Thursday, September 5, 2019

Cable

For a while I've been the last person in America paying for cable. This is fitting, since I was the last person in America to start paying for cable as well.

My parents were holdouts for nearly the entirety of the 90s. On occasion my dad would have to drive to southern Utah on business trips and if I wasn't in school I was allowed to go with him, which I did. 100% of the reason I went with him was to watch the Game Show channel on the tv at the Ramada in St. George.

My siblings and I were desperate for a fix. We had our cousin Cami stay at our house on a nearly monthly basis, primarily because she would record Nickelodeon onto a VHS tape and bring it over for us to watch. These weren't targeted Nickelodeon recordings, but something more general. She just hit the record button and let the tape roll until it ran out.

We consumed these tapes. We didn't even fast forward through commercials. Why would we? The cable commercials were different than the garbage peddled at us poor folks on regular tv. We soaked up the advertisements, the rolling credits, the previews for other shows referenced but not recorded because of the space limitations of the VHS tape. And when the tape reached the end, we rewound and started it over. We let it just play in the background while we did other things so we could imagine what it felt like to be cable people. Cable people who had MTV on in the background and took for granted how special that was.

Then, sometime around 1998, Bob and Cathie McCann caved.

I don't know exactly what prompted it. My father seemed pretty satisfied with the daytime talk shows on network television, which he would call from time-to-time to pitch ideas.

He would yell for us to come into the tv room so we could hear the call, which he somehow made with a completely straight face and suspiciously-even tone.

"Yes, I noticed you were looking for stories about grandmothers who work in the sex industry. Would you be interested in a great grandmother who runs the sex industry?"

Jerry Springer blocked our number after a while. Ricky Lake sometime after that. Then Maury Povich. Now that I'm thinking about it, that's probably why we branched out to the world of cable. Maybe network television gave up on us rather than the other way around.

A call was made and a check was mailed. The next thing we knew, our access to television content multiplied by multiple factors.

It was just basic cable. None of that fancy HBO stuff. But it was enough for us.

Before long we couldn't believe we had lived so long without it. We had pity for those who hadn't found the light. We started filling VHS tapes with children's programming as a charity project for some of our cousins.

Cable was just a part of my life after that. And it continued to be. For many years.

Suddenly Skylar moved in with me #livinginsin.

"Why are we paying for cable?"

He may as well have taken the Lord's name in vain.

"I USED TO GO ON BUSINESS TRIPS WITH MY FATHER JUST SO I COULD WATCH $10,000 PYRAMID."

Skylar said he wasn't going to fight with me about the importance of tv (indisputable). Instead he tried to explain that cable is no longer necessary because there are better, cheaper ways to access the same and more content.

"You don't have to watch live TV anymore. There are apps for that. And by the way, you are already paying for most of those apps."

I couldn't argue with him, but I did anyway, for nearly 2 years. Then finally last night I gave in.

"Fine. Just, get rid of it. Get rid of my happiness."

Seconds later Skylar was ending my two-decade romantic relationship with cable television.

I texted Meg for moral support.


Not everyone can be an ally.

~It Just Gets Stranger

15 comments:

  1. We basically didn't have TV when I was growing up. I've been told that between when I was a baby and before I turned four, we had cable. Then we moved. Then when I was four to seven, we had local channels. I have memories of Reading Rainbow, Mr. Rogers, and Star Trek. Then we moved again to a foreign country, and we had some random channels; none in English. I think I watched Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain. I also watched a lot of Friends, understood nothing that was going on but just enjoyed English. Then when I was twelve, we moved back to the US, and we didn't have any channels. I just thought it was broken. But video stores were a real thing then, so we just owned some movies and rented the rest or checked out from the library. At school, once in eighth grade, we were supposed to write an essay about our favorite TV show. I wrote it about my favorite book series instead, because I didn't watch TV. Too many people thought it was a Mormon thing, despite me trying to explain it was just my family. I LOVED being at my cousins' house on the weekend and getting to watch T.G.I.F. Amazing content there.

    One day when I was a senior in high school, I came home and caught my mom watching TV. I WAS SHOCKED. I didn't think we had TV. She confessed that if you pull down the ladder in the garage, climb up into the attic, and flip a specific light switch, then it would turn on the antenna on top of the house, and she could get local channels. This was such a revelation but a lot of effort, so I never did it. My older sister was already in college and buying Smallville DVDs, so why did I need to climb in the attic?

    I went to college and lived off campus, and none of us felt like paying for TV or watching it. I could walk to Blockbuster and something called RedBox had just been invented.

    Then Netflix, and now all of the myriad ways to watch TV shows. I never really got hooked. I have watched all of Alias. A few others. I have started many but just got frustrated, because they felt like movies that never ended. My husband had to finish alone all the series we started. I would get impatient, go online, and spend a chunk of time reading all of the plot summaries and spoilers and called it good.

    Then last October, I was depressed and discovered Asian television. In this past almost year, I have consumed an insane amount of television programs from South Korea, China, Taiwan, and Japan. I don't even know myself anymore. Ha.

    TV is a funny thing.

    I'm sorry about Skylar's rudeness. RIP Eli's Cable Subscription

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  2. My parents didn't get cable until after I left for college. I don't think they got it until they moved someplace that didn't have decent network television (i.e., to the middle of nowhere). When I was living at home my dad used to say that we didn't need cable because we had a VCR. In his mind - all cable was good for was watching movies. He couldn't grasp the idea of MTV -- which as a teenager is DESPERATELY wanted.

    We cut the cable several years ago and I had the same reaction when my husband suggested it. WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU WANT TO CANCEL CABLE????? Now we tell everyone to do it. We even share a Netflix and Hulu subscription with my sister (shhhhh - I didn't tell you that). Once we found HuluLive I finally felt fulfilled with my television watching necessities again.

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  3. I love your dad.

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  4. I never had cable as a kid. But there were plenty of things I wasn't allowed to watch growing up so even with the basics and movie rentals, there was still plenty of chances to sneak-watch. I think eventually my mom got cable in like, the 2010s as part of an internet/phone bundle. But it never got used, really. My dad watched stuff on Netflix (mostly "old" cartoons like Courage tue Cowardly Dog and Dexter's Laboratory). I had cable in college and when I lived with my aunt. It was nice. Sometimes. A lot of times, I was more bummed by the channels I didn't get. Or by the fact that I'd still end up missing the things I wanted to see. My roommate and I got it shortly after we moved in together 'cause she was used to it, specifically so she could watch mindless repeats about buying houses, buying antiques, and going to the ER. I mostly just filled the DVR with things I'd eventually get around to. For me, it was basically adding another queue after Netflix and Hulu and Amazon, and still never sure what I wanted to watch, or figuring it out only to find out that it wasn't streamable. We got rid of it a while back. Wasn't worth it. Sometimes she still complains. I placate her by reminding her that in two months, she'll have Disney+.

    Honestly, what I miss is Netflix DVDs. I keep telling myself to sign up for that again. I used to have a huge list of movies that were only available on their DVD list. Classics, obscure movies, foreign movies, etc. I finally signed up for it once. Got about half my list into my queue. Then ended up having to cancel after a couple months. But it's okay. They save your queue for six months. I'd definitely be back before that...

    I wasn't.

    And now I'm too heartbroken to go back. But then I remember, I still have half a list...and then I remember all those queues of unwatched movies and shows...and then I go watch John Mulahney stand ups and The Glades for the 14th time...

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  5. SAME! I just had antennae tv growing up, and we had one of those tvs with the dials on the front - no remote. My parents didn't get cable until I went away to college. I was so happy to be an adult and have access to cable that for several years after college I chose paying for cable over paying for having internet at home! So you're not alone, Eli! I swapped that about 4 or 5 years ago though and am now all about the streaming.

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  6. We have a Smart TV. We pay for Amazon Prime. 99% of what we watch comes over the antenna in the attic, on the .2 channels (the re-run networks). We watch a LOT of commercials for final expense life insurance, and mobility assistance devices. Our average age is 34.2.

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  7. Okay! So I’m way behind but I’m finally ready to cancel our cable. But my boys are big sports fans. What app can you get to watch all the sports games?

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  8. We had cable on and off based on how well off we were. I certainly enjoyed my fair share of MTV. Then in 1990 we moved to the country, cable no longer an option. We had a cool house with an in ground pool but no freakin cable! I lived in Wisconsin, winters were long. Now the one thing my parents held forever on was call waiting. Two teenage girls and no call waiting. It was awful.

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  9. We didn't even have a TV until I was a teenager. We would go to my grandmother's to watch movies and the neighbor's to watch Full House every single day. The neighbor had cable, and moved when I was 9. Then we moved and had no neighbors and no TV. Just the great outdoors and the library. My mom's friend gave her an old VHS/TV combo, so that she could do exercise videos. We never saw her use it for that purpose, but that could be because of how much we ridiculed the videos. It didn't pick up any TV channels, so it was just used for watching old black and white movies my dad decided were wholesome enough for us to watch, and Creationism documentaries. When I finally got a job a laptop with a DVD drive was one of my first purchases. We weren't old enough to go to Blockbuster so we borrowed everything from the library.

    Then TV channels started allowing you to watch their shows on their own crappy viewers. So we would watch Alias and Lost and Ugly Betty on dial-up. Is that even possible? I don't remember, but we didn't upgrade from dial-up until at least 2005.

    In any case, I've never had cable, and I was an early adopter of Hulu and Netflix. Now when we want to watch something live, it's an international sporting event, and we sign up for Sling for a month.

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  10. I can honestly say, at 36, I have never in my life paid any kind of television viewing/streaming subscription. My Netflix, I watch off my parents’ account (I refuse to feel lame about this, you can’t make me) and what Asian dramas I want to watch that netflix doesn’t have (and that’s a lot, honestly), I use my sister’s VIKI subscription. (I’M NOT LAME, YOU ARE!) I have been getting really tempted by YOUTUBE’s subscription options lately, because...Asian dramas that I want to watch that are only available for their “premium” memberships... But yeah, my husband and I have actually never even bought a tv. We’re basically not actual Americans.

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  11. I've never had cable. We went from regular TV to Netflix and Hulu. My parents did get cable long after the kids moved out, so when we go to their house we see 200 channels with nothing good on, plus commercials.

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  12. I’m very interested in Eli’s advice for sports channels. Please proceed.

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  13. For sports, my husband uses his parents’ cable subscription. He is able to put their information into the website, so even though we live thousands of miles away, it still works.

    Are live sports what is keeping cable alive??

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    Replies
    1. No, because you can stream those too and cable restricts access to games based on where you live.

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