Thursday, August 09, 2007

Pondering the Idiot Box

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.


kate5kiwis said...

and this is a special book...

ikwym, and i just thought this morning when M5's first question was, " mum, can we please turn on morning telly?" which is boy-speak for, "i'm still half asleep and i wanna do something which completely switches my brain off.." or something loosely translated as that:
and i said NO.
wow, yes i did... and i thought, "i wonder if we could just DETOX and have a whole month off telly? and only watch movies on fridays or something..?"

i'm still thinking about that.

Susan B. said...

Hi Barb,

I think TV is fine in moderation. I pretty much keep my TV tuned to TV Land all the time. It's mostly on as background noise. Sometimes I will watch an old movie on TCM or watch the soaps when I'm home sick. (I know, bad habit...they kind of suck you in, though.)

My parents weren't real strict when it came to TV when I was a kid. When we had cable, I wasn't allowed to watch R-rated movies, and I had to turn the TV off and go to bed at 9:00 on school nights.

Usually, the fanatically "no TV at all" types come off as being really self-righteous...or at least they do to me. But I also hate the idea of parents who let their kids watch anything and use the TV as a babysitter. Like I said, all things in moderation. ;-)

Faith said...

Hey Barb! Faith from Loopers here! I just turned 35, so the Laugh In conversation was over my head - and it drove me nuts! That said, I was raised with lots of idiot box. I'm hoping to detox the kids a bit once "school" starts in the next couple of weeks. It's becoming too hard to keep up with what our oldest (9) is watching... especially when ABC Family's newest show is about a frat and all the trappings (drinking, drugs, sex, and none of it portrayed in a "learn to make correct choices" type of format), and kids even curse lightly on Disney.

That said...

A dear friend of mine was raised in "The No-Name Church", and with them, tv is forbidden. I feel sorry for her in a ton of ways. She also learned early on to laugh at the appropriate places during pop culture conversations when she was young to cover up her ignorance... and she still does it. When the conversations move to television or music or anything from before 1993 (when she started college), she's completely clueless. Slang terms that have become part of the vernacular are indecipherable, or worse, invisible, to her. What makes that harder is that she works in the media, and she doesn't see it, but a lot of the rest of us (and I'm sure her coworkers and boss) definitely see it as a negative.

It's really a difficult line to walk. I have no desire to cut ourselves off from the whole of pop culture. But I also have a desire to protect my children. Hopefully I can juggle it all to raise balanced children.

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

We gave up t.v. for three years (but obviously not the computer), and it worked really well for us. The rest of the world thought we must be pietistic, judgemental freaks, but we only did it because we wanted to, and besides, we couldn't get local channels in anyway.

I know it helped Chris's attention span, and there are times that time in our lives. We got Direct TV when we moved here so that we could watch Dodger games (and we would strategically plan our social life (visiting inlaws) so that we could see Dodger games)but along with that, comes the other channels.

My kids don't really care for the kids channels. They like Mythbusters and the Food Network. What I found when we were not exposed to television was it wasn't the shows we watched, it was the commercials that really torqued me. On baseball games, Fox would run previews for their latest show with college students ripping each other's clothes off, and without t.v., kids don't really miss what cheap, trashy toys they are missing out on. I really think my kids make better choices regarding toys because they are not told how much fun playing with "Bratz" are. My kids spot junk easily.

My parents let me watch just about anything (though they won't admit to that). '70's and '80's cop shows, Dallas and Falcon Crest, and anything else that they wanted to watch. By contrast, I love shows like Law and Order and 24 , but missed four years of them because it was inappropriate for the kids. Now that we are better at bedtimes and they have other interests besides being by my side all the time, I occasionally get one in and find that I was okay missing it.

When we did bring t.v. back in our lives, I was amazed at how sensitive I was to the violence, the immorality, and the commercialism again. Avoiding those hadn't been the goal a all, but it was amazing how those shocked us again. They don't shock us as much anymore, and sometimes I think that might be sad.

I think that it is one of those things that Christians can decide for themselves, but it also is one of those things where exposure to sin and how t.v. revolves around it and makes it seem normal may not be as good for Christians as we tend to rationalize that it doesn't matter.

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

that 2nd paragraph should read "there are times that I miss that time in our lives"