The Waking Edge - 1989
Reflection from a TV Dish- David Clements
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Reflection from a TV Dish

David Clements

'The television was the colour of an empty channel tuned to Sky

' I don't know how many of you out there went to Eastercon this year, and sampled the dubious virtues of satellite television that the convention hotel, the De France, plied us with. Those of us who did, had our faith in the benefits of the space program severely tested. Imagine it, straight out of vintage Clarke; geostationary communication satellites, beaming television from around the world into millions of homes. No boundaries of nation, creed, censor or belief. Available to anyone in the footprint of the satellite. What a wonderful medium of cultural cross-fertilisation and intellectual stimulation. This is what television was always meant to be. This is the way the world should be.

'Fraid not. The best term I can think of to describe the satellite TV I have seen is cultural effluent. On anybody's scale of values it's probably sub-common-denominator. It appears to be nothing but a continual cycle of repeats of the most sub-moron programs that have ever been produced on either side of the Atlantic, probably because they're so simple that you don't need to understand the language or the dialogue to be able to grasp the plot! If your idea of heaven is an endless stream of late 60s and early 70s children's TV then perhaps Sky, Super and the like are for you. But, I must warn you, all the good stuff got broadcast while the satellite was being tested. No more Dr Who (good?) or Professionals (???...Ed), you'll now have to put up with 'Bring 'Em Back Alive' and other non-SF rubbish (far be it from me to be bigoted) but it seems to me that when the TV producer doesn't understand what he's producing, as is usually the case with SF, some items of quality sometimes tend to slip past his wary eye. Not only have the Satellite companies gone for the lowest common denominator (and what else can you expect from the owners of the Sun, The Mirror and the like), but they've gone for the lowest available price as well. So you get not only lobotomised TV, but bad and out of date lobotomised TV. My best advice is to avoid it as you would avoid a lobotomy!

The most interesting satellite station at Contrivance (89 Eastercon if you didn't know) was CNN, the American Cable News Network. This supposed International News Station demonstrates exactly why America thinks it rules the world. Their media leads them to believe that apart from Russia the rest of the world lies around being national stereotypes all day. This probably includes the Russians, in fact, but since their national stereotype is that of an evil, commie world threatening revolutionary then the idea remains. As an example, the biggest feature I saw on England on CNN was the story about the deregulation of pub running. The impression gained was of a country that cared more about what it was drinking than who was running it. They even thought the idea of a group of people concerned about beer (CAMRA of course) was really wacky! And as for the names of the pubs! They even had to do a pan shot of the name board of the 'Ferret and Firkin in a Balloon up the Creek'. 'Hey gee Wilma isn't that quaint!'

Which really demonstrates the whole problem with the internationality of satellite TV. While you could use it to demonstrate the real lack of difference between the vast numbers of homo sapiens on this planet, most of the people who will pay for it will not believe that there are no differences when you tell them. They also aren't prepared to pay for any really new and innovative programmes that will use the vast potential of the new medium to full effect. Let's face it, they probably wouldn't know full effect if it hit them straight in the carotid artery!

Instead, all we're likely to get from satellite TV is an unending stream of the TV equivalent of vallium, and the few people who have in the past tried to inject a little of the other brain-affecting chemicals into the nervous system of the global village, like Jacob Bronowski, Kenneth Clarke and (I suppose) Carl Sagan, will all drown beneath the same corporate mentality that's given us Police Academy 47.

Somebody build an L5 colony quick! I want to move.