Monday, November 23, 2009

Digital, with a Note on Public Diplomacy

Under the gentle prodding of a close friend of mine who likes to watch the Dallas Cowboys beat up on other NFL teams on Sundays, I bought a HDTV television set some time ago, at considerable expense that I really couldn't afford.

But at least I was contributing to "the economy" (however I'm not so sure my overly priced purchase actually helped American workers in any concrete way, as the high-def TV was made in China -- or was it Korea?).

Now that I've gotten rid of my wonderfully unreliable analog TV, some thirty years old, with its grainy, scruffy images, which I willingly put up with, not without satisfaction (as it reflected how imperfect our US political/propaganda system is), to "keep up with the news," I now find myself completely incapable of looking at digitally-created "free" commercial television (I can't afford cable), including the "evening news": its lurid, shockingly bright images, in my opinion, are an assault on my senses (blame my formative teenage years decades ago in Italy, living with the soft, natural colors -- then -- of the Mediterranean).

Who really can endure this on-your-face 21st-century visual digital assault, worthy of the telescreen in Orwell's 1984? (Not to speak of the oh-so-bright ads on the evening news on Erectile Dysfunction, now abbreviated at "ED").

Even "Entertainment Tonight," once my favorite shows to keep up with American popular culture (or simply to be "entertained"), I now simply cannot watch "technologically improved" Tee-Vee. Its announcers and the subjects of their reports look like monsters from God knows where made out of some kind plastic. Which maybe they are. Alien invasion time?

No wonder the defining factor in American life today is that we essentially consider ourselves "zombies" (or maybe "vampires."). That's what "they" -- they who want to define us -- all look like on digital TV (zombies, vampires). So that's who we "digitally" are because that's the way "they" are inside of themselves.

Pardon my sixties paranoia, but that's when I went to college. As Robin Williams said, "if you remember the sixties, you weren't there".

Ironically enough, the new TV technology, meant to "improve" communications, has led this taxpayer to think that the more "unconnected" he is with these "latest" forms of communication (or at least as they -- the new communications -- are used by the commercial powers-that-be) that he, a human being who is privileged to live in natural light, even in Washington, DC, is the better off.

Yep -- here's the cliché: Like so many other Americans, I now increasingly turn to the Internet rather than television for information. I actually read on the Internet. Enough of TV digital non-stop image-bombardment!

Food for thought for persons practicing public diplomacy, the much-needed presentation and representation of the United States abroad by its diplomats. Digital images, no matter how "advanced," and especially as how they appear on television (and on the Internet as well), can never substitute for the reality of our -- we Americans, and others interacting with us Americans -- seeing the human face, under the common light we all live and love in, in all its miraculous imperfections, of sensing the human presence, in all its all-too-human reality.

Having passed on this message -- which, to some, may appear reactionary or do-good-for-the-world liberal naivete -- let me say, on a positive note, that digital is a wonderful vehicle for screening classic Hollywood movies on DVDs, now available at Washington DC libraries. It is stupendous to see "Ninochtka," with its great line about the 1930s Moscow trials: "There are fewer but better Russians."

So it's not all that bad. Why not believe in progress, after all?

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