As a kid, I grew up watching television shows like The Flintstones, The Wonderful World of Disney, and Candid Camera on a black & white set in the living room. But when I was age 7, my Dad got rid of our television set. I’ve never asked him why, but will when I get a chance. I think it’s because he was working and putting himself through night school, and didn’t want us kids spending all our free time watching “the idiot box” (his words, not mine). During the next ten years I missed viewing a lot of junk shows, but also news reports on the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, and the feminist movement. We still had a radio in the kitchen, which was tuned to the NPR station for classical or cultural music during dinner time. And books. Lots of library books.
In high school, a teacher assigned us paper to be written about a famous person. He would also award extra credit to the students who stayed up to watch Saturday Night Live over the weekend and wrote about a current event as depicted on the show. I stayed after class to protest – we didn’t have a TV, so I wasn’t in the running for extra credit. He was incredulous. He asked what the topic of my paper would be and I replied “Lenin”. “John Lennon?” he inquired. “No. Vladimir Ilyich.” Silence.
At one point, my mother bought a colored TV and stand from Sears with the proceeds from her part-time job. She was so proud of that purchase! I helped her unload the heavy cartons from the trunk of the car and installed it in the living room, adjusting the bunny ears antenna until we had a gorgeous Technicolor image. However, my dad had a conniption when he got home, and made her return it to the store. Why, I don’t know . . . A year or two later, I saved up money from my after school job and bought a television set to install in my bedroom. Another family battle ensued, but this time the solution was to move the set into the living room where everyone could watch together.
Over time in my own home, I added VCR and DVD players. a full spectrum cable lineup, and even DVR (a device that records shows that you can watch sans commercials). That is, until my son turned 6. He was watching a feature-length cartoon, and speaking every line out loud in perfect time with the characters. I asked “How many times have you seen this cartoon?” He admitted “Lots of times. They play the same ones over and over.” That was it! I gave “the idiot box” (my words, not his) away. We substituted board games and passes to the Zoo, Science Museum and Philharmonic Orchestra. And books. Lots of library books.
Many years later, I was in the car listening to the news on NPR. The announcer solemnly declared that the U.S. had just invaded Afghanistan. With tears streaming down my face, I made the executive decision that my teenage son and I needed to be aware of what our elected officials were doing in our name. Headed to the electronics store and bought a tiny black and white TV with built-in bunny ears.
As I move into the cabin in woods this week, I’ll leave behind a huge high-definition flat screen TV with movie theatre quality speakers, and cable stations, Netflix, Amazon on Demand, and Hulu. What I’ll bring along is my PC so I can communicate with all of you, listen to NPR stories and watch PBS online. And books. Lots of library books.
Think: In what ways have television, radio, movies, music and books influenced your worldview? Are the images you ingest bringing you closer to a healthy lifestyle or further away? How do you stay connected and in communication with the rest of the world? If you have children, how do they spend their free time?
Say: Tell your favorite media providers that you appreciate their products. Discuss current events with your family and friends.
Do: Support your local public radio and television stations if you frequently use them. Donate money, time or gently used books and magazines to your local library.