So I’m watching television. We used, oh twenty years ago now, to have a nice little Sony Trinitron 21″. it was a cute as pie, but it started to get a bit elderly. Then we had a big old horrible second hand thing my American boss sold me before he was shipped back home. Then it died and we now have a cheap crappy television somebody bought new about three years ago. It’s a CRT telly, but it works and we have a gadget that kills all power when we put it on standby. Whch is most of the time.
It’s that weird bit between television programs, where they sometimes try to sell you stuff. The sound level goes up so I reflexively hit the mute button on the remote control. There ought to be a gadget that does that automatically, don’t you think? As I understand it the advertising companies use compression techniques to make more noise while staying technically within the noise limits set for broadcast television audio by the regulator. Well whatever that means, when there is a program break on commercial television in the UK the noise level goes through the roof until you hit the mute button.
I like to watch the pretty pictures. So I stare vacantly, smiling pleasantly as silent cats, silent cars, silent washing machines, silent pretty girls, silent hunky men, and silent insane cartoon characters gambol on the screen trying to make me want to buy stuff. I know how this part of the game is played. “No”, my brain says, while I smile in guileful concupiscence at the gorgeous, seducative maidens who, by the magic of television, seem to say “yes.” And my body says “yes”, of course, which is nice because at my age “yes” is no longer a word your body says five or six times a night. The motor is still throbbing away under the bonnet, but I miss the constant purr of my younger years. So I get a bit of a buzz from the insanely pretty girls who are paid to try to sell me stuff on the television.
Sometimes a really funny advert appears. These are ads that could have been deliberately calculated to make me laugh like a drain for weeks. This bloke jumps out of an aeroplane, the ground whizzes up and you can see every blade of grass. The grass stalks turn into a forest and a male mandrill, baring his frightening teeth, stands princely on the forest floor while the camera dives over his shoulder to a stream, down the stream at huge speed until it opens into rapids, where human maniacs in brightly colored lifejackets shoot the white water. Suddenly the camera zooms to the river bank, where a praying mantis stares in that fixated manner peculiar to their type. The camera somehow catches a glint in one of the optics of the mantis’ eye and expands it to a sumptuous cloudscape. An aeroplane can be seen laboring through the clouds, and the camera again zooms, this time getting into the cockpit, barging past a pretty flight attendant who accidentally scalds the pilot with tea, shouldering through the cabin door to the back of the plane where, equipped with the latest Stupefikon 90 digital camera, a skydiver is waiting to jump.
Now about five seconds into that ad I’m already sure that this absolutely gorgeous sequence is intended to persuade me to buy a new television. The rest of the ad, of course, is wasted, because the visuals are so good that they convince me that my crappy cheap television is really incredibly good, thank you.
There’s a variant on this, involving George Takei. Incidentally George is looking amazing for his age. I recently went on a long bus journey with my daughter and we giggled like schoolgirls when a young Japanese man got on the bus. He bore a certain familiar resemblance, and was drop-dead gorgeous so I said “don’t look now, but that young Japanese bloke looks exactly like a young Sulu.” Of course I manages to turn my whisper into a hoarse shout which I was convinced Sulu heard all the way from the back of the bus, but he maintained his legendary helmsman cool and piloted the bus all the way back home without doing much more than sitting there at the front and blushing a bit.
Ah, okay, well this one involves George, the real one, not the lovely cutie on our London bus, showing us all kinds of television pictures that look wrong, and saying “aha, if only you had four types of LCD in your television this sea wouldn’t look green, it would be blue.” But of course, I haven’t got any type of LCD in my television set and I have never had a problem seeing blue things before. Could it possibly be a doctored picture designed to look green? Well, it’s an idea.
In my earliest childhood years I had no television. When we visited my grandmother’s house I would see her television and being a child I would go back behind the television where I would see the wonderful mysterious controls marked “Horiz. hold”, “Vert. hold”, “Grid pot.” and the like. It was amazing in those days because I was a child I could really perceive that Cliff Michelmore, the round-faced bald news presenter, was squatting inside the massive box that enclosed the tiny cathode ray tube. When we finally got a television set, of course it was 405 lines and monochrome, as were all sets of the time until the introduction of the PAL system and color TV in the late 1960s. By 1971 or so my family had a color television which could render Mister Sulu’s face in a way that made him look reasonably human.
The Sony trinitron is still up there in my son’s room and he never uses it. Perhaps I ought to get it going again.