Saturday, February 16, 2008

MATV: Mothers Against Television

When I was a child, we had no TV, until I was a teenager. So of course, as older kids we watched TV at our friends' houses. When I was a teen, and we finally got a TV, we were allowed to watch about 1 show per day (1/2 to 1 hour), and cartoons, evangelism, and the Disney Hour on Sundays, with the rest of the family. This was in the 80's. We thought we were deprived. But really, the shows I remember watching weren't so bad: Video Hits, Degrassi, The Wonder Years, the Cosby Show, etc. Really they were responsible, reasonable, entertaining shows. We got two channels, sometimes 3 in good weather, and the most offensive options we had before 9pm were GI Joe and the A-Team (to my recollection).

Things seem to have changed. When we first lived here, (before having kids) we were given a TV and VCR, which we happily installed, in our special "TV cupboard", so that at any moment a painting could open and our living room become filled with sound and drama. While pregnant, I got hooked on North of 60, and ended up watching that and sometimes Oprah, almost 5 days/week. Luckily I bored of Oprah, but watching North of 60 continued for a few months into Tal's earliest life. Then North of 60 vanished for some reason (ended? changed times? don't know), and I stopped watching TV, thank goodness. Still, we got a couple of highly recommended kids movies for Tal when he was 2: Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc. They're really great movies -- for much older children, and for adults!! The first event in Nemo is a violent fish-attack, and death of Nemo's mother... on it goes... Monsters Inc. is a little less terrifying, but still we're subjected to watching a little girl in a torture-machine. One day, when we sat Tal down to watch one of these movies, the TV's picture tube imploded in a near-silent poof of darkness. We never bought another TV.

We do have a computer, and every couple of months we show the kids a carefully chosen and pre-screened DVD. We also use YouTube as an educational tool, and have often found great answers to our questions, there. Other than that, our kids have no experience of TV. They don't know what a "commercial break" is, they don't know the familiar sound of "after these messages", they don't know who Spongebob, Dora and Pokemon are, though their friends are gradually teaching them the lingo.

So what this means is that they are innocent. They're fragile, they're easily amazed, and also easily frightened. My children are afraid of pirates (wouldn't you be, if you understood that what a pirate really was, was a thief?) What it means to have no TV is that my children are almost never bored. There is such a colossal amount of activity to be found inside or outside the house, that they are easily engaged and carry their interests from one activity to another, and to higher levels. I'm not gloating; that's just the way it is. It also means that I have no instant babysitter for those times they're building blanket-forts and carrying quilt-cases full of "Santa's presents" (read: every seen object, unceremoniously dumped into the quilt-case) around and dumping them in every corner of the house, and I can't keep up with the mess, let alone convince them to stop while I -- please -- make -- dinner ------ please?! They're not afraid of darkness (usually), or bumps in the night, because they have no nightmare-context from TV. They are afraid of weapons (though with Tal's school-experience, that's changing, now). They are routinely upset by the news, when I make the mistake of listening to it in their presence.

Bad Experiences...
And now this: A couple of weeks ago we went to some (yet childless) friends' house for a visit. The friends thoughtfully put on the Discovery Channel for the kids, prior to our arrival, and when we entered the room the kids were transfixed by somebody's hand reaching into the anus of a bull-buffalo, dripping blood onto the white snow. I whisked the kids out of the room, assuming we'd just caught the bloodiest moment of a veterinary show, and explained to them that the buffalo was not hurt, but the vet was helping him, and sometimes at the doctor a little bit of blood comes, and it's OK. Bison are big, so a "little bit" of blood is more than for a person. When we came back up, the people were heaving great arm-loads of bloody buffalo-intestines about on the snow. As the kids mouths dropped open and I tried to pull them away again, the TV-voice declared: "Well! A bit of a surprise autopsy!" And thankfully he was silenced by our friend. Tal was a bit upset. Rhiannon was quite traumatized, had nightmares for 2 nights, and still, 2 weeks later, says once in a while that she doesn't want to go to that scary house again. (Sorry, to our dear hosts... we assume she'll change her mind eventually!)

Then off to the best friends' house, a few days ago. They were playing some sort of video game, which was an entirely new concept for the kids. It took Tal quite a while to even understand why it was different from a movie. The game wasn't bloody, but had plenty of threats to the main character, and was generally destructive and violent. Tal's friends were trying to teach him which weapons to use, but in the end understood that he needed to learn: "push the lever up to make him go forward". He was suitably amazed, and now wants his own video game system, of course (not that we'll be getting one). He did say he wasn't upset by the shooting, because it was only robots, and robots don't hurt if they get shot, but then he very pointedly asked me if there are games where you don't have to get chased by scary dinosaurs.

And finally, today: London Drugs. They have a wall of TV's at the back of the store, and as we approached I heard enough sound to warn me that the children should probably not walk back there, just then. Markus led them around through other aisles to the toy section for distraction, and I walked back past the TV's, only to discover the following 4 scenes, displayed across a bank of about 20 TV's: A talk-show of some sort on the left (no sound), the great crashing sounds I'd heard coming from the Ice Age movie in the middle, and on either side of Ice Age, lower-volume bloody scenes of mass-murder and war (to the left guns and bleeding dead people; to the right swords and bleeding dead people). I was so angry I walked in to the electronics department and asked them who's in charge of the TV's. They were defensive, but generally said they were in charge, but had chosen safe channels (the sword-killing was on the Discovery channel), and they didn't have time to monitor what was on, all day. Fair enough, but why couldn't they play movies or something? WHY?!

I have the number of their manager, but I know my single angry-parent's voice to one single London Drugs manager will make no difference at all in the larger picture. In the larger picture it appears that we as a culture have deafened our ears and hearts not only to the sheer horror we're broadcasting into our living rooms for entertainment, but to our own children's needs. It's disgusting. I'm horrified.

I'm not squeamish; I'm not even vegetarian. I believe in taking responsibility for the way we live, even if that includes killing to eat meat. But kill ethically, and don't broadcast it all over the world for entertainment (sick gratification). We're not teaching our children about life; we're teaching them about death. We're not teaching them about peace and joy and growth; we're teaching them about murder, anger, and revenge (even in non-violent shows, these days, the behaviour is often vengeful). I'm horrified that the images and thoughts we're pumping into our lives every day are so obscene. What does this do to us as humans? What does it do to our compassion, to our happiness, to our ability to share, support each other, and survive as social animals? What does it do to our children, and to our future as a species?

Not much good, I think.

So I thought: "I wonder if there's a Mothers Against TV organization?" And I Googled it. I found only this article:
She says she hopes somebody starts it. So here I am. I'm starting it:

Mothers Against TV.

Join me.
Tell your friends about it.
Comment here to share ANY resources, research, organizations, etc. that you know of, to support this cause. I don't want to debate the issue, so if you don't agree, please don't post here; that debate, in blog-comment-form would at least overload my brain, if not this blog's capabilities. Comment only if you support the idea.

If I can get enough interest, I'll start a separate (multi-user) blog for it, where we can all share thoughts and resources.

But first: Get rid of your TV.

Forgive me, I know I'll regret being this forward, but right now I am too impassioned to speak mildly. Maybe this passion is enough to start a movement. I hope so.

PS: Yes, I do know about Mothers Against Violence. It is an organization of mothers whose lives have been touched by gun-violence. So of course, it's very related to this. But my beef with TV is not only the proliferation of gun-violence, there, but the desensitization, documented lack of inspiration, creativity and attention span it causes in children, and the proliferation of violent behaviour of ANY kind that I believe it precipitates. Not to mention consumerism.

...see further comments added May 23, 2008, as a new post...


  1. Humans are just animals, get over it. The rules of survival that control the Serengeti also applies to the human ape. The technological trends do not favor centralized government in the Twenty-first Century, censorship and gun control will fail.

  2. I'm actually not at all pro-censorship (I'm an artist!), and not even pro-gun-control. I don't believe it works. I'm not even anti-TV. I'm wanting to see a greater community of families who choose more engaged activity than sitting in front of a TV, and who raise active, thoughtful children who are not blind participants in the (very violent) commercial domain of television, but free-thinking, critical-thinking, and inspired participants in real-world living.

  3. I want to join MATV, but there is no way that my husband is going to give up his huge HDTV that he purchased this year. Can I still join? And, have you read Jerry Mander's "Four Arguments for the Elimination Of Television?"

  4. Of course you can join! "Joining" MATV is no more than a personal decision to find more stimulating activity! We have a computer in our house which is very very capable of showing movies and endless youtube videos, or surfing, etc... or games. We just happen to find other activities most of the time, so movies are a rare thing (about 6-8/year), and youtube is for research, etc.). My kids aren't old enough to have gaming issues, but I hope when the time comes that they've spent so much of their childhood playing outside or in engaging activities, that they're not interested. I also do believe there's some merit in gaming. If that's what they get into, I'll just try to keep it engaging. My six-year-old has certainly reached that point with movies. He'll watch them quite happily when we have a special movie night (with popcorn, of course!), but he doesn't normally think about it; there's so much more in his immediate recollection and desire.
    So have fun and don't worry about the TV! If having it in the room means it's too hard to ignore, drape a nice cloth over it, or go for an out-of-house adventure. :-)
    And thanks for the comment.

  5. We have a huge new 61 inch in the living room, and my son also has a TV that he plays DVDs on in his room. Also, my husband now plays "Warhalks" online every night for hours—hooked up to the large HDTV screen. As of now, our (5-year-old) doesn't play any games on computer or television, but does request "On Demand" shows when having breakfast. (Like Diego, Thomas The Train, Tigger and Pooh, Buzz Lightyear.) I worry that putting a strict limit on the number of shows or hours that he watches could actually make television more tantalizing to him.

    Am re-reading Jerry Mander's book and find his arguments against television both compelling and rather dismal. Let me know if you've read it and/or may pick it up. Although the text was written in the seventies, it still seems very relevant today. Should I post some quotes from Mander here?

  6. I appreciate your cause though I will be keeping my tv. I can choose what I want to watch and what my children will watch. Mostly the tv stays off or is used to watch dvds because there aren't many shows worth watching. I used to enjoy the Law and Order genre of shows until they start becoming more and more graphic. Now it seems each episode begins with the murder of some woman with overly graphic visuals of the scene. It's disgusting. Certainly not something I want my kids subjected to watching. Unfortunately so many people continue to watch because there is a lack of good shows. I think Hollywood needs a real wake up call and it will from the advertisers. Threaten to or stop buying products and we will see a real change with programs.

  7. AMEN. I say again: AMEN.

    I am constantly battling with my electronic-obsessed family members. It is exhausting. I'm sick of filtering out all the inappropriate DVDs and computer games being pushed onto my children, when they would be happy with some blank paper and crayons or a good book. Why does the world seem to think that children under five NEED all sorts of electronic gadgets in their lives?!

    Go MATV. I'm with you 100%.

  8. I too appreciate your passion and your cause. However, I take a different approach in our home. We choose what to watch on the TV and I make a point to not keep it on much. That said. Death is part of life. I believe that if my daughter learns about a full spectrum of life/death events at an early age she will be less traumatized by them later. Most of the time she could care less that the TV is on and busies her self in other ways, which is great and I just turn it off or my husband or I watch what we'd like. If there is something on that she says she doesn't like, I ask my husband to change the channel. If she has questions I explain to her what is going on. I do agree that some children are too sensitive to watch certain things. My child is quite a bit more stoic than the other children I've encountered. And I don't believe in sheltering her as I was sheltered or other kids are sheltered. It took me years in my late teens and early twenties to adjust to real life because I had been sheltered from it growing up. I do not wish the same for my daughter. She seems to be adjusting fine. At 26-months people are astonished by her clear speaking and extensive vocabulary--more like a 4 year old they say. Aside from occasional TV shows being on in our home, we live a holistic lifestyle: organic foods and body care products, no vaccination, extended breastfeeding. It all seems to be paying off.


Your comment will appear after it is approved. This can take a while!