Free yourself from TV trap

April 10, 2002|By Yonason Goldson

ST. LOUIS -- Social engineers in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World had a simple plan for indoctrinating children with the values of their society. Recordings of cultural mantras were played again and again under the pillows of infants and toddlers until the messages became carved into their subconscious minds.

To a large extent, we do the same thing to ourselves. We do it through television. Violence. Greed. Revenge. Exhibitionism. Sex. Vainglory. Materialism. Power. These are the values that form the steady diet we and our children ingest day after day, evening after evening, weekend after weekend.

I grew up no differently. Throughout junior high and high school, my parents strictly limited my daily viewing to two hours on week nights and four hours on weekends -- a total of 18 hours a week (if I didn't cheat).

True, that was less than two-thirds of the current national average. But it was more than 5,600 hours through six years of secondary education. Assuming that my consumption at least doubled in the summertime and during vacations, my total television consumption during those six years adds up to nearly 7,000 hours, or 290 days. That's four-fifths of a year, about 20 percent of my waking life between the ages of 12 and 17, spent with my head stuck in the boob tube.

The boob tube -- presumably so labeled because of its power to turn a thinking person into an imbecile. But the term suggests another, more sinister meaning.

An infant nursing at its mother's breast cannot draw sustenance until the nipple is placed squarely into its mouth. And so do we, remote controls in hand, allow foreign thoughts, values and attitudes to seep into our minds, without even the effort of having to draw sustenance.

According to at least one study, our brains are more active when we sleep than when we are watching TV.

Indeed, perhaps television's greatest danger lies not in the corrosive influence of lust, avarice and the 8,000 murders witnessed by an average 12-year-old, but in the way it makes us passive, dulling our minds as effectively as a lobotomy.

Is this the legacy we wish to leave our children? Do we aspire toward becoming a nation of 250 million brain stems deadened by thousands of injections of two-second images and five-second sound bytes, unable to follow a syllogism from beginning to end, unable to propose solutions because we don't recognize or understand the problems, unwilling to allow our minds to be stimulated by ideas instead of images?

My wife and I got rid of our TV years ago. Except for the 5-inch black-and- white that gets pulled out of the closet for such events as the World Series and the Olympics, our house is TV-free. We don't miss it. What's more, our kids don't miss it. They're also reading several years above their grade levels, playing sports, learning musical instruments and, perhaps most important, speaking with their parents. You couldn't pay us to bring a big-screen TV into our home.

I know what you're thinking -- you're different; you don't let it control your life. So prove it: April 22 begins TV-Turnoff Week. See if you can go one full week with your head outside the box. All the way. Cold turkey.

And if you do last the full 168 hours, you might just find that the joy of reading or conversing or whatever you do to occupy your mind is far more satisfying than the old electronic IV drip ever was and that the sounds of your own real-life existence are far more engaging than the chatter of make-believe people.

Then see if you can keep yourself from going back.

Yonason Goldson is a rabbi, a high school teacher and a free-lance writer. He lives in St. Louis.

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