Sep 092008
Authors: Ryan Nowell

For those of you not in the know: the Philistines were a group of biblical antagonists that subsisted on KFC bowls, invented the high-five and were renowned throughout the ancient world for their ability to craft a bong out of just about anything.

Their predecessors, long believed to be relegated to a few tribes scattered throughout the Kansas Board of Education, have amassed a population so widespread that experts are boggled over how the group’s numbers, not to mention its absolute influence over all but the least popular artistic mediums, had previously gone unnoticed.

The damage is noticeable at a glance. For instance, why are so many of Britain’s most distinguished actors only widely known for their work in comic book movies? The most-accomplished Shakespeareans of our time are completely under our radar unless they strap on some foam-rubber padding and wave their hands menacingly through two-hours of thinly-veiled metaphor teaching us how prejudice is bad.

The effects are most apparent on cable television, though, where culturally significant programming has been hunted down like an over-seasoned Dorito, its bastions systematically crumbled, cancelled or consumed.

Once upon a time, A&E was more than America’s showcase for chain-smoking, stretch-marks and Dog the Bounty Hunter — a man so monumentally white trash that when it turned out he was a racist we all had to act surprised out of tact. A&E was the place to go for award-winning dramas, foreign miniseries’, biographies on people that aren’t ancillary members of the Gotti family, art, performance, performance art and top-shelf limerick fuel like “Horatio Hornblower.”

When they got swallowed up by an amalgam of broadcasting’s darkest forces, our frightened snack chip of cultural relevance turned up on a modest little channel called Bravo, then ghosting by on four-hour ballet recitals and the cult drama-nerd favorite Inside the Actor’s Studio (back when James Lipton was just a huge in-joke). The network picked up steam, presumably due to a lack of alternatives.

Then one week everything got glossy.

It was suddenly not uncommon for the movie rotation to spend a “Weekend at Bernie’s” or air a selection from the Keanu oeuvre.

Poor James Lipton suddenly found himself asking the likes of Cameron Diaz and the cast of “The Simpsons” about their profound stage technique. The bumpers during commercial breaks had hipper fonts, flashier graphics, louder announcers. And the commercials themselves were festooned over every five-minute interval like a wasting disease, sucking the gravitas out of what little grav was left.

NBC had purchased the network and turned it into the left-of-center companion landfill for A&E’s trailer parks and track suits. Reality shows “celebrating diversity” were really making a play for a lucrative “new” (read: no one had the balls to market to them before) demographic using a corporate sham version of gay culture.

How NBC managed to build a primetime schedule around something as culturally divisive as homosexuality but still manage to leave the heterosexual paradigm completely unchallenged can be further studied in the novel “Ca$hin’ In!: History’s Greatest Cop-Outs.”

It’s not just the Arts that are losing ground to vapidity, though.

Not terribly long ago, the Discovery Channel ran nature documentaries on animals that actually exist. The network now devotes airtime to speculating on the mating rituals of the far-flung CG creatures of tomorrow, fantastical fake beasts with complicated fake societies, whose struggle through the rugged fake landscape make for some gripping fake drama. All to educate the viewer on . what, exactly? The hunt for anything beyond the lowest common denominator is becoming a daily feat I’m not sure television is up for.

Next on the chopping block: Ovation TV and the Independent Film Channel. Enjoy them before reality TV, “Point Break,” and “Girls Gone Wild” infomercials set up shop.

Ryan Nowell is a senior English major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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