In Defense of TV

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Recently, a friend re-posted a piece written several months ago by Mayim Bialik entitled, “Taking a Stand Against TV.” The piece describes a list of exhaustive reasons as to why Mayim, mother and television star, does not let her kids watch TV because they are just not ready to be exposed to the “hypnotic” and potentially developmentally inappropriate messages that children may receive through television . In and of itself, the title alone of this post infuriates me. She is an actress! She makes a living on television! She is a self-hating tv star. It is as tragic as the self-hating Jew, berating himself as he sits alone at the Chinese restaurant on Christmas, biding his time till he purges that last egg roll. Tragic. And so I rise, one non-famous mother, in defense of her TV.

I am a child of the 80s. The wonderful, pure 80s where all we knew were neon and John Hughes and the Electric Company and I was sheltered and ignorant. G-d was I sheltered. In some way, I think I thought high school really would be some weird combination of Square Pegs and Saved by the Bell. In a world where there really were scary things going on like AIDS and Cold Wars, TV was one (but be clear – not the only) way that my parents and I sheltered me from the outside world. Inside my TV bubble all was well. We were a nation of Huxtables and Keatons, Olympic medalists and fancy royal weddings. It reflected, at least from the sliver that they showed me, the best vision of what we wanted to be as a country, as a family, as a world. It wasn’t always true, but it was nice.

And so it is again for my own kids. The world is seemingly so much more chaotic and cold and terrifying and sometimes, all of us want to escape into a world of fantasy because it feels magical and safe and isn’t that what we really want childhood to feel like? Movies and television – entertainment as a whole, are a form of escapism and children just as much and sometimes even more than adults I believe benefit and in fact need this. With imaginations larger than their little pea-sized heads, they can slip into Cinderella and I can go there with them and for a moment we all believe in the fairytale and the happy ending. How I want that for them. How I desperately want them to believe in that for as long as possible.

But it’s more than that. Sometimes, and I stress sometimes, they actually learn something which is awesome – an added bonus! Ruby’s excessive Dora viewing has clearly paid off because she can count in Spanish and even say some strange catch phrases which probably won’t serve her that well in the long run, like “jump pony!” but still, I’m impressed. Today before I’d even had my first cup of coffee Super Grover had taught them what a lever is, and the other day Little Bill was a fabulous little example of how to manage your feelings when you don’t get that toy you really want. These are not the big rocks I’m focused on like numbers and shoe-tying and tooth-brushing and please and thank you but its good stuff and I’ll take it because you know what people, it takes a village and in my village, there is a television.

And sometimes they do get that glazed over, zoned out look in their eyes. They aren’t there for the fairytale or to learn – they are there to veg out. And you know what? I get that feeling. I understand that. Don’t you? My children move seemingly 24 hours a day. If you know them you know this is true. Literally. Ruby actually fell asleep the other night in her bed sitting up. I had to tip her over just to get her body horizontal during the evening hours. They constantly go – with school and swim and dance and playdates and lessons and doctors and they are still in preschool! They are little bodies and I get tired from their daily schedules and lives. I can only imagine how they feel.

And maybe we read a book or play a game or have a dance party, but just sometimes we need to chill. I actually legitimately feel like it is the right thing for them to do. And the only critique I offer here is that if the medium of television is a broader reflection of our modern day culture, it moves very fast. Like many Americans growing up in the world of instant tweets and likes and apps and flash mobs, the shows themselves seem designed for short attention spans, perhaps even shorter than the ones we seemed to have at these very same ages all those years ago. Little plot, lots of music, flashing colors, lights –not the greatest stuff to wind down to.

And so when were Brobee-d out the other day, I put in a 1976 episode of the Muppet Show starring Lena Horne. They seemed transfixed by her beauty. But then she opened her mouth to sing and my little constantly moving and talking bodies fell silent as that once in a lifetime voice washed over their ears for the very first time. It was jazz and beauty and diversity and silliness and generally speaking, with the help of my television, the very sweetest antidote to our long preschool day. Every one of their little senses was tuned in, not out. As a parent, I was pleased.


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