Monday, October 22, 2012

Why we no longer watch television


A witch visited our house. She was delivering her teenage daughter, who came for a week to do work experience in my husband’s office. On her way out the witch said with a wink, ‘Now, these people don’t have a television...’. It was clearly a suggestion that the daughter could find better ways to relax than to immerse herself in the big screen; we laughed, and waved the witch off into the night.

The next evening we had organised to go out; the daughter was to babysit. As we were leaving, we showed her where the TV is shut in a cupboard, and went to turn it on. Dead screen. We fiddled with switches, we checked the plugs, we swapped around cords and power boards. Nothing.

Realising that the witch had done her work, we shrugged, handed over the iPad, and left.

Now, our television is pretty old; we’ve had it fixed before. And it is analogue. Our city has introduced digital channels, which we don’t get; and in 2013 the analogue system will be switched off altogether. Calling the repair man seems pretty pointless. So what should we do? Should we rush out and buy a new TV, finally getting a flat screen, digital channels, and a bit of equality with the Joneses?

Probably not. My husband and I have mixed feelings about television. We have used it perhaps more than we would have hoped with young children; but as a babysitter when the kids are squabbling and the baby’s crying and I’m alone in the house and it’s time to cook dinner, it has been tremendously useful. Our kids watch little TV, but a fair few videos and DVDs – at least one or two nights a week.

When we first heard that the analogue system was being phased out, we decided that we wouldn’t get a digital box. We’d still be able to watch DVDs and videos; we could access iView and YouTube on the iPad; and the kids didn’t need to be bombarded with advertisements for cheap plastic crap. Too, we adults didn’t want to be distracted by all the things we could watch on the extra digital channels; we find it easier to choose to talk or read when there’s nothing on.

And next year seemed like good timing. The kids are getting older. They are more able to entertain themselves when they are tired; and they are also more likely to ask to see those adult programs that so many of their peers seem to watch. But we don’t want to watch those shows, and we don’t want them to absorb the ads: for beauty products and flat tummies which create dissatisfaction and desire where none previously existed; for homicide shows with their victims carved into pieces for our nightly entertainment; for beauty pageants and celebrity crap. It’s all lies dressed up as entertainment; all the violence and vacuity of our culture beamed right into our living room.

So we’re happy enough to get rid of the beast; we were preparing for its demise; but it died a few months early. Suddenly I’m catapulted into a slight panic, acutely aware of just how weird our kids already are, and knowing they will remain slightly marginalised as long as they have such limited access to popular culture. I think I’m okay with that... I suspect it’s in their long term best interests... and they are so energetic and creative... In any case, getting rid of the TV is hardly the radical option of fifteen years ago, before DVDs and the internet were so entertaining.

And yet, like every choice that goes against the cultural grain, I have to question our decision and wonder if it’s wrong – even when I know so deep in my bones that, for our family, it is absolutely right.

Photo shows self-portrait with abandoned tv - not ours. I have counted twelve dumped tvs in our suburb in the few weeks since ours died. Many of them have signs saying 'still working'. Who are these people who are throwing them out? And why do they dump them in the streets and local parks???


  1. Don't worry my kids are weird too, they don't own an I pod touch or i phone they can't do all the fan daggly stuff the kids now do to keep in touch.( Aaron and I are sitting here figuring out the correct terminology, I say bump he says tap) Think we just became old foggies.
    Our tv a small slinky flat screen, that I'll admit I love the look of, is in the spare room collecting dust, unplugged and has been for 3 weeks. We are in a month of no TV, we once managed a month of total screen free, which was surprisingly easy.
    I will admit I am struggling to keep Circe entertained I do miss the down time I was getting when she'd watch tv. I do agree with all that you are saying, I feel my kids are less exposed to stuff than other kids their age, there is just too much out there they don't need to know or see. I will keep it that way for as long as I can.

    1. Oh! I'm so glad we're not the only ones. It's been five weeks, and it's been lovely. They quickly understood that it just didn't work - and so there's just no nagging. I hadn't realised how much of a source of nagging the TV has been.

      We have watched a couple of DVDs on the laptop, and allowed them to use the iPad a few times - always when I needed downtime from Miss 4 - but that's all. And the kids are busier than ever...


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