February 1, 2009



This might well be the last chance I have to get the word out. This may well be the last chance any of us have before it’s too late.

            Throughout history, February 17th has been marked by disasters, both natural and man-made—storms, floods, avalanches, massive human stampedes, train and ferry wrecks. Even several nuclear tests. Together they have cost thousands and thousands of lives. But I fear all those will pale when compared to what happens this year.

            On February 17th, 2009, we all will experience what’s being called a “government mandated switch” to digital television. The only reason being given for this is “it’s just better, is all.” As the date draws closer, the message is inescapable, and always delivered with a broad smile. Those of us who don’t have a digital television will be forced to either buy one or at least get ourselves a digital cable connection. As a distant final option (and the cheapest), we can just buy a converter box to plug into our comically outdated analog televisions. If we don’t, we’re warned with a smile, we’ll lose our signal completely on the 17th—and lord knows we don’t want to do that! We’d miss American Idol!

            I’ve been suspicious of the switch-over from the beginning. At first my question was simple and pragmatic—who’s profiting here? Obviously someone is, otherwise it wouldn’t be happening. And whoever’s profiting has to be someone mighty powerful, otherwise why would the FCC agree to such a thing?

            As the weeks wore on, however, and I heard more about the nationwide switch to digital, my suspicions turned darker. This was more than a matter of profits—there was something terribly sinister going on.

            Consider this: who’s being targeted?

            Well, it’s actually a fairly small percentage of the population—those of us still getting along quite happily with our ancient technologies. And that group can be broken into three rough categories: those of us who aren’t swayed by flashy electronics and cable company ads, and for whatever reason choose not to plug into the electrodigital grid (in short, those who aren’t that susceptible)—together with the elderly and the poor.

            (There’s a lot of crossover between the three. A lot of us are old, poor, and stubborn.)

            The first group is now being told, essentially, that they have to play along if they care to see any fine television programming whatsoever, and the latter two are being told that no matter how bad the economy is right now, they need to go out and spend money they may not have in order to upgrade something that was quite likely serving their needs just fine.

            But there’s more to it than that. The elderly, the poor, and the unmutual have never been real popular among people in power. They’re a burden and an annoyance. They smell bad and they aren’t pretty. The world would be better off without them—especially with the economy in ruins and Social Security stretched to the breaking point. We wouldn’t have to worry about those billions we spend every year giving handouts to the poor if the poor population was reduced to a mere tiny fraction of what it currently is. It’s just good fiscal common sense.

            You can’t just round them all up and shoot them or gas them—that would be too obvious. Releasing a deadly biological agent into certain neighborhoods is too iffy, too uncontrollable. So how do you reduce the numbers?

            Well, on February 17th, who’s going to be sitting in front of their televisions, praying that new converter box does the trick? It ain’t gonna be the people who’ve made the investment in the cable and high-end electronics companies, that’s for damn sure. They’re all set already.

            Which is why I’m now convinced that there’s another, more insidious purpose behind these converter boxes. It would be so simple to send out a signal through those boxes that would scramble the brains, zombify, or simply obliterate those uncooperative souls who aren’t properly participating in the American Way of Life.

            I wasn’t completely convinced of this until I was switching around between several local newscasts on the evening of January 12th. Each of them, oddly enough, was running a story about the benefits of sleeping a lot. But they were all about some different benefit of sleep. One study showed your brain works better if you get lots and lots of sleep. Another that you’ll be more beautiful if you get lots and lots of sleep. And a third reported that you’re less likely to catch cold if you get plenty of sleep. Taken together, the simple message was clear: SLEEP.

            This was then followed (on my television anyway) by an 8-minute “test” of the digital signal, proving that I was one of those people who needed an upgrade, and soon.

            It all became clear. They wanted us to sleep while they set up their evil scheme. Didn’t Village of the Damned begin with everyone falling asleep, only to wake after the aliens had gone about their dirty business? It was also far too similar to the plot lines of They Live, Dark City and Halloween III: Season of the Witch (except that we aren’t all being asked to wear Halloween masks on the 17th—merely place small electronic boxes atop our televisions).

            Those parallels might help explain why the federal government is handing out vouchers to help defray the cost of the converter boxes. They want to make sure that everyone who needs one has one. It may also explain why there was a call to delay the switch-over until June, given that not enough people had taken the necessary steps. Mere courtesy on the part of the government? Hardly. To make the electronic holocaust worthwhile, they’re going to need an audience of millions that first night, before word gets out that heads are exploding across America.

            The question then arises, if I’m so convinced that these converter boxes will be used to wipe out the poor, uncooperative and old, why in the hell did I buy one?

            The answer is simple. I wanted to prove a point. And a month before the switch-over, I’m doing just that. Or at least part of a point.

            I ordered the goddamn thing, but only after it arrived did I learn that I would also need to purchase a separate antenna in order for it to actually, you know, work. I am admittedly a technical numbskull, but that’s obviously what they’re counting on. So the antenna was another thirty dollars. And when Morgan came over to set it up, she saw immediately that the antenna I’d been told to order was not compatible with the converter box. So now I had to order yet another one and return the useless one. Why, I was already giving the economy a boost!

            The motivation here is obvious—those of us with Luddite sympathies are being punished even before they make our heads explode via an electronic ray.

            I was thinking about all this while Morgan was plugging things in (she still can’t believe I’m actually going through with it). Then it occurred to me that most of the smartest people I know either don’t own TVs, own them but leave them in closets or back rooms and never watch them, or plan to simply do nothing now and go without after the 17th. Suddenly that option seemed very attractive. What would I miss, anyway? Whole buncha crap, that’s what. Best of all, the truly unmutual minority (those not addicted to television) is so small in number that eradicating them wouldn’t be worth the effort.

            It’s something to think about. I think I could do without—and I would suggest, for the sake of conscious, thinking humanity, that the rest of you do the same.

            Of course, if they do postpone the switch-over, come back and read this column again in May. I’m sure there are plenty of significantly awful things that happened on whatever day in June they choose, too.


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