Monthly Archives: October 2009

The Simpsons, Familiarity, and Our Fear of Change

You know what I’ve been thinking about lately?  The Simpsons, familiarity, and our fear of change.

Back in college, my friends and I developed many rituals.  Most of them involved imbibing alcohol.  Songs we would listen to before going out to imbibe alcohol.   Games we would play while imbibing alcohol.  Places we would eat after imbibing alcohol.  There were probably more but I killed too many brain cells to remember them all.

I do, however, have very fond and lucid memories of our longest lasting ritual, which involved a large number of us gathering weekly to watch The Simpsons.  Many in our group were aspiring writers and to us there was no better show on television.  The Simpsons was brilliantly funny, smartly written and it lampooned American norms, values, and institutions.  It was the type of cutting edge entertainment us fresh-faced youngsters hoped to someday create.

homer-simpson-with-doughnut

Hmmmm... familiar donut.

But when I recently stumbled upon a Yahoo article celebrating The Simpsons 20th anniversary, all I could think was: “Holy crap, that show’s been on a long time.  Who’s still watching that thing?”

I checked out about ten years ago and haven’t really looked back.  After all there’s only so many times one can watch Bart’s devilish mischief wreak havoc on Springfield as Lisa righteously fights to power, Homer drinks copious amounts of Duff beer, and Marge quietly groans disapproval.

However, I shouldn’t really be surprised The Simpsons has lasted this long.  After all, if Simpson fans had to watch a new show, they’d have to learn new character names, figure out these characters’ personalities and quirks and even potentially adapt to a different storytelling rhythm.   All this newness might be too much to grasp.  And why put forth that kind of effort when it’s just easier to reflexively laugh whenever Homer says, “D’oh!”

And it’s not just The Simpsons.  Glaciers have migrated significantly in the time Law & Order has been on television and E.R. was only put to rest after Hollywood realized every working actor had already been on the show at least once.

tacobell-kfc

Hmmmm... familiar food.

And it’s not just TV.  Americans simply love stuff we’re already familiar with.  That’s why we have things like chain restaurants, sequels, and Baldwin brothers.  Our thirst for familiarity drives us in almost everything we do.  It’s why we elect politicians with familiar last names, why our cars still run on gasoline and why we settle for subpar health care.  We’re always more inclined to settle for the devil we know as opposed to the devil we don’t, even if that new and improved devil might not be a devil at all.

We collectively fear the unknown.  And because of this, we don’t culturally evolve nearly as quickly as we should.  We’re basically stunted by our own intellectual laziness.  It’s no wonder we’ve chosen to keep an animated sitcom about a dysfunctional family on the air for twenty years yet refuse to let gay couples get married.

We suck.

But as much as I lament The Simpsons continued primetime presence, I guess I should just be happy it hasn’t been replaced by a reality show.  After all, something tells me the geniuses over at FOX probably have a show in development that involves D-level celebrities learning how to dance while trying to find love on a desert island.

God help us if that show lasts twenty years.

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The Internet, Cable Companies, and the Future of Television

You know what I’ve been thinking about lately?  The internet, cable companies and the future of television.

This past Saturday morning I watched a college football game involving my beloved alma mater, Syracuse University.  I didn’t watch this game on my television (it wasn’t available locally), but rather on my computer.  And it was a delightful experience.  Well, not so much watching the Orangemen play.  They stink.  But watching a live, out-of-market sporting event via ESPN360?   That was really a treat.

espn360

So many sporting events, so little time.

Not only was I able to watch the SU game (and several other college football games) live and for free, but whenever my two-year-old desperately needed my attention I could pause the game or simply go back and replay any part I may have missed while I was putting on a Curious George DVD.  After all, my viewing experience wouldn’t have been complete if I didn’t see every single touchdown the guys in the orange helmets gave up.   And if watching West Virginia cruise to a lopsided 34-13 win wasn’t enough fun the first time, I could rewatch the entire game on the site later in the week.

As I sat through another Syracuse loss,  I found myself wondering if there has ever been an invention as thoroughly enjoyable as the internet.   Sure, the wheel is nice, but really how hard was it to find a circular rock?

As a society I don’t think we bow down before the awesomeness that is the internet nearly enough.  I mean, why aren’t people out there writing poems about its greatness or erecting monuments to honor how much better it’s made our lives?  Probably because all the poets and sculptors are on the internet looking at Wikipedia, IMDB, and free porn.

And if watching a live sports broadcast online wasn’t enough to make me happier than an AIG executive on bonus check day, it’s looking more and more like the internet will eventually lead to the downfall of my arch nemesis, the cable company.

The internet has already revolutionized the way we do everything and it is very clearly the future of television.  I boldly predict in the coming years that people (particularly the younger, tech savvy crowd) will start forsaking their overpriced cable packages and simply start connecting their computers to their TVs.  Why pay hundreds of dollars a month when most of the shows you’re already watching are available for online consumption via network websites, ITunes and/or Hulu?

Of course, live television – like sporting events and news coverage – isn’t being streamed online as much as I’d like, but it’s coming along.  As mentioned above, ESPN and other outlets are broadcasting more and more sports online and when historic events are unfolding, CNN and other cable news networks usually carry their coverage live on their websites as they did for the Obama Inauguration and Michael Jackson’s death.

Unfortunately, this media revolution won’t be able to kill the cable companies overnight.  After all, a high percentage of internet users have their service provided by these dinosaurs.  But technology is evolving faster than Joan Rivers’ face and wireless internet is no doubt the avenue by which most of us will connect in the future.  No more coaxial cable, no more clunky, oversized modems and, of course, no more cable companies.

cable burn

Burn in hell cable!!!

And as the cable companies die a slow, painful death (think Drew Barrymore in the beginning of Scream), will anyone really care?  Will any of us shed a tear for Comcast or Time Warner or even offer our condolences?  Of course not.  And why would we?  Cable companies have always operated like the schoolyard bully and I suspect they have a lower approval rating than Congress.

In most markets, cable companies have virtual monopolies where customers are forced to play ball or strap satellite dishes to their roofs.  (That is, assuming these customers have landlords or homeowners associations that allow such eyesores.)  They play games with channel lineups, taking away popular networks and adding them to pricier, specialized tiers.  They have horrific customer service and are unrepentant when their cherished consumers are disappointed, dissatisfied and/or disgruntled.

Cable companies suck.  And I have yet to meet someone who disagrees with this sentiment.

So in the coming weeks as I settle in to watch the only college football team I’ve ever cheered for get their asses handed to them via the internet, I can at least take solace in the fact that I’m not just watching Syracuse lose a football game, I’m also watching the beginning of the end of cable television.

And that makes us all winners, no matter what team we cheer for.