May 20, 2005

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Learning to watch TV with a difference

We all have treasures in our various parishes, and one of the many we have at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle is Jeff McCall. He’s not only a distinguished professor of communications at DePauw University, but also a good writer and an astute observer of people.

Besides all that, Jeff has common sense, as his occasional articles in The Indianapolis Star make clear. Although he doesn’t advertise his point of view as specifically Catholic or Christian, his insights always reflect those beliefs.

Since communication is Jeff’s area of expertise, his articles often take up aspects of communication, personal, public or spiritual. Recently, Jeff wrote a column called “Don’t turn off the TV , just learn to control it,” which reminded me of television viewing in our home.

He wrote that critics tend to blame TV for exposing children to presentations of materialism, inappropriate sex, violence and general bad behavior. They say the “boob tube” makes kids passive viewers rather than encouraging them to read books. In our case, my husband always manages to read a book while we’re watching TV . Of course, he never gets a comedian’s joke or knows where we are in a story, either.

Not only that, detractors say, but with a TV set in every room, including their bedrooms, kids are inclined to shun family activities in favor of solitary, unsupervised viewing. Luckily, our family was saved from having too many TV s by lack of means to buy them. And program content was so much less offensive than it is today that monitoring was almost unnecessary. I said “almost.”

Instead of participating in the annual “TV Turn-Off Week,” Jeff says, better we should leave it on and pay closer attention to what everyone is watching. We used to do that and probably saw more of “Rocky and Bullwinkle” than we’d have liked. Still, Jeff believes parents should try to watch TV with their children, initiate discussion about what they see and learn to use the V-chip that can block unwanted programs.

Jeff suggests that the only TV in the house be in a room where the family gathers, but not where they eat together. He’s sure right about that. My husband is a news junkie, so sometimes we watched the evening news in our family/dining room. Believe me, genocide in Rwanda is not something a family should witness during dinner.

I guess our kids learned from a bad example because in our oldest son’s home the only TV set is located in a family room where anyone strolling by can see what’s on the screen. There’s a lot to be said for that kind of subtle censorship.

Jeff also makes the point that, even when parents are monitoring their children’s television watching, they can’t control what they see away from home. They’re bound to see the Playboy channel or “the Sopranos” or some other unsuitable fare at some point. The idea is to arm the kids with a critical moral lens that they can’t help but see through.

Like me, Jeff is fond of movies and television, and finds them instructive as well as entertaining. For every silly “Revelations” to ignore on the tube, there is thankfully a “Joan of Arcadia” to keep us inspired. We need to show kids the difference between them.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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