Saturday, May 30, 2009

He Said: Why We Shouldn't Get Rid of the TV

As a kid growing up some of my favorite moments of escape were watching television. My parents had constant fights and one of the ways we would drone out the conflict between them was to watch Bonanza, Lost in Space, Star Trek, Petticoat Junction, Perry Mason, Magnum P.I., etc. We watched everything including educational TV like Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom, Mister Wizard, Reading Rainbow, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, Sing Along with Mitch (Miller), Hallabaloo, Dick Clark's American Bandstand, Meet the Press, the Joker's Wild (gameshow), Jeopardy, and College Bowl. Our afternoons were spent watching soap operas like Dark Shadows or the Guiding Light. Followed by the Joker's Wild, Dick Cavett, Merv Griffith then the cartoon series of Bullwinkle, Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw, Felix the Cat into the Huntley and Brinkley Show. Then usually we would sit down to dinner and discuss what happened at school or what our parents did. We would do our homework fast then watch TV until ten o'clock. On Friday we could stay up since our parents would go out and we would watch the Creeper Feature, Outer limits, or the Twilight Zone. On Saturday we would watch old movies so we saw all the classics like Turner puts on even then since living in Las Vegas Howard Hughes had a fixation on them and they played on his station 24/7. We tried to stay up and sleep in on Sunday.

One of the main reasons I enjoyed watching television was that as a boy I was a know it all and I could relate to my peers if I could tell them every intricate detail about a show. If you didn't know what was going on you were considered a loser. Even today I feel it important for my own children to be able to fit in with their peers by knowing what is happening on the hottest shows including on the Real Housewives of New York or Gossip Girls which they tend to watch when I'm not looking.

As an adult I never had much time to watch television. I married Bored in Vernal who had converted as a teenager to being an extreme Southern Baptist. She was like a Brigham Young Mormon when I first married her. Even though in her own family they were fanatical card players she eschewed card playing, television viewing, and novel reading as the devil's mischief. Trying to be a good Mormon and not wanting any more fighting than I already had I acquiesced to her pressure to put away such practices. Down deep I didn't see what the big deal was to do all three. I understand the Mormons concerns for card playing since my father was a compulsive gambler and I never understood the symbolism to the face cards. I figured that my children would be better people if they used the time to read their scriptures, play a musical instrument, and read educational books.

I saw some results in my oldest children who could bear their testimony by the age of three and recite three hundred poems including the Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. Back then we were both pretty conservative Mormons and got along despite an occasional fight fully well as we had the same kind of ideological bent. After the years rolled on things changed and she began to give in from time to time in Olympic years or the time for General Conference. We ended up having more disagreements and distancing ourselves from one another. Television became a form of escape for my kids and I.

Bored in Vernal said I never did anything with my kids so I started watching television with them including American Idol which infuriated me when our contestant wouldn't make the finals or win. Even though we sat for hours watching things my kids don't know how to shut up during a show. They sing songs constantly, they discuss whacked out concepts and tell me the latest gossip about this person or that person. Since we don't sit down to dinner our dinner is spent watching Cash Cab (TV trivia show), Deal or No Deal, Jeopardy, followed by our favorites like House. My wife has been subverted also as from time to time we draw her in to House marathons. It may not be as tranquil as the ten or twelve years we didn't have a television but it is a social way for us to interact.

I recently came across an Internet paper by Amy Showmaker entitled Do Educational TV Programs Have Positive Effects on Children's Learning? She cites several recent studies that show that television is a good socializing agent and that children who learn on such shows as Sesame Street and musical concepts do better at retaining it when coupled with video.

I actually wanted to get the BYU channel and called Time Warner but they don't have it in South Carolina where I live. I am contemplating switching to Dish Network or Direct TV so we can watch them. Then we can have a reformation and compromise watching our dinner time staples followed by good propoganda. Maybe then Bored in Vernal will feel better about our content.


  1. "Television became a form of escape for my kids and I."
    My parents had eight children and I remember the television was often a point of contention in our conservative Mormon household. My Dad sometimes used the TV as a form of escape but it was also just a way for him to relax. Although I have great memories of watching TV after my chores were done, we rarely all sat down and watched something together, but when we did it was a lot of fun. The dynamics in my parents household was probably different than yours but my dad grew up in a house that was always clean and my mom did not so when my dad put pressure on my mom to keep the house clean despite eight children she required his support in keeping the TV off until the chores were done and he was good about supporting her on this because he liked having the house clean and sometimes even helped us get our chores done so that the TV could be turned on.

  2. I forgot to mention that on Sundays in our house the TV stayed off except for very rare exceptions and instead of watching TV we used the time to have family council and it was during this time that we established TV watching rules for the week and also chore assignments. Sometimes there was a lot of debate and compromise (always lots of complaining, whining and bickering) during family council but everyone got to voice what was important to them in our family and in our house and it helped us feel a sense of ownership and responsibility.

  3. I like the idea of tv as a form of cultural and emotional bonding (I recently watched American Idol for the first time ever to see if Adam or Kris would win because a friend of mine was so invested. Adam SO should have won btw, kris is cute and has a nice enough voice, but that episode just really showed me that Am Idol had nothing to do with valuing talent. blegh.) (but I digress).

    My un scratchable itch has to do with tv it as an avoidance/escape mechanism and time-sucking device.