Why I Don’t Watch TV: Reason #437

Posted: 12/12/2009 in Family relationships, Parenting, Personal, Television

Here’s a fun fact you probably didn’t know about TV.Video Veggie

While we American vidiots were glued to our big screens and immersed in our surround sound, the first television set didn’t arrive in the Fiji Islands until 1995. Prior to the arrival of TV in that otherwise unspoiled tropical paradise, the Fijians had a rather curious cultural belief; they believed that to be fat was fabulous.

The bigger the body, the better. Large was in charge.

Natives living in Fiji considered it a compliment to say, “Looks like you’ve put on some weight—you look great!” Ever-hungry for the robust bod, the Fijians created various herbal potions which stimulated their hunger in order to supersize their bods—sort of like Viagra for the appetite. Unlike our infomercial-based obsession with getting the ultimate “abs of steel,” they sought “flabs of steel.”

But that all changed. The arrival of Western culture via television’s heavy dosage of Friends, Seinfeld and Baywatch prompted the island girls to rethink their picture of beauty. Thanks largely to the (initially) one available channel, young women in Fiji came to believe that being robust was revolting and began to purge rather than binge.

But wait. I thought TV didn’t influence behavior.

How could this be? Is there proof?

Actually, yes.

Anthropologist and psychiatrist Anne Becker, a research director at Harvard’s Eating Disorders Center, noted the number of teens at risk for a variety of eating disorders (including anorexia and bulimia) more than doubled in Fiji in the three years immediately following the introduction to TV. What’s more, she discovered the use of vomiting as a weight control technique by high school girls increased five fold during the same period.

A mere coincidence?

In her report, Becker observed, “The acute and constant bombardment of certain images in the media are apparently quite influential in how teens experience their bodies. There’s a huge disparity between what they see on television and what they look like themselves—that goes not only for clothing, hairstyles and skin color but size of bodies.”

Question: If television programming can cause an entire people group to change their outlook on life, how might it be influencing your family?

Columnist John Leo puts it this way:

“In the old days, the Brady Bunch never thought about sex, as far as we knew. Their modern counterparts on TV never think about anything else . . . These shows are also carriers of heavy cultural messages, the most obvious being that parents are fools. In the teen soap operas, parents are absent, stupid, irrelevant, zanily adulterous, on the lam, or in jail. The unmistakable message is that kids are on their own, with no need to listen to parents, who know little or nothing anyway.”

Leo’s right. While there may be a handful of worthy shows, for the most part in TV-land the values of a few narcissists are inflicted upon the many. In turn, the many make life changes based upon the twisted view of reality presented by the self-important, ever-indulgent, pancaked-faced few.

As this picture of life offered by the gods who walk among us becomes increasingly depraved, the changes which take place in the rest of us—if honest—are often alarming. As a nation, we’ve come to tolerate the intolerable. Why? Television brings into our living room people whom we wouldn’t permit through the front door. Worse, we waste precious time feeding on stuff which is about as nutritious as an electronic Twinkie.

Which is reason #437 why we don’t own a TV . . . we sold it years ago.

Here’s a modest proposal. This winter, why not send your TV on an extended vacation. Give it a rest for, say, thirty days and watch what happens. I double dare you. In fact, I’ll guarantee that the simple decision to unplug the TV for a month has the power to revolutionize your relationship with your spouse, your children, your world, and most importantly with God.

How can that be? It’s a matter of our focus. Take Tom and Vicki from Jacksonville, Florida. They were fed-up with the death grip of television on their lives. They decided to give my 30-day TV-free challenge a try. After just a handful of days they said:

“Bob, our children who never get along, much less play together, are getting along and playing together. We even put them in the same bedroom! It’s really weird. It makes we wonder if the TV had something to do with it since that’s the only thing that has changed.”

James and Debbie from Austin, Texas, told me:

“The greatest gift to me of having the TV off for a month has been the gift of time. Time for the kids imaginations to take hold creatively express themselves.”

If you are ready to bust the boob tube habit and fall in love with life again, get unplugged.

You’ll thank me later.


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