Beliefnet
Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

The issue of cable bundling is getting a lot of attention this week. First the Parents Television Council reacted to a particularly violent episode on FX’s Sons of Anarchy with this statement “We urge Congress to take seriously the Television Consumer Freedom Act, which will allow consumers the ability to choose and pay for only the cable networks they want, and the Video CHOICE Act, which would pave the way for a choice solution. It’s time for consumers to have a real voice in what they want to pay for on their cable bills.”

Then Sen. John McCain reiterated his support of a la carte cable telling The Wrap “My mother is 101 years old. She watches television all the time, but she doesn’t like football anymore. So why should she pay five dollars or six dollars extra for her cable service a month for something she doesn’t watch? … Maybe six dollars doesn’t mean that much to some people… but why should somebody have to pay that when they don’t watch it?” Of course, in the same interview McCain distanced himself from The PTL:

The Wrap: The Parents Television Council said today that one advantage of unbundling cable channels is that you wouldn’t have to subsidize things you don’t want to see. They were objecting to a school shooting on “Sons of Anarchy” this week.

McCain: I don’t agree with that aspect of it. I think people make choices. Nobody forces them to watch those shows… As long as it’s not child pornography, those things that are just beyond the pale — I can’t blame a television show for causing violence. I just can’t. Some people make that connection but I haven’t been able to do that yet.

If you read the question, of course, you realize that McCain completely missed the point. The issue isn’t whether people are forced to watch a show with value they disagree with and may even abhor. The issue is whether they should be forced to support such programming by paying for it.  It’s more than just a money issue. It’s a moral issue.

Also at The Wrap, writers Brent Lang and Tony Maglio lament that ala carte cable “could kill TV’s Golden Age.”  Well, first of all, not all of us would agree that current programming represents anything approaching a so-called “Golden Age” of television. It’s more like the Dark Ages — since so much of what’s on is literally so dark and cynical in tone. The idea that dark and angry equals quality is one that I, for one, don’t accept.

The piece then goes on to quote Dr. Philip Napoli, an associate professor of communications and media management at Fordham University Schools of Business, as arguing “The production costs for a show like ‘Mad Men,’ which has never drawn a particularly large audience, can be justified in part by the fact that millions of households that never watch ‘Mad Men’ are funding its production through their basic cable subscription to AMC.”

Not to single out Mad Men (some people tell me it’s quite good and it may be) but why should I fund any network I choose not to watch. I, likewise, choose not to watch Here Comes Honey Boo Boo on TLC because I think it’s trash. By the same token, I don’t want to pay for it. To me it’s a moral choice as well an economic one.

And that really is the point. The current cable scheme has become a scam that allows a few Big Media companies which control nearly all of the channels (500 channels only creates an illusion of diversity) to bypass the democratization effect of actually competing for viewers. So, while there might be five channels that viewers might actually choose to subscribe to, to get those stations they’re coerced into paying for programming that they don’t like and which undermines their personal values.

That, combined with the trickery of demographics (which for no real reason declares a sliver of the audience to be more important than the overall audience), is a how a popular culture is stolen.

True, technology is coming online that gives viewers more options to avoid taking part in the cable system. Finally, enough people are cutting the cord to get the attention of cable operators. But still they cling to an old system that serves them well both on a financial level and on a cultural control level. The truth is there’s nothing actually wrong with cable a technology. It’s actually quite efficient as a means of delivery. The problem is that it’s fallen into the hands of manipulative media conglomerates. Rules allowing for greater consumer control are completely appropriate — and overdue. Cable consumers deserve to their own gatekeepers regarding what entertainment comes into their homes.  Let actual demand rule. The channels people want will thrive and those they don’t will go away.  We don’t need corporations making the choices for us.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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