I couldn't watch the Oscars. That's probably a good thing. I had papers to grade. Still it irks me. My husband and I cut off our Suddenlink cable at the end of last year because we paid way too much for what we got. We now have a Roku device that lets us watch movies and old TV shows through Netflix and Amazon Prime. I sacrificed the current season of Justified. We are now among the millions of people called "cord cutters."
I could only see the Super Bowl at a friend's house. But more disturbing is my inability to see a new show on Comedy Central, The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore.
It is disturbing because I can watch the show in my office, on my computer, but not at home. It is a weird thing. You see, Suddenlink and Viacom, the company that owns Comedy Central, are fighting over money issues. So Suddenlink pulled Viacom shows from its cable offerings. And Viacom pulled its shows from Suddenlink's Internet customers. We still have Suddenlink Internet. When I pull up The Nightly Show at home, the videos are blocked. When I pull it up in my office down the road, they stream fine.
That makes me wonder what else I can't get. Or what else won't I be able to get in the future.
In the old days, you invested in a TV set and watched the same things as all your neighbors. In January 1977, just about everyone tuned into Roots. But there aren't free shows now. You need to pay for an Internet connection or cable or satellite. Some of us can watch the Oscars. Some can't. Some of us can watch The Nightly Show, others can't.
Did you know that if you and I plug the same search term into Google, we get different results? That if you and I both go onto Facebook at the same time, side by side on different computers, and look at the same friend's page, we will get different ads? Many people are upset by what comes up. After researching my elderly father's medical needs, my sister now has to look at ads for adult diapers on her Facebook. But you don't think about what you don't see. What am I getting that you aren't?
The Nightly Show launched this year after the end of the popular Colbert Report. It is different. While Stephen Colbert created a fake persona that people connected to, Larry Wilmore has vowed that his show will "Keep it 100." He means 100 percent or completely honest. That's a term some people have to look up in the dictionary. The first time I saw the show (before we cut off our cable) I found it odd. I didn't think it would make it. But I found myself returning to it. And now I find myself seeking it out. The attempt at honesty on the show is odd and refreshing and addictive.
We live in a world of politics and posturing, where people post their every superficial thought, but keep their real feelings to themselves for fear of reprisal.
I read a frightening story last week in the New York Times Magazine. Called "Feed Frenzy," it documented the trend of public shaming on the Internet. It started with a young woman who tweeted a bad joke to her friends before a long flight and woke up 15 hours later to find herself the most hated person on the Internet. She lost her job and had to change careers. She was only one example the author of the story found.
If I didn't have tenure as a college professor, I don't think you'd be reading this column. There are no First Amendment rights to freedom of speech in the job world for at-will employees.
But who knows? Perhaps this column, which disses Suddenlink, might not download onto computers connected by Suddenlink Internet. It is possible, you see.
The Federal Communications Commission this week is expected to vote on new net neutrality rules that would prevent Internet providers from charging extra fees to websites for faster connections or from blocking access to websites that won't or can't pay extra fees.
But I don't think that will force Viacom into letting me, as a Suddenlink customer, access its content.
What scares me is the ability companies have not just to tailor searches and ads to my particular psychometrics (that's my tastes and attitudes and opinions and tendencies), but to keep information from me because of how I think and what I'm like. Right now what's keeping me from The Nightly Show is a hissy fit between two ginormous companies. But what if it had nothing to do with economics? What if the people who run Viacom only wanted certain types of people to watch The Nightly Show? And what if they wanted to steer people like me to other shows — by making it free and super convenient to watch those and costly and inconvenient to watch others?
Do you ever wonder why certain movies show up on your Netflix and others don't? Why can I watch some old TV shows, but not all of them?
Because I can't watch The Nightly Show at home I have to remember to watch it at work. Luckily I teach media, so watching TV shows in my office is something I can get away with. Others might get fired for that.
Fired for trying to watch a show that revolves around honest discussion of important issues and that has been blocked from computers in millions of people's homes.
What aren't you watching?
Marcy Burstiner chairs the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at Humboldt State
University. She really does want to watch the latest season of Justified.