Proof We're Nearing the End of the Spectrum

In certainly the most recent--if not the finest--example of truth being stranger than fiction, Time Warner Cable recently announced it would soon launch a Pentagon Channel.

Having been to the world's largest office building, I thought that having a 24-hour cable channel devoted to helping you find your way in and/or out of the Pentagon would be a public service in and of itself, but then I find out that the Pentagon Channel will feature "top-of-the-hour updates, broadcasts of the flagship television newsmagazine programs from each of the services and department of defense news briefings from the Pentagon and around the world."

It is hard enough to watch those square-jawed, flat-topped, starched-fatigued military "spokesmen" trying to made a silk purse out of an Iraqi sow's ear for 10 minutes a day, without them pretending to be television personalities.

Imagine a variation of the used car guys on late night cable bellowing, "Come on down to Sal's on Highway One--or we'll lay down suppressing fire in your quadrant..."



Although the intended audience for the channel will be "military service members and their families who live on or near the 26 military bases" served by Time Warner Cable, you can't help but think that it will snag loyal watchers of "Mail Call" or simply a few folks surfing up and down the channel lineup hoping to find something more fun to watch than guys cooking breasts or women having them implanted.

To fully appreciate military TV you must first understand that for every 5-cent word, the Army has a 25-cent euphemism. For example, bullets and bombs are called "ordinance." People are called "personnel." Cars and trucks are called "vehicles." Getting shot at is called "taking fire." Shooting back is called "returning fire." If you hit someone, you are a "coalition freedom fighter." If they hit you, they are "an insurgent or an extremist." If you hit their families it is called "collateral damage." If they hit yours, it is called "evil." Your leader is a Commander in Chief; theirs is a "rebel." If your guys blow up stuff they are called "covert ops specialists." If their guys blow up stuff they are called "terrorists."

One of the courses you must pass to become an on-air military spokesperson is "Poker Face 101." This means that no matter how outrageous your words, your eyes and facial expression must remain in a fixed and upright position. Any show of emotion is considered un-masculine. Unprofessional. Un-American. Casualties in particular must be reported in a soldierly way, as if a wet eye or sad brow would somehow compromise the war effort and give comfort to the enemy.

The good news for potential advertisers on the Pentagon Channel is that military families "relocate" every couple of years, so are in the market for everything the Army said was over their moving weight allowance. The bad news is the average household income for military families falls somewhere between squeegee men and part-time substitute elementary art class teachers.

On the other hand, the venture might attract the brass, so it could be a great place for arms merchants to "humanize" their efforts to win billion-dollar contracts:

"Hi, I'm Suzanne and I make the cross hairs for the aiming devices on M-1 tanks. The other day my daughter Molly and I were talking and she said, 'Mommy, will I still be able to take piano lessons next year? I do so love to play.' I laughed gently and said, "Well Molly, that depends on the Senate Appropriations Committee..."

Since the Army will be talking to its own, they might play off the special insider language that signals, "You're one of us!" in commercials produced in house for local retailers and dealers. "Ten'hut. At oh-eight-hundred tomorrow at coordinates Alpha Bravo Redneck 7 niner zebra, there will be a sales event at which attendance is mandatory. You WILL meet your objective of saving 25 to 40 percent off appliances. Failure is NOT an option. That is all. Fall out."

Since news of the war effort seems to be relentlessly depressing, the channel will try to break the tension and serve the community with public service notes of interest:

"There are scattered reports of a delay in the opening of the Thayer Elementary School this morning. Recon units of the 106th have been deployed to ascertain the problem said from unconfirmed but generally reliable sources to be snow. Stay tuned for a sit-rep incoming momentarily."

"The Ft. Knox Tankers opened up a can of whup-ass on the Ft. Campbell MP's in the Eastern Division of the Army InterBase Basketball League, 83 to 61.There was an exchange of prisoners after the game."

Pentagon spokesmen have confirmed that while there will be opinion presented on the channel, it will only come from one source. And it won't be Al Frankin.

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