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Forced Into the Digital Age

ART TIMES March 2007


THEY’VE BEEN TELLING me this for years, of course — my children, friends, now my accountant: “What, you have no computer, no E-mail address, no fax — what century do you live in?” I don’t mind these jibes. I’m catching up in my own time — a cordless phone and cable television with a movie package. Getting along just fine with these advances in modern technology.
            Well, I was until a month or so ago when my cable company set out on a hard sell for some sort of digital up-grading. I really don’t care to have perfect strangers telling me I’m not up to grade, hoping to sway me with promises of untold numbers of movie channels, stimulating games, interesting features, and on and on. I ignored them. I’m content with my seven ‘movie’ channels.

           Cable companies, in their plebian fashion, yet refer to ‘movies’ — refusing to up-grade to ‘films’ as we professionals prefer. These seven channels own seven films that are cycled back and forth among them and I had become comforted by the predictability of always knowing what to expect.
            The cable people persisted, hawking their digital ware through weekly mailings, even phone solicitations. That they can’t reach me through E-mail — or fax either — must have finally un-hinged their digital, corporate minds. No more pleading, no groveling for my business — no — it became, I’m sorry to say, an OR ELSE situation.
            I was given thirty days to abandon all resistance, give in or I would be left to rot with my old-fashioned, out-dated cable box receiving only bare bones basic and stripped forever more of any and all ‘movie’ packages. To sweeten (their word) the change I would receive twelve months of this wonder at my present charge — no mention of the future charge, however, just a casual footnote extolling the ease nowadays of securing home equity loans. Why, they would even ship me the digital box gratis and I may easily C.O.D. them back the old box. What could be fairer? The OR ELSE hung there threateningly.
            I was helpless — quickly there arrived the device, a rather poorly designed, two-toned box a third larger than the old, and therefore unable to fit in the space where it once resided. The remote, resembling the Starship Enterprise, fairly bristled with touch buttons — thirty-eight of them in various forms and sizes. With but a brief struggle the new box was installed and I began my compulsory venture into the digital world.
            Now surely a devotee of the film, as I am, should be pleased as punch to find thirty more film channels in addition to the seven already possessed — to say nothing of a feature aggressively titled ON DEMAND offering another twenty to thirty selections — for an extra price, of course, again not mentioned. Still, in hand are thirty-seven movie channels each carrying, at the push of the tiny INFO button, a title, brief story synopsis, date of release, maybe a principal actor or two. No matter really if the information, as it turned out, does not always correspond to the film before you, it is nonetheless, INFORMATION and I’m in the DIGITAL INFORMATION AGE at last.
            After a few humiliating efforts to work the remote, I hit my very first new film channel — “Ring of Darkness”, a 2004 production about a singer who joins a band composed of zombies. The actors look a good deal like the scruffy bunch of teenagers who hang out at a local 7/11 — they probably are the same. Hit another channel — “Return of the Durango Kid”, 1944, and so thin in substance only ‘A Western” served as the synopsis.
            In succession came the 1947 “Mother Wore Tights”, “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” of 1939, “The Gang’s All Here” of 1943, Carmen Miranda covered in bananas and a 1945 Bogart film, “Conflict” and a poor one at that. Damn machine seems to have become embarrassed by “Ring of Darkness” and doesn’t want to travel beyond the late ‘40s. Relents a bit and provides Dennis Quaid and Topher Grace speaking Spanish a mile a minute — so much for “In Good Company”.
            Try “Grave of the Vampire”, must have been by the crew from “Ring of Darkness” and shot with a Super 8 camera on a snowy night. Skip randomly through the remaining film channels — what fun — seeing how many wild guesses the INFO can come up with. Remarkable number of films of teenagers being slaughtered in haunted mansions, high schools, malls and even space ships. Mull over the fact that some one hundred fifty to two hundred films are produced each year by major studios and a fair percentage of these would disappear forever if not for this museum of digital artifacts — a filmic graveyard, you might say.
            Digital cable does provide some other sorts of diversions. I certainly can’t fault it there. I mean a channel that shows little save the faces, addresses and committee membership of every one of the members of the New York State Assembly is nothing to be sneezed at. And for music video lovers there is a surfeit of channels — indistinguishable one from the other, it’s true — displaying semi-nude youths screaming and writhing and leering to beat the band. There are several channels you’d best tread carefully around. ADULT, a.k.a. ‘The Hot Network”, appears designed to trap the curious surfer into purchasing heaven knows what before you can figure a way out. I can tell you all those little buttons can easily confuse a person — you’ve got to know your way about this digital world, all right.


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