“There’s never been a better time for Americans to crack open a book!” As if.
That pedagogical rejoinder turns up in almost every conversation both online and off ever since rumors of a Hollywood-crippling writer’s strike started circulating early this year. But guess what kids? It ain’t happening. If you didn’t enjoy reading before the Writers Guild of America stopped working, you sure aren’t going to start now just ‘cause the talky box is on reruns.
Even a protracted writer’s strike with no end in sight won’t herald a utopian future — like that one episode of “The Simpsons” when Marge ruined “Itchy & Scratchy” and kids poured from their houses, rubbing their eyes against the sunlight’s bright glare. That’s just not us. And anyway, drama, scandal and intrigue happening right outside our door is hardly ever as good as what’s going down on Wisteria Lane… or the “Big Brother” house.
If history’s taught us anything, it’s that when Americans are faced with the loss of quality entertainment, we simply lower our standards. That includes doing what many media critics predict and what Europeans figured out already — spending more time turning to the Internet for our viewing pleasure. Too bad inconvenient copyright infringement crackdowns had to happen right around the time writers started demanding their fair share of new media money.
When the new TV shows start running out of episodes and we start logging on en masse, we’ll quickly learn what the WGA’s been trying to tell the Entertainment Complex for years — there’s a reason some people get paid to write. All our dreams of a connected future don’t change that right here and now, there’s a whole lot more dreck floating around in cyberspace then there are fully developed characters, interesting plots and actual story arcs.
Law-abiding Internet viewers of the future — as in the next five weeks, or however long it takes for networks to run out of fresh episodes — no longer have access to the plethora of entertainment once available on BitTorrent tracking site Demonoid or video link index site TV Links. While these peer to peer sites weren’t heavy hitters compared to other video hosts like, say, Google or YouTube, they would’ve provide welcome respite from the ensuing TV dry spell.
Not only did Demonoid and TV Links provide access to jillions of American shows ranging from the current “Battlestar Galactica” to, um, old “Battlestar Galactica,” they featured brilliant British shows beyond just the expected comedy of “Little Britain,” but procedural crime dramas that put our endless “Law & Order” and “CSI” franchises to shame. (Thankfully, “Life on Mars” is coming soon to BBC America.)
While there are sensible arguments positing that Google and YouTube do the same thing, without the monolithic money power, sites such as Demonoid and TV Links were bound to get shut down. Of course, there’s still a bounty of interesting 30-minute to one-hour entertainment finds, but not many you can download legally.
Network sites, as well as other short-term TV show archivists like Hulu, offer reruns of shows you’ve missed — or want to see again. But Hulu and similar libraries rarely host shows longer than five weeks after the original airing — so once new episodes start to dry up, their supply will too. You know what you’re left with then, right? Oops! I Got Hit in the Crotch aka Oop! I Got Killed In A Horrible But Ironic and/or Entertaining Way aka YouTube … and its ilk.
Seriously, though, how long are you going to enjoy watching “Two Girls One Cup” reaction videos? For those lucky enough remain ignorant of the “TGOC” video’s existence, it’s loosely described as about a minute of footage featuring two young ladies enamored both with each other and their bodily functions. Warning: The reactions contain mucho f-bombs and so might not be safe for work.
Happily, you can go your whole life never viewing this video and still enjoy today’s Hottest New Internet Meme. That’s because it’s not so much about the original footage, but people tricking their so-called friends into watching it and uploading the resulting reaction shots for all to enjoy. Yeah, it’s howlarious, features interesting characters and somewhat of a story arc, but not 4 hours and 34 minutes worth. (That’s average amount of daily television watched by individual viewers, according to Nielson.)
When faced with filling our daily viewing requirement with streaming online offal, many discerning viewers, I predict, will resort to tactics employed during the 1988 WGA strike – such as beating ourselves over the head until all memory of, say, that time it turned out Chuck’scollege arch rival Bryce wasn’t dead but cryogenically preserved or something. Then we can watch it all over again, like new.
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