TV-TURNOFF WEEK TURNS ME ON
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
HOLLYWOOD -- It's been nearly 35 years now since I left my parents' home=
at 19 and entered into a life without television.
In all the time (except for a few weeks in 1974 when a friend who'd sub= let her apartment to me left her set behind) since, I have never had a tv i= n any place I've called home. I've lived all over the world, in hotel rooms and sleepy forest lodges, m= onasteries, rural farms and New York City condos in the glorious silence th= at comes only in its absence. My life has been rewarding, adventure-filled,= original, engaging and constructive.
And since 1966, when I left my parents' home in upstate New York to ente= r college, I have read more than 2,000 books, seen more than 1,000movies, s= pent 5,000 hours in conversation with some 10,000 people, spent thousands o= f hours in public service to my community, traveled to 18 countries and lea= rned bits and snatches of 15 languages so that I can at least start convers= ations with all the people I meet who are not watching tv, either.
But the most important achievement of all those years without bombardmen= t by the Boob Tube is not material. I have managed to retain some of the ch= aracter of the people who influenced me in the years before the television = commercial created stereotypes of American life that its victims have fruit= lessly tried to live up to ever since.
I am less inclined to talk in sitcom cliches, less likely to mention br= and names, and less likely to be afraid to go outside at night. I know far= more about world events, play trivia far better, speak better English, wri= te more letters, know more of my neighbors, am less prejudiced towards othe= r minorities, have more opinions about everything, and am more inclined to = help a stranger in need.
You will probably laugh a little at that list -- especially the part= about opinions -- but there is a clear relationship between the amount of = tv viewing one does and all of the qualities I've described, including one'= s willingness to exercise one's mind and mouth.
After all, being the audience for a tv is a passive act; scientists to= ld the Los Angeles Times some years back that that on average, a child watc= hing television slips into the passive alpha (receptive) brain state within= 30 seconds of beginning to watch television. Most adults I know seem to st= art out that way.
For me, watching television is an exercise in observation; I am aware of= camera angles, grammatical slips, stage-setting,editing and message-shapin= g more than ofwhat tv tries to sell me; indeed, it doesn't take much to bec= ome a sophisticated tv viewer -- all you have to do is turn it off for a wh= ile to see how empty and manipulative it is when you turn it on again.
That unreality was never more painfully real than the time I watched Mik= e Wallace recap key moments of the '70s during a New Year's Eve broadcast a= t the dawn of the '80s.
The most powerful of the images was of the Palestinian terrorists at t= he 1976 Munich Olympic Games. I re-experienced the horror of the murders th= at followed the takeover of the Israeli athlete dorm as the footage unfolde= d, growing more deeply involved in the images and unfolding story with ever= y passing second.
With no warning, a Miller Beer commercial suddenly blared onto the scr= een, and it was as though a fully-loaded garbage truck had plowed into my g= ut. I almost vomited with the shock and sense of violation. The incident oc= curred at a place called Tijuana Tillie's at 13th Street in Santa Monica as= I waited for a table; I couldn't eat that day, or even return to the resta= urant.
Over-sensitive? Maybe, but as a Neighborhood Watch leader in Hollywood,= I have not had difficulty grappling with real people dead on the ground wi= th their brains on the sidewalk, or bleeding from stab wounds and gunshots;= those kinds of things happen in the broad context of reality, not to tempt= me into opening up my center of being so that someone can sell me beer. Wh= at happens in my neighborhood -- now a peaceful one thanks to people who ga= ve up their favorte tv shows to help patrol it for six months -- is an anti= dote to the unreality of television and all the neurotic imaging that comes= with it. How do you poison a nearly 400-year-old culture in the space of = 50 years? Invent television.
Admittedly, I have spent a few great moments in front of the tube, altho= ugh none come readily to mind this afternoon. Live coverage of the Detroit = riots in 1966, the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby in 1963,= the incredible reporting of Peter Arnett from Baghdad in 1991 and the end = of President Reagan's first State of the Union address might qualify, thoug= h.
Each of those events, I would note, was broadcast live, free of commerc= ial interruption.
I suspect that Jack Ruby's act of desperation and cowardice would have b= een on tape-delay if it occurred today, and network executives would decide= whether to show it.
That's another problem with tv: It's carefully controlled even when pr= oviding curative doses of reality; there is never enough to heal. On top o= f that, a vast audience's daily diet of news and information is fed to them= by just a few huge corporations, and Americans seem unable to tell the dif= ference.
April 23-29 is National TV-Turnoff Week, and I urge everyone who wants t= o see another world in this lifetime -- namely, this one --to jump in and j= oin those of us who have learned how to live in it.