Here I am, stuck in a public waiting room with a TV, and the TV is on. Somehow, I've managed to read almost 100 pages of Hilaire Belloc's Characters of the Reformation all the same. In between sketches of fools like Henry VIII, scoundrels like Cranmer and the Cromwells, heroes like More and repentent men like Gardiner, I've been fighting the TV. When I walked in, there was some judge show, where real people, the likes of which I don't hang out with (or even know, I hope) were in front of some clown arbitrator in a black robe whose function it was to alternate inane questions with jokes about the actor playing a bailiff. At issue, apparently, was a dispute between the foundress of a dance team that performed during arena football games, and some usurper who had stripped her of honors and expelled the foundress because she was apparently fraternizing with the players, which was against the team's rules (can we set that scene to the music of Mary had a little lamb?).
Other people were watching. Of course, it's not rude to make other people listen to your TV show, but it's rude to ask other people not to make you listen to it Eventually, the folks who were watching the drivel left to get some lunch. Click. Then I was called into another room. When I came back, another group was watching some show about dragons--not fierce mythical, demonic flying serpents. These were cuddly, sissy cartoon dragons. That program gave way, mercifully, to the local noon news, or so I thought. At least it was easier to mostly tune out a news anchor than the silly, sissy songs about some dragon who wants to be a charro (which I guess, is a Mexican cowboy, but I naturally think of the buxom, hyperactive perenial Love Boat guest from my misspent youth).
With the news started, my theory that the inanity I see on the local news where my parents live was due to the fact that they are in a mostly-rural TV market (with low-end twenty-something airheads running the station) went out the window. What I caught on the Kansas City news (I don't know which station, but it doesn't matter, does it?) shocked me. I hadn't much more than walked by a Kansas City news program since 1996 or 1997. There was a TV doctor (who obviously recognized that anyone who was watching him was stupid) talking about Tylenol poisoning in a way that made it clear he thought everyone who was watching him was stupid. There was a "Try It Before You Buy It" segment, testing a cheap, noisy chocolate fondue fountain, which never considered the most important factor with such an appliance: how hard it was to clean after your kids spent ten minutes spattering chocolate marshmellows and strawberries at one another. Also something about the tragedy of some motorcycle accident somwhere on State Line Road--no specifics; I wouldn't have been sure it was State Line Road but for the recognizable Black & Veatch building in the background (admittedly, I was immersed, with Belloc, in the motives of Thomas Cramner at the time, or I might have caught which intersection it had happened at). There was more to come, the anchor assured me, but at that point, the other people in the waiting room left. Click.
I read for a while, then I go the OK to run out and get a bite of lunch. When I came back, it was on again. Promos for the afternoon's "Judge Judy" episodes gave way to an episode of COPS. The other folks in the room left. Click. A fellow I was waiting on came in and talked to me. When I came back, another set of folks had the end of COPS on again, followed by Montel Williams, where apparently uneducated women were talking about their heroic efforts to rescue their children from abusive estranged husbands, trying to explain how the Uniform Child Jurisdiction Act tied local officials' hands as state officials from former homes tracked them down and returned their girls to the molesting fathers. Tears galore. Without diminishing the serious of such things when they legitimately arise, I was impressed that a venue existed for such low-class people to come on, and with tears and Montel's comforting hand, and defame their former spouses.
Continuing to read: Catherine of Aragon, Mary Tudor . . . .
Now, it's Montel Williams with some woman describing how she had been terrorized by some guy she picked up named Art. How she'd had a happy life, and it at first seemed she was making it even happier with Art in it, until, one day Art popped his lid, came home, started pistol whipping her and shooting her son. At least I think that's what it was. Happily, I was called away again and missed most of it. When I came back, the waiting room was empty. Click. I was alone in the room for the rest of the day until I was able to leave about 3:30. I was not forced to sit through back-to-back episodes of Judge Judy. Whew.
Yes, we all know that daytime TV programming is bad, but we don't appreciate just how bad until we're in a nearly captive situation. The advertisements tell the rest of the story: proprietary trade schools implying that a year-and-a-half of training with them in electronics or business management will lead to a job where you can afford the BMW SUV and a $300,000 house (when I have a professional degree and can't manage it--or at least dare not try). Car title loans and payday loans. "Free" scooters and power chairs for the "mobility challenged," once medicare/medicaid chips in. Massage therapy schools recruiting a new class (every one of our graduates loves what they do for people). New surgical procedures to help you lose the lard on your backside without resorting to self-discipline. A few hours of daytime programming and advertisements is an insight for those of us who are living the professional life, or living simple, good Catholic working lives to see what we're really up against.
We all know about the enemy leadership in the culture wars. We see them at work every day in the articles linked in CWNews and Seattle Catholic and our other favorite portals. Our own Catholic pundits have analyzed them rather thoroughly. But do we really know about the ranks of enemy troops? The ordinary footsoldiers? (I use "footsoldiers" loosely because these people don't appear to spend much time on their feet). A few hours of TV is quite an introduction. I simply can't imagine. I don't understand them. Empathy fails me. What is it like to sit all day, every day, and watch the world go by? Treading water? Giving someone a lien on one's car in order to get money to go get drunk on a beach somewhere, and then hawking an heirloom or getting a payday loan in order to keep from defaulting on the car title loan? To have no object and no goal, either spiritual or temporal? To watch programs like Montel Williams , which, I argue, is worse than Jerry Springer? (the former show takes itself seriously)
I cannot relate to them. I cannot begin to guess how they can be won over. Perhaps I should take comfort in the fact that while during this "cold war" era in culture wars, their inertia may be effective in holding back our cause, if things ever turn into a hot war, they'll stationary targets on their couches (or at least slow-moving targets in their "free" scooters and power chairs, and they won't be able to retreat in their vehicles because the car title loan place has foreclosed the liens and replevined them.