The Amend Corner

Rethinking television

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I have always been a drug-free person.

At least I used to be such a person, before myeloma and diabetes caught up with me a few years ago. Between the two conditions, I am ingesting a frightening variety of substances all day long.

So when I say I’m drug free, I am speaking only of the so-called “recreational drugs” that people use to get high or go unconscious. I have never ingested such drugs, unless you count caffeine, which I consume in varying amounts on a daily basis, and lately, I’ve even cut back on that a bit.

But this essay isn’t really about drugs or their use. I’m just borrowing a metaphoric use of the word drugs from a book I read once., “The Plug-In Drug; Television, Computers and Family Life,” by Marie Winn. This book was published in the early 1970s and updated in 2002. I read it back when it was new, which was especially appropriate at that time — not only because I was an educator, but because my children were born during those years and anything that might give me some clues about how to raise them were welcome.

I’d like to say that what I read in that book had a positive influence on how our family approached television, but I don’t think it did. The kids watched considerable television growing up. Once we acquired a computer in the early 1980s, they, especially our son, often took the opportunity to spend more time gazing at a video screen.

We did take steps to keep the tube from damaging our kids, not so much by choosing what they could or couldn’t watch but by watching it with them and helping them process what they were watching.

Even so, I suppose our kids probably had more television than was good for them, or at least that the author of the book thought was good for them. However, both of them turned into well-balanced adults, and they seem to be taking a healthier approach to television and, to a lesser extent, computer screen time than we allowed them.

As for myself, I am embarrassed to admit there have been several occasions when I became addicted to TV. Every now and then I would decide to cut back on my screen time, and actually succeeded a few times, but it wasn’t until we moved to Powell 17 years ago that I learned a sure-fire way to win the battle. We ended our cable connection and sent our television set to electronic heaven and didn’t replace it.

It was great. We didn’t actually eliminate video entertainment, but since we could only watch a few things via the computer through the internet, we didn’t watch very much at all. Our evenings were quieter, we read more books, and we were more likely to take a walk on cool summer evenings.

It didn’t last, though. Eventually, we gave in to temptation and joined Netflix, thanks to a sheriff named Walt Longmire and his efforts to stop crime in a fictional Wyoming county. We were able to watch the first seasons through the network’s website, but the network decided to end the show. When Netflix stepped into the breach and produced the final seasons, we wanted to see how Walt would tame all the bad guys that seemed to inhabit his county.

At first, I thought we would probably drop Netflix after “Longmire” ended, but by that time, we had found other things to watch. I found that I had an affinity for European television. Since then, I have enjoyed shows produced in England, Ireland, Spain, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. I’ve learned something the cultural differences that were evident in the various shows, even between nations right next to each other.

Most recently, I watched a drama from Turkey. At first, it was too much like a soap opera, and I almost quit watching it. Gradually, though, the intricate plot and skillfully acted characters hooked me and I hung on for all 49 episodes. It wasn’t until episode 35 that I began to figure out who the bad guy was in the story, and I wasn’t really sure until the last four or five shows, as the character descended into near madness brought on by extreme jealousy, that I was sure. It was a good story.

In the end, I have to admit that I’m something of a TV addict, but based on my recent experiences, that’s not a bad thing. Netflix and public television present all sorts of cultural, scientific and dramatic programming, and I have learned from them. PBS, for example, is currently giving us a very fine dramatization of one of the finest novels ever written, “Les Miserables.” Netflix currently offers “One Strange Rock,” a series of programs about the earth’s development and our place in it. Six astronauts who have spent extended time in space tell us how their time in orbit has made them think differently about planet Earth. Both are well worth watching.

Television does have its faults, but it can also open many opportunities for learning about our world and the people we share it with. So, while I may be an addict when it comes to television, but I’m not wasting time when I watch it. There’s still a lot I can learn, and television gives me many opportunities to learn it.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

The Amend Corner

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