Editorial by John Ziegler

What the "Gay TV" Channel Really Means

2/4/2002 2:51:14 PM

What The Gay TV Channel REALLY Means

A year ago, during his long forgotten Inaugural Address, President Bush declared that our nation's divisions are so great that it "sometimes seems as if we share a Continent, but not a Country." This rather startling statement was particularly appropriate because we had just exited a decade of the 1990's in which we had experienced two extremely polarizing forces: Bill Clinton and cable television.

While Bill Clinton's ability to split us into disparate groups for his own purposes seems to finally be fading, cable television's inadvertent knack for creating much the same result is only getting stronger.

The latest example of this vastly underestimated development is the proposed launching of a "Gay TV" channel. Some are decrying this event as another sign of the imminent downfall of Western Civilization because a group of people they see as perverted and sinful will be elevated into the mainstream and given unprecedented credibility. While I agree that the ultimate consequences of this type of occurrence could indeed be grave, it is has nothing to do with the nature of the gay lifestyle.

In the new 100-plus channel universe there is no longer such a thing as "broadcasting." Instead, networks desperately "narrowcast" in an effort to appeal to specific demographic groups and create enough of a loyal audience to stay in business. Not too long ago, such a programming strategy just meant appealing to "younger" viewers rather than "older" ones. Today, that usually means targeting "19-25 year old, single, white, heterosexual, males who make between $20,000-35,000 a year" or "29-35 year old, divorced, Asian, females, with multiple kids, who own their own home."

Consequently, what we are most likely to see on TV has been tailored to fit what focus groups of people like us say we want to see. What is wrong with that, you ask? Isn't this just capitalism working at its best to create what the consumer desires? Well, yes, but not without significant residual effects on our republic.

Why is it that "narrowcasting" works in the first place? Because we, as narcissistic humans, want, more than anything else, to see ourselves. Therefore, when given literally hundreds of different options, we are unlikely to choose anything that does not directly appeal to our sense of self. As a result, the ultimate irony of the diversifying of the airwaves has been a dramatic, self-imposed, segregation of society.

With limited exceptions, the only primetime show that is watched by large numbers of every racial group (though just among males) is "Monday Night Football." BET, UPN, and the WB networks are almost exclusively watched by blacks, while NBC, CBS, and ABC still mostly cater to whites (and get routinely, unfairly, criticized for doing so). Is it any wonder that with two completely different "filters" of information that the races have such remarkably dissimilar reactions to events like the O.J. Simpson case?

The media divide is not just among the races. MTV and E!, among others, don't care for anyone over 35, while it is doubtful that younger viewers have ever even heard of A&E or the History Channel. The many sports channels attract mostly males, while Lifetime and Oxygen (along with most daytime programming on the "major" networks) is devoted completely to middle-aged women. It is therefore no coincidence that the "gender gap" in voting is at an all-time high.

Another product of this fragmented media world is that important information never gets to vast portions of the public. On an average night, less than 30% of all homes tune into one of the nightly newscasts. In the past, there was virtually nothing else on so, much as things still are in Britain, citizens couldn't help but became at least marginally informed, if only but accident.

Today, those you have no interest in the news (a staggering percentage of the populace) can easily avoid it, while those who do take their obligation to be part of our democracy seriously are even able to choose which "flavor" of cable network news that they want. Republicans prefer Fox, Democrats watch CNN and PBS, and the bottom line is that people only end up hearing what they want to hear and the truth is never defined.

Sport appears to be the element of our culture that is most immediately vulnerable to the splintering of TV. Television gave birth to modern sport and appears on the verge of killing it as well. Ratings for every sport are way down as the glut of games has removed any hint of "specialness" surrounding the games and, with the exception of the Super Bowl, has removed the unique element of a "communal event" from the equation.

As for the Gay Channel itself, I don't think it will succeed. Gays are actually represented on existing TV networks far more right now than any reasonable estimate of their population would warrant. But, more importantly, part of the allure for gays to have their "own" channel is that other groups of people would also be watching. The way television is currently evolving that is simply no longer the case.

source:<a href="http://dailynews.philly.com/content/daily_news/2002/01/23/opinion/ZIEG23E.htm">The way that this column appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News</a>

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