Wednesday, April 16, 2008

TV till you're tired

We used to have a TV but it was only hooked up to a DVD/VCR player. It had never been possible to turn it on just to see what was on...the only thing that was ever on was whatever we put in it. Since we retired the TV to the basement (and most recently sold it in our yard sale) all we have is a laptop computer.
Saturday Tess went to birthday party. That night Tess wanted me to know that a friend of hers gets to watch television every night "until she gets tired". She said it as if she were informing me of an activity I might not have imagined. Until that day, she had never imagined such a thing herself. Now her mind was teeming with new possibilities.
"I want to watch TV until I'm tired," she said.
It's interesting, the attraction TV holds. Our kids have lived without it practically their whole lives, excepting visits to grandparents, friends, and motels. They've accepted the absence of a TV as natural. They've grown accustomed to reading on the sofa together, drawing at a table, playing make believe indoors and outdoors, riding bikes, sittting together in the leather chair in front of the speakers, listening to talking books on CD, and once a week watching a DVD on the laptop.
They give every indication of being perfectly content in these activities, but whenever there is a TV present and it is on, especially when a commercial comes on, they become mesmerized. Once at their grandparents we adults were watching a basketball game while the kids played around us, during a commercial for some new police show the voice over announced the shocking plot line for the upcoming series. Colm looked at me and said, "The mother killed the father?"
What had actually sifted into Colm's brain and what the question he uttered actually meant, what feelings might be jostling his brain and his world view, and how long such thoughts might take up residence in his psyche, it was all more than I could imagine. Worst of all, it was a question that rendered me absolutely tongue tied. All I could think to do, too late actually, was to hit the mute button on the TV.
And that was an event of only a few seconds... it makes me think about what gets into the psyche of a kid who watches TV until she's tired.
TV is a massive psychic dumping ground, marked by nothing so much as its remorselessly inchoate sense of urgency, its atomizing incoherence, its unremitting trivialization of all things human, its corporatization of the personal, it's annihilation of intimacy and truth, it's servile worship of mere novelty. I'd sooner let my daughter play unsupervised along the banks of a polluted stream as let her be lulled to sleep by a television.
Beth and I are engaged in an effort to cast a spell over our kids. We are doing all we can to maintain a kind of fiction, and we are engaged full time in the effort to convince our kids that this fiction tells truth about the world. It is a fiction that might be titled "the world is magic". Within the boundaries of this narrative, we, the kids and us, have encountered myriad complexities involving life and death, power and powerlessness, kindness and cruelty. It is a narrative richly textured and layered with the issues of life, but it is most assuredly not the whole truth. The whole truth is not for our children. Our parental role is a bit like that of Prospero in The Tempest when he says,
We are such stuff as
are made on,
and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep.
We spend so much of our wakeful time, spinning tales for our kids, and we use these same enchantments to put them to sleep at the end of the day. Soon enough they will "awaken" to another consciousness, another experience of life.
We will develop and embrace new narratives as time and circumstances dictate. A couple come to mind, "the world is good" and "the world is just". The complexities that arise from weaving these narratives will surely disclose new truths and in the process some of the magic will likely give way to the more nuanced and uncertain consolations of knowledge.
As our influence over our children diminishes, so too will our ability to shape the narratives learned by them. Soon enough, they will adopt story lines from from other people, other sources, and eventually begin crafting their own. That is as it should be.
But the time we have in these early years is our time as parents. It's our chance to imprint a sense of wonder lurking inside an intuition of what William Stafford once famously called A Story That Could Be True.

If you were exchanged in the cradle and
your real mother died
without ever telling the story
then no on knows your name,
and somewhere in the world
your father is lost and needs you
but you are far away.

He can never find
how true you are, how ready.
When the great wind comes
and the robberies of the rain
you stand in the corner shivering.
The people who go by-
you wonder at their calm.

They miss the whisper that runs
any day in your mind,
"Who are you really, wanderer?"-
and the answer you have to give
no matter how dark and cold
the world around you is:
"Maybe I'm a king."

For now, Tess and Colm will have listen to such things until they're too sleepy to keep their eyes open.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree completely with what you have said about television. Too many people watch TV "just to pass the time." They are truly missing out on the world around. I wish that more people would put down the remote and spend time reading, imagining, thinking, and exploring.
My own family has six TV's scattered throughout our house. Anywhere you walk you will most likely hear the noise from the TV. It's very sad. I also have a TV in my room, but I prefer to spend my time doing more constructive things, like being outdoors, making projects, or reading.
I hope the one day society will realize how much the TV, and all of it's programs and advertisements, are polluting the minds of millions. Wake up world and break the sad addiction you have.
Thank you for writing this post.

7:16 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

Even though our mother kept us to a weekly limit, we watched the hell out of television whenever we could. However, we also lived in a time when we could (and did) go outside almost whenever and wherever we wanted. This was also a time of 3 networks, maybe 2 other stations and that wonderful static that came on after Letterman. Not 1000 channels of crap.
Up until this year we've had three televisions. One in the basement, one in the living room and one in bedroom. Within days of removing the one in the bedroom, I'd almost completely stopped snoring, now fall asleep within minutes and feel a lot better in the mornings. So, we are cutting Cable, removing the living room tele and keeping the basement one.
OPB will continue to be our crack and the computer will keep us up on our YouTube/cat videos. One step at a time.

10:48 PM  

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