By John J. Cox
A Resident of Woodside
This is my first law of cable television programming: The more channels that are provided by the cable company the less there is to watch. The past few days provide perfect examples. Yesterday was Valentine's Day. In the old pre-cable days, when there were available only a half-dozen or so channels in the New York City area, at least one of those channels would have had programming that recognized the special day. A classic romantic movie, such as, let's say, Casablanca, would traditionally be aired. But yesterday not one of the nearly 200 cable stations provided by my local cable company saw fit to present such a movie. In fact, on a day set aside for love and romance, the American Movie Classics (a misnomer if ever there was one) channel spent the whole day airing reruns of three of the most violent movies ever made: Casino, The Godfather, and The Godfather II.
I have nothing against these movies. They are, despite the graphic violence, very fine movies with outstanding casts. But on Valentine's Day?
And take Lincoln's Birthday, February 12th. This year it was even more special since it was the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth. Yet all evening long and into the late night I searched in vain for those old movie classics that so inspired me as a child: Young Mr. Lincoln (with Henry Fonda) and Abe Lincoln in Illinois (with Raymond Massey). Not even something of more recent vintage as Gore Vidal's excellent fictional biography of Lincoln could be found. Instead we were treated to rerun after rerun of Rambo I and Rambo II.
Maybe I am getting old and maybe these old movies no longer command the same attention they once did. Or maybe I've become so old that movies like Casino and Rambo have replaced my idea of a classic. Maybe Casino and Rambo are now to a new generation the new "old" classics, my idea of a classic having been relegated to the status of what silent movies once were for me. But with all these new cable stations now available, some supposedly devoted to old movie classics, you still would think that at least somewhere one of those old gems would be presented.
Alas, all of this seems symptomatic of a larger pathology: a nation where the evident majority is transfixed by programs such as American Idol, various types of Survivor shows, and Judge Judy spin-offs. People have seemed more worried about who Donald Trump will hire or fire than they are about their own lives.
Of course, this pathology is not new. Fifty years ago Edward R. Murrow said of television: "This instrument can teach, it can illuminate, yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it is merely wires and lights in a box."
Fifty years later, it is pretty clear how humans are determined to use it. At any given hour on any given day, just use your remote to scan all the programming opportunities afforded by the cable company. It's depressing. Even more depressing is that, unlike fifty or even twenty-five years ago, you have to pay for this programming.
So what did I finally watch on Valentine's Day? Reruns of Hogan's Heroes, of course. At least they weren't violent.
This leads me to the second law of cable television programming: There's a sucker born every day.