Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

You are what you watch - no, really?

The front page of the Register told us that Iowa is Oprah and Dr. Phil country. Apparently they 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 their shows.

I?assume they do good work. I'm thrilled that Iowa doesn't lead the nation in "Scott Baio is 45 and Single" or "Celebrity Rap Superstars."

If aliens happen to be tuning in "Flavor of Love" or "Dancing With the Stars," they can only assume there is indeed no intelligent life on this blue planet.

However, it is quite likely that Oprah and Phil's ratings will never include this particular watcher. They can thank my employer for this.

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

I?sometimes get a couple of downs of a replayed obscure game by a college I've almost heard of on ESPN 68, 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 CNN battlefield.

I'm not sure what Road Rules rules, or what we are supposed to idolize about American Idol. Never seen 'em. No idea who the new generation of blow-dried network anchors may be. What is Paris Hilton up to??Haven't a clue.

There's no Oprah at that hour, either, let me assure you.

The channels are populated with infomercials 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 "WKRP in Cincinnati."

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, arm wrestling and women's synchronized swimming.

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

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 out a groin muscle while 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 heavy objects down through the ages in my watered-down Viking genetics.

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

Toting masochistically-shaped rocks seems to be the favorite plan here, with most of the events missing a specific finish line, being of the go-until-you-quit-or-die variety.

In your local high school football training room, this is called "lift to failure." The idea is that muscle grows fastest when it is pushed beyond what it can do. In healing the damage, it gets 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 to failure," you always ultimately fail. Both Oprah and Dr. Phil would recognize the psychological ruination in that.

The Register's analysts said 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, though, I?may have to watch what I watch more closely.

I'm not sure I'd want to be judged on watching sweaty men carry boulders, drunks playing Texas Hold 'Em, Chuck Norris peddling home gyms, or the rest of the late-night fare, either.

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 rocketing her stocking cap high above downtown Minneapolis so long ago, and what we are left with today is the late attempt that they can't quite get up.

So if this 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.

* One (probably) last thought on Barack Obama:

During his speech here, he waxed over a final question on farm policy, one you would think a presidential candidate mining Iowa on an almost daily basis would be eager for.

And in the process, her referred to the woman asking the question as... "Sweety."

Now "Sweety" happens to be a educator in a Storm Lake school who had brought her students to see politics in action. She is well-trained, experienced, creative, informed, articulate and a world traveler. But she is no politician's "Sweety."

"I suppose I should be flattered," my friend tells me with a wry grin, "but you know, I'm not."

For such a celebrated speaker, that has to be a considerable faux pas.

Obama gave an inspired speech in Storm Lake, and he may have won over some people. But he didn't really answer that question, and, I'm told, he didn't really land "Sweety's" vote.

* Dana Larsen is the editor of the Storm Lake Pilot-Tribune. Reach him at dlarsen@stormlakepilottribune.com