Gongol.com Archives: June 2023

Brian Gongol

June 16, 2023

Broadcasting The good in consumer television

Not that many years ago, the seat pocket in front of most air travelers contained three items: A safety card, an airsickness bag, and a copy of SkyMall. Though the last of the airlines stopped carrying SkyMall in 2015, the notion was sound. Bored travelers looking to amuse themselves in an era before free in-flight streaming could leaf through the pages of an objectively silly catalog of items. Most would buy nothing, but a few, perhaps under the influence of diminished oxygen levels, would find a novelty item irresistible and place an order. ■ The appeal of SkyMall wasn't far removed from that of "The Price is Right", America's favorite show to watch while you're a kid home sick from school. The unapologetic commercialism is the fun. It's not deep, it's not preachy, and it's free from any political agenda. It's just a celebration of the unvarnished sensation of consumer pleasure: Getting a thing you want for no other reason than that it's within your grasp and you (perhaps only fleetingly) want it. ■ Despite the proliferation of streaming services and channels tailor-made for every interest, there somehow remains room on the television dial for lots of channels devoted to nothing more than the amusement of stay-at-home shopping. In the Des Moines market alone, one can count several such stations, including "ShopLC", "Jewelry Television", and Home Shopping Network (both HSN-1 and HSN-2). There's a QVC affiliate, too. ■ At first, the observer might be bewildered that the stations can even afford to remain on the air (after all, how many people in a market of about a million viewers are even aware those channels exist, much less watching and buying things from them?). But perhaps we should set aside those bean-counting concerns and simply applaud the fact those channels are around. ■ A truly unfathomable number of hours are spent watching screens in American households. And the older people get, the more television they watch: Seniors are glued to the tube, on average, for about four hours a day. While we might like to imagine that the alternative to television viewing is time spent reading the classics or taking up woodcarving, it's a lot more likely that passive media consumption is the preferred mode of behavior for many. ■ And if that's the case, it may well be in the general public interest for many of those passive consumers to be plugged in to shows touting non-stick cookware and portable cordless fans rather than getting overheated and underinformed about more contentious matters, like politics. Just like SkyMall was a mainly harmless way to pass the time for people strapped into an aluminum tube zipping through the skies, perhaps the continued survival of at-home shopping channels is a mainly harmless way to keep at least some people blissful and mild.

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