girl watching tv - smallWritten by: Sarah Gould

My friend blogged the other day about how her boys, when allowed to have whatever they want for breakfast on their birthday, choose cereal.  Not just any cereal, but the type of cereal with so much sugar it makes your toes curl.  They don’t want pancakes or waffles or strawberry-flavoured milk or ice cream – nope it’s all about the “vitamin-enriched” bits of crunchy wheat, enhanced with green marshmallows or chunks of chocolate.  What’s not to love?

And so it is with my husband and I when we get to take off for a few days.  More often than not we’ll choose a hotel room somewhere and hole up quietly there for a couple days learning all about what the world has become while we weren’t paying attention.  We’re the sheltered sorts, you see, subsisting on nothing but Netflix and the movies/TV series’ lent out by the local parish priest. Cable?  What’s that?  So our little country eyes are opened wide when we’re out and about on vacation – positively glued to the Captain Crunch of the adult world for hours at a time.  The Television.

Yet this time around I didn’t enjoy myself as much as I normally would mostly because I’ve come to a conscious conclusion (that I suspected for awhile) that the TV and all of its shows (including the news) are almost exactly the same as the fructose-laden cereals these days – full of hot air, unnaturally bright colours and entirely devoid of any nutritional value.

What is it about that glowing blue screen with moving pictures that attracts us so much?  We don’t experience anything of actual value, only a lulled stupor and manufactured emotions.  Not only that but the images that are presented to our eyes along with the music presented to our ears connects with our brain in a specific way to create impressions deep within the psyche – impressions that are difficult to erase at times.  And if you think that’s not true how many of you ladies out there recall how you felt when you watched the ‘king of the world’ scene in Titanic, or for the guys, the ‘Freedom’ scene in Braveheart?  Goosebumps?  Tears?  And how is it that we can remember slogans and jingles from 20 years ago – yet we can’t recall what we had for dinner last night?  I finally admitted to myself that contained in this box is some truly powerful stuff.

And it’s getting even more powerful as the advertising world pours billions (that’s thousands of millions!!) of dollars into figuring out the human psyche, and then using that information for financial advantage and telling us what (and how) to think in the meantime.  All the while we sheep sit dumbly by, absorbing the subliminal messaging directly into our brainstems without knowledge or complaint.  And then to teach these companies a lesson, we go out and give them our hard-earned money for products we generally don’t need, which, in turn, allows them to fund further, even more in-depth studies. It’s one gigantic, scarily mind-boggling cycle – and we’re buying into it.

And that box will numb our minds right down into the doldrums if we let it. As I was nodding off to sleep one evening last week I decided to log my “symptoms”.  First off, I was completely exhausted after “resting” and watching the ‘tube’ for several hours late into the evening.  I was bored, I recalled several unsavoury images and I was still ‘seeing’ the blue glow even though the TV was off and the room was dark.  Yet, the most concerning symptom (to me at least) was the recollection of certain people or plotlines as real – when they were anything but.  What enters into my heart and mind from that box doesn’t leave me very easily as I find myself still contemplating the lives of fictional characters several days later.  This isn’t quite the same as the characters in books, mind you.  While books can garner a similar result, for me it’s the fact that the TV places images into my head – images I wouldn’t necessarily choose to put there in the first place – while a book provides words and your brain does the rest.  Books require work, creativity and interaction…whereas the TV requires me to do nothing but sit and veg.

So I’ve come to the point in my life where I have to make a choice – a decision about what I will and will not put into my heart and mind.  I’ve already cut out the majority of police/forensic shows and those that contain emotionally disturbing plots, but I think it is coming time for more.  The million dollar question is how much more?  It doesn’t look like the complete elimination of the television is possible for me (one has to consider that the lines of what constitutes a television these days are quite blurry with screens surrounding us on every side).   But even just contemplating a decrease in daily screen-worship makes me twitch.  What does one DO with four whole hours (the average amount of time spent watching TV in a day) of down time every night?  I suppose I could read or write, pray, do housework or even just sit outside with the crickets and think large, lazy thoughts.  They won’t be about rednecks, bossy beauty pageant toddlers or repo men, why would I want to fill my head with the lives of random people anyways?   No, who knows what kind of thoughts will come to a person when they’re head isn’t filled with junk.  Cure for cancer?  World peace?  New brownie recipe?  Who knows.  But I think I’d like to find out.

Sarah explores authentic Catholic femininity on her blog The Feminine Gift.

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