Editorials

The Children’s Hour

Hollywood morality

Why O why would anyone, under any imaginable set of circumstances, ever look to anyone in Hollywood for moral guidance? The disease of the cult of celebrity is now so pervasive and runs so deep that we’re coming to rely on show-biz types not only for governance but increasingly, it seems, for instruction on how to live our lives.

 

That, to repeat a refrain from my last piece, is madness. (Both this screed and the “Canary” are far more deeply intertwined than it might at first seem.)

 

We’re talking about entertainers here, for Chrissakespeople paid stupid sums of money to remain children, and just a generation or so removed from circus geeks.

 

And that goes right to heart of the matterand the problem: Only a culture desperate to stay in a state of arrested development would ever come to rely so heavily on people who know so little about what it means to have a meaningful individual and social existence.

Hollywood morality

Hasn’t anybody read Pinocchio? No, that’s rightwe only know the Disney version, and don’t know that in the original book the puppet, tired of being asked to try to separate right from wrong, quickly dispatches his cricket conscience by smashing him against the wall like a, well, bug. 

 

That character in that book, at this moment, is us.

 

We’re settling for sham forms of morality and government, andlet’s be really honestculture too. Everything seems safer and cleaner when you can hold the world at arm’s length, when you can indulge in a steady diet of atrocities without consequence, when you can damn others wantonly, without evidence or deliberation, from an unearned and simplistic sense of absolute certainty.

 

That kind of behavior can’t hold in any realistic version of reality. But, on the other hand, it’s the coin of the realmthe raison d’êtreof movies, TV, and just about any other form of entertainment. There are a few exceptions, of course (fewer every day), but mainly these diversions exist to make life seem simpler and easier than it is by using cartoon heroes to clean up all messes (like Mommy putting the toys back in the crib), which, through identification, gives us an unrealistic and dangerous sense of control.

 

But trying to point any of this out is increasingly like trying to yell into the wind. The camps in these various actions are so deeply entrenched in their positions, so unwilling to see anything except in their own versions of black and white, that they’re completely blind to the fact that they’re all being played like fiddles.

 

But this is what happens when you forget that Hollywood is just an illusion, created to amuse you, and start to take its grease-paint, pasteboard, digital world for real.

—Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.

Darryl Wilkinson’s Wishlist for 2018

2018 Wishlist--Net Neutrality

I originally had a couple of things on my Wishlist for 2018, including a desire to see the United States Congress take legislative action to overturn the recent FCC ruling that undermines the concept of “net neutrality.”

 

If you haven’t been paying attention to the whole net neutrality policy debacle, you should. It’s an important issue. No, considering how much we all rely on the internet—for everything from watching cat videos to telemedicine, education, research, and the dissemination of vital lifesaving and life-improving information—unrestricted and open access to Internet content is vital to our entire modern, technological society.

 

At its core, the concept of net neutrality is that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) should not be able to restrict access to, or reduce the speed of, your connection to certain content or websites. In other words, ISPs should be regulated as utilities, just like water, gas, and electric providers.

 

Some peopleespecially FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who voted along with two of his four other colleagues on the FCC to reverse the decision to regulate the Internet under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934argue that regulation of the Internet stifles innovation. That’s not what hundreds of small ISPs and millions of Americans told the FCC during the public-comment time period. But such is the way of politics and big-money lobbyists.

2018 Wishlist--Net Neutrality

I wouldn’t have devoted this much space to net neutrality had it not been for the following press release I received yesterday from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA):

 

CES 2018 Update: FCC Chairman Pai Will Not Be Attending

Arlington, VA, January 3, 2018 – The following quote is attributed to Gary Shapiro, president
and CEO, Consumer Technology Association (CTA) – owner and producer of CES®:

“Unfortunately, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is unable to attend
CES 2018. We look forward to our next opportunity to host a technology policy discussion
with him before a public audience.”

 

It’s not enough that Chairman Pai voted to overturn the previous regulations regarding ISPs’ handling of Internet content. The Chairman has now decided not to appear in a public forum and answer questions regarding the FCC’s egregious decision.

 

Evidently, he feels confident enough to make a decision that will affect the lives of tens of millions of Americans (and, potentially, billions of people around the world) against the vociferous opposition of millions of those very Americans—yet he doesn’t have the courage to appear at CES 2018 in front of the mere thousands of professionals in the industry likely to be most affected by the ruling.

 

So, yes, my No. 1 wish for 2018 is that Congress overrules the FCC on this decision. My second wish is that Chairman Pai feels enough public pressure that he decides to resign his position and move on to some other highly paid, lawyerly government-advisor position. Or perhaps his friends at Verizon (where he worked for two years in the early 2000s as, according to Wikipedia, “Associate General Counsel . . . where he handled competition matters, regulatory issues, and counseling of business units on broadband initiatives”) can find a position for him at that regulation-overburdened corporation.

—Darryl Wilkinson

During his 33 years of tenure in the consumer-electronics industry, Darryl Wilkinson
has made a career out of saying things that sound like they could be true about topics
he knows next to nothing about. He is currently Editor-at-Large for
Sound & Vision, and
sometimes writes things that can be read—if you have nothing else to do—elsewhere.
His biggest accomplishment to date has been making a very fashionable Faraday
cage hoodie.

The Case of the Dead Canary

The Case of the Dead Canary

This started out as a stab at writing a “Best of ’17” list. But when I looked back on the year just past, I’ll be damned if I could pull anything from the wreckage that could really be considered exceptional. And the explanation wasn’t hard to find.

 

Culturally, socially, the land is barren. We’ve so abused the soil for so long that it can no longer sustain new growth.

 

To shift metaphors, the original title for this was going to be, “What Are the Coal Miners Going to Do When All the Canaries Are Gone?” Because, let’s be honest: Those hyper-alert little birds essential to our survival are pretty much extinct.

 

Forty years of relentless bludgeoning by pretty much every aspect of the culture has beaten a necessary sensitivity out of us, not only ensuring every new round of entertainment, political bread & circuses, and even simple social interaction will be more brutal than the last, but making us more and more addicted, and subservient, to the forces leading the assault. It’s not an exaggeration to say it’s become impossible to be subjected to American culture on a regular basis and still retain the ability to accurately judge its consequences and its worth.

 

And with the loss of sensitivity has come the loss of other essential qualities like subtlety, nuance, and restraint. Everyone can see the horrific divisions, the rending of the social fabric, that’s played out over the past couple of years, and they all have a vague sense of how bad things have become. But, trained—the phrase used to be “brain-washed”—to believe every situation is a form of conflict, of warfare, to think in terms of Us against Them, they seem incapable of acknowledging what their own actions have done to contribute to this unprecedented catastrophe—and that’s not just out of a convenient myopia. A lot of people—probably most—have just plain lost the ability to adequately assess the situation, let alone figure out a non-(self-)destructive way to address it.

The Case of the Dead Canary

Our entertainment—which sometimes mirrors the cultural landscape, but more often than not helps mold it—shares a lot of the blame. No society has ever been so completely immersed in—and swamped by—its diversions. No entertainment has ever demanded such a complete level of absorption. And no entertainment has ever before become, on a mass level, a form of addiction.

 

There are so many ways to approach this, but let’s try this one on for size: Western entertainment (which has pretty much become all entertainment) is becoming indistinguishable from being hooked up to a pervasive all-day, every-day shock generator. As each new round of movies, shows, games, music, etc. etc. etc. further blunts our nerve endings, it becomes necessary to up the jolts the next time around for us to feel anything at all.

 

Administering jolts has become entertainment’s reason to be—and thus our addiction. Last year’s offerings can’t create the same high they used to, so we need a bigger fix to feel the same elation. But there’s little rational about the experience—edification is just a pretext. This goes right to the primal brain, which is quickly and massively becoming the thing that’s driving the society.

 

Every form of entertainment, whether experienced in a theater with an oversized screen, omnidirectional audio assault, and rolling, jolting seats or on a cellphone through earbuds, is becoming a theme-park ride. We’re drawn and held by the shocks—whether it’s subwoofer-friendly explosions, graphic imagery, relentless conflict, or fetishized portrayals of the unsavory and depraved.

The Case of the Dead Canary

You can’t indulge in dark and edgy and not expect it to keep getting darker and edgier until you’re completely immersed, and lost, in the void. But what does that say about the audience en masse, or the decisions of the individual?

 

Some part of us knows this whole way of twisting the world is inherently degrading, but we ignore that because we constantly need a new fix. And, like with a drug addiction, it’s a habit that’s instilled when we’re still in our formative years, before we’re capable of mature judgment—and will eventually ensure we can’t make any mature decisions at all.

 

And it has the same addictive effect as porn. But since we haven’t yet found a way to take porn completely mainstream, we cultivate and indulge in other forms of obscenity instead.

 

And that helps to explain our pervasive masochism, our obsession with experiencing pain, thinking it will make us stronger when it actually just makes us deader, our obsession with self mutilation and with being punished, which leads us to subconsciously do things that actually work against our own best interests, which then allow us to indulge in the ultimate masochistic battle cry of “Victim!”

 

To quote Howard Beale (sort of), this is madness.

The Case of the Dead Canary

But these aren’t just isolated incidents, or even a still-emerging threat—this is our world, a malady whose center is nowhere and circumference everywhere. And we really seem to like it that way.

 

So, what about the poor canaries? The current solution would be to tell them to toughen up—but that, of course, is absurd. A calloused canary is useless, would be just another desensitized and alienated planetary citizen.

 

Canaries are still essential to our survival, to helping us distinguish reality from illusion in the murk of the cave, and yet we’re gleefully stamping them out in a kind of mass crush video. As much as we might like to think so, we haven’t evolved beyond them—if anything, we seem to devolving in direct proportion to our so-called development. And no one can claim to be fully alive if they’ve lost the ability to feel a whole range of experience, if all they can feel anymore is whatever new forms of brutality the overlords, eager to mold raging but ultimately impotent consumers, deem necessary to feed them.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.

The Future of Home Theater: A Manifesto

There’s been a lively exchange in these pages lately about the rise of high-end media rooms and what impact that could have on dedicated home theaters. So I wanted to take a moment to explain the Roundtable’s position in this debatenot as an effort to guide, let alone stifle, the discussion but to encourage an even more vigorous debate.

 

There’s a tsunami forming that could have as much impact as the iPod on how people experience entertainmentand we’re not just talking home entertainment here but all forms of entertainment everywhere. And it’s being formed by the largely chance convergence of the widespread acceptance of 4K, increased awareness of beyond-5.1-channel surround sound formats like Atmos, the surging popularity of streaming (fueled in part by the marked decline in quality of Hollywood films), and, maybe more important than any of these, increased bandwidth and its wider distribution.

 

But there’s another big factormaybe the biggest: Gender. Tech used to be an almost exclusively male domain. Those days are goneforever. Everybody not only uses but feels comfortable with smartphones, tablets, and myriad other forms of extremely sophisticated lifestyle tech. And hardly anybody looks under the hood anymoredigital makes that almost irrelevant.

 

But it’s not just a girl/guy thing. Anybody old enough to grasp the concept of a reboot realizes the potential of both contemporary and future tech, and feels comfortable swimming in that stream.

 

That means they want their tech to be a natural, and preferably effortless, extension of how they live their lives. That means the days of the man cavewith its connotations of a forbidding space, unusable by anybody but its overlord—are numbered.

 

But that does not portend the demise of home theater, whose best days probably lie ahead.

the future of home theater

The contemporary dynamic goes something like this: Almost everybody has a media-room system, even if it’s as rudimentary as an Internet-enabled TV. Incredibly sophisticated tech like 4K HDR and Atmos is becoming more and more affordable, and thus more and more pervasive.

 

Almost everybody wants the best home-entertainment experience their budgets can handle—and for an increasing number of people, that means being able to cobble together a system that can rival what they find at the local multiplex. But they also want to integrate that high-end entertainment experience into the flow of their day-to-day family life.

 

Thus the rapid rise of the media room.

 

But almost everybody knows a media room isn’t the ultimate at-home experience. And it’s part of the American DNA to keep pushing for something better (although that part of our heritage has taken a hell of a beating lately).

 

Bottom line: A dedicated theater room will always be the ultimate home-entertainment experience, and no media room will ever be able to make that claim.

 

But, to survive, home theaters can’t continue to be shrines devoted exclusively to moviewatching. (Like the male domination of tech, those days are gone forever.) They also have to be the ultimate gaming experience—and live-concert experience and streaming experience, and ultimate form of whatever entertainment any member of the family can find to throw at it.

 

In other words, home theaters have to shed their reputation as tomb-like retreats dominated by all kinds of intimidating technology and learn to embrace all forms of entertainment, and every member of the family.

 

There is no doubt the herd is being culled, quickly, efficiently, and without remorse. Multiplexes and other inferior venues and forms of playback probably don’t stand a chance. But four things will likely survive: Media rooms, event theaters, drive-ins, and home theaters. Why? Because each, in its way, makes the experience of entertainment something special.

 

But of these four, only a dedicated home theater can offer the ultimate experience, because only a dedicated home theater allows you to hold all the distractions of day-to-day life at bay, allowing you to focus all your attention on the optimally reproduced and calibrated picture and sound. Even the most tweaked-out state-of-the-art event theaters can’t match that.

 

And theater rooms will always have the edge over media rooms because everybody yearns to enjoy the best entertainment in the best possible way. And the only thing that can consistently deliver that experience is a home theater.

—Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.