TV withdrawal

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Nov. 18, 2010

Dear Leslie,

In John Prine's song "Spanish Pipedream," a topless dancer advises him to blow up his TV, move to the country, eat a lot of peaches and try and find Jesus on his own. As secrets to life go, these make as much sense as any.

DC and I are only experimenting with the TV part. So far, no explosives have been involved.

We simply reduced our cable TV plan to basic service, which is basic indeed when you're used to watching vampires have sex on HBO and to the independence of the Sundance Channel. Basic is just the networks that existed back in TV's Stone Age, plus some shopping channels, the Weather Channel, a couple of channels that show movies of a certain age, C-SPAN and a channel there in case you can't find Jesus on your own.

DC and I don't qualify as anti-TV pioneers, not even among our friends. Our friend Gail turned off her TV a year ago and hasn't looked back. Our friends Frank and Robyn have a TV but no cable or satellite dish. At night after work, when the weather is warm, they sit on their front porch and talk. They like their life better without TV.

At first, during the hours we normally watched TV, DC and I continued to watch no matter what was on TV. On C-SPAN the Supreme Court justices and attorneys discussed whether California should be able to restrict minors from buying ultraviolent video games in which the player maims, kills and sets human figures on fire. The game companies don't want the state to be able to prevent children from buying the insanity they are selling.

That's educational TV, you say. "Walker, Texas Ranger" rerun? Bring it on. Quitting a drug habit must be like this.

But gradually -- and we are only about a month into the experiment -- the realization that we'd rather do something else makes us reach for the remote control and silence the TV. Silence is not an experience the modern world affords much of. It even can make us a bit uneasy. We want to fill up the void.

Thirty years ago, in a book titled "Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television," former adman Jerry Mander wrote that advertisers love TV because it affects viewers psychologically, turning them into passive message receivers whose brainwave activity can be likened to a hypnotic trance. That's how I often feel watching television -- hypnotized.

Many damning studies have evaluated the physical and psychological effects of TV-watching on children. Some have associated early TV-watching with the onset of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder by age 7.

One of Mander's criticisms of TV is "the mediation of experience," by which he means watching on TV what we could be doing ourselves. Even if it's still only watching. Lately I've been going to high school and college football games and college basketball games. A friend wonders if that's because I can't turn on ESPN to get a sports fix anymore.

DC has not noted any great cultural deprivation. As long as she can still watch "Antique Roadshow" and "Clean House," her TV fantasies are fulfilled. I miss the Golf Channel. No more frumpy English announcers describing tournaments in Singapore and Dubai.

When the Cardinals start playing baseball again, I'll miss DC complaining, "Another game?"

I'll miss responding, "Yes, they play most every night."

If we hold out until spring.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is a former reporter for the Southeast Missourian.

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