This spring I gave up the Boob Tube for Lent. It turned out to be a remarkably pain-free sacrifice. Not only that, but I think my IQ may have inched up a few points.
Lent has come and gone, but I have chosen to maintain my self-imposed ban on television — in perpetuity. True, I was not much of a couch potato to begin with, being one of those rare modern curiosities, a middle-aged man who does not give a rip about sports. As a result of this endearing eccentricity, I never felt the need to subscribe to cable or dish or to plunk down $5,000 for one of those 55-inch HD plasma jobs, which made it all the more easy to walk away from the set and never look back.
Besides, with so few channels on commercial television my options were limited to old westerns, reruns of Maude or Two and a Half Men, or one of those godawful reality shows that pass for Prime Time TV these days. The wife still catches The Biggest Loser on occasion; other than that the only time the TV gets switched on is when relatives visit and insist on watching “The Game.” (And then only if “The Game” is being broadcast on a commercial channel.)
Thus far, the benefits of a TV-free existence have been substantial. Television, like the Internet, is a notorious Time Suck, so I find I have considerably more free time now, time for the Permanent Things Russell Kirk talked about (and he wasn’t talking about The Simpsons, now in its 23rd season). Time, too, for long neglected chores, for exercise, for slow-cooked meals, even gardening. I finally was able to dust off some of the classic books I have been promising myself to read, but too often slighted in favor of a Schlitz and an old episode of Gunsmoke.
THE WHOLE IDEA of giving up the idiot box still draws curious, if not hostile, reactions from family and friends, as if there were something vaguely subversive and un-American about it. I can’t imagine why. It’s not like the Politburo passed anti-TV laws. In fact, television was the regime’s most effective means for spreading its vile propaganda. I can only assume the reason is that television is considered quintessentially American, like baseball, hot dogs and apple pie. Well, I don’t much care for baseball and hot dogs either. Besides, like it or not, one cannot really give up television completely, since it blinks at us from every wall: in restaurants, doctor offices, taverns, post offices, even the lobby of the building in which I work.
If you ask me, abstaining from television is a no radical step at all, but a reactionary imperative. I consider it a very conservative act, as in, conserving my time and my cultural values. I am sympathetic to those conservatives who maintain that we are living in a New Dark Age (only this time we are the barbarians) and it is our duty to separate ourselves from the present culture of barbarism to the utmost extent possible, and perhaps by doing so conserve a few shreds of civilization, to pass on to future generations, much like Benedict of Nursia and his fellow monks did during the sacking of Rome (that is when his fellow monks weren’t trying to poison him).
Of course, television’s raunchy and largely puerile content is only its most obvious offense. The late social critic Neil Postman nailed it when he wrote that modern technologies don’t just distract us from Higher Things, they shape (distort?) who we are and change how we think, and not for the better. Television doesn’t just shrink our attention span, it teaches us to prize sham emotion, deviant stimulation and quick resolution over logical and abstract thought. Former TV critic Rod Dreher says television is by its very nature a force against tradition, against continuity, against permanence and stability. Who can argue with that?
I guess what I am trying to say is I feel somewhat called to set up my own personal Benedictine monastery as a bulwark against barbarism, and the first step is by refusing to allow television and similar degrading forms of pop culture into our home, and, instead, to fill our lives with beauty, with great books, and with things spiritual and uplifting. I can live without SportsCenter and Jersey Shore. Indeed, as St. Benedict learned, there is almost no end to the things one can live without.