Sunday, March 8, 2009

In the Land Without Television

This morning I read with interest Motherhood: The Final Frontier, a blog by a woman I knew in high school. She was venting about the Whorification of Dora the Explorer, a problem that seems to be gripping parents of young girls right now. It is not a new problem. Barbie always set my motherly teeth on edge, and was banned and reviled by my mother before me. Of couse, I had lots and lots of Barbies, and so did my daughters. The bitch just knew how to hussle her slutty little ass into the house, welcome or not.

The issue is making me think about what happens to girls in our culture, and actually what happens to all children, when parents try to shelter them from the mean, ugly, plastic, materialist, addictive, all Vegas all the time world of television, luncheon meats, and toy AK47's.

My own mother was one of the truly fierce 1970's culture warriors. We had no television, but many books. We had no war toys. She made our lunches from scratch- home made minestrone and whole grain bread. We went to Europe, not Disneyland. She read us Beowulf when we were five and six. We were encouraged to go out and play in the woods and stream behind out house. She did not wear make up, except for the rare dinner party. She sewed our clothes.

What happened? Well, we became two very sneaky kids, that is what happened. We managed to watch plenty of television at the neighbors. We convinced our babysitter that we were grossly abused and deprived and she brought over a small television and a whole lot of candy. We traded home made humus on sprouted wheat bread for twinkies. We traded Steiff stuffed animals ( that would be worth a fortune today) for a box full of plastic toy guns.

Then what happened? Well, my mother found my brother shooting at me with a pellet gun that made noise, and flashed a bright light, while spraying hard red plastic "bullets" in all directions. She had a moment of really peaceful Zen/Quaker/Nonviolence and then she snapped and stamped on it, screaming at the top of her lungs. My brother somehow managed to put it back together. It didn't shoot so well anymore but it still made a terrible noise. Victory was his, I suppose.

I focused my rebellion more on the getting, hiding, and eating of sugar filled treats. I kept candy and gun hidden in springs of my bunk bed. I hid the back up supply elsewhere, so that if one stash was found there would be something to get me through.

Our elementary school teachers complained that we were both becoming compulsive liars. Our desire to appear to have watched the latest television shows was great enough that we would ask one kid what they saw and then use the information to fake it with the rest of the class. I think I picked this trick up from a character in "Small Change". My parents broke down and bought us the television during Watergate. I remember being truly furious that the trial kept interrupting "General Hospital".

Of course when I became a parent I thought I could handle it all so much better than my parents had. I got my kids lots of books and art supplies but I figured they could handle a little television. I got my wake up call when my three-year-old took a look at the stickers from Columbia House, one of those buy 10 CDs free deals. She pointed out to me Madonna, Michael Jackson, George Michael, and on and on, almost every single artist on every single tiny little stamp. It wasn't just the recognition, in a nonreader, that jarred me. It was the reverent tone of voice. I turned off the cable that day.

Did it work? Nooooo....But it didn't hurt either.


  1. I'm waiting for the backlash - it's coming, and so are the hiding places, lying, stealing and other generally antisocial behaviour. I comfort myself that there can't be many things that my offspring can try that I haven't done myself, though, so surely wise - and sympathetic - to most of their future tricks.
    Glad to see your blog! I'll put it on my blogroll

  2. Just discovered your blog through Mothership's. I developed the same sneaky tendencies as you, and spent vast swathes of time round at a friend's house just so I could watch the forbidden tv programmes and read comics (also banned when i was a child). It's hard to get right.
    The advertising is the least of it - Trefusis Minor is still advising me on the right kinds of household products to buy, which is the kind of advertising that seems to wiggle through the gaps in my rather lacksadaisical monitoring of their viewing habits. And he turns wooden spoons into swords, whilst his little sister uses them to stir an imaginary 'Sooop' pot. sigh.

  3. Sorry - meant to post the above as Mrs Trefusis, which is my blog (and which lead me via MTFF to yours) x