The great thinker Voltaire went to an orgy and had a good time, but declined a follow-up invitation. He said, “Once is philosophy, twice is perversion.” That’s how I feel about watching the WTF Network.
Here’s the setup: Out on the West Coast, a colleague is fighting for a cause that’s already taken him to some extremes. Apparently, he slanted his story in a way that fits the format of a TV series called “Most Daring.” (We’ve discussed the proposition that there is no such thing as bad publicity.) So for the sake of team spirit, I decided to watch it, and even turned the TV on a bit early, and caught part of a show called “Cops.”
You will have guessed that the title up there at the top of the page is a gag. Oh, the network has a three-letter name, but they’re a different three letters. I call it the WTF Network, because the words that come to mind again and again are – “What the f***?”
Take “Cops,” for instance. I’m sitting here with a cup of tea, engaging in the spectator sport of looking at my fellow citizens being violently arrested. WTF were the people thinking, who first proposed this as entertainment? WTF causes anybody to watch this genre of television? It’s hard to imagine anyone who has actually been a victim of police brutality, wanting to see this stuff. Or the families of anyone at all who’s been in trouble with the law which, these days, is most people. If I had a son, I wouldn’t want to see a boy his age and general description being taken down by the cops.
Is any of this stuff for real? How much of it is “re-enactment”? I can’t imagine any actor, no matter how underemployed or desperate, consenting to be brutalized in the ways shown here. A large part of this has got to be real, genuine police photography.
“Cops” includes a long, Academy-quality performance by a shirtless driver who is questioned by officers at the roadside. With just a slight tweak, this old boy could be on the “Blue Collar Comedy” stage. Can this possibly be spontaneous and real? Why does this dude so tamely allow his humiliation at the hands of the law to be filmed?
Is any of this stuff, on any of these shows, spontaneous and real? Are they seriously asking us to believe it’s all real? Okay, tornadoes and stuff like that. Fine. But other stuff is impossible to have captured in the way it is shown, under any conceivable circumstances. Is it only obvious to media professionals? Maybe it’s obvious to everybody. Maybe the entire TV audience, these days, is so hip that everyone knows exactly what degree of verisimilitude to infer from any given image. Am I the only moron too unsophisticated to understand that nobody believes anything they see on TV any more, and I’m getting all excited over nothing?
Pretty soon, “Most Daring” starts up. It offers:
—- A subway riot in Buffalo, where I once lived.
— -A train/trailer truck collision that seems to have been filmed from about 99 different angles. Does a railway crossing really have that many cameras pointed at it?
—- A high-speed chase, where two truckers collaborate on blocking the fugitive from passing them. When he tries to pass on the right, they pin his car to a guardrail. Cut to cop being interviewed, later. He says, “To this day, I don’t know who they are.” Are you kidding? They just rode off, like the Lone Ranger? “Who was that masked man?” “Dunno, we’re just an agency with the ability to tap every nationwide database there is, as well as review the footage we ourselves took. How the hell should we know who those truckers were?”
—- Some pedestrian bandito leans in the window of a car stalled in traffic and steals a purse. He weaves his hazardous way through a herd of vehicles, and is chased, and so on. The amazing thing is, the footage is shot from many different directions. No single, stationary surveillance camera took all these pictures. I mention this to somebody, who assures me: Everybody has camera phones now. Okay, say there were 20 people in the area, who could spare enough attention from driving their own cars to take pictures of the crook. How did it all wind up on this show? Did the producers send out a call throughout every possible channel, asking for footage of the event that took place on such-and-such street, on such-and-such date? Did everyone with a camera spontaneously realize they could sell their footage to “Most Daring,” and take the initiative to get in touch? Do people get paid for turning over their amateur videos? Do they get paid the same whether it’s real, or really real?
How does it happen, that cameras are always present for these weird incidents? Sure, security cameras are ubiquitous, the average person is photographed 300 times a day, bla bla bla. But how does all this artful tracking and refocusing come about? This isn’t the work of automatic camera mounted on a wall.
The editors work overtime. If for some dire reason, they don’t have shots from a lot of different angles, they just replay one snippet a whole bunch of times. A suspect on foot gets mowed down by a cop car, and we are treated to the sight of the impact at least half a dozen times. Apparently, they could just put that vignette on an endless loop and sell it to people as a standalone product.
At some point I realized this was the wrong TV show. “Most Daring” comes in several varieties, and this was “Commuter Chaos,” which I knew wouldn’t include the segment I was watching for. But I sat there anyway, wondering how much worse it could get. “Commuter Chaos” was a lot like “Cops.” In fact, I’m not even sure which things were on which show. But that doesn’t change the basic essence of the matter.
Finally, the show I’ve been waiting for – “Most Daring: Bedlam in the Burbs.” The person I sort of know is supposed to be in this one. Some highlights:
—- A backyard demolition derby. My inner libertarian says people have the right to do whatever they want with their own property, including destroy it. Still, whenever I see cars being gratuitously wrecked, I think of all the people who could really, really use a car and can’t quite manage to get one. What a waste.
—- Police chase a motorist through a semi-rural neighborhood. A guy comes out of a house and throws something at the fugitive’s car as it goes by. Further on, another resident comes out with a gun and shoots at the fugitive’s car. Cut to a cop being interviewed about the helpful citizen with a firearm. “He’s listened to the police scanner over a case of beer and decided to get involved.” Not a word about the wrongness of vigilantism, no word on any arrest of the gun-wielding citizen, nothing like that.
—- This guy tells his girlfriend to pick up a dog collar, and they’re walking along, and all of a sudden she yelps and falls on her ass. It is, of course, a shock collar, whose purpose is to cure gratuitous barking, and the boyfriend has the control in his pocket. We’re supposed to think it’s all spontaneous and the girl was surprised. Didn’t she wonder why somebody was filming her and her boyfriend on their ordinary, mundane stroll through the back yard?
—- There’s a real short clip of a guy firing some kind of long gun, and when it goes boom, his pants fall down. Okay, that was interesting. But why was anyone filming him, to begin with? The unaccountable presence of a camera at these boring scenes is a pretty good indication that a lot of what the audience is supposed to believe accidental, is really on purpose. WTF is the point?
Okay, fine, set up a gag and film it. That’s what Chaplin did. Nothing wrong with that. But these guys want viewers to believe their subject matter is real accident, rather than a staged scene. It’s not enough that an audience should see it and laugh at it. The creators of it also require the audience’s belief in its authenticity. Why?
Why would anyone be filming any of this stuff, unless they knew beforehand that something would happen to liven things up? Well, one of the reasons is that parents will take any amount of pictures of their kids. This is how we get such masterpieces as a little boy learning to ride a bike, crashing into a toy car. And little boy knocked off a trampoline. This is how we get nonsense like the Balloon Boy media circus, as a direct result of the WTF Network culture.
— Some moron douses a basketball with gasoline, lights it on fire, kicks it, and manages to set his foot on fire.
Is it only because I worked as a nurse, that I don’t see the humor? There really isn’t anything funny about, for instance, a hand whose digits are all fused together by scar tissue. I knew a man whose hand was like that. When he was a little boy, his brother tied a rag around his hand, soaked it in kerosene, and put a match to it. He probably told him it would be fun. The parents were Alabama sharecroppers. Reconstructive surgery wasn’t in the cards for that kid.
The argument for not televising jackass stunts: I knew a kid who tried to duplicate one of them, broke his leg, cost his parents a bundle of money and hassle when they could least afford it, because his mother was recovering from two major surgeries and his father had been out of work for a couple of years. Do we really need TV that encourages that kind of thing?
The other side: I had a relative, a couple generations back, who spent his entire life on a couch, in the kitchen of a farmhouse without plumbing or electricity. There was nothing else he could do, being permanently crippled by a fall from the barn roof. Maybe he was up there on legitimate business; maybe it was a jackass stunt. They didn’t have TV. Nobody had TV. Those Alabama folks had kerosene lamps, not electricity. Okay, it could be said that I’ve just demolished my own argument. Kids have always gotten hurt
But to go from “Boys have always done asinine things” to “Therefore we should televise the asinine things done by boys” is a leap of logic I can’t quite negotiate. (For somebody who doesn’t believe in censorship, this is a difficult position to be in.) Let’s start with the very real possibility that the basketball pyromaniac could have set the building on fire. There’s very little humor in a house fire, or a fire of any kind, really. People’s lives are devastated by fire. It’s the kind of thing a survivor never really gets over. I sure hate to typecast myself as a curmudgeon and a stick-in-the-mud, but fire just isn’t that funny.
I include, as a target for scorn, “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” which may be on a different network, but that’s not really important. On most of these programs, most of the material involves somebody getting hurt, with genital injuries especially prized. Again, WTF? Just as a baby can find endless fascination in a bunch of jingling keys, men find endless amusement in the sight of some other guy taking a shot to the balls. And for some unfathomable reason, men love the sound of emergency vehicle sirens and screeching brakes. What’s up with that?
One of these shows even has a motto, “There’s nothing funnier than pain, embarrassment and humiliation!” Maybe so. Maybe also, there’s nothing worse than justifying sadism and bullshit under the guise of humor. Maybe there’s nothing worse than a sense of humor that’s limited to pain, embarrassment and humiliation, and incapable of moving beyond those hilarious qualities. Maybe there’s nothing sadder than elevating funniness to the very highest echelon of values. Maybe… a lot of things.
Humor is great, it’s healing, it’s stress-relieving, yada yada…. But just because a thing makes us laugh, that doesn’t mean it’s intrinsically good. I’m sure there were concentration camp guards who found abundant humor in some of the stunts they got up to. There’s nothing sacred about humor, and if we’re able to see that there are different kinds of humor, and that some are more desirable than others, we are probably happier. The fun of “Blue Collar Comedy” can make you feel good for minutes at a time, and even affect your whole day. The humor of a guru can blow your mind and change your life. Why not aim high?
When negativity takes over my brain, I apply the Codger Test. “If I were 16 or 21, would I feel the same way?” (A song by Will Crist says, “I’ll help you remember your youth.” To which I reply, “No, thanks.” It is all too easily remembered. While I wouldn’t change anything, neither would I want to live through it again.) So I imagine watching “America’s Funniest Home Videos” or, Goddess forbid, “Cops,” at one of tender young ages. First of all, in the Sixties, only a few science fiction writers (and Paul Krassner) could have envisioned the shape of media to come. If, as a young adult, I had by some magical means glimpsed this future, it would have been added to my list of reasons for suicide. So, that’s the Codger Test. Would my opinion then, be the same as now? Hell, yeah. Pacifist though I was, I might even have found it a good reason to put my foot through the TV screen.
“Cops” is particularly distressing. The law-and-order freaks and cop wanna-be types who justify this show’s existence, sit hypnotized by the flashing lights of the patrol car – exactly like strobe-mesmerized hippies at a rock concert, a class of people they consider deviant zombies. (Has anyone ever sued the show for inducing an epilepsy attack with those flashing lights?) I keep wanting to say, “This is pornography,” then I remember the word means “writing about prostitutes.” Does that apply to this show? I haven’t watched enough of “Cops” to know whether it covers hookers, and don’t intend to. Sometimes research is a waste of time.
But on another plane of cogitation, yes, this is prostitution. What is prostitution, but selling something that probably shouldn’t be sold? It’s the same kind of whoredom practiced by small American towns struggling for economic survival, that can’t think of any idea better than “Let’s build a prison!” – with all the enthusiasm of an old cornball movie, “Hey kids! Let’s put on a show!”
Another TV series I don’t intend to treat myself to is “Operation Repo.” Just the ad for it was enough. This is how our invisible rulers maintain control over the population. All they gotta do is, make half the people into government minions with weapons, and the other half into outlaws with weapons. Keep our sorry asses busy clobbering each other, while they get their hands on everything. And free Americans voluntarily subject themselves to this indoctrination. The whole WTF Network is about America wallowing in its own worst impulses, and ya know what? It’s okay not to like it.