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On TiVo and Commercial Bullies - The Life and Thoughts of Zach

Oct. 7th, 2003

03:36 am - On TiVo and Commercial Bullies

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I just posted this to szasz's journal as a comment but long ranty bits like this deserve to see the light of day so I repost it here.

TiVo is such a fucking blessing to anyone who is sick and tired of commercialized consumer culture. It's one piece of consumer electronics that helps you ESCAPE that culture. If I didn't have TiVO, I wouldn't want to have TV at all, and there's some useful information that comes over the TV.

Commercials make me want to hit things. I get very angry and anxious when I see a commercial. James O'Brien and I were talking about this the other night when he stayed at my place and he mentioned that basically commercials are someone trying to bully you into doing something or listening to some spiel that you don't want to do or listen to. And our natural reaction to bullying is to get angry.

Anyway, TV doesn't make me angry anymore. I watch what I want when I want it without commercials. I don't have to feel like in order to see my favorite show I have to be anti-social and sacrifice hanging out with my neighbors. I watch my favorite shows while I eat meals or while I'm doing chores or when ever I happen to be on the couch vegging...NOT...when teh prime time schedule insists I be glued to the TV. And I only watch the really top notch good stuff that I want to watch, I don't have to settle for the crap that happens to be on as I channel surf.

My only regret is that I don't watch as much C-SPAN as I used to. It used to be that was my favorite non-commercial refuge so I'd always turn it on and learn cool stuff.

Oh I saw a demo of MythTV while I was in Seattle. This is VERY mature open source software that does just about everything TiVo does and a LOT MORE but on stock PC hardware. Ultimately I think you'd end up spending MORE on hardware for a MythTV unit than you spend on a TiVo but it'd be way more cool and hackable. I'm definitely building a box for this for my house.

Comments:

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From:folkyboy
Date:October 7th, 2003 05:09 am (UTC)
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haha you always leave the best comments, zarfie. you're our folk beacon in the world of counterculture :)
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From:stuffedsheep29
Date:October 7th, 2003 06:50 am (UTC)
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Let me take a moment away from our sponsored program to agree with you a bazillion percent.

Sadly, my "secondary concentration" in school was *cough* marketing *cough* (it was not a choice for me -- it was the contingency I had to put up with in order to have my music theory education financed). I spent countless tiring and angering hours of my life learning how to make people purchase things that they don't want, and how to make people pay more for the things that they do want. It's a slimy, icky business full of badness and lack of human compassion. Profit is the only goal, screw what the consumer wants or needs.

Commercials are evil. Marketing is evil. And so is Ted Turner, but that's another story altogether...
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From:samwize
Date:October 7th, 2003 10:54 am (UTC)

Can I get an AMEN?

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AMEN!
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From:boannan
Date:October 7th, 2003 11:46 am (UTC)
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I'm totally with you! But I did want to mention one thought provoking thing I heard from a lawyer in my drugs class --

he helped out with the campaign to de-criminalize marjuana in California (Prop 215). Getting the vote out for a proposition like that involves a hell of a lot of footwork -- signatures, making sure the signatures are OK, fighting the publicity battle with those opponents who really really think marijuana should be illegal (nevermind all the solid scientific evidence that it's not particularly harmful, but it is uniquely helpful for many illnesses. that's a separate post.)

at any rate, they really only had enough money to do an all out campaign blitz on national TV two weeks before the election (according to him, their research indicated that radio and TV were the best ways to get people's attention). So they ran commericals during prime-time TV -- Friends and E.R. -- to get maximum exposure.

It actually came up in class what effect TiVo would have had on the campaign! He said that nobody knows for sure, but that it may limit the effectiveness of the type of commercials they run. I'm not sure it's a big deal since not many policy groups get the word out through commercials during prime-time television, but it's interesting to think that if you cut out the avenue for annoying commerical advertisments you might also be cutting off an important avenue for other folks who may be trying to use that media channel to get through to you.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 7th, 2003 12:09 pm (UTC)
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See my view is that TiVo can only reduce the overall cost of commercial advertising and change the model as they become less effective.

At the moment, TiVo has a tiny tiny install base so there is no way that it is significantly impacting the effectivenes of commercials. However if it becomes widespread it could be the end of commercial television.

And...oh BOO HOO, the networks tell us that that would mean the end of our favorite shows like Friends and ER because they couldn't afford to make them without commercials. So that would mean...oh my god....maybe some of the big commercial networks would abandon their broadcast stations and there'd be lower cost of entrance for community and public non-profit broadcasters. Maybe the commercial outfits would go to a pay-per-view on demand model or a subscription model like cable (but cheaper because of increased supply and constant demand).

Public interest groups use the dominant advertising methods when they can afford it. If the dominant advertising methods change then the interest groups will change their tactics as well. I can only think that an overall increase of democratic non-commercial access and cheaper access to commercial broadcasting can benefit public interest groups.

I'm all for the viewing media consuming popuation declaring that THIS (commercial free) is the way they wish to watch television and letting The System/Market panic and figure out what the heck it's solution to that constraint is going to be. I'm not going to be chained to an obligation to watch commercials, we know there are other ways to fund television production (the PBS model, the IMC/public access model, the HBO model, and the PPV model).

And anyway, there will always be sports. No one wants to watch a sports game delayed by several hours. They want to know who wins at the same time as the rest of the world.

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From:sophrosyne19
Date:October 7th, 2003 11:48 am (UTC)

Nice.

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The mute button - that's how I deal with commercials during the few shows in which I indulge.

Obviously, I need a TiVo.
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From:mathuaerknedam
Date:October 8th, 2003 01:42 am (UTC)
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> TiVo is such a fucking blessing to anyone who is sick and tired
> of commercialized consumer culture. It's one piece of consumer
> electronics that helps you ESCAPE that culture.

You really think so? I tend to think of tv as the embodiment of
our "commercialized consumer culture". I tend to think of movies
in the same way.

> If I didn't have TiVO, I wouldn't want to have TV at all, and
> there's some useful information that comes over the TV.

Like what? I haven't had a TV for six years and haven't missed
it a bit. What am I missing out on? It there really any content
on TV that isn't available elsewhere?


Matthew
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 8th, 2003 11:09 am (UTC)
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Well if you don't think there are movies that are either art or just quality entertainment or both then I'm not going to be able to convince you that some TV is the same.

I really believe that there is TV and film that is not trying to sell me something, that is creative and fun.

Stuff I watch: Adult Swim, The Daily Show, Babylon 5, Buffy, Angel, American Masters, American Cinema, Austin City Limits, Old Time Country Music, C-SPAN.

I understand that moving pictures are a significantly different experience than reading wrt symbol manipulation . We experience moving pictures and sound as a gut reality and spend less time analyzing the symbols than we do when reading, so we're less likely to question the message. I've heard that theory and I definitely think it can be true but I also don't think it is a binary thing. I think that there is plenty of critical thinking that can accompany enjoying a good film or TV show AND I think that it isn't neccessarily wrong to occasionally just enjoy on that lower less intellectual level.

I just don't want some bully trying to make me buy things while I'm doing it. And I do want there to be some actual content to what I am viewing.
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From:mathuaerknedam
Date:October 9th, 2003 04:32 am (UTC)
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Ahhh...

I'm beginning to realize that I'm thinking of things differently than you are.

I'm at least as irritated buy the attempt to sell me values as I am the attempt
to sell me things. Probably more so. I can be sold values slowly and subtly,
without even realizing it. There's no reality check. At least if I'm convinced
that I need to have a thing, I have to make a conscious decision to get it.
I'm lumping into this the media that says, for example, that women have to
look a certain way. (I've read an interesting article that asserts that women
have no choice wrt plastic surgery, that they been brainwashed by western
culture. I don't buy it.)

As far as unique art/entertainment, I still don't see what tv/movies have to
offer me that's compelling. If I consider that I have far more control over
print or the internet as media sources, it gets immediate preference. It's far
more convenient and I can choose not to read the inane editorials that simply
irritate me. I can't do that with dynamic media, and it's much more difficult
to give critical consideration as well.

Why bother? I can't possibly exhaust all of the interesting art or entertainment
from my preferred sources, so why waste time elsewhere?

I have to admit that I do occasionally see a movie (usually on video), but
it's been a while. I think minority report was the last. As long as I find myself
suitably entertained, why spend the time and money? Hanging out with friends
is fun *and* builds relationships. RPGs are fun *and* forces me to stretch out
of my comfort zone.

I'm also coming to realize that I'm using a different definition of content than
you are. Content is substantial, something that can be used in another context
(besides trivial pursuit). Most of the "content" generated nowadays is content-
free. That's okay as long as that's what you want, but it's not usually what I'm
looking for. I have to admit that the only shows on your list that I've seen are
Babylon 5 and C-SPAN. C-SPAN probably does have some content (I'm not
*that* cynical), but is that content available elsewhere? Is there any content
(using my definition) on TV that's not available elsewhere?


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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 9th, 2003 10:21 am (UTC)
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No I think I totally understand your viewpoint (and your definition of content), I just don't agree. Some like paintings and some like sculpture and some like books and some like films. I like films. Some TV is almost as good as good film. That is all. You are right that the content may be available elsewhere. I choose the moving picture format (I also choose the potluck dinner format, the gaming format, the party format, the book format, the community organizing format, the non-profit radio format, and others). I don't begrudge you your choice of other formats. You're right that we can't take it all in.

I think all art attempts to affect our ideas. To alter them, to inspire them, to confuse them, to question them, etc. There is definitely a LOT of media out there that has the SOLE goal of changing our ideas towards certain ideologies and that is annoying.

However, some of it has ideas that are just interesting rather than manipulative. I don't subscribe to the messianic apocalyptic sort of philosophy that Babylon 5 seems to bear but I like to think about the ramifications and I like to see the relationships among the characters. And besides, watching B5 with Don and Arun and Tony that year built relationships. Watching it and talking about it was an event that brought us together (at a time when Don and I had largely fallen out of touch for a bit). People who share exposure to certain art build a little mini-culture for themselves that gives them a common starting point for exploration of ideas. For some it is Plato, for others it is Buffy.

Reading a novel is, I think, MORE isolating that watching a TV show (it takes longer and you REALLY aren't hanging out with your friends building relationships while doing it) and yet that is fun to do too and I do it all the time. Sometimes there just aren't people around (bedtime, mealtime, random times) and sometimes I just don't want to be social every moment of my life. So the TV is a good random occasional escape as is a novel and neither is exclusive of hanging out with friends at other times.

(As for C-SPAN, I honestly think that if you are worried about having your idea manipulated by media, C-SPAN is the only source for that content. Every other news source is going to filter the content in a way that twists it's meaning. C-SPAN goes to the source and shows you in exactly what is going on in uneditted format. I love that when they show a big speech they leave the cameras on before and after the speech so you get to see the politicians after they take the puff out of their chests when they take the acting down a notch. You get to see how they schmooze with the other bigwigs on a one on one basis. And of course even all of that and all the congressional stuff is basically acting and show, I know all the real stuff is behind closed doors, but at least for the public part C-SPAN can't be beat for COMPLETE content without ideological bias.)
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From:mathuaerknedam
Date:October 10th, 2003 01:19 am (UTC)
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> Reading a novel is, I think, MORE isolating that watching a TV show
> (it takes longer and you REALLY aren't hanging out with your friends
> building relationships while doing it) and yet that is fun to do too
> and I do it all the time.

True. Everything has its time and place.

Personally, if the focus is relationships, the format and content matters a
lot less. If It's not, I might as well read.not only does it cater to my pref-
erences, but it builds reading/writing/speaking/thinking skills in ways that
dynamic media can't begin to touch.

I'm not sure what skills tv/movies would build but there probably are some.
Then again, maybe not. Playstation can improve things, but I'm an active
participant there. The viewer has only a passive role in tv/movies, right?

The one time that I do miss TV is when I'm home sick. I don't have the
energy to read or surf, and cable TV is the perfect way to escape my
suffering and let my brain vegetate. Fortunately, it's been a year or two
since I've been sick.

I would say that I'm worried about how I'm manipulated by media, but I
do try to be sensitive to it. Sorta-kinda like how the Amish try to be
sensitive to the effects that various technologies might have in their lives.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 13th, 2003 12:56 am (UTC)
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I do not take a passive role when I watch moving pictures. I engage in symbol analysis as much with film as I do with any other art form. I think about why the director chose to shoot certain scenes from certain angles or with a certain lighting. There's a whole vocabulary to filmic expression that I am only starting to grasp but I love to think about it. Then there is a deeper level of symbol analysis that happens just thinking about the metaphors being used.

Most of the film and TV that I watch has everything to do with the relationships between the characters. Many of my favorite shows/films have ensemble casts rather than leading actors around whom the action centers. Those that do have central characters are usually character portraits that analyze in depth who and why a person is.

Sometimes I just shut off my brain and go for a ride. But when I do it's because I don't have the energy to use my brain for anything anyway. Reading would probably put me to sleep at those times and conversing with friends might be an annoying expenditure of cycles. Watching some kind of "candy" movie is like eating candy or drinking alcohol...it feels good, there's no point to it, but occasionally we do it because feeling good is nice.
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From:mathuaerknedam
Date:October 15th, 2003 04:34 am (UTC)
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I probably used an overly broad definition of passive. I meant passive in the sense that there it isn't interactive, like playstations or this discussion. (Not that reading is interactive, but I do do think that reading and then writing *is* interactive.)

I'd probably have a greater preference for movies if I had a better understanding of it. I just don't possess the vocabulary, and if I did, I would want to create with it (which would make it interactive, like reading then writing). I don't have the time or money to get into this, and I had to deliberately backburner my musical interests to focus on graphic design (which is now also backburning...). So many arts, so little time! Reading / writing is cheap and easy (while lacking professional aspirations), and I still don't have the time to do one percent of what I'd like wrt R/W. Even less now that I'm a dad.

Sorry if I'm continually being overly pragmatic... Do the relationship and character portraits have any real value beyond entertainment? What do I gain through analysis of fake people in fake situations? Wouldn't real life provide for more valuable analytical fodder? Does the fiction simply make the analytical process more tolerable? I dunno. I thought Unforgiven was an excellent character study, and I much enjoyed it as such.

I don't know where all of this is going, if anywhere.
But it is an interesting discussion.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 15th, 2003 08:38 am (UTC)
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I'm down with your particular choice wrt time management.

But I guess it all keeps coming back to film as art in general for me. Does any art have any real value? If you see a painting or a sculpture but do not paint, was that time wasted? If you listen to music but do not create music or dance, was that experience valueless?

For me the art does not have to be interactive by your definition in order to have meaning and value and I personally do not have the energy for every activity in my life to be that interactive.

Also, there is a long term interactivity which is (I may have said this already, this conversation is spread out over too many days, I'm probably getting repetitious) that art creates culture and cultures makes communication more rich, more efficient, more interesting, and more nuanced. So when you are talking about something with your friends and you allude to some movie or other and compare and contrast it to some book or other and mention how that in turn reminds you of some painting or other...that is an interactive continuation of a conversation started by those artists.
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From:mathuaerknedam
Date:October 10th, 2003 01:33 am (UTC)
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As far as C-SPAN goes, as long as I have access to a the unfiltered content,
I'm happy to make use of a filter that I generally trust. Especially when the
amount of information is potentially overwhelming. When I read slashdot, it's
with a comment filter of 5. While I undoubtedly miss a lot of good comments
this way, I have neither the time or inclination to manually filter the signal
out all of the noise. It ends up being a highlights or nothing-at-all proposition.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 13th, 2003 12:59 am (UTC)
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Unfortunately there is no sufficient filter for politics and sometimes I like to get a dose of the real thing just for perspective. If I only read the lefty stuff that I trust I'd be unable to have reasonable conversation with 90% of the world. If I only paid attention to the mainstream media I'd have to die of depression (or hyper-inflated capitalist patriotism).

As far as news goes, I consume many kinds of media. My filter is that when I get overwhelmed I just stop and pay attention to my community.

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From:yes_justice
Date:October 11th, 2003 02:53 pm (UTC)
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> TiVo is such a fucking blessing to anyone who is sick and tired of
> commercialized consumer culture.

Right on. A product that knows there is some shit we won't eat!
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