Entertain me

You’d think that with dozens of cable channels to choose from, one would never run of television entertainment. You’d think that with the number of movies that premiere each week, there will at least be one winner that will be remembered, talked about, dissected and debated over coffee, wine or beer. “Hellboy 2″ put me to sleep. I couldn’t make out if it was a horror movie, a comedy or a sci-fi and, after about ten minutes, I just stopped trying. And the movie that I had been waiting for for so long, “Righteous Kill” with Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, proved to be such a disappointment as well. Sure, they are still great actors but not as effective as they used to be. Really, finding worthwhile popular entertainment these days can be such a hassle. Even the quality of paperbacks are getting so vapid that, last Sunday, I found myself buying two cookbooks instead of something from the bestseller list.

Still, I consider myself lucky. For a few hours each day, I do manage to find something good on television. Not the news, dearie — are you kidding me? Not the public affairs programs either. I tried to make myself go through the U.S. Presidential candidates’ debate over CNN last week but when Barack Obama started mouthing rhetoric and platitudes, I lost my appetite. Here was the man everyone says will change American history practically agreeing that the war in Iraq was the correct response to the 9/11 attack. Here was the man touted to reshape American politics doing some very unprovoked and very arrogant chest-beating by declaring that “America is the greatest country in the world.” Politicians aren’t very entertaining, much less enlightening. And Obama is just another politician. I won’t even waste my space writing about McCain.

But I digress. As I was saying, I still consider myself lucky because I still manage to get a few hours of worthwhile entertainment from television each day. Some are even informative beyond being entertaining. Well, somewhat informative. The National Geographic two-hour special on Stonehenge, for instance, looked promising on its first hour. There was this archeologist whose team dug up remains of a settlement near the area which led them to believe that Stonehenge was visited twice for a few weeks each year — once for the summer solstice and again for the winter solstice. They had me quite convinced that Stonehenge was a temple for the dead ancestors while a parallel structure made of wood was the site where the living celebrated after honoring the spirits of the departed.

Having come up with a good theory for the existence of Stonehenge based on relics that the team dug up, what remained was providing a plausible explanation as to how such large and heavy stones could have been moved to form such an architecturally perfect circle under such primitive conditions with the absence of advanced tools and complex machinery. That was where the informative segment ended and the cheap entertainment began. The documentary videos taken from the dig sites were over. Instead, there was a dramatization — yes, like a movie — of someone’s far fetched theory. Don’t get me wrong — I like theories. But when a theory rests on nothing but maybe’s because there is no other obvious explanation, I get a little miffed. I expected more from National Geographic — certainly not conclusions based on incomplete evidence. Disney’s “National Treasure” and its sequel had more convincing scripts. Even Anthony Bourdain makes more sense.

Ah, Bourdain. I can write three columns about the man and his show and not run out of words. I like him even more for poking fun at Rachael Ray. But I’ll reserve Bourdain for another time. A few days ago, I saw an episode of Food Safari where the Indian host was just as frank, as unrelentlessly vocal and as irreverent as Bourdain. His name is Vir Sanghvi and I learned afterward that he is a journalist. What made Sanghvi and that singular episode memorable? It’s the irony that Britain’s love for the chicken tikka masala that led former Labour foreign secretary Robin Cook to proclaim it as “Britain’s true national dish”. It’s quite ironic that, in a sense, India has come to invade the culture of its former colonial master. Information like that is not something you’d come across on the evening news and especially not by watching reality shows and soap operas.

These days, popular entertainment sucks for the most part — in a big way. It is often hard to discern where humor ends and insults begin with the amount of humiliation that gets heaped on contestants in the most popular shows, including American Idol and its franchises. It is just as hard to understand how some very badly made films manage to gross millions in the box office. I suppose the smart way of looking at it is that we learn to be more appreciative of the few good ones that come along once in a while.