Rendered Fat Content


Elihu Vedder: Soul in Bondage (1891-92)
" … I wondered what might become of me next."

As I was driving by a tiny one bedroom cinder block ranchette, I saw through the front window a flat screen television so enormous that anyone watching it would have to stand in the yard across the street to gain adequate focal distance to see the action on it. Technology possess this sort of strange attraction. It seems as if the specs outweigh utility. We presume that bigger (or tinier) must be better and higher definition, superior, though in practice, beyond a rather modest level of clarity, television becomes increasingly unbelievable, like those old 'shot on video' movies where everything seemed in shockingly sharper focus but lacked a proper patina. When color began replacing black and white in film, the purpose of the medium flipped. It's no real trick to recognize anything represented in black and white, and many details irrelevant to the purpose of the production become much more prominent with color representation. The story usually suffers, becoming more spectacle than substance. The purpose was never perfect representation, but performance and meaning. There's little entertainment value in being able to pick out nose hairs on the bad guy's horses as they race by on the screen, or so it might seem. Meaningless prevailed.

Once that focal point shifts from the purpose of the performance toward higher-definition superficialities, more than an essential subtlety gets lost.
Production dominates, appearances overwhelm substance. When I first witnessed HDTV in an early prototype displayed at the Smithsonian American History Museum circa mid-nineteen-eighties, I left unimpressed. Sure, the sheer number of pixels and the obvious computing power supporting the projection seemed impressive, but the result looked overblown, as if the medium had overwhelmed any possibility of transmitting any meaning. The shadows on the cave wall held such remarkable resolution that I couldn't quite imagine any possible significance beyond the fascinating flickering. I felt every bit like a hypnotized chicken. I sensed that I would willingly do whatever that medium commanded me to do. I thought that if this ever became the common standard for home entertainment, we'd be screwed.

Here we are. My pocket phone projects each second more pixels, more seamlessly than ten years of watching my old twelve inch portable B&W television would. I loved that technology. Heck, I could take the damned thing to bed with me and watch it under the covers and it would throw off enough heat that I never needed any hot water bottle to warm my feet. No cable connection, it just pulled programming out of the public airwaves. The stories seemed more meaningful, too, without all the senseless details distracting my attention. My attention seemed somehow less rapt. I could iron my week's worth of dress shirts while distractedly watching some old movie while it perched on some nearby shelf. It could be my companion without necessarily dominating our communion. I can barely stand to look away from my glowering little hand-held display. Just try waiting in a room with an HDTV blaring. It renders impossible human contemplation. It renders us curiously less human.

The Muse bought a new TV. She and I hold diametrically different philosophies where television's concerned. She once lived in a home which featured a separate television in almost every room. I always tried to hide mine, lest it become a convenient focus of attention. Our current living room does not feature a television, neither does the dining room or kitchen. We keep ours hidden in a deliberately inconvenient space adjacent to our bedroom. I keep a grossly uncomfortable chair there. I usually lie down on the floor when watching, but I'm constantly moving, since it's impossible for me to get comfortable within eyeshot of it. I can distantly observe it from my bed, but I can barely hear it from there. I sometimes read or listen to a book while she's looking at some show.

Anyway, this new television, a little bigger than the one before, features dramatically higher definition. She asked me what I thought of it and I replied that my old familiar favorite show didn't seem very believable on it. The actors appeared to have lost a couple of formerly fuzzier dimensions, their edges more distinct but their depth suddenly wanting. I noticed myself quickly losing interest and along with that, the story. I found the new improved television boring. I noticed that I needed to find a spot further from the screen to compensate for its larger size. I sensed that what I'd earlier prophesied had come to pass, and wondered what might become of
me next.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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