I wrote a long comment to Mark Shiffman's Front Porch Republic article, Why we do not own a Television; not being one to waste an item on a single use if it can be recycled, I reproduce it here.  You'll have to follow the link to see the context (and other readers' comments), but I think what I wrote is pretty clear on its own.

To my total surprise and (almost) mortification, I write in defense of television.  I agree with some of the comments that DVD is the only way to go, but most if not all of the content I find valuable on DVD originated in the TV and movie media, so despising them completely would be a bit hypocritical on my part.

It was Marie Winn's The Plug-In Drug that first alerted me to the dangers of the beast, and when our first-born, at age two, asked to watch Sesame Street at a time when the television was off, I said, "That's it.  No more."  Had the decision been mine alone, I think I would have discarded the television set altogether, and certainly that would have been the easiest course.  What we did instead—because my husband was not quite ready to give it up himself—was to make it less convenient.  At first we moved the TV to a room away from the main traffic of the household; later we put it on a shelf with doors that remained closed most of the time.  Out of sight, out of mind.  We also never had cable, and reception was not that great, and the TV screen was small.

Our first concern was for the effect of watching television on our growing children, so we instituted some pretty strict non-watching rules.  This was not difficult for the children, since we started when they were young enough not to have developed an addiction.  At this stage it's much harder on mom than on the kids, because anesthetizing lively preschoolers with an "educational" television program sounds like a guilt-free way to grab a precious half-hour of peace.  I'm standing here today to tell you that removing that option—and thus forcing yourself to help your children develop the ability to entertain themselves—is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your future self.

And your kids?  The benefits of growing up free from a television addiction far outweigh any social harm that comes from not having TV as a conversation-starter.  (Our children became quite adept at picking up enough information about TV shows from their friends' conversations to be able to hold their own without ever seeing the shows themselves.)  Even long ago when our children were young there were one or two high-quality shows available, but we soon discovered that even a half hour a day of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood was better filled with real-life activities.

It's also important to point out that, when it comes to creating or avoiding a TV addiction in children, it matters little whether the show is broadcast, cable/satellite, VCR/DVD, or online.  We do our children no favors by calling them "TV free" yet popping in a movie every afternoon so we can fix dinner without interruption.

And yet...and yet....  If the only way to avoid the ravages of the beast were to destroy it altogether, I would do so.  Taming the beast, however, may have greater benefits.  Our youngest's lifelong love of opera began when she was 10 years old and we let her stay up—wide-eyed and astonished—to watch the four-day PBS presentation of Wagner's entire Ring Cycle.  Performances were meant to be watched, and if they remain true to the original, television and movie productions give us cultural opportunities often out of our reach in real life.  (My definition of "true to the original" is admittedly hazy.  I'd call Kenneth Branagh's Henry V a great, accessible version for neophytes, even if it omits parts of the play.  But the movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings fails miserably to capture the book, perhaps because the book was not meant to be performed in the first place.)

Television is also great, as was mentioned, at providing an entryway to books and further investigation of a subject.  Ken Burns' treatment of the Civil War succeeded where friends, family, and all my history teachers failed, overcoming my lack of the Y chromosome that seems to give interest to studies of war.  "Educational TV" may be somewhat of an oxymoron, but a little, at the right time, can be invaluable.

I could go on—discussing the value of armchair travel as preparation for the real thing, for example—but the point is made.  Television and its cohorts (movies, DVDs, computers, video games) I dare to say, are the hot peppers of life:  In small amounts they enhance the experience; in greater amounts, they wash out all other flavors; overused, they destroy the senses and wreak havoc on the whole system.
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, May 2, 2009 at 9:55 am | Edit
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