TV is My Guide

We have just emerged from one of the most coveted events of the year when it comes to football fans, chicken wing purveyors, and people in the business of all things television. The Super Bowl is not only the biggest event for actual television sales, but it is obviously the point where anti-abortion activism and web-hosting, car racing lesbianism alike spend the greater part of their advertising budgets for the year. More importantly, it is a time where fanatics sit down with people who think that Drew Brees is a new type of laundry detergent to bask in the glow of their television sets.

I was among these throngs of people last night, though I cared less about the outcome of the game then I did the outcome of the assorted fried vittles I had ingested. A lot of time was spent discussing with friends, not the play-by-play of the game or even the stream of rodent/groin hit/rodent getting hit in the groin-themed commercials, but about the quality of television. We shared dramatic stories about cable and satellite providers, the subtle differences in HD, and the comparative (and compensative) size of our television screens. This got me thinking about events, both recent and long-past, that have made my relationship with TV what it is today.

For some time as a child, my father worked a swing shift and my mother worked two jobs in order to afford to futilely put braces on my rotten teeth. This meant that often in the mornings and at night, my sisters and I were left to take care of ourselves. I often got dressed in the morning in front of the one television set that we owned. Instead of learning to read the clock, I instead taught myself that when Care Bears started its second segment, it was time to head off to school. I would hurry home from school to receive my true education in the tutelage of He-Man, Alf, and the Muppet Babies. At night, my sister micro-waved Banquet pot pies for us and we learned valuable life lessons while watching Family Ties, Designing Women, and, of course, Moonlighting. Oh, Maddie, will you ever learn?

I can link nearly every important event in my life to something I was watching on television. I remember suffering with Chicken Pox while watching Slim Goodbody, admiring his pox-free, cadaver-like costume. I tried to use a baseball bat to free Mr. Rogers from his glassy confines so that he could play with my train set. I lost a tube which was placed in my ear during Star Wars on the CBS Thursday Movie of the Week and my eardrum broke years later while watching Rambo on the Fox Saturday Movie of the Week. During a particular episode of Wings, I became so violently ill that I realized my own fragile mortality. Seinfeld was on when I went to my first date. I wrote my first major thesis paper (24 pages worth) on the language usage of different characters in The Simpsons. I watched Band of Brothers the day before I got married and I watched the 2006 World Cup when my first child was born. Television has been like a second mother. Actually, since it didn’t remind me of the difficulties it had rearing me or scold me for using bad language in a blog post, perhaps it would be more accurate to say it was like a helpful and wise conjoined twin.

Vomit inducing comedy.

I have written before about how television has also helped me in rearing my own children, or at least eased the difficulties slightly. When Zachary was young, we put him down in front of a myriad of Baby Einstein DVDs, convinced that we would make a nuclear physicist out of him by age 14. He was mesmerized by the DVDs and as soon as he could control his neck muscles, we put him in a saucer seat 6 feet from the TV and let the subliminal genius soak through his fontanelle. The discovery of the repeat play option, which loops the DVD, meant that the television became my full-time, unpaid nanny as I was free to do whatever adult activities I would like (playing Toki Toki Boom, usually). When recently Baby Einstein issued a voluntary recall on its DVDs, citing that research showed it didn’t implant genius into children, but a murderous bloodlust and an instinctual mistrust of Asians, I felt somewhat guilty for my lackluster style of parenting. However, the $15 check for the two duplicate DVDs that we owned and sent back adequately assuaged that guilt.

Our second child has never had the same type of fascination with an illuminated magic rectangle that broadcasts whatever you desire. But, like Zachary, Isaac has the same disregard for the medical benefits of proper sleep. This used to mean getting up at 2:30 in the morning and cursing his wide-awake giggling. I would usually take him downstairs and turn on the television while he tuckered himself out. It was at this point that I realized that the DVR was sanctioned by a loving God. Isaac has improved slightly, allowing me to sleep until 4:30 these days. In his 16 months of life, he has been exposed to several gritty cop dramas, questionable situation comedies, and re-runs of Band of Brothers. He enjoys a couple of shows, but only enough to dance (bobbing and turning like a 75 year-old man) through the title sequences. But, as he tends to busy himself while Daddy watches his “stories” in the morning, I usually control the remote. At least I didn’t put him in front of that mind-rotting Baby Einstein.

I love television dearly, and I am glad to know that my children do as well. However, on the morning of Super Bowl Sunday, Zachary was playing in the family room while I was picking up some things around the house. I stopped for a moment to listen to what he was saying. “But first, here’s a quiz...” he said, in the style of one of his favorite shows, Animal Atlas. “A- Sharks have lots of tooth. B-Flys have many tooth. C- Gwasshoppows have a long teeth. Or D- Tooth are important.” As an English major, this made me cringe slightly, but as a trivia lover, it was awesome that he was making up his own animal/dental trivia game. But after that he said “We’ll be right back with the FINAL answer on Channel 7, also available online and on-de-man. This is KUED.” Though I don’t think that overexposing children to television is generally a problem, when your child can identify a station’s call letters, it is time to re-evaluate as a parent.

I think that Miranda and I are actually good parents, in most scenarios. We have Zachary read at least three books a day, though I usually have to get him to read them by suggesting that they are like watching TV, but in your head. We reward Zach’s diligence in going to the potty with more time watching movies or television or playing games on said television. I firmly believe that Isaac will grow up to become a successful law-enforcement officer after watching Southland so many times. It’s hard to turn your back on a device that you have relied on for so much for so long. I should probably strive to be an even better father, though, by using less television and perhaps more actual interaction with my sons, like playing Chutes and Ladders, practicing our water-colors, or by tossing around a football. Just not when the Super Bowl is on. In that case, I will suggest that he either sit quietly or go upstairs and get Daddy more nacho cheese. Now, if only Isaac could learn to be like one of those stock-trading, talking babies, we could make so much money. And with it, we could, of course, buy a bigger TV.

Buy low. Sell high. Don't trust the Asians.

Author’s Note: Since I know it will come up, I just wanted to say that my mother did make a lot of sacrifices for our family, many of which included tirelessly being present while we grew up. As one of the tens of readers that I have on this blog, I wanted to let her know that she will always be my first mother, disapproval of my language choices and all.


Marsha said...

I thank you!

Heather Sayer said...

An image of the loveable character Pokey from T.V.'s Gumby with his eyes bugging out and the caption, " What the CLAY?" would accompany this post nicely:) You never cease to make me laugh, Cameron!

Cameron said...

Gumby was on early weekday mornings. In fact, it was the show that came on right after the off-air color bars at about 6:00 on channel 14. Sometimes, I would force myself to wake up early just to watch it.