WEEKEND BRIEFING
The Tube

Dec. 12 - I got knocked on my ass by a cold yesterday, but it already seems to have cleared up. A cold always seems so innocuous in retrospect; it's easy now to wonder why I didn't go to the gym and sweat it out of my system after all, because it's impossible to remember feeling as though just lifting the television remote was too much work.

Which brings me to the subject of television, specifically Danish television, something I've been meaning to mention for a while.

First of all, we get cable. I think everyone in Denmark does. Not our crude American cable that you just plug into your television (directly or through a box) and watch; no, it's sophisticated European cable that requires an engineering degree to set up.

As an unsophisticated American, I expect to be able to click the "up" and "down" (or plus and minus) buttons on my remote to scan through all available programming. This is not always possible in Denmark, where every home is fed some forty-odd cable channels, but many expensive Bang & Olufsen television sets have reserved only 31 channels on which to show them. Actually 32, since "0" is apparently a channel.

The cable programs are fed over a wide swath of "frequencies" from 000 to 999, and to watch a program you need to go to the TV "channel" on which you want to watch it, then surf through the "frequencies" until you've selected the frequency you want on the channel you want.

You only need to do this once, of course, to permanently align a given channel with a given frequency. Since we've got access to more programming than our television can fit, however, we still need to go back in and twiddle around with our settings from time to time.

In other words, it's all a big sophisticated pain in the ass—and in the end, after eight months of futzing around with channels and frequencies, we're left with two televisions with completely different channel settings. ("I'm tired, let's watch the rest in bed." "Okay. What channel is this?" "Channel 7." "What's that in the bedroom?")

I think there are six or seven Danish channels: DR1, DR2, TV1, TV2, and TV2-Zulu are the heavyweights. We also get Swedish TV1 and TV2, Norwegian TV1 and TV2, a couple of Turkish channels, a French channel, Discovery, Animal Planet, EuroMTV, EuroCNN, and Danish- and Swedish-dubbed adaptations of the Cartoon Network.

There another bunch of channels that broadcast different content at different times of day. The most interesting juxtaposition is on the Copenhagen Channel, which seems to show nothing but town hall meetings during the day and hardcore porn at night. Other "mixed content" channels sometimes give us the Hallmark Channel, VH-1, Turner Classic Movies, and various European sports channels, one of which might as well be renamed "The Curling Network." (I can't knock it any more, though—I'm sort of becoming a fan.)

TV2-Zulu is probably the Danish channel we watch the most often, if only because they've licensed a decent amount of material from the NFL and broadcast one game every week. They also show a lot of handball, which Trine likes to watch when I'm not paying attention.

I have to rely on EuroCNN to keep up with the news, almost all of which is predicated on the fundamental badness of America and slanted to reinforce that article of faith. A story just the other day about Japan deciding to send troops to Iraq, for example, was introduced with a line like, "Anti-American demonstrations throughout Tokyo suggest the Japanese people may not support their government's decision to send troops to Iraq, announced earlier today." They ran b-roll of the demonstrations while the anchor intoned about the hostility on the streets and the level of discontent in Japan. Only a few minutes into the segment did they actually describe the government's decision.

In other words, they began with the reaction and only gradually worked their way back to the news itself. That's backward journalism, but it's the only way to present the story if you want to whack America. (And it's not just foreign policy they whack; it's all things American.)

Anyway, there's obviously not a lot for me to choose from when I feel like watching television. We get plenty of Simpsons and Seinfeld reruns, so I'm not exactly in the television wilderness, but I've still become interested in television shows that I never even watched in the states—Charmed, JAG, Buffy, Friends, Spin City, stuff like that. I'm not saying they're bad shows—just that they're shows I never would have watched before. (Actually, I take that back: Spin City is a terrible show, and without Michael J. Fox it never even would have made it onto the air in America.)

The weirdest one for me is probably Charmed, which is just a retooled Charlie's Angels in which the angels are witches, the bad guys are demons, and they fight with spells and potions instead of heavy weaponry. Otherwise it's the same old stuff: pretty girls in scanty outfits running around and saving the world from evil. They even swap out characters from season to season the way Charlie's Angels used to—and their "boss" is a distant and aloof entity that never speaks to them face-to-face.

Am I still writing about television? How embarrassing.

I'll stop now.

Mailbag

A guy wrote in last week to sympathize with a blog I'd written about my sun-deprivation induced neuroses, and their complication of language issues. He writes:

"I speak just enough Spanish to find food, lodging, start international incidents, etc. This was fine for a long time. Then my sister married a Mexican whose family speaks no English. I was enlisted to give a speech, bilingually, at her wedding.

"Apparantly a halting command of Spanish isn't enough to make jokes about illegal aliens and have it be funny, not insulting. My family laughed non-stop. His have begun legal proceedings to make sure that in the event of my sister and brother-in-law's deaths I can't raise the children."

* * *

December 12 is Independence Day in Kenya, Virgin of Guadalupe Day in Mexico, Constitution Day in Russia, and Neutrality Day in Turkmenistan.

December 13 is the Hindu Holiday of Guru Tag Bahadur's Martyrdom. It's also Republic Day in Malta and Constitution Day in Russia—although this is one of those floating holidays, so maybe it's not until Monday. Or maybe it was last Monday. Who knows?

December 14 is National Day in St. Lucia.

December 12 is the birthday of Sheila E. (1957), Cathy Rigby (1952), Dionne Warwick (1941), Connie Francis (1938), Bob Barker (1923), Frank Sinatra (1914), Edward G. Robinson (1893), Gustave Flaubert (1821).

Dick Van Dyke turns 78 on December 13. Fellow celebrants include Christie Clark (1973), Ted Nugent (1948), John Davidson (1941), Christopher Plummer (1927), Archie Moore (1913), Mary Todd Lincoln (1818), and Heinrich Heine (1797).

Tying into a theme, Morey Amsterdam would have been 89 on December 14. He shared his birthday with Patty Duke (1946), Lee Remick (1935), Charlie Rich (1932), Shirley Jackson (1919), Spike Jones (1911), and Nostradamus (1503).

Enjoy the weekend!

2003, The Moron's Almanac™

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