replicated the essence of television. There wasn’t any technical barrier or expense or of lag issues, it was a constant stream of images and audio on a laptop. The expreience was a television experience. And there was no need for a separate bloody box. For me this was a cross-over point where the Internet became television. So I had to ask myself: did television just become redundant? The answer – after watching a few days worth of 2015 Freeview television – is: yes.