Follow if you can. I shall make magic in your imagination. I shall magically turn you into a giant. You are now 200 feet tall. We go for a stroll. We come upon an old fashioned one-room schoolhouse. Since you are now a giant and very strong and able, I want you to reach out your hand and gently remove the schoolhouse roof. There. Peer down into the room. See the children sitting at their desks. See how they sit, row upon row, facing the front of the room? At the front of the room see the blackboard? A desk, a chair, a teacher presiding? The teacher speaks. The children listen. Now gently replace the roof.
We continue our stroll down the road. We now come upon a modest country church. Curiosity compels you to once again raise the roof. Peering down, what do you see? Pews – benches, row upon row, filled with congregants, and all facing the front of the church. At the front of the church a priest or preacher presides. The preacher speaks, the people listen. Note the relationship between the two and how, like the schoolroom, the seating is arranged; the relationship between those who listen and those who speak. Closing the roof, we continue our walk.
We now come to your house, a thing you’ve never seen, at least not from this point of view. Go ahead, raise the roof. Yes, there are several rooms, but I want you to pay particular attention to the living room. While the seating in your home is far more comfortable than one finds in a church or a school, note in particular the seating arrangements. The chairs, sofas, couches, or divans and so forth, although less rigidly ordered, yet they all form a focus, they all face toward one particular location. They all face the television receiver. If you have more then one TV at home, you will note that the same seating pattern repeats itself in each and every room in which it is present. In every case the relationship between the speakers and the listeners is the same. In the school the teacher presides and in the church the preacher presides. But in your own home the television presides.
You may well argue that the teacher and the preacher edifies you and your children and, for the most part, they do. But what of the advertisers – the people of the television? Are they in the same league? Are they on the same side as you? I think not. In fact, I know not; I know better. It is as though a traveling salesman has kicked in your door, settled in, and taken over. This salesman seduced your wife and children and made a thorough cuckold and constant victim out of you. The television now sits – presides, as father, husband and the head of the household.
Your parents may be forgiven for being enthralled by this bit of technological wizardry; but it’s time to grow up and realize that this device is neither a toy, nor a friend, nor a member of the family.
I argue, better than you, that the technology, in and of itself, is morally neutral; but surely not this way.
Just allowing the presence of a television receiver in the same house as a child is a tacit approval of the same in the child’s eyes, and constitutes both felonious parental child neglect and psychological abuse by strangers.
You may hold that ownership of a television is a status symbol, especially those new big screen TVs. But status symbols cut both ways: they can mark you as either a person of wisdom or mark you as a fool. A Private’s stripes versus a General’s stars.
I know it’s addictive, and old habits die hard. (You may well have to shoot this one.)
I’ve made you a giant, strong enough to raise the roof. Surely now you have the strength of arms, but do you have the strength of will to throw out this evil electronic device?
Oh! the humanity! Oh bitter frustration! My everlasting vexation at living in a sad and sorry country that has a television in every child’s home tells me clearly, both in my mind and my heart that, even as I am stranger to them, I care more for your children than you!
Your relationship with television is unnatural, unhealthy, unholy. A husband’s duty is to protect his wife from abuse by strangers. A father’s duty is to protect his children from abuse by strangers. A mother’s duty is to protect her children from abuse at the hands of strangers. Your relationship with television is unacceptable and inexcusable.
As children we received this pithy admonishment:
BEWARE THE FRIENDLY STRANGER.
They are that. And they are that.
How sick is the sick smile of the announcer or pitchman who smiles, not at you, but at a camera lens?
And how sick is the sick smile of the announcer or pitchman, sitting alone in the dark with your child?