Culture

Culture Notes

Culture

Issue: "Urban mission fundraising," Sept. 27, 1997

The rumors of the death of print have been greatly exaggerated

The rise of the new electronic media means the end of the books, according to some futurists. The print culture, with its connected train of thought, is doomed by the rise of the computer and the internet. Print-oriented brains-including Christians fixated on the Bible-must shift to the more fluid, image-driven information stream of the new technology. But the very avatars of the new technology have turned to publishing books. Wired magazine, a cutting-edge voice of the new technology, two years ago started a book division called HardWired (recently renamed Wired Books). "Ordinary information is going to gravitate to electronic media," observed John Plunkett, creative director of Wired and a founder of the new press. "But extraordinary content is going to remain in the print domain."

Requiem for a nun

The conjunction of Mother Teresa's death with that of Princess Diana shows once again the instructiveness of God's providence. The two women were both media sensations, but they were poles apart in terms of the world's values. One enjoyed the highest social status of all; the other identified herself with the lowest of the low. One helped the unfortunate by sponsoring fundraisers; the other by washing the sores of lepers and ministering to the dying. One was the height of fashion, wealth, and glamor; the other wore a white and blue sari, but exuded a far different kind of beauty. One consorted with kings, princes, and the glitterati; the other went before the most powerful people in the world and denounced their support of abortion to their face. Even the media seemed to sense the contrasts as they tried to parallel their coverage of the two women's deaths. The second world-televised funeral in a week showed India trying to emulate its former colonial masters in pageantry and national mourning. Here was the same procession through crowded streets and even the same detail of the body borne on a gun carriage (an ironic touch for the peaceloving nun). And yet these were the streets of Calcutta, and the Catholic service, in contrast to the tasteful post-Book of Common Prayer Anglican service, actually mentioned Christ. But Mother Teresa, for all of her acclaim, was no saint to the intellectual, political, and media establishments. Disney-owned ABC hired as an expert commentator Christopher Hitchens, author of Hell's Angel, a book attacking Mother Teresa for such egregious contemporary sins as opposing abortion and being a conservative. In ABC's coverage, as the Archbishop was pronouncing the final blessing over her casket, Mr. Hitchens was offering his own litany of what to his worldview were Mother Teresa's sins. Peter Jennings finally cut him off, saying that this would not be the most appropriate time to criticize the dead. Mother Teresa always minimized her own works in favor of God's grace working through her. Her motivation, as she described it, was simply that she took Matthew 25:31-46 literally: "Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

Fiasco in progress: HDTV update

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New products normally are responses to consumer demands. The marketplace fills the need for new and better merchandise, companies turn profits, and everybody is happy. But what happens when a new product is introduced wholly from above, by a collusion of corporate magnates and the federal government? High Definition Television (HDTV) was supposed to be the hottest innovation since color. The crystal-clear reception made possible by new digital technology floored the trade shows. Broadcasters saw the chance to outflank cable, which would not be able to use the new technology. Electronics manufacturers thrilled at the prospect of new sales, since the market for TV sets has been maxed out. In a sweetheart deal with the TV industry, the federal government gave away the necessary airwave spectrums-which could have been auctioned for billions to data transmission companies. But this meant federal regulation. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is requiring that networks switch to HDTV and that consumers buy the new TV sets. Stations in the big cities must go digital by the end of next year. By 2006, all stations must broadcast in HDTV or lose their licenses. This means that consumers have nine years to buy new TV sets, the first models of which will price out at $3,000-$5,000. But, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, this fast-track imposition of progress has hit some snags. The equipment isn't available for broadcasters to make the transition. Programmers won't make shows in the new format because viewers don't have sets. And TV buyers, already chafing at the cost, won't buy the sets because there are no HDTV programs to watch. TV viewers, the industry, and the government should realize that there is a viewing option that has even greater clarity than HDTV: It's called real life.

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