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A global village full of idiots by Jo/An Claytor


Each night, TV reduces most North Americans to a state of semi-comatose addiction. It's time to unplug the electronic dictator that rules the rythms of so many lives.

A global village full of idiots

by Jo/An Claytor

(Globe and Mail, Wednesday, October 14. 1992)

SPIRITUALLY, philosophically, most North Americans have surrendered their life rhythms to the demands of the television. This instrument of mental slavery entered our homes as a means of light enterainment but has remained to take up residence as dictator.

The main problem with watching television is that it is addictive. Those who realize its dangers are frank in doing one very important thing to control it. Like cigarettes, where a puff is as good as a pack, the enlightened person must restrict viewing to such an extent that the television no longer has permanent residence in the home.

Anyone who has tried to restrict viewing will testify to the power of the flickering images to entice. Therefore, once this offensive instrument has been rooted out, the entire life pattern of the family changes. The windows of our minds are opened and we begin to view the world with our original video equipment.

Video is a Latin word that means "I see. , , Unfortunately, with the siren call of a television in residence, not many of us see past the TV .

IN homes with televisions, life is stinted and limited. In the room that holds the TV , all seating is directed to accommodate an undisturbed view into the eye of the beast. Each member of the family is seated to do appropriate homage to the television's presence. The pace of the household is regulated to the rhythms of the chosen viewing schedule. Eating, talking and even going to the bathroom fit around the dictates of the television schedule.

This latter phenomenon is documented by Donna Woolfolk Cross in her book Media-Speak. She reports that during the first broadcast of the movie Airport in Lafayette, La., the water department observed a 25-pound drop in water pressure as 20,000 people rushed to flush after the movie ended.

A household with a TV is often passive and enslaved by the very activity of watching. Not only is human interaction put on hold, but the viewer enters a trance-like state. Very little motor activity takes place, even eye movement is restricted. This is a contributing factor to the growing increase in obesity in TV-controlled cultures.

The ambience of a house with TV is fractured by the periodic increase in the TV's volume, which is brought about because of the nature of the medium. Having reduced the body's state to just above comatose, the viewer would soon fall asleep without this type of electronic prodding.

A HOUSE with a TV is a house of addiction. At first we may restrict our viewing to one or two well-chosen programs, but soon we are plugged into it. How many can resist? Soon we have a favorite program, one that can't be missed. Before long we are being led by TV schedules and not even the VCR can free us from the need to stay tuned. If we are unable to connect with TV for 24 hours we fear we may miss something. When we start to worry about missing Murphy Brown, we can be defined as being hooked indeed.

Regular exposure to TV fills the house with anxiety. Television has become like an electronic peep show. It is filled with portrayals of violence against women, children, men, and nature. News and drama are saturated with violence, interspersed with the ubiquitous commercial, a true crime against humanity.

The droning bleat of the commercial carries the constant message that viewers are not complete unless they own what the TV is selling, including life-style. The viewer is caught, siting enthralled by the light emanating from the box, much like a deer caught in the headlights of a car at night.

In contrast, life without a TV is inspiring. The household has a more relaxed and informal feel. Rooms without a television have a more open appearance. Seating is arranged to suit the possibility of conversation. The occupants are able to enjoy a full visual tour of the room and its contents - a room with a view that is not electronically generated.

Life without a TV is active. The act of reading is a primary and satisfying means of gathering information. Members of the household are physically active and free to seek outside activities. In homes without a TV there is a calmer tone as the atmosphere is not periodically rocked by the crass insistence of the pitch man or the smooth patter of the media mouthpiece. The house takes on the rhythm of the family's heartbeat, the pathos and comedy of its quotidian life.

A house without a television does not have to worry that the young, impressionable or sensitive are in the viewing room. It is an environment full of meaningful alternatives. One may even find in this household the occasional prescribed and very limited use of TV when used in conjunction with a video player. The television does not take up "residence" and commercial programming is shunned.

That regular use of television is addictive is evident from the coded admissions of many viewers. The lifestyle of the "couch potato," the experience of " veging out" in front of the " boob tube," are apt descriptions of a drugged state. Inaction and oblivion are the byproduct of the indiscriminate use of TV.

Marshall McLuhan was wrong when he described the TV as creating a global village. Rather than bringing the world into our living rooms it has blinded us to the world of our living rooms as well as the greater community. A house with a resident TV runs a very good chance of becoming a member of a global village of idiots.

Jo/An Claytor is an artist and writer living in Vancouver.