It is 43 years since Newton Minow, addressing the National Association of Broadcasters in his debut as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, became famous by calling American television "a vast wasteland."
Four decades later, it has sunk into one huge swamp.
Saturday night, I had dinner with two lovely ladies in the grill room of a fancy club. A giant TV occupied much of the far wall. I was facing the set, and because of its huge size without choice I spent the next half hour watching Andy Roddick earn his way into the finals of the Canadian tennis Masters, where he was pulverized by Roger Federer.
When the match ended, the set unfortunately was left on.
What ESPN showed then was something that carried a logo repeating, with gross exaggeration and downright dishonesty, "America’s Greatest Events." It turned out to be a nauseating, disgusting half-hour commercial for a hot dog manufacturer, who won’t get any free plug here and whose product I henceforth will avoid like Bubonic plague.
The show illustrated, repetitively and with total tastelessness, how low this medium has sunk, what trash it will display, and just how far it will go to pander to the lowest common denominator of humanity.
It was called the World Championship of Hot Dog Eating, or some such trashy title, and it reminded me of 20 or 30 pigs slurping slop at a trough. Fortunately the ladies I was with had their backs to the screen. I had no recourse or respite.
The contestants, many 300-pounders with giant beer bellies and silly grins, as you might expect, others including a little 90-pound Oriental lady and a Japanese champion, were given 12 minutes to put on a display of disgusting grossness. A repetitive tag line reminded that the world record was 50 hot dogs and buns.
Fortunately the sound was down, so I wasn’t subjected to the narration, but the contestants were treated like athletes, interviewed with close-ups, treated like celebrities.
When the slop slurping started, they began ingesting hot dogs and buns like hyenas tearing apart a carcass in those African documentaries after the lions have caught and torn apart an antelope or gazelle. They either fed the dogs into their maws like automatic tennis or baseball hurling dispensers, or stuffed them in two-handed like berserk animals, which they closely resembled.
Television has broken all barriers these days, with cable featuring repetitious fornication nightly, all the same positions, mostly the same fornicators, all action stripped of the sensuality of sex and replaced with the grossness of public display.
Course and vulgar language is de rigeur, with producers seemingly vying with one another to see how many times the ultimate in four-letter epithets can be crammed into a show.
It has reached a point where, given the choice of pornography, talking heads with little to say, commentators with jaundiced views, situation comedies with canned laugh tracks, or mass murdering, one has to turn to muted commercials for entertainment. There are only so many Novas or National Geographic specials or Jim Lehrers to watch, and from there one falls precipitously into gangsta rap and guns, the great diversion of the American public.
As for the commercials, a suggestion for a new and entertaining parlor game.
Invite friends over, not for conversation, but to watch television commercials.
Pick any 10 you choose, and when they are over, turn off the set and ask your friends to match the commercials with the sponsors.
Commercials these days fall into three categories.
Either they are so inane they are insulting, or they are of automobiles careening around roads with no oncoming traffic and their wheels going backwards, or they are so cute they fascinate you with their cuteness without leaving any recollection of the sponsor.
Years ago there was a classic of a guy gorging himself on pizza and then getting help from Alka Seltzer. That one you remembered. Come to think of it, Alka Seltzer should sponsor the hot dog eating contest. They or a mop manufacturer, to mop up the floor after watching the show.