Set it Off

While we're ditching analog TV, why not kick the whole tube?


There’s a drumbeat out there. If you haven’t heard it because of all the political coverage, get ready. It’s going to become more insistent right through to Feb. 17, 2009.

That’s the date the government-mandated, digital-television transition, aka, DTV, kicks in. If your television reception comes via rabbit ears or from a rooftop antenna, you won’t have “Oprah” or “Heroes” or “Dancing with The Stars” after that date. In fact, you won’t have television, period.

Minority communities are most affected by this switch from analog signals to digital because we depend on over-the-air reception more than the general population. All the notices are quick to point out that the switch requires no one to buy a new digital television set; the old one will do just fine as long as people get the right government-subsidized converter box, something you can learn about here or by calling 1-888-DTV-2009.

But here’s another proposition. What if the vast majority of African Americans used the switchover to switch off? What if the change came and we just failed to follow through?

Think about it. It’s not as if television reflects African Americans particularly well. There are numerous sources—from Donald Bogle’s Primetime Blues to Dennis Rome’s Black Demons: The Media’s Depiction of the African-American Male Criminal Stereotype and annual studies in between—that show the disservice that television does to African-American images most of the time. Once, we all high-fived. Now, we all hip-hop or rap. Just last week, I cruised past Fox News and found a four-way split screen of “commentators” all ranting at the same time about whether Sen. Barack Obama was American.

So it’s not that we watch because we get a lot out of it or even because we like what we see. It’s just that we, like the rest of America, are addicted. In fact, we’re more addicted.

Blacks watched 42 percent more television in 2006 than the general population—73 hours of television per week, compared to 51 hours for the general population.

That’s the equivalent of three whole days of television. Three whole days of life!

Imagine what African Americans could be doing with those three extra days per week.