Pity the poor soul hooked on HD-TV | The Latte Guy | April 17

Comedian Lenny Bruce once described flamenco dancing as an art form wherein the dancer applauds his own ass. Because of the mental image I carry around with me from Bruce’s comment, I have been unable to make myself watch even a single episode of the hit television show Dancing with the Stars, making it perhaps the only television show that I have not watched at least a few minutes of.

I confess to having seen bits of American Idol (my daughter’s fault), Oprah (I was home sick), and Beavis and Butthead (no excuses). Even the fact that some of the dancers on Stars evidently wear outfits that make your average Las Vegas hooker look like she’s wearing your grandmother’s mu-mu has not been enough to entice me to give the show a look.

I could say that I watch television merely to provide material for this column – a sort of, “I watched it so you don’t have to,” kind of public service thing. But that wouldn’t be entirely true, at least not in the factual sense of truth. The real reason I’ve been watching a lot more television these days is that we purchased a new widescreen television set last year.

Our previous television set was a holdover from the Eisenhower Administration, and had developed a disquieting habit of randomly changing channels in the middle of a program. It also occasionally showed old, unscheduled episodes of Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver, and not the good episodes, either.

I will pretty much watch anything if it is broadcast in high definition. Even commercials. Until I saw the Tidy Bowl man in high definition, I always thought of commercials as a scourge on society, an evil and manipulative attempt by Madison Avenue and Big Business to ball-peen the masses into purchasing shoddy products they don’t need and can’t afford.

I still think that, actually, but now I can’t help but also marvel at how vivid the colors are on Mrs. Butterworth’s housedress, and how truly absorbent Bounty paper towels are when seen soaking up soda on a molecular level.

One thing I’ve noticed in my year of enhanced television watching is that we viewers can’t seem to get enough of competition. Whether it’s cooking, making cakes, traveling, singing, dancing or losing weight, you can bet some station will have a program pitting a bunch of average Joes against a bevy of washed-up Hollywood jet trash in an inane but wonderfully photographed competition.

A sub-trend in the competition genre is the emergence of the judges themselves as the “stars” of the show, despite what appears to be incontrovertible evidence that if the judges actually knew what the hell they were talking about, they’d be out on the stage doing it rather than hiding behind the judges’ table belittling the “contestants.”

Would Alex Trebek ever laugh at a contestant on Jeopardy who failed to phrase his answer in the form of a question? You bet he wouldn’t.

All this recent television watching has made me question the mindset of the people who make decisions about the shows that make it on the air.

I’m reminded of Immanual Kant’s definition of the categorical imperative in which Kant postulated that a proper moral philosophy would have one live one’s life according to a set of precepts that he or she would at the same time wish to see adopted by everyone as a set of universal laws.

In other words, in Kant’s view you do only those things you believe every person should do in the same circumstance regardless of whether in any particular case the outcome of the action was likely to be of particular benefit to you.

I think about that philosophy from time to time, and then I watch a couple of minutes of Family Guy or Extreme Cage Fighting, and I fear for the survival of our species.

Given the contrast between the mindless opulence of so much television programming and the diminished state of our economy, flipping channels these days can feel a little like taking a virtual tour of the museum of lost American dreams.

Luckily for all of us, baseball season has started, and we can now spend our evenings studying the grass stains on Ichiro’s knees, just as Kant would have wanted us to do. Play ball!

Tom Tyner is an attorney for the Trust for Public Land. He is author of “Skeletons From Our Closet,” a collection of writings on the island’s latte scene.

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