No TV Week 3

I smugly celebrate week three without TV. Okay, so I’m on two medications for bronchitis and need to keep moving so I don’t cough myself sick, but still. Week three. The family is placing bets on how long I’ll last. I fantasize about binge-watching all the stuff recorded on the DVR, and stock-piling a seasons’ worth of episodes from Netflix for next January. Hubby insisted that we go to a movie once in a while, so since it isn’t television, that’s a go.

Nonetheless, I am smug because so far this year I’ve read: Gifted Hands by Ben Carson, Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, and I’m partway through The Job by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg, and How to Make a Living as a Writer by James Scott Bell. Since I make a living as a writer, the last book is more about becoming familiar with Mr. Bell, who is speaking at a writer’s workshop in Charleston in a few weekends. I look forward to meeting him there. His books on writing nail their topics.

To celebrate my birthday this weekend, hubby is taking me out to a movie then the next day my daughter and son-in-law will go with us to American Sniper. This could easily tide me over for the week without television. Perhaps what I miss most about television is the stories: crime, fantasy, comedy, romance.

cropped-researchstackofbooks.jpgFalling back into books has filled that need for story and I believe reading is a more intimate thread between the author and the reader because books can easily dive deeper into a character’s thoughts and emotions than any movie can. Voice overs that speak the character’s thoughts in movies come off as artificial as stage asides. Rarely does a narrated voice in a movie work for me without breaking the magic because it is a reminder of being outside the story. Books entice the reader to climb into the stories more to explore new perspectives, cultures, worlds, and ideas. Books offer far more depth and scope to the stories than movie adaptations can. Sometimes the adaptations baffle me. Take for instance the Lord of the Rings series. The larger books were made into movies, but the smallest book was made into two movies. Same with the Harry Potter series. The last Harry Potter book stretched into two movies, one slooooow and one blazing fast. Irritating money-driven decisions perhaps to milk the enterprise.

The other upside of reading over television is my friendships with my book club. We love to debate stories over a meal. Goodreads.com is another reader’s paradise where diverse readers share their reviews of books. I have a Goodreads Page with my favorites listed.

What was the last book you read? And how long ago was that?

No TV Week 2

I have watched TV in every state of our great country, in Paris, in Quito, in Whistler (BC Canada), in various islands of the Bahamas, and in Puerto Vallarta. Watching a movie with Vin Diesel’s sexy voice dubbed in a high tenor ruined the experience for me. And slang, sarcasm, and idioms really don’t translate well. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in French loses all its sassy Valley girl attitude. Reading subtitles gets distracting and amusing. I remember watching a Chinese action movie in which the bad guy, an evil warlord, spewed a long venomous diatribe to his troops. The subtitle read something along the lines of “let’s destroy them.” Was the translator censored, lazy or perhaps having fun with us?

Philo Taylor FarnsworthI blame untold lost hours of 3D living on American Philo Taylor Farnsworth who invented the TV in the late 1920s. Television really took a foothold in the American household in the late 1950s with a handful of broadcast stations that ran only part of each day. According to a recent press release by the Federal Communications Commission there are 1,785 broadcast stations in the United States. We are a country of freedom of expression. Libya with its twelve stations, um, not so much. Kuwait has a whopping thirteen stations. Cuba boasts around fifty eight.

Our family owned a black and white television for most of my childhood. I was in middle school when I finally saw The Wizard of Oz in color. It took my breath away. Cookie, my BFF, laughed at me and asked why I hadn’t seen the movie before. I told her I had seen it, but it was a different movie in color. From then on, I dreamed in color.

Today in America we have over a thousand broadcast stations and a multitude of technologies to enjoy them. If not for my year of television abstinence, I could watch shows through network websites from my desktop computer and my laptop. Hubby bought a Roku that picks up even more channels that can be viewed through the television, and wirelessly through my iPad, and my oh-so-smart phone. Surrounded by temptation, my soul quakes. Hubby mentioned the upcoming two-hour “Major Crimes” episode and my knees buckled. Eeeep!

Stopped by my daughter’s house where she was watching an episode of “Once Upon a Time” (also set to record on my DVR). Sigh. To top it off, my once-beloved child’s parting comment was delivered in a sing-song voice, “You’re not going make it a year.” That did it. I’m revising the will so all our televisions go to the nearest daycare.

Down with the flu and all I wanna do is curl up on the sofa with a steaming cup of broth and watch romantic comedies. But no. No, streamed on demand viewing of Lucky You with dreamy Robert Downy Jr. No original or remake of Sabrina.

That stack of to-be-read books beckons for me to escape into a book, to fall headfirst into a story and be swept away into vicarious experiences and new perspectives. Reading requires something from the reader that television does not require from the viewer—imagination. Even the great film maker Hitchcock understood this. In his movies he terrorized viewers by forcing them to fill in the gaps with their own imagination. In the shower scene in Psycho, for example, the knife is never shown touching the woman.

I find it illuminating that so many television series are based on books, even children’s stories like Grimm’s Fairytales. Reality television shows offer repellent behavior, which grants fame to those who set themselves up for ridicule. What does this say about our society that we find entertainment in either ugly reality or fantasy?

Big Little LiesSo I’m off to read my book club selection Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. I adored Moriarty’s otherworldly story The Night Circus. After that I’ll sort through my clothes. Spring cleaning perhaps. This is so much more difficult than I thought it would be. Old habits die hard; temptations even harder.

A Year Without Television

In 1949, 2 percent of homes in the United States had a television.

By 2007, 98 percent had a television.

–Parents Television Council

As a child I enjoyed television—all three stations (ABC, CBS, and NBC). When they were off the air they broadcast a screen that looked like one of these.

tv off air screen 2tv off airThe stations did not broadcast all day and all night, which meant families had to find other ways to entertain themselves. My brothers and I generally played outdoors all summer and after homework until streetlights came on. We played pickup games of ice hockey, football, baseball and such with the neighborhood kids and we learned how to share, take turns, work in teams, win graciously, and lose graciously. We learned how to settle disputes among ourselves, rarely seeking the advice of adults. Kids who did not learn to play well with others became spectators.

We discovered how to defend ourselves and how to take a hit. Mom’s rule—mom was a lawyer—dictated that we were not allowed to throw the first punch, but we were entitled to fiercely defend ourselves. There were bullies, but such kids were basically cowards who quickly learned from us to find other targets. The bullies also discovered whom we would defend—friends and any kids smaller than the bullies.

We used our imaginations and created games of tag (on bikes, on skates, on skateboards, on ice skates). On the rare occasion we found large boxes, or spare boards, we built forts, treehouses and worlds of our own. Rainy days drove us indoors to play cards, cheer over board games, or read books.

According to the Parents Television Council children watch about 28 hours of television a week.

Four hours a day?! I understand that times have changed and it isn’t as safe as it once was for children to play outdoors, but WOW, is childhood best spent watching television? Four hours a day is enough time to learn a second language, or master a skill, learn to play an instrument, play a team sport, or read great books. Are children getting their times’ worth from television?

Frankly, I’m afraid to tally the hours per week I’ve shot on it. In light of the lowering standards in television, such as reality shows, violence, and its general reinforcement of heinous behavior, I have decided to conduct a one-year experiment.

I WILL NOT WATCH TELEVISION FOR ONE YEAR.

MB900385403As my sports pals say, “Go big or go home.” As far as New Years’ resolutions go, this one feels BIG. So no television for me on the 65-inch screen in the living room, the laptop, the phone, the iPad, or any device. Cold turkey. Welcome to Zombies Anonymous. My name is Joni and I’m a television addict.

Will I miss Fox News and CNN putting their own take on current events? Gasp. Will I be forced to form my own opinions instead of being fed those of the broadcast media? Goodbye to the even-handed insights of Doctor Charles Krauthammer. Episodes of “Castle,” “CSI,” “Major Crimes,” and “The Librarians” will continue without me. Reruns of Harry Potter, Sabrina, and The Matrix will play on other people’s televisions.

Laugh if you must, but look around at children and teens hunched over tiny screens instead of interacting with the world around them. Last week I found two teenage girls in the same room texting messages to each other. As an adult, perhaps I should lead by example. Step away from the screen. Disconnect from the twenty-four-hour feed of violence, fantasy, and false realities shown on hundreds of channels.

What will I do with the time previously wasted staring at a blinking box? Time will tell. Wagers will be made among my friends as to how long I’ll last. I might learn a new language or write another novel, exercise more, read more, or take on more clients for my editing business. Each week I’ll post a blog to report on how it’s going.

Tomorrow is December 31, 2014, so pardon me while I binge on recordings stored on the DVR. Like Mardi Gras revelers celebrate in excess all the things to be given up for Lent, I intend to park on the sofa for one last, long viewing session.

What would you do with an extra four hours a day?