Same time, same channel

By Chuck Sigars | Feb 06, 2013

In a couple of weeks, on Feb. 24, the Oscars will be broadcast. There will be the usual pre-awards hype and claims that this year, more attention will be paid to pacing the show more briskly (no one really cares).

Along with the horse-race aspect (only a few care, and they’ll mostly be dressed up), there will be speculation on the host’s ability to be entertaining and which recently deceased movie star will have the final frame in the “In Memoriam” montage.

And at some point, someone will mention, in some way, that more than a billion people are watching.

Soon after, quite possibly within seconds if you count Twitter, someone will also point out that this is a ridiculously hyperinflated number, although it’s been claimed for nearly 30 years.

There’s no way to really know, for one thing, and it’s also probably an extrapolation of the percentage of the U.S. audience, which is shrinking while the world’s population is expanding.

So don’t believe it.

I have no intention of watching the Oscars, by the way, although stranger things have happened. It just was on my mind, the hype and the inflated numbers, this past Sunday when I watched the same thing you did.

And of course I’m hyperinflating myself here. As I write, it sounds like approximately 50 percent of television screens in this country were pointed toward New Orleans, watching the Ravens and the 49ers stare up and wonder why the lights were off.

Still, Super Bowl Sunday is a big day, and provides something so rare in these times that it’s worth mentioning: A shared experience. And even while half of the country yawned and found something else to do, it still feels as though we all watched together.

There have been 47 of these games, and while I have no memory of the first two, it’s possible I watched them. I remember the third one, and I’m fairly certain I haven’t missed one since, although I’ve only had any particular passion for the outcome twice (both times my teams lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, although I don’t dwell on it).

I’m just another American, watching the big game on the big day.

It just struck me, the novelty of it. Whether you cared or not, whether you were going to be spending the afternoon wallowing in nachos or riding your bike, if I stood next to you in a line somewhere and asked, “Ready for the game?” you would know what I was talking about.

Or, to put it in a civics sense (and to extrapolate some numbers of my own), almost as many Americans watched the game as bothered to vote in this past November’s presidential election (Election LVII, if you’re counting).

I’m not applying judgment here, you understand. The idea that America was somehow better off when we all sat around glowing screens to watch the final episode of “The Fugitive” (in 1967, the year of the first Super Bowl, which may just be a coincidence or may be really, really important) is not something I spend much time ruminating about.

And this is culture, a dicey subject from which to figure out anything about ourselves. There was a time when I’m sure it seemed as though everyone was jitterbugging, for example. We’re not worse off, I’m guessing.

But we’re not television watchers in this household anymore, or at least not in the old-fashioned sense. We gave up cable a few years ago, and the rare show that catches my attention is easily streamed online for a fraction of the cost.

We’re not the odd ones here, either; this is obviously where we’re heading, to a model where we pay for what we want to watch, not The Gluten-Free Channel. I’m just sort of cutting edge, as always.

And not being a regular watcher, I was sort of amused by the CBS commercials for their network offerings. “The #1 Show in America!” has an ironic feel when you realize only a small fraction of America actually watches it (something with CIS in the title, I think).

In a sense, then, it was fun to think that many of us were doing the same thing at the same time last Sunday, even if we didn’t care who won or what Beyonce was wearing, or how long Alicia Keys took to sing the national anthem (she may still be singing).

The Super Bowl, in fact, may be the last remnant of this, a common cultural event that draws us just because everyone else is watching.

The Super Bowl commercial, by the way, that seems to be generating the most post-game buzz was the one for the Dodge Ram pickup. In 1978, speaking at the National Future Farmers of America Convention, radio personality Paul Harvey gave a speech called, “So God Created a Farmer,” which the Dodge folks elegantly slid over a two-minute montage of farmers and farms. It was dramatic and moving, and of course it doesn’t exist.

Not anymore, not really. The sad fate of the American family farm has been well documented, and of course it was just a commercial for a truck. But it was still nice to watch, in a way, and to remember, and to see the pretty pictures and to imagine the lives of farmers like my grandfather.

It was another time and another America, but at least, for once, a lot of us saw it together.

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