Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Reality of Getting the Lights to Work

I know it’s a bold statement and quite off topic, but, I believe, we are watching the decline of the relevance of television. Gil Scott-Heron was right: the revolution will not be televised.

I started to notice the decline of television when A&E spun off their hit series Biography into its own channel and then both channels became home for crap that wasn’t Biography. Currently I think Dawg the Bounty Hunter and Billy the Exterminator are the only thing on either channel.

I didn’t see it coming when I watched the first season of Survivor in 2000. The concept of reality TV was so foreign to me. I remember my uncle Jim describing the pilot episode to me before I’d seen it and I thought he had lost his mind. That show then went on to grab my undivided attention for three seasons before I figured out it was a manipulative melodrama that was eroding my very soul. I probably could become addicted again if I watched two episodes in a row.

Most of it has turned out to be crap. All offshoots of Survivor but there were a few bright spots in the last decade as this reality phenomena was coming of age. One I remember fondly was Junk Yard Wars; another was Monster Garage. Those two shows were the booster rockets that launched me into being hopelessly addicted to American Chopper.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – that it’s more likely that given my predisposition to cars that American Hotrod was my show. The problem with American Hot Rod was that it couldn’t be anyone’s show – the characters were too unlikable. Do you think I’d ever let Blue Bear touch the TR6? That and you just felt sorry for the guys who paid for having these cars built. The owner of a car built by Boyd's crew had a documentary of the morons who turned wrenches on their hot rods – that seem unbelievable to me. Since his death it seems to be in vogue to remember Boyd Coddington fondly, especially if you’re name is Craig Jackson and you have no soul, but Boyd was a prick. Paul Senior is a prick too but in a different way – I can’t touch on it exactly but more likable – although his likeability is quickly eroding in this last season.

American Chopper was my show because it had content that I was interested in (working on mechanical stuff) but detached from my interests enough that I wasn’t overly critical of what they were doing. For years it was the perfect show. Then something happened in ’08 that changed everything. The show moved from Discovery to TLC. It seemed benign at the time but it turns out, with the clarity of hindsight, that it was akin to switching your vice from weed to heroin.

I'm not going to say too much about TLC because I love my wife but I will say this -It's the reason, when I quizzed her the other day, she as an educator didn't know who Charles Lindbergh was. Apparently he hasn't come up yet on "The Learning Channel".

I imagine, and I only have my generation to blame, that a lot of young TV producers cut their teeth on reality television of the last decade. There is a formula to the current crop of docu-dramas (can’t believe I just used that word) that is so slick it’s become impossible for anyone with any self-respect to watch these shows. Shows with potential like Pawn Stars, Storage wars and Auction Kings which are great ideas but they are born as hideous malformed drama monsters because of this new breed of TV producer. These producers know that the least of us (potential-wise) watch the most television and those people love drama and hate learning.

I know where Storage Wars came from. I listened to the same episode of “This American Life”. I hate to Give Ira Glass any credit because he already gives himself enough but it was a very interesting episode. The reality show is not and it won’t ever be because public radio listeners are not reality TV watchers.

Anyway I made that point to make this point: I’m still watching American Chopper. I know it’s not real – I know that it’s totally a commercial vehicle for businesses and other TLC/Discovery shows and this season they are not even trying to hide it. But I have to see how it ends. I want to see if this father and son duke it out. I can’t relate anymore because it’s gotten too cartoon-ish but there was a time I could see a little Angus and Bruce dynamic in there.

Although the more I think about the conflict (invented or real, aside) between Junior and Senior the more I’m reminded of an old episode of Cheers. It’s the episode where two women start arguing in the bar and all the barflies turn around to watch chanting “Cat fight! Cat fight!” Soon the barflies realize that it’s not going escalate to blows and they turn back to what they were doing chanting, “Kitten fight, Kitten fight.”

I think eight years in it’s become obvious to everyone that we’re watching a kitten fight unfold on American Chopper.

Before he became Hollywood persona-non-grata-of-note for screwing over Sandra Bullock, Jesse James was featured in a few Thom Beers produced docu-dramas (I think they were called “Motorcycle Mania” or something equally as stupid). In those and in his ever-diminishing role on “Monster Garage” Jesse took a lot of pleasure in taking shots at the Teutuls for the fact that they never fabbed frames or tanks from scratch. They would just pull pre-fabbed parts from a shelf and bolt it on. I always thought he had a point and it seems OCC thought he did also because since those days they’ve gone a long way to add non-Teutuls who can build tanks and frames from scratch. That’s not growing as fabricator but it’s the next best thing I guess.

That’s stuck with me as I worked on the TR6. No it wasn’t me who rebuilt the engine. And no it wasn’t me who painted the car. I’ll do those things eventually but not on this car. I can rationalize that but I am still sensitive to it. Although I did redo the entire suspension and brakes myself and I did weld the rockers on.

Last week in this blog I related that the headlight dimmer switch had fallen apart and that the TR6 need a new one. I looked it up in TRF and the new one is seventy dollars plus shipping. That’s a bargain compared to parts for modern vehicle but still money that could go somewhere else. Spurred on by the cost and the thought that I couldn’t really make it worse, I took the switch apart to and rebuilt it. Guess what? It works as good as new. Check one for reality over reality TV.

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