Friday, September 29, 2006

The "Little Empty Attic"

In June, I received an anonymous comment that has been rattling around in my brain ever since. Ironic when you consider the subject matter. And recently I had read of the study that Michael Medved chronicles here regarding the increasing number of televisions in the average American household.

As headlined by the Associated Press, the report indicates “TV’s Taking Over in U.S. Homes” and conveys the disturbing news that for the first time, the average American home now contains more television sets than people. The typical household accommodates only 2.55 people, but 2.73 televisions. An astonishing 50% of all homes boast three or more TV’s, and only 19% contain just one. In 1975, by contrast 57% of households owned only one television, and only 11% contained three or more.
We ourselves own two TVs, and are a household of four...soon to be five. And at least once a week I think it's two too many. I would have initially scoffed at this study and thought it overblown except for the fact that after my neighbor informed me he has "seven...maybe eight" idiot boxes stationed throughout his household of three, I did some random surveys of acquaintances and found that to be not all that uncommon. Astounding to me, really. Astounding apparently to The Anchoress as well, as she writes eloquently, as always, on the study.

The “one TV” rule started as a means of teaching co-operation. When you only have one television, you have to either agree on what will be viewed, or the thing stays off; there is no dashing to your own bedroom to serve yourself. Also, things come up when you’re watching television, and when they do you have a better chance of discussing them immediately, than you do by filing it away for when you’re all together.

In this way, television never held much sway over our kids lives, and we count ourselves very fortunate for that. Our kids are very individualistic, knowledgable about but unenamored with the popular culture, and capable of insightful and penetrating critical thinking that often stuns their teachers. I believe all of that is largely due to their lack of fealty to a box telling them what they should be doing or thinking or wearing.

I've considered our modern media today many times while driving to and from work. I have to drive by the university and the business district downtown and am always amazed at the number of people with earbuds, plugged into whatever it is they are listening to, seemingly oblivious to the world around them. True, they might be listening to a podcast, business notes or a missed lecture, but I have my doubt of the majority.

What I suspect, as do others smarter than me, is that people today simply do not wish to think. They can't be bothered with it. We are lazy. We want to be entertained. The time and effort involved with even the most basic of mental tasks is simply too taxing for most. I do not say this out of arrogance, but out of observation and interraction with others. Look around you...the evidence is everywhere. How else do you explain short attention spans, the apathetic electorate, the explosion of video games, DVD sales, box office numbers, and the fact that anyone today still watches network programming? Dancing With The Stars, anyone? Please.

Again, The Anchoress was on to something when she quoted Thomas Merton:
The devil is no fool. He can get people feeling about heaven the way they ought to feel about hell. He can make them fear the means of grace the way they do not fear sin. And he does so, not by light but by obscurity, not by realities but by shadows; not by clarity and substance, but by dreams and the creatures of psychosis. And men are so poor in intellect that a few cold chills down their spine will be enough to keep them from ever finding out the truth about everything The devil does rob us of clarity by casting us about in shadows. But he fools us into thinking that the shadows are light. Our illumination is only illusory.
My apologies to those offended by my bringing theology into this subject, but I believe it takes center stage. For Merton and The Anchoress are on target with their analysis. By distracting us from the sacred with the profane; from beauty with the obscene, satan is able to literally keep our eyes veiled behind the scales. We become numb. We become soft. We become oblivious to the important events of the day...all in the interest of clammering to see TomKats baby Suri Cruise, or to plug in to our iPods.

If you do not accept a monk's rationale, then let me offer up something from the literary world by two of the finest:
"I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that the little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not ot have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones."

Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Watson -- A Study In Scarlet
By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

And finally, from Stephen King:

TV came relatively late to the King household, and I'm glad. I am, when you stop to think of it, a member of a fairly select group: the final handful of American novelists who learned to read and write before they learned to eat a daily helping of video bullshit. This might not be important. On the other hand, if you're just starting out as a writer, you could do worse than strip your television's electric plug-wire, wrap a spike around it, and then stick it back into the wall. See what blows, and how far.

Just an idea.

Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

So what will I and the Mrs. do about the intrusion of media in our children's lives? Exactly what we are already doing. Monitoring TV time, keeping it limited. Providing a reading list to the oldest, and reading nightly to the youngest. No headphones, iPods, or CD-playing clock radios in the bedroom...for now. Eventually the oldest will have one of course. But at the age of ten, what does he need it for now? He owns no CDs...and is perfectly content in his "ignorance" of pop culture. Theirs are fresh, young and clean "little empty attics". They are slowly filling it with the essentials. It would be a shame, and an incredibly negligent disservice to them, if I were to open the door and let pass through all the crap that today's pop culture uses to take up valuable floor space in our attics.


Post a Comment

<< Home