Jewish World Review July 26, 2001 / 6 Menachem-Av, 5761

Ian Shoales

Ian Shoales
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Consumer Reports

The Bride of Science -- I ONCE took comfort in ghostly prints of lame movies, all the late shows with psycho doctors throwing massive switches, and cackling, "Soon you will be a bride of science!" I was a conneisseur of scratchy bombs from the fifties, each with its own stalwart scientist sipping coffee with a general's daughter, as they look out the picture window at giant dormant irradiated insects: "We're safe for now, darling, behind this circle of electricity."

These movies would be interrupted every three minutes by the owner of Carpets N' Chairs, who'd show murky slides of a furniture showroom, and cozily invite us to pay nothing for three months: "We handle our own accounts." I didn't buy their furniture and paid nothing for years.

But the late show is gone, another victim of the twentieth century. Today we pay through the nose for everything. If you don't have cable, the only movies left to watch after midnight are made-for-teevee things from the seventies, which all seem to star either Peter Lawford, or Susan Clark in a hideous orange pants-suit. Even those are scarce. I guess retailers finally realized that the insomniacs, substance abusers, and conspiracy theorists who make up an all-night-movies audience aren't the ideal candidates for a layaway plan.

Now that cable has snapped up every bad movie, which they show forty-seven times a week, day or night, what does non-cable have to offer? Primetime, daytime, anytime--even during sweeps weeks--they show the cheapest sweepings their old brooms can find: game shows, home videos, tabloid news shows, celebrity interviews, find-that-criminal programs, infomercials, reality programming, and feeds from cable.

Court TV probably started it all when it fed us the trial of William Kennedy Smith; this low-rent spectacle's only unnecessary expense (besides the videotape itself) was the creation of glowing holes where the faces of witnesses ought to be. But what an amazing effect! Talk about your bride of science. Industrial Light & Magic, eat your heart out.

But I don't want to wax nostalgic about those good old days, when The Brain That Wouldn't Die was as ubiquitous on the three a.m. dial as It's a Wonderful Life is on Christmas today. As a matter of fact, I have a few cost-effective ideas for the programmers of tomorrow.

DATV. Witnesses on sleazy syndicated news shows frequently have their faces and voices digitally altered. Why not apply this silly technology to the celebrity interview? Make a game show in which contestants try to guess the identity of electronically scrambled stars, their only clues the celebrities' answers to professional sycophants' questions. Who is it? Julia Roberts or Richard Dreyfus? Bette Midler or Sting?

SECURITY CAM! A car lock is jimmied in a New Jersey parking lot. A teenager shoplifts salsa from a convenience store in Nevada. That man in the lobby of the apartment building in Seattle-- is he truly from UPS, or is he a deadly impostor? Fast-paced editing of live video from surveillance systems around the country will let viewers experience firsthand the boredom and danger of the urban lifestyle.

RAW FOOTAGE NETWORK. Satellite feeds, the daily rushes from movies-in-production, unedited news clips-- everything from outtakes to bloopers will show you the fascinating process of image-making, 24 hours a day, without the unnecessary expense of post-production. At Raw Footage, you are the editor.

THE RENTAL CHANNEL. All you need are a television, a touch-tone phone, and your good credit to rent (even lease!) hundreds of items at an exclusive video discount.

INFOTAINMENT PLUS. All infomercials, all the time!

SPEAKERPHONE PHOLLIES. Cameras hidden in elite Manhattan and Hollywood conference rooms let you eavesdrop on the brainstorming sessions of desperate television marketting strategists. You are practically there, as they chew stale bagels, sip tepid decaf, and wearily heft volumes of demographic research! See their joyless struggle to create new programming for mere pennies a day! This show will bring home the grim economic reality of television production to you and your entire family. Fun!

Sure, I'd rather watch wooden actors fry mutated arachnids with death rays, but we've got to face facts! The overgrown nuclear lobster is a thing of the past, gone with the Cold War. Come, enter the the Millennium with a vengeance! Call our toll-free number. Catch a criminal. Experience interactive intimacy. (Three dollars first minute, brides of science void where prohibited.) Visit our web site! (Er, scratch that.) Order now!

JWR contributor Ian Shoales is the author of, among others, Not Wet Yet: An Anthology of Commentary. Comment by clicking here.


07/23/01: That java jive
07/17/01: Homogenized hegemony
07/13/01: Applying Newton's First Law of Physics to textbooks
07/10/01: The dumb and the dead

© 2001, Ian Shoales