It started with a little back and forth between Jonah Goldberg and Andrew Stuttaford at NRO's The Corner. Goldberg admires those who can ban all television from their children's lives, Stuttaford is afraid this will "ensure a certain degree of cultural illiteracy." Now others, like the Headmistress at the Common Room, are weighing in.
I've been turning the idea of "to watch or not to watch" over in my own head, especially since reading the Headmistress' dismissal of Stuttaford's fear. At the risk of appearing to be an improper mother, or even a lowbrow, knuckle-dragging Philistine, I'm afraid I tend to lean more towards Stuttaford's way of thinking.
I do limit my children's television watching, both their choices and the time spent watching. I also try to keep a watchful eye on who my children play with. However, the latter can be a little harder than you might think. At least, it is if you are like me and don't have the intestinal fortitude to tell a six-year-old at your door, "Sorry, my daughter can't play with you. You watch too much television." My daughters, at least, know that their choice of movies and television watching is more limited than some of their friends, and judging by their honesty in telling me when a friend was going to watch a movie they weren't allowed to watch, I believe they are still following their parents' restrictions, for which I am thankful.
Now, I was allowed to watch very little television as I was growing up, and you could describe my parents' television choices as, well, prudish. I wasn't, for example, allowed to watch The Facts of Life, because of the title. I managed to survive into adulthood, although I would never have been voted Most Popular. As a matter of fact, I had few friends all the way up through college, and was often the butt of jokes. Of course, this was for a variety of reasons. At my college, not getting trashed on the weekends and not having sex made me a real oddity. And during that grade school period when kids find anything funny, I laughed when kids quoted lines from Saturday Night Live without having any clue where the lines came from. It was only later, when I'd happen to catch a retrospective on, yes, television, that the light clicked on. "Oh, that's where that line came from!" I still wonder if that little divide from my peers, that grew into a huge divide, came in part from being extremely, and perhaps overly, sheltered as a child.
However, I see television all around me. This week on my confessional-Lutheran-homeschooling-Moms email group, several moms were chuckling over a television show from the 1960's. A family at church watches American Idol and 24; their five-year-old daughter, one of Wildchild's best friends, named one doll Kellie Pickler and interrogated another doll with "Who do you work for? Who sent you?" And Wildchild was just invited to a party at the house of a friend in the neighborhood, complete with snacks and games, for the premiere of High School Musical 2.
We may pine for simpler times, or "When I was your age, kid, television was called books!" We may long for the days of Carney's House Party, a book about "Deep Valley," or Mankato, Minnesota, in 1911, where Carney is glad her father had read the "new novel," Queed, which her Vassar College roommate had just read on the train. When Carney's beau, Larry, gives her The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam for her birthday, she mumbles, "Thank you. Everyone at Vassar is reading this." Nowadays, I suppose he'd give her the Season Four of 24 DVD set. Of course, Carney and her friends also danced to ragtime and did the Turkey Trot, seen by some back then as vulgar, seen now as "quaint," I suppose. We may see television as vulgar, as insidious, as tacky. But for good or evil, it's part of our culture.