Friday, June 1, 2007


We very dutifully sheltered Z. from screen time until she turned 2. This wasn't difficult for us because our television lives almost every hour of its life camouflaged by scarves that we only push aside to watch Homicide on video. When I tell you we've been on season 5 for well over a year, and that's watching two episodes at a time, you'll understand just how out of sync with American culture we are, and deliberately. I find advertisements so toxic that I prefer not to have anything to do with a medium so reliant on it. I keep my radio on the low end of the dial, too.

I haven't always been TV-free. I grew up on after-school cartoons (Scooby Doo! Speed Racer) and syndicated series (I actually knew the order of Charlie's Angels episodes), and I loved Miami Vice when I got older--not the actors, but the show, the atmosphere of it. I didn't have a TV in college, but visited friends for SNL-, Law and Order- and TNG-watching session. When I graduated, TNG was in syndication twice a day and Jean-Luc Picard was too much to resist, so I got an old TV from my folks and gradually got sucked in. In grad school, I upgraded to something that had a remote control. When my first dog died unexpectedly (chocolate poisoning), I was so lonely and bereaved that I pretty much had the TV on whenever I was home and it was not good. I bought TV Guide every week and planned things around my television watching. I don't really remember the detox process--mostly I got really busy in the evenings, going to massage school at night. And TV got worse, too--by the time Homicide went off the air it was the only thing I was watching, and its last season was full of characters who just didn't fit the show. I enjoyed The West Wing, but not enough to remember to turn the TV on. There just wasn't enough I wanted to watch to keep me in the habit.

A. is in most ways more pure and moral than I am, and this is no exception. When I met her, she had never had a TV habit. We do go to movies--or did, pre-Z.--and occasionally rent one, but we're really much more sit-and-read people.

To plop Z. in front of the tube would constitute a lifestyle change for us, so it never entered the equation. A. says that when she's mentioned to colleagues that Z. doesn't watch TV, they react as though she's parenting with one hand tied behind her back. It's true that when Z. is with us she needs our attention a lot, and I'm not a saint, I do want to read or garden or write this blog sometimes when she's asking for me to read her a book or draw with her. Sometimes she plays on her own, sometimes I stop what I'm doing--sometimes she throws things to demonstrate that I need to stop what I'm doing--whatever; we compromise.

But recently I decided it was time for Wallace and Gromit. I love Wallace and Gromit. Chicken Run, Creature Comforts: I love the entire Nick Park oeuvre. I thought she should be introduced to that sly and goofy English humor.

Well, I created a little obsessive monster. She asks to see Gromit all the time ("Can I see Groemint?") I got her a Wallace and Gromit book (it's lousy) so that we could give her an option other than the TV. Now we have to hide the book so she doesn't ask us to read it all the time. When we do watch one of the movies, she slips away from the couch moves forward until she's standing two feet from the set and dances with anticipation: "Can I see the mean dog?" "Can I see Shawn?" "Can I see the penguin?" and on it goes. I wish I'd held out longer.

It's made me realize that regardless of the cognitive effects (and I don't doubt that they're significant, just not my topic today), video is very unsuited to toddler emotional needs, or at least Z.'s. It's easy to read a book several times, to talk about it, to stop on one page while Z. takes it all in and discusses it. Movies are harder. And movies are not satisfying physical objects--Z. asks to have the DVD cases to carry around, but what fun is that? She asks me to draw Gromit, and I oblige--but this is the first time she's asked me to draw a fictional character rather than a family member. If there were a Gromit fad the way there was a Snoopy fad in my youth, she'd be there. She's already got the cheese thing down.

What she really wants is a Gromit friend, a Puppy Pie come to life and able to do with her all the things she longs to do herself. This is the theme of a recent favorite picture book (That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown--fantastic book, I recommend it highly). In the constant-companion department, Puppy Pie is a trouper, none better. But he's still no Gromit.


Magpie said...

I watch no TV to speak of; but my husband loves it. For Miss M., we compromise - selected DVDs like Wallace and Gromit, and Chicken Run, and Curse of the Were Rabbit, and Kiki's Delivery Service, and Totoro. They're all things with strong little offbeat characters and, yes, she's grown accustomed to watching some of them over and over, "can I watch something"? It's a struggle at times - the balance between TV and no TV - but I think it's basically okay, as long as the content's okay.

[my word verification was a Roman numeral...107...i've never seen that happen before]

niobe said...

I think I've watched a grand total of one hour of tv in the last six months. And that hour was because I was at a friend's house and he had the game turned on in the background.

But I have exactly the opposite reaction to commercials than you do. Back in the days when I watched some tv (almost exclusively HGTV) I loooved watching commercials -- much more so than any of the programs. If there was an advertisement-only channel, I'd subscribe to it.

Genevieve said...

I bought some Wallace & Gromit toys on ebay a few years ago and my kiddo still plays with them from time to time. Would that be a reasonable thing for Z - something tangible that she can play with, and develop the stories as she likes?

Phantom Scribbler said...

Since I am the resident spokesperson for Pro-Television Parent Bloggers, I can always recommend lots o' DVDs that tie into books (good books, I mean, not advertising tie-in books). Like, Z. may be a little young for it, but LG was really into the video of Linnea in Monet's Garden at that age. That's a grand slam, you know? Book, video, AND doll. Plus you get to feel superior when your two-year-old correctly identifies a Monet on yer tea mug when you're visiting friends. Yeah. TV, it is my beloved co-parent.

S. said...

Magpie, since neither of us watches TV we don't have anyone advocating the pro-TV position. We quite simply have a Pandora's box situation on our hands. I think that for us having it be a family event (guided viewing) at limited times of week and of day will make it liveable. Or at least contain the damage.

Niobe, I'm so far out of touch with actual ads that my reaction isn't to their entertainment value but the commercialization of my time. I don't want to spend any more of my time being trained as a consumer. (Yes, I know this is a dubious position for someone in retail to hold.)

Genevieve, I've thought of it, often, but if a Gromit toy displaced Puppy Pie it would break my heart.

Phantom, if we recover from the Gromit and Wallace experience I'll tap you for recommendations.

Scrivener said...

I had a similar experience with Ella: she basically watched no tv at all until she turned 2 and then we introduced her to a few DVDs and Sesame Street but in a very limited fashion, which she quickly obsessed about anyway.