For the past three weeks our family has had something we never have heretofore had–static-free access to network and public television. This has been a wonderful discovery for me. Thanks to a magical thing called “PBS Kids” and our “we-just-moved-and-there’s -only-7-more-weeks-of-school -so-why-bother” version of “home schooling” and a mild case of post-moving depression, I can now slothfully sleep until 9 a.m. And very often, I do.
If harassed loudly enough, I will put four granola bars and four apples in a large popcorn bowl and my three year old will bear it down to the parishioners so they may munch without losing a single second of quality educational programming. I lose only a few precious seconds of unconsciousness.
Then, my together, well-read alter-ego (who is now only given jurisdiction over me for about 15 minutes a day) had me reading this past week some academic religious material by a scholar who had attended rabbinical school before undertaking academic study of modern religions. He was explaining the Jewish law I always found rather odd (not being Jewish), that being the prohibition against creating any images of God’s creations, as it leads inevitably to the worship of the image over the creation (idol worship).
He had me intrigued when he said, “Common to this sort of idol worship was an infatuation with the image of a thing rather than its reality . . . we could say that an obsession with unreality is at the heart of idolatry.” I began to await his final blow when he said, “The graven and molten apparatuses that transmit these images we put up in our own houses as well as in houses set apart for that purpose. Upon these images we dote, preoccupied for hours at a time . . . we worship in the dark, heedless of one another. When a social need arises, we resent its intrusion. Our behavior towards one another is colored by what our images dictate.”
Just as I was about to dispense with this line of un-American TV bashing as religious fanaticism, he pulls out the more powerful dogma of research science, particularly concerning in light of my children’s new passtime:
“Recent studies, for example, amply document the abnormal effects of watching television. The images that our eyes see are stored permanently in our minds. There, they mingle with images of the real world . . . Watching television accustoms people to the sensational, the artificial, the novel, so that they begin to require a regular diet of these things to maintain their interest. . . Because their minds and hearts dull toward quiet, normal everyday happenings, reality appears drab and uninteresting.”
Now, religion can be disregarded, and science can be ignored, but I have a problem with this one, because my own life could be a case study of this phenomenon. I used to tell myself that the hour-after-hour style of TV watching I did all during my childhood and adolescence apparently didn’t hurt me all that much, what with my good grades and good jobs and passable intellectual functioning. Apparently, a constant daily after-school diet of M.A.S.H., Three’s Company, Different Strokes and Benson was just fine for a 13-year-old after all.
But when I read this, that constant broken record of the song “Is that all there is?” that plays in my head every moment of every day, my perpetual dissatisfaction with everything real as opposed to imagined, and my chronic, two-decade ennui rose before me with a black, shiny, square face.
Sure, it could be I’m just an ungrateful baby naturally, with or without full months of my life having been spent bowing before the tube. But, I believed enough that there is something to this phenomenon in my life that the very next day I sent us back to our pre-decent antenna lifestyle and committed to, if not get out of bed earlier, make sure the books and games are unpacked and accessible.
We parents don’t need to be told that TV is “the plug-in drug” because we use it exactly for that purpose. It stops the chaos, the fighting, the mess–it is instant quiet. It is the “only” way dinner can be made, bills can be paid, etc. But, if any inkling of that study is true, I cannot sentence my kids to the same blasse, non-plussed, constantly disappointed psyche that has plagued me my whole life.
So, to arm me against my next moment of weakness when my need to control my children brings me to the point I’m ready to set them on the sofa-altar and make them little, perpetually unamused idolaters, I’m going to read some highly recommended books on the subject. Feel free to join me.
Oh, and the book I was quoting here:
The Last Days: Types and Shadows from the Bible and the Book of Mormon