Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Shovels and explosions with a smile

The Discovery Channel can really waste your time.
In the roiling ocean that is TV, with advertisements, plot hooks, bleeped-out reality shows, and so much more, it's kind of endearing to find something as unpretentiously entertaining as "Mythbusters" or "Dirty Jobs". Many are the times I've come home from work, plopped into my mildly-difficult chair (it's just not comfortable enough to qualify as easy) and searched for a brief respite on the tube. I usually end up on the Discovery channel. My plan is to drink a beer, eat some dinner, and then get on with the evening.
Inexplicably, I awake -- as if from a daze or swoon -- after several hours, wondering where the time has gone. And why do I know how plastic is made? I believe the secret dweomer that clouds my mind is cast by the novelty of the everyday.
Just think: You are surrounded by objects and phenomena that, in all probability, you know little about. Who made your cubicle? And how? There are fantastic machines and astonishing techniques behind even this most workaday of objects.
The series "How it's made" epitomizes this idea. It's boring when you first tune in: An announcer seemingly hired straight from those "educational" videos they made you watch in school. Some goofy music that sounds like a sitcom theme written by robots, complete with curious beeps and boops.
And then you see an unimaginably massive and precise production line, making something everyday and innocuous like lightbulbs. There's a machine that shoves filaments into glass at a dizzying pace, another later on that belches blue flame to heat-treat the bulbs, and on and on. Truly, lightbulbs have come to us through steel and fire.
And back to earth. Some of Discovery's stuff is, as I said, simple and unpretentious. "Mythbusters" is all about cool explosions and painful falls. "Dirty Jobs" is kind of like the grown-up version of that Nickelodeon show where everybody got covered in green slime. "Cash Cab" is a simple quiz show with a personable host. And yet...
Holy crap, it's 8:30 already!

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