I recently wrote, here, about the federal government's $1.3 billion Hollywood stimulus package but thought I'd briefly revisit the idea.
A New York Times piece, which read more like an article from the Onion, recently reported that the feds, including the nascent Obama administration, are calling for a delay in the scheduled February 17 switchover from analog to digital TV.
Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, D-West Virginia, a proponent of the switchover delay, indicated his concern that a February 17 switchover "is going to hit our most vulnerable citizens — the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and those with language barriers — the hardest."
My heart bleeds too, Mr. Senator, but it does so more along the lines of doing something to ensure that "the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and those with language barriers" get the food, shelter, clothing, love, medical attention, and education they need, not a government promise of subsidized digital TV.
I'll tell you why I feel this way, Mr. Senator. Everyone is talking about how bad the United States' economy is, how we're headed for some tough times. Yet the federal government's move to provide mind-numbing television brings us alarmingly close to Aldous Huxley's idea of "amusing ourselves to death," as found in his novel Brave New World.
Perhaps you hadn't considered it this way, Mr. Senator, but during this recession what we need is less TV watching and more wealth producing labor. Let me illustrate. The New York Times piece indicated that 7.8 million American households were without a digital TV converter box as of December 2008. The Economist reported that in 2005, the average American household daily watched 8.18 hours (8 hours, 11 minutes) of television. The current, federally mandated minimum wage is $6.55 per hour.
What then is the gross value of a year of TV watching given the aforementioned numbers? 7.8 million American households x 8.18 hours TV watching per day x $6.55 per hour x 365 days per year = $15,239,413,000!
Again, that's $15.2 billion, Mr. Senator; enough to make even a Rockefeller smack his lips a little, don't you think? Yet the federal government is providing the incentive for the American people to sit on their duffs instead of going out and generating the type of wealth that would buttress the failing economy.
Yes, Mr. Senator, my heart bleeds: in part for the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and those with language barriers; in part because the government's subsidies for digital television are greater than its support for graduate students; in part because this controversy is indicative of a decaying society.
On the bright side, however, this unfolding drama should, no doubt, prove worthy of a good made-for-TV movie. I hope everyone can get a digital converter box by the time it airs.