Golden Statue

Oscarby Sarah at ProgressiveKid

My daughter, a budding thespian, occasionally enjoys putting on Oscar-caliber performances designed to persuade her audience (me) to conform to her point of view. When she does this, I make a point of awarding her with an imaginary Academy Award designed to match her level of imaginary drama with an appropriate level of imaginary glitter. When this year’s Academy Award show came up, I decided to take the opportunity to show her a few minutes of the spectacle so she could see what I’m talking about when I say, “And the Oscar goes to . . .” .

So I hooked up the rabbit ears and tried to get a passable picture for the purpose of clarifying my behavior. But what I found was that, to the contrary, it put me and my Oscar catchphrase in a completely unfamiliar, freakish, and disturbing context that confused my daughter and made me regret my decision. For just a few minutes the poor child was exposed to a barrage of harsh, rapid-fire noises, bizarre images, and disturbing messages. Women with ultrathin eyebrows and ultrathin bodies painted into designer gowns, sycophantic hosts overcongratulating overthankful actors, a slew of loud advertisements for a range of products from investment services to suvs to cell phones, and speedy montages of seemingly random images from past award shows and from the movies in competition were all hurled at us, and the audio and the visuals overran our house and overwhelmed our senses. My daughter, visibly exhausted, stretched out on the couch and asked me to turn it off.

What a sensible child. In the ensuing peaceful silence, I reflected on what had just happened to us, from this brief incursion into our lives of the television. And I thought about all the millions of households across our country for whom this was a normal occurrence.

We watch movies on DVD in our house; we’re not antimovie, antistory, or antiwatching. But my experience the other day reaffirmed my decision not to have television and reminded me why: Television is an assault. The rapidity of its images, the pattern of constant story interruption, and the championing of hideous messages aggrieve the senses and the soul. Within just a few moments of television exposure, we cannot think, we cannot look away, and, worst of all, we cannot purge from our minds the wheedling, persistent ideas that

  1. we are not good enough as we are (we are too old, too fat, too messy, too unorganized, too uncool, too hairy, too unproductive);
  2. the way to improve ourselves is through consumption of specific foods and products;
  3. girls are sexual objects and boys are purveyors of violence;
  4. the world is an awful, dangerous, ultracompetitive place; and
  5. the way we look is much more important than anything that might be going on in our heads or our hearts.

I happen to live in the real world. I know that it is important in certain contexts to look good. I know as a business person that image counts. I know about bloody rampages with guns and machetes, about war, and famine, and child slavery. But television perpetuates a false, extreme view of the world that promotes and fosters the fake reality that it falsely claims to be merely portraying. It is not a simple witness; it is an agent.

Watch a few minutes of television and you come away with the notion that a murderer or a child molester is lurking outside your door, that your bank account is being emptied out as you sit there, that you must purchase a particular fragrance or a specific computer in order to improve your circumstances, that you need to tune in again tomorrow to find out what you need to think and do and wear. And these ideas will make you behave differently, vote differently, live differently. The television will make you worry about the safety of your daughter even as it propels her to sexualize her behavior and her clothing. It will make you fret about your son’s behavior even as it pushes him to behave more aggressively and thoughtlessly.

During our few moments of TV, I found myself studying Oscar, muscular and somehow masculine but still sexless, his features mere creases and suggestions. He seemed like how you would become if you were locked in a television for generations. Maybe your senses and even your gender would somehow devolve as a means of self-protection, as a way to shut down the assault. But you’d still hang on to the sword as a way to ward off the threats and the fear.

I’ve got an idea. Think of me as an ad, sandwiched in between two segments of a reality show. Here’s my pitch: If after watching television for years and years or even for just a night, you feel that nagging concern that something isn’t right, you need to be afraid, or you need to improve yourself, here’s what you do: Turn off the television, cancel the cable bill, pull down the satellite dish. I guarantee that in a week you’ll be feeling a whole lot better.

©2008 ProgressiveKid

Image by Alan Light, 9/28/06, Creative Commons license

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