Saturday, August 07, 2010

One of Those Families

When I was little, growing up in southern California in the 1970's, everyone knew at least one of those families. The man across the street, an engineer at Rockwell, referred to them, somewhat derisively, as "hippies". Looking back, I don't think they really were. We all lived in a nice neighborhood, where husbands went to work as engineers at one of the refineries or aircraft manufacturers. Everyone had well-kept lawns and it was safe to walk to school or to go trick-or-treating without adults. Mothers baked for the PTA and dads got together to set off fireworks for the kids at the annual Fourth of July block party. 

Not exactly where people moved to tune in, turn on, or drop out.

Still, in our neighborhood, there were a few families who, in retrospect, seemed a bit advanced (and thus odd) for the time. They ate organic food, and some were even vegetarians (!) They wore a lot of cotton in the days of Carol Brady polyester double knit pant suits. Their kids weren't allowed to play King of the Mountain, or Cowboys & Indians. They played with gender neutral, non-violent, non-competitive toys, whatever those were. They never looked like much fun, to be honest. The rest of us looked on for a moment or two, then went back to playing with our Dream Houses populated with a hoard of too-tan Malibu Barbies and G.I. Joes with the Kung Fu Grip.

 Super-neato Barbie Dream House from the 70's, with 
the elevator and the hot tub

At school, those kids ate odd-looking food at lunchtime and you felt kind of sorry for them, because they never got Twinkies in their lunch boxes. You probably didn't get them often, but they never got them.

The weirdest thing, to us kids, anyway, was that those families never had TV sets. At a time when a large color set was still a very big deal, they didn't even have small black and whites. No one that we knew had cable back then, but we still managed to ingest our share of wonderfully mind-rotting TV. To not do so seemed foreign and unnatural.
Philo T. Farnsworth & family of Fort Wayne, 
basking in the warming glow of their TV
(okay, not really. But if you don't know who Philo T. Farnsworth was, 
go look him up. 
Seriously. Start here
One of those 'important to know' sorts of things.)
National Archives and Records Administration, 

Sunday night automatically meant Wonderful World of Disney.

Scooby Doo and Electra Woman & Dyna Girl were on Saturday mornings. Cartoons were on after school, at least until the Watergate Hearings came along and messed them up. The Merv Griffin Show & Johnny Carson's Tonight Show were on if you were lucky enough to be up late on account of being sick. During the week there was the Dialing for Dollars afternoon movie. The Saturday Afternoon Movie. The Sunday Afternoon Movie. Fright Night with Sinister Seymour ("Now here is your host, the Master of the Macabre, the Epitome of Evil, the most sinister man to crawl across the face of the earth....Seeeeymour!").

When I was a kid, we didn't watch anywhere near the amount of TV people watch today, but not having a TV was simply not an option. Everybody had a TV. Except for those families. What did they do at night? What did they do when they were sick, or were up late, or it was raining outside? I didn't know, and no kid I knew wanted to know, either.

At the beginning of May, we took another step toward becoming one of those families, or at least the 2010 version of them. We already eat the organic food. We're not vegetarians, but we try to eat much lower down on the food chain. I'm now the queen of (preferably organic) all cotton (or at least natural fiber) clothing. We've allowed our children to have the occasional Barbie dolls here and there, but the Barbies in our home have to earn their keep, have a real job, and can't just be fashion models. Right now, I think most are veterinarians. We've  tempered Barbie with other, even tamer dolls and other types of toys, too, including lots of building toys and other ::shudder:: non-competitive, gender neutral toys.

So, on May 1st, we dropped satellite service. It wasn't really a matter of money, although the extra $84.00 every month ($1008.00 a year) is a nice bonus. It was more that we were beginning to feel that we might have better things to do than watch TV. We'd noticed that Clementine's mood and behavior was better, the less TV she watched. And we noticed that even though we spent every evening together after she was in bed, we didn't talk all that much.

We decided to watch only what showed up on over-the-air channels, on the computer (Hulu^, Internet Archive ^), on DVDs borrowed from the local library, and from a Netflix subscription (1 DVD out at a time, plus streaming content, less than $10.00/month).

We've been without satellite for just over 3 months now. We saw the amount of TV we watched drop precipitously right away. We began turning on the TV to watch a specific program, then turning it off when we were done. It no longer stays on with no one watching it, or worse - it doesn't draw us in to watch whatever junk just happens to be on.
Artist's conception of what a switched-off 
television set may look like.
From Wikipedia, in the public domain (^)

As a percentage of total TV time, we watch more movies. We sit down as a couple or as a family with a specific film, having discussed what we'll view in advance. We watch more documentaries, which is definitely good, at least compared to other things we might have watched. We watch very few network shows. We don't watch sports, but we never did to start with.

On weekends, the TV stays off most of the time, which is great. As a result, we're spending more time outdoors and on projects. Last weekend we painted with watercolors, and made chalk to draw with. We go outside every day and watch bugs, water our flowers, and enjoy the weather. We were doing that before, but Clementine no longer has to be dragged out the door. We've started playing games again - Dan and I both love to play Scrabble and backgammon.

In the kitchen, while cooking, we've started listening to music and to programs on NPR instead of having the small TV on. Clementine now sometimes listens to classical music, nursery rhymes or stories when she plays.

One thing I've noticed is that if she watches TV, she turns away to play occasionally. When she listens to music or stories, she turns away and devotes much more of her attention to her toys or to whatever she's doing. The music takes second place and leaves her much more engaged than the TV ever did. Her behavior, what wasn't bad before, improved immediately. She's usually much more interested in playing, reading and drawing than in watching TV.

We now go entire days without the TV being on at all, and have spent evenings talking, playing, reading... I guess we're well on our way to becoming one of those families now.

We're not quite here yet, but maybe some day.
by Pablo Gonzalez Vargas,  free photo
 from Morguefile

I don't think we're quite there yet. We still have a TV. I'm not sure if we'll get rid of it, or if that is even our goal. Our goal at the time was to watch less, and for the children to watch less. In that, we've already succeeded. I don't know if "none' is doable, since Dan and I both enjoy movies, and this is the only way we usually get to watch them.

I do know that the saying "less is more" is true in this case and many others. Whether "none is more" remains to be seen but as of right now, I'm happy and proud of what we've accomplished so far.

Yay, us.


1 comment:

fern said...

you know, the couple of times we've shut down our satellite service, i've missed watching teevee FAR less than i ever imagined i would. mostly it seems i watch just for the sake of watching, which is unnerving in a conspiratorial sort of way.