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Beware the Ides of July

By Devangshu Datta
June 19, 2003 18:48 IST
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I've always known that cats are partial to Mozart, Vivaldi and Bach and are unhappy about the louder bits of Beethoven.

It was during lemon-breaks at the France World Cup in 1998 that I discovered that they also have decided objections to rap. (They dislike Norah Jones as well, but they're neutral about her father.) They're indifferent to soccer and cricket and they like tennis; they can watch serve-and-volley for hours.

One has to take the feline critics seriously. Cats are extremely well-equipped in the auditory department. They hear (and harmonise!) through a much wider frequency range than humans, or even dogs. Since they have far superior paw-eye coordination and reflexes as well, their sporting preferences are also worthy of note.

It was in 1998, when Mundial came around that the cats were exposed to TV. The lure of watching Zidane, Ronaldo, Suker and Owen finally tempted me into dragging out the idiot box that had occupied a carton in the kitchen loft for three years.

It had been relatively easy for us as a DINK (double income, no kids) nuclear couple to stay clear of the electronic treat. There are no little children clamouring for their daily fix of Cartoon Network, nor are there elderly ladies pining for the latest installment of the eternal battle between saas and bahu.

But still, we succumbed. Once the damn thing had been wired, and the remote fed its sacrificial offering of batteries, it dominated the living room. I learnt the cats didn't mind rap, hip-hop or anything else, provided it was on "mute". The restriction lent an entirely new perspective to MTV.

For the first time, I understood the appeal of Kylie Minogue, Madonna, J-Lo, Atomic Kitten and Co. With the sound off, I loved them too. I also developed a fondness for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the serial with clean-cut all-American monsters and tongue-in-cheek Valleyspeak.

There are great movies as well -- an adequate description of Lawrence of Arabia or McKenna's Gold on the small screen is impossible. And of course, sandwiched between the ads, there's the sports: Champions Cup, cricket, WoW and George W Bush.

Despite my inability to comprehend most ads, and our freedom from the need to entertain small children and senior citizens, I ended up addicted. Five years down the line, weaning myself off the boob-tube is going to be a problem.

But come the Ides of July, the idiot box is heading back into a carton. Until such time as governments, channels, and operators figure out what they're offering in delivery systems and billing packages.

It's the only sensible thing to do. I don't want to pay large sums for a set-top that won't work with the Multi System Operator in the next  mohalla. Nor do I want to shell out large sums for bouquets that I don't access. The ideal would be a cheap box that works anywhere and a highly flexible billing structure.

The way to get that is to just say "No" on the Ides of July, and sit back and wait. The more people who quit watching in July, the more incentive there will be to sort out the Conditional Access System fast and cheap.

The scheduling will help. There isn't too much sports due until winter. What's on offer is available on streaming video via broadband internet, and that is a value proposition. Giving Buffy a miss will be tough but hey, she's there on DVD -- with the ads hacked off.

But even temporary de-addiction will be a daily, nay hourly, struggle. Perhaps one can start a support group on the lines of Alcoholics Anonymous. As psychological preparation, I re-read Jerry Mander's 1978 classic Four Arguments  for the Elimination of TV.

Mander remarks that he read 6,000-odd essays, articles and books in the process of research. Just one advocated the elimination of TV. As I contemplate monsoon without Kylie in swimwear, I understand why!

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