We haven't had a TV at the Turbopalace for the past four or five months (previously we had a little one on loan from Stay Of Execution
, but she needed it back.) Haven't really missed it, much. But on very rare occasions there might be something worth watching, such as the PBS documentary on Neil Young that was going to air this past Wednesday.
On Tuesday, we were taking a walk around the neighborhood (this is what people without TV's do after supper) and saw a tiny little tube-type TV sitting on the curb. We stopped and gazed at it. A man came down the driveway and urged us to take it away. "It works fine", he said. "But I can't give it away." We debated, sort of the way you might debate if someone was urging you to adopt the cute little boy from The Omen. But in the end we decided it would be okay. We'd just watch Neil Young, then consider putting it back on the street.
Back home, I plugged in the little set and affixed my old rabbit-ear antennas. Unfortunately, I couldn't bring in PBS. Or anything else, except one channel, barely. Then I remembered that all but one local station had already switched over to digital broadcasting. You need a little "decoder box" to get reception on an older TV. I was well-aware of this (and of the government program which heavily subsidizes the purchase of these boxes, and of where to get the vouchers for the subsidy, and of where to buy the boxes) but it had slipped my mind, because it didn't really affect me.
This is the point I was trying to get to: I, a person who almost never watches TV, was well aware of the switch-to-digital and decoder box program. I've been well aware of it for at least a year. Far more aware of it than I care to be. News about it has been plastered everywhere. The few times I've watched TV at friends' or hotel rooms, there have been "public service" announcements about the program at least every hour. It's been in the newspapers, magazines, all over the web-- unavoidable.
But, apparently, the publicity has been insufficient. The original transition date, February 17th, was pushed back to today (by act of Congress
, no less.) The date change was urged by various groups, including Consumers Union
, which warned Congress that "millions of at-risk consumers, including rural, low-income and elderly citizens across the country, could be left with blank television screens". At risk for a blank TV screen. Oh, the horror. Wouldn't it be more accurate just to say, in the immortal words of Gil Scott Heron
, that they "will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out"?
Anyway, with four extra months added to the transition, there seemed to be plenty of time. But, apparently, chaos, suffering, and unrest are still feared. MSNBC today warns that "Confusion expected as analog TV signals end", and "shutdown likely to strand more than 1 million unprepared U.S. homes". "Strand unprepared households"? Isn't this language a bit hyperbolic? There's also a slightly amusing photo
, with the following caption: "Community educator Ali Radheyyan, middle, shows Hussian Ali, right, and Wafa Nuaiman, both from Iraq, how to switch over to digital television at the Immigration Refugee Community Organization in Portland, Ore"
It is of course delightful to see someone helping newly-arrived residents figure out how to live here. But somehow it's just sad to see what that consists of. It almost looks as though Mr. Radheyyan is just going to plug the new immigrants into the Digital Reprogramming Machine and leave them to be electronically brainwashed into our superior culture. "When the machine detects that your brain has begun to crave an SUV and a McMansion, the buzzer goes off and the operator will unplug you. Later a Community Educator will come to your home to ensure that you have your digital TV reception operating. Please make sure that it is, otherwise you will have to return for another session at the Center."