I like to promote certain causes as they arise, like Earth Day events or cancer awareness events, but I can't quite get behind this idea we should all turn off our TVs for a week. This week has been declared National Turnoff Week to encourage people to do other things besides sit on their fat asses all day flipping channels. But I like TV in its place, and I think we should be encouraged to dip into most things in moderation.
So, here is today's opinion piece in Small Town Newspaper:
An organization called TV-Free America is asking Americans to turn off our televisions this week—seven full days without a TV—a boob tube—an idiot box. “Chewing gum for the eyes,” is how Frank Lloyd Wright described it. “A vast wasteland” is what former FCC chairman Newton Minow said of it in his speech titled “Television and the Public Interest,” which he delivered to a group of broadcasters. He was chastising them for artless and boring programming that was certainly not developed with the public’s interest in mind.
I am all for watching less television, and Minow had a point when he suggested that when the programming is good, nothing is better, but when it’s bad, nothing is worse. But I’m afraid I can’t participate in this week’s national turnoff, at least not for seven days straight. I happen to like watching television, and I don’t believe my brain is weaker for it.
I’m part of the first generation of people raised on TV programming. When I was a kid, there were only a few station options, and you had to get up out of the chair to manually turn a knob that tuned into those options. TV became part of daily life. We would come home after school, grab a couple of Chips Ahoy and sit down for some Fred Flintstone and Gilligan’s Island before playing outside. We gathered around the set in the evenings to watch favorites like All In the Family, The Carol Burnett Show and Lawrence Welk, God help us.
Still in our pajamas, we curled up on the couch on Saturday mornings and watched Super Chicken and George of the Jungle, Penelope Pitstop and Quick Draw McGraw. We made popcorn in time for Abbot and Costello and ate our dessert in front of The Wonderful World of Disney. None of these shows turned us soft, robbed us of our ambition or made us slack jawed.
I was first exposed to classic film stars through television decades before the invention of rentable films. Thanks to TV, I grew up watching Fred Astaire dancing, Bing Crosby singing, Groucho Marx yucking it up with his bumbling brothers. I admired the moxie of characters portrayed by Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn, and I swooned over Clark Cable and Gary Cooper. I watched Gene Kelly sing in the rain, and I saw Paul Newman eat 50 eggs in one sitting—“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”
It is through television that I have been a distant witness to four wars, the fall of the Iron Curtain and the destruction and aftermath of September 11. I watched the Watergate hearings and the resignation of President Nixon, and I saw astronauts walk on the moon and return home with a splash landing.
These days, I limit my television to watching the news in the mornings and evenings, and I watch a few favorite shows or rent movies with my husband. I catch a cooking show here and there, I’m a fan of Turner Classic Movies and once in a while a program on the Discovery Channel grabs my attention. All in all, I watch what I enjoy, and I turn off what I don’t.
There is plenty of useless programming on TV, but I’m choosy, and I think that’s the key. If a program is a drag on my intellect, if it doesn’t spark my imagination or inform me, if it doesn’t make me giggle or cry or feel empathy, then I move on to an activity that will be more beneficial and enjoyable.
I’ve read by the time the average American reaches the age of 65, he or she has watched an accumulation of nine years of TV. If those nine years are filled with base and unimaginative programming designed solely to fill the gaps between commercials, then those are nine years wasted. But if they are filled with informative and creative programming that sparks the imagination and leads to positive action, then maybe they are years fairly well spent.
As I said, I’m all for watching less television, but I can’t suggest we all ditch our sets. I simply think we should be selective in what we watch.