Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

You are what you watch - no, really?

The front page of the Register declares that Iowa is hot for Oprah and Dr. Phil. Apparently those shows get their highest ratings of anywhere in the nation right here in the heartland.

Now, I've got nothing bad to say about The Big O or the Good Doc - mainly because I'm one of the few persons on the planet to have never seen either of them.

I assume they do good work. I'm thrilled that Iowa doesn't lead the nation in Jerry Springer or Room Raiders. But it's quite likely that Oprah and Phil's massive ratings will never include this particular watcher. They can thank my employer for this.

My prime television watching hours are weeknights from 3:45-4:15 a.m.

I sometimes get a snippet of CNN, a couple of downs of a replay game on ESPN 8, a passing glace at a wistful classic on some all-night movie channel or a few minutes of some war or another raging upon the History Channel.

I'm not sure where the Real World is. No idea who the new generation of network anchors may be. What is Paris Hilton up to? Haven't a clue.

There's no Oprah or Dr. Phil at that hour, let me assure you.

The channels are populated with infommercials for products to firm muscles that I do not possess, collections of music that I hated even back when it was hits, endless promotions for "Girls Gone Wild" tapes that only make me sad thinking that "there goes someone's daughter," and reruns of "Three's Company."

The most interesting is the fare on the sports channels. By 3 a.m. or so, they have run out of football and baseball, even dried up of Little League games and women's synchronized swimming.

So you get nimrods playing cards, darts, log-rolling, anything to fill the desperate hours until daylight brings real sports back around.

My favorite is the strongman competition. Let's face it, there's a serious flaw in my psyche, and I like to watch 400 pound men sproing a groin muscle pulling trains with their teeth.

This seems to be mostly the realm of the nordic, though my ancestors seemed to pass no desire to pull locomotives down in my watered-down Norwegian genetics.

The winner usually seems to be some guy named Sven Magnus Svenmagnuson Magnussvenson, or something to that effect.

Toting rocks seems to be the favorite plan, with most of the events without a finish line, being of the go-until-you-quit-or-die variety.

In your local high school football training room, this is called "lift until failure." The idea is that muscle grows fastest when it is pushed beyond what it can do. In healing the damage, they get bigger. So the last lift, the one in which you fail to get the weight up, is more important than the first.

Problem being that no matter how well you do at "lift until failure," you always ultimately fail. Both Oprah and Dr. Phil would recognize the psychological ruination in that.

The Register's analysts say that you are what you watch. If Iowa is addicted to Oprah and her talk show, and Dr. Phil and his advice show, "maybe Iowans are voyeurs," says a former professor of sociology at Drake. "They're really for lonely people with no lives of their own."

Ouch. Easy, there. If we are what we watch, I may have to watch what I watch more closely. More introspective reporting and deep thoughtful films. More Oprah. More Phil.

Yeah, right. Fat chance.

I'm not sure I'd want to be judged on watching sweaty men carry boulders, drunks playing Texas Hold 'Em, Suzanne Somers' mastered thighs or the rest of the late-night fare, either, though.

Perhaps TV has "lifted to failure" - muscled out its Edward R. Murrow and its "Roots" and its "Ken Burns' Civil War" and its "M*A*S*H*" and its Beatles on Ed Sullivan and its Mary Tyler Moore throwing her stocking cap high above Minneapolis long ago, and what we are left with today is the late attempt that they can't quite get up.

If Oprah is the best of the worst, you go girl.

I also carry a book everywhere I go, so I'll be alright. I'd miss Sven Magnus, though, I really would.