The Blog Squad

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

My Interrupted Regularly Scheduled Programming

Last night, Monday, May 21, I was at my house going about my glamorous professional journalism life as I cleaned the cat boxes and unloaded the dishwasher (though not at the same time). The TV was going on, I'd tried to find appropriate background noise for these activities, and settled upon a History Channel show about pirates. Why pirates and why now? Those folks at History know on which side their bread is buttered. The next installment of the importantly talented Johnny Depp lerching around in a pirate costume is due out any minute. The History Channel is held in joint ownership by General Electric, Hearst Communications and Disney, the film's proudcer.

This was I guess around 12:30 or so.

An expert on a sailboat was talking about the variety of flintlock weapons pirates used when boarding a vessel. Then the image went out with a slight pop. The screen was not black, or blue, but this indeterminate grey, like some broadband fog. The image popped back, and we were a-pirating again. Then it occurred again. I'm thinking: those damn tree limbs out back, I gotta get them cut down. I reached for the remote to see what might be transpiring — back to CNN — and it, too, was grey. Then with a pop, I was seeing a wobbling video of ... a wrestling match? Looked small-time, not a big stadium, a huge guy slamming a tough little guy with a gleaming new metal trash can. No sound. Pop! Back with Anderson Cooper and some expert on the fomenting Lebanon, then POP! Back to the action on the mat, and one fighter leaping out of the melee then another going in and the crowd, a few hundred maybe, waving signs. And now I was really mystified. My cat box strainer scoop in hand, I started flicking channels and to my amazement learned that almost every channel between around 14 to 42 was broadcasting this strange wrestling match.

I confess that I got a little nervous.

Several things went through my mind at once as I stood transfixed by this ridiculous display that wouldn't be weird in any other context except this one. First, I was listening for outside noises: screams, car crashes, air raid sirens. Second, the Max Headroom Chicago television broadcast pirating incident of Nov. 22, 1987. Two separate moments on that evening, one during WGN-TV's evening news at 9 p.m. for a few moments and no video, and the second during a Dr. Who episode at 11 p.m. that went on for about 90 seconds. The character in the mask makes strange statements, there's a spanking, and out. This television pirate wasn't ever caught.

My wrestling match went on for I believe about 10 minutes.

I thought, also, about the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard who died on March 6. Perhaps he was the ghost in my machine. Baudrillard argued that the pervasiveness of contemporary media denies actual experience and that it manufactures a "hyperreality" that prevents authentic thought. The entire corpus of Baudrillard was understood decades ago by a woman my wife Amie knew. She was quite young, and the lady came to clean the house. She took a break to watch TV and when someone criticized her for watching soap operas, she just shrugged and replied that everything on television is a story. That is, the moon walk, assassinations, wars are indistinguishable from Days of Our Lives.

While transfixed by the blurry image of two sweaty bruisers in colorful costumes going at it with choreographed angry abandon in a chain link cage, I realized that whoever had hijacked this signal thought that a bold statement for the authentic was getting slathered across the television.

Except that it wasn't.

Wrestling is another one of our "stories." If somebody had instead come on and started reading a Baudrillard text (in French), sitting in front of a grey background, while wearing sunglasses and a jumpsuit, maybe that would've impressed me more, and perhaps been scarier.

I went out upon my front porch into the pleasant night air just to see if any havoc was unleashed by this event (thus proving that I am a 21st century U.S. man--thinking television has immediate effects on my physical world-- which it does sometimes in moments of great crisis). Would I encounter other residents of my street, in their shorts and T-shirts, blinking back at me, shrugging, calling to me, "Is this weird wrestling match on your TV, too?" But that didn't happen. Just me, the crickets, and a yellow crescent moon.

So on the Harry Kollatz Jr. weirdness meter, with 10 being a UFO landing in my yard, this ranks about three: a random event of unexplained origins, made more interesting because it occurred in the middle of a program about pirates.

The interruption winked out just as it had winked in, and I went back to the underworld caverns of Budapest and finding places for dishes that had not just become clean, but apparently multiplied while in the washer.

Trying to be a journalist, this morning I put in calls to Comcast headquarters in Philadelphia and to media relations here in Richmond. I was sent on a round robin of various one-named people in offices were their duties were pronounced too fast. One coherent Erica in customer relations here said she'd received one query about the late-night television interruption but she'd been provided no explanation.

If anyone else viewed this event, please comment. —Harry Kollatz Jr.

Update: Nothing To See Here.

The helpful Lisa Hartman, a regional Comcast spokesperson, jingled me after lunch. What happned was, Comcast schedules periodic technical maintenance for upgrades and such. These occur between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. While "making some changes and configurations," (The title of my first album) the Comcast channels were defaulting to our very own community access channel that was showing--you guessed it-- a local wrestling match. Hartman indicated that the sleeper hold put on the channels wasn't nationwide, nor did it even affect the entire region, just pockets, including mine.

All this proves me and the dead Baudrillard correct. No, this wasn't a forced interruption of the media-meta matrix, like when the Joker or V. or the aliens break into programming to denounce the establishment and make known their demands.

It was just a goof.


This now goes to a .5 on the Harry "Show Me The Magic" Kollatz Jr. Weirdness Scale. Romance is dead. —Harry Kollatz Jr.

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