When our family moved back to Canada from the US 3.5 years ago, we decided not to get cable in our new home. Part of it was a due to the fact that finances were very tight back then, but we also felt that Daughter was being exposed to too much TV. She hadn’t watched any when she was a baby and we didn’t want soon-to-be-born Son to end up parked in front of it with his sister. We didn’t even miss it until hockey playoff season when Husband finally caved in and bought a set of rabbit ears (a TV antenna). We now get about 3 channels and the kids watch CBC Kids on weekday mornings for about an hour after they wake up while I enjoy a cup of tea at my computer. The kids come out to play (the TV is in the bedroom) long before the shows are over, without any prompting from me, which is why they are allowed free access to it each morning.
This past week Husband has watching hockey games in the evening and Daughter has been enjoying watching them while we snuggle before bedtime. We saw some commercials last night and had our usual discussion about how they are specifically geared to make us want to spend money on their products. She listens and agrees but cannot seem to fight the lure of advertising. After each commercial she’ll exclaim “Oh, we should get that!”. I am so glad that my kid is rarely exposed to this stuff, because it’s obvious that my lectures cannot match the power of advertising!
My own reaction to the commercials and to mainstream TV in general has become similarly innocent. I am so out of the loop when it comes to the latest TV shows. I’ve never seen Lost or Desperate Housewives, and the only American Idol I can name is that Ruben guy. I don’t know who Lindsay Lohan is or why she is famous. And you know what? It doesn’t impact my life in the slightest.
Watching TV the other night I was also struck by the lifestyle that it portrays and how much it differs from my own real life experience. I’m not trying to suggest that most people live like those on TV, but I think subconsciously we accept the lifestyle TV portrays as normal, we get acclimatized to it.
I was struck by how plastic the people seemed, all shiny teeth and perfectly coiffed hair. The women wear gobs of makeup and are all thin, whereas the men exhibit a much wider range of attractiveness and fitness level (you’ll often see less attractive males paired up with attractive females, but never the other way around). I find the people on TV so fake that I am finding it hard to achieve the “suspension of disbelief” required to get really immersed in a show. I used to watch a lot of TV and I don’t think it has changed all that much in the last four years, but I find that even the really popular series seem contrived to me. We got a hold of a few episodes of The Tudors and Rome (the latter was so violent and disturbing I couldn’t even be in the room while Husband watched).
And then there are the commercials – busy modern women extolling the virtues of disposable cleaning cloths (“Just wipe and toss!”), or shoe sales that suggest no woman can be happy with just one or two pairs. The combination of consumption and waste just screamed out at me in a way I never noticed years ago. I don’t think it’s just because I’m learning about sustainable living and frugality. I think a good part of it is that I just don’t visit that world anymore – I don’t do TV and I don’t do malls and it has lost its familiarity and become very foreign to me.
We’re not a Screen-Free household. We have a DVD player, and an account at Zip online movie rentals. The kids borrow DVDs from our library each week (they’re really into The Magic School Bus these days). And there are some wonderful video podcasts out there: some of our favorites are Sesame Street, Ask an Astronomer, Discovery Channel, and my personal fave TEDtalks.
The point of going TV free is to remove commercialism from our home as much as possible, to reduce exposure of the kids to commercials, to free up more time for family and other pursuits, to better control what shows the kids are watching, and to save money. I highly encourage anybody who is looking to live more simply and protect their children (and even themselves) from the forces of advertising to consider going TV-free themselves. It really isn’t that hard!