Paul Andersen: Fair Game
August 20, 2012
The experiment has gone on for more than 30 years and can be claimed a success. After three decades without TV, we have found that it is still possible to live a fulfilling life in America. Our household might seem abnormal, but our independence from television has been liberating.
In our quiet abode up the Fryingpan, we take shelter from televised media the way we duck under a sheltering spruce during a hailstorm in the mountains. We find solace away from TV news anchors, the latest sitcoms and the barrage of ads that force-feed consumerism into American homes.
Last week at a cocktail party in Aspen, the conversation turned to favorite TV shows. When I mentioned that we have been without TV for three decades, the others looked at my wife and me with a pitying glance of amazement. I realized that it’s time we come out of the closet – or perhaps the TV cabinet.
We don’t usually confess our aversion to the tube; it’s just a choice my wife and I made years ago when the content of TV no longer warranted the burdensome ads. Where we live up the Pan, our choice is either satellite or nothing. We prefer nothing.
Missing the Olympics might reflect an unpardonable lapse in cultural consciousness, but I didn’t miss the games at all. I also don’t miss NASCAR, football, the latest rehash between Obama and Romney or the crisis de jour. Tuning out the big, wide world doesn’t mean we’re hopelessly parochial but rather selective in how we view the world.
We own a TV but only occasionally watch movies, mostly vintage and foreign films, films with a message other than violence, films with content over titillation, films with meaning beyond perversity.
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It might sound effete, but at home, we mostly read books. We also cook, garden, listen to music and share the events and experiences of each other’s lives.
Our 19-year-old son, Tait, was raised entirely without TV. I’m not sure what difference that’s made for him other than perhaps a calming effect. We have kept an arm’s length from commercial mass culture because it seems unsustainable, unhealthy and overtly materialistic, not something we wish passively to endorse.
Instead of turning on the tube, we tune into nature. We listen to the birds, to the river in the valley below, to the wind in the trees, the coyotes, the owls. Few things captivate us so readily as does our greater backyard at Seven Castles, and you can’t get that kind of programming on TV.
When Tait was young, bedtime reading became a chief entertainment that knitted us together. What began with children’s picture books advanced to Harry Potter, Jack London, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Ralph Waldo Emerson and dozens more. As Tait matured, our reading became more literary, historical, philosophical. Our lives have been filled with plots, dialogue, ideas and imagination – with no messages from our sponsors.
When traveling and staying in hotels, Tait would commandeer the remote and scan through the stations. After a hundred clicks, making a full circle through the channels, the allure usually faded. “Is this all there is?” he would ask. There was never a need for parental prohibition on TV. The nature of the media has been reason enough to hit the off button.
What is life in the 21st century without that flickering window to the televised world? It is quiet, peaceful, creative and gratifying. Instead of TV, we look through our windows at trees, forests, mountains and valleys, at the redrock cliffs where bighorn sheep clamber, where deer and elk graze, where birds soar, where a bear loped through our backyard last week. We look out our windows onto a sky that is a constantly changing canvas of surreal beauty.
Are we missing out on life in America without TV? Have we resigned from the real world? In all honesty, there is simply not time enough to sit in front of the glowing, flickering screen and take it all in. There is not time enough to suffer the pitchmen or invite the madly spinning world into our quiet, peaceful home.