While high school nostalgia, or Vegas, wasted most of us during spring break, my parents’ brand new high-definition plasma TV radiated all the real-time exhibitionism I could handle during five days of Oregon rain (and fresh crab!).
Recovering from Craig Ferguson’s camera-tapping into my bereft soul, I concluded that the Wife Swap hippie’s armpit hairs looked almost as horse-mane-y as my elfish friend’s. Maybe I had more candied chocolate eggs than late night insulin could handle, but I am a survivor of three cavities. No, a glucose coma did not sedate me to the HD-incapable Boy Meets World — it was a glance from Jack Donaghy that got me too emphatically high.
Gone are the days of analog programming, where you had to tinkle with an antenna to get a clear picture. Turning a dial that illustrated waves of static radio signals in between frames of shots that suited your viewing pleasure. Videotapes that were rewound again and again, lines streaming down the screen, until the ribbon was completely eaten. Pausing the scene to a blur and maybe finish it later, television was so fantastically TV and not “real life.”
Though “kill your TV” has been a popular anarcho-slogan ever since forever, high-definition TV has been in the works for even longer — since the 1930s (according to today’s most-trusted online encyclopedia). Transmitting more “scanning lines” across radio waves, France added 300 more to the standard 500 lines during World War II. Still in black and white, more lines meant more frames per second, producing clearer pictures. But since a greater bandwidth capacity is required to transmit more lines, broadcasting networks couldn’t afford the channels until the advent of color TV in the late fifties.
Like most technological advances (in this case broadcasting HDTV programs), the United States finally caught on 30 years later. In 1981, Japan’s newly developed “Hi-Vision” system (1979) reached the eyes of then actor and President Ronald Reagan. In spite of the presidential blessing to commercially produce this system, however, the Federal Communications Commission didn’t yet have the digital technology (only miles of cables and wires), the satellite capabilities (probably reserved for wartime splurges) or the economic feasibility (with only three networks) to expand the nation’s bandwidth frequency.
Color added another dimension to television. While black and white broadcasting only required one monochrome image to transmit, programs in color required three. Processing images upon images, the human eye itself has a limited bandwidth. Though these images are transmitted in frames, our eyes perceive them in fluid motion, not in the stills that they are in actuality. As the standard for television changes from technicolor to high-definition, our eyes are getting used to HDTV’s edited clarity as a standard of reality.
I am no optometrist who understands visual perception, nor an engineer who can calculate the bandwidth of radio signals. As a blogger who uses Wikipedia and “feelings” as primary sources for refined word vomit, I’m just saying that HDTV kind of freaks me out. The actors move too fast, and the cars make turns that seem too sharp. I feel like I’m watching something outside my window.
The picture may be clearer, but it is worth less than a thousand words. HDTV is no longer a break from reality, to forget for a while, but an attempt to become another dimension of reality. Consider hi-def’s popularity among sports programs instead of dramas; The high resolution of football players banging into each other make you feel like you’re warming the bench, while a black and white film like The Artist moved audiences with interlaced elements of romanticism and cinematography.
Reality is already here, surrounding me. The clarity of hi-def gives me goosebumps, making me feel like this televised play is staged in front of me when it isn’t. While entertainment is a phenomenal medium to reflect and create serious and fantastical parts of reality, it shouldn’t attempt to replace it.
Trust me, I should know. I own like ten movies that don’t have enough explosions, and spend my Monday noons watching 30 Rock on Hulu. Edited versions of reality that inspire me to edit my own. I feel like a voyeur of lives that go awry in degrees of beauty, instead of hi-def’s resolutions that vary in degrees of ugly.
But yeah, who am I kidding? There’s nothing more I’d like to see, or should I say “experience,” than hi-def broadcasting on steroids (or hallucinogens?) — 3-D. Watching Jack and Rose get funky in the Titanic with holographic glasses on? Please and thank you, James Cameron for making my small world a little bigger. When Rose presses her palm against that car window, I’ll be right there to fog it all up again. When Jack sinks into the freeze of oblivion, maybe I’ll push Rose right along with him.
Entertainment tries to compensate for the roads we don’t travel, for people we don’t get to know. Or maybe I just damn well over-think everything. Escapes from one reality to dive into another, we piece figments of imaginations into bandwidths of frequency to tell stories that would otherwise take pages of years to get to us.
It rained every day while I was in Oregon. When the wind calmed down, my mom and I drove her coupe to the beach where we walked along the shore until wet sand soaked our boots. We took pictures on Instagram, filtering the camera’s 8-megapixel hi-def clarity to the warmth of a memory.