Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sociological observations based on forced viewing of Fox News and Maury Povich simultaneously

I begin by saying I'm very grateful to the Arrillaga family for providing Stanford University with a state-of-the-art* workout facility. I take advantage of it several times a week, and I can say it has contributed markedly to my physical and mental health. However a pestilence has recently invaded this pristine territory. I don't mean the flesh-eating bacteria that supposedly thrive on the handles of elliptical trainers. I mean television. Some misguided soul has hung six viewing screens (in two rows of three) in the cardio area, and try as I might, I cannot ignore them. And the shows are helpfully closed-captioned, so I won't miss any of the stupidities uttered by the braindead megaphone.**

More often than not, I have found myself with the choice of the following emanations: ESPN, probably the least offensive of the three, and admittedly wonderful when they show tennis; Fox News; and--no, he's not dead--Maury Povich. Today I had the opportunity to ask myself: which is worse, Fox or Maury? Fox needs no introduction. Maury, for those who don't remember, hosts a talk show in which people, usually couples, usually African-American, are lured on to participate in an emotional cage-fight. Secrets are revealed (the baby isn't his! She slept with a woman! He's a peeping Tom!), leading to screaming, crying, chasing around the studio, and, rarely, a tentative reconciliation which belies the fact that these two have just ruined each others' lives. Maury appears to function as a kind of Satanic therapist. However, I was not really able to come up with an answer about which show I would choose to watch while being tortured.

I would have given the nod, very reluctantly, to Fox, except for something I observed about the commercials on both shows. I was watching at about 2:30 in the afternoon, and Fox showed a preponderance of ads for what you might call less-than-vital household products. There's a thing called a Green Bag that keeps your fruits and vegetables fresh for days, nay weeks, longer. Carrots kept naked in the crisper are bendy and brown, while Green Bagged carrots crack, like so! There's a similar, more industrial looking device for meat, thanks to which you can now buy pork chops in bulk and save money! (Vegetarian rant postponed; just go give PETA some bucks.) I also saw at least two ads for a plastic globe, available in several colors, that you fill with water and stick in your houseplants, to avoid the agony of pouring water directly into the plants.

I conclude that at this time of day, Fox assumes its audience to be middle-aged housewives with no aspirations besides tinkering around the edges of their domestic systems. Whereas during Maury, which certainly offered its share of ads for dumb stuff, I also saw several commercials for Heald Technical College and possibly another school as well. These ads featured women of all races earning degrees and getting jobs. Women who watch Maury, it seems, are home, but don't want to be there--at least not for long. Judging from what we see on Maury, they're wise to get out as soon as possible. But on Fox, we learn that everything outside is scary: rapist camp counselors! Terrorists! Black people running for president! Better to stay inside and tend to your carrots and plastic balls.

*minus lockers or showers, a widely discussed and mystifying omission
**trademark George Saunders

No comments: