Culture Notes


Issue: "JOhn Q. Citizen," Feb. 8, 1997

Welfare for TV moguls?

The last technical bugs are being worked out of digital TV, which will deliver such outstanding picture quality that it could start a new era in broadcasting. But the before the dawn of the new era will be the long night of an old battle, because the new technology will require new digital channels over the public airwaves. The question is whether the government should auction off the channels or assign them for free. The Federal Communications Commission has the authority to assign those channels, which likely will be worth a fortune--tens of billions of dollars, according to some estimates--for whoever controls them. Bob Dole suggested last year that the new channels be put up for public auction, to help alleviate the federal deficit. An earlier auction of non-broadcast frequencies, according to columnist William Safire, raised more money than any auction in the history of the world. But broadcasters sent their lobbyists in a full-court press to every member of Congress and, with President Clinton not wanting to anger the media in his reelection bid, the proposal died. But it's back. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, met with Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Budget Committee, to discuss action on the &quotDirty Dozen," the twelve worst cases of corporate welfare. Leading the list was the possible digital giveaway. &quotI'm all for an auction," said Sen. McCain. &quotCould turn up $30 to $35 billion. But we're up against the power of the broadcasting lobby, and it's the strongest I've seen in Washington." As the debate intensifies on Capitol Hill, watch how--or whether--the story is reported on TV.

Work of art bombs

A bag marked &quotbomb, handle with care," was left in a college cafeteria in Milwaukee. After some 200 people were evacuated, the police bomb squad discovered after an hour and a half that it was all nothing more than a work of art. A student at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design had apparently created a work of &quotreactive art." As explained by a police official, reactive art is &quotlifelike art that is placed somewhere out in the open to see what kind of reaction people have when they see it." School officials were not amused. Reactive art, they said, is not a part of the curriculum. Their reaction was to turn the matter over to police. The reaction of the artist was to remain anonymous and not claim credit for the work.

From Bart to Baywatch

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Kids' favorite TV character, according to a study sponsored by the Boston Globe, is Bart Simpson. The painfully cute purple dinosaur Barney, though loved by preschoolers, is the least favorite of older children. Researchers surveyed 160 elementary and middle-school students in an attempt to analyze their viewing habits. Thirty-four percent watch three or more hours on school nights; 56 percent watch three or more hours a day on weekends. The families of 44 percent of the children own four or more television sets, and 42 percent of the kids have one in their own room. Some 68 percent turn on TV to watch a particular program, rather than merely vegging out in front of the TV to watch whatever is on. Other favorite shows included not-intended-for-children fare such as Married.With Children, Tales from the Crypt, New York Undercover, and Baywatch.

Absolut nonsense

Forget collecting baseball cards. The hottest fad among the middle-school crowd is collecting ads for Absolut Vodka. Since the 1980s, the Swedish vodka company has been running full-page ads in glossy, upscale magazines such as The New Yorker, featuring its trademark bottle in a host of guises. For reasons that puzzle even Absolut and its ad agency, clipping and trading the advertisements, which by now number over 500, has become a major craze for young people. Most collectors are females between 10 and 20. A 10-year-old named Emily, interviewed by reporter Larry Tye of the Boston Globe, said that she started collecting the pictures in first grade because she was interested in &quothow many different ways they can make a bottle look." A collection of the ads has been published and has sold 65,000 copies. Anti-alcohol groups are worried that children may be attracted to the product as well as the ad. The impact of alcohol advertisements on children is suggested by a study that shows that children are more familiar with the Budweiser Frogs than with Yogi Bear or Tony the Tiger. The Absolut fad is spawning similar collections. Emily's six-year-old brother has started collecting the dairy industry's ads of various milk mustaches. That seems more wholesome--although Dennis Rodman is one of the collectibles.


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