This morning in spin class, one of the members was lamenting that she had to send her kids out of the room last night while the TV was on. The cussing and the subject matter, as she described it, was pretty shocking, and she nearly wailed, “And this was on regular TV, not even cable!”
It is moments like that which reinforce my satisfaction that being TV-free has no downsides. To clarify, we do have a TV (two, in fact), but unconnected to the outside world. We have no cable, no satellite, and our positioning next to the hills makes even regular networks too snowy to watch. We have a pretty large collection of videos and DVDs, and we do subscribe to Netflix, so I have to admit that between that and computer games, my kids get probably more screen-time than they should. There is no look on my childrens’ faces I hate more than the dull-eyed, slightly-open-mouthed trance which is rendered more unsettling by the intermittent flickers of TV-light illuminating it. It makes me want to smack them out of it and then smack myself for letting them use the Plug-In Drug.
As a homeschooler, I know that my kids are watched for signs of weirdness and oversheltering. Their minimized exposure to pop culture via television means that there are dozens of references that they just won’t get. I used to wonder if this was a disadvantage, to be outside the formation of a collective cultural consciousness that pervades the American psyche. But then I realized that the effects of that formation are unavoidable, and may even be easier for them to examine critically as “outsiders.” For example, having never seen American Idol, neither my children nor I have watched Simon cruelly deflate the contestants, but we can see the effects his “cleverness” has on the wider culture: when people skilled at quick-witted cheap shots are given celebrity status, there are more cheap shots fired at will. There are dozens more instances of this–my kids don’t watch MTV, but when they shop for clothes or toys they will find its echos in both style and substance. Bratz dolls, anyone?
It can be argued that TV doesn’t create culture, but simply reflects it back to us. While I can agree with that statement, networks necessarily amplify and beam out for our consumption the edgiest and often ugliest aspects of our culture. If the transmission were accompanied by some sense of responsibility for that, perhaps I wouldn’t be so critical. But the sheer bombardment of violence, sex, and disfunction packaged as “entertainment” and “giving people what they want” progressively numbs habitual viewers to the human costs of participation–not just of wasted time, but of skewing our perceptions of behaviors that shape the way we relate to others. I am certainly no exception–for example, it wasn’t until my 3-year-old eldest daughter began asking questions about what was going on in “Days of Our Lives” that I thought of my watching it to be anything more than guilty pleasure. And I admit to downloading “Battlestar Galactica” not because it is well-written (which it is) or because of its commentary on current events (which can be illuminating) but because it is so COOL. But I won’t let my kids watch it, which may well be argument enough that I shouldn’t be watching it either.
But I’m already looking forward to next season.