John Colson: John Prine was right — blow up your TV
Hit & Run
I have deplored Donald J. Trump for the misanthropic, misogynistic, anti-democratic, anti-intellectual, ignorant poseur who he has been for the past four years or so, but I have to admit that I am grateful to him and his “base” for showing us and the world just how awful they can be, and by extension just how awful the world would be if Trump had held onto the presidency.
I’ve also been rather perversely and sadly grateful for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced many of us to spend more time in isolation at home than we might otherwise have spent. In my case, this has translated into more time to read a number of books that I’ve been meaning to check out but haven’t for one reason or another.
I should point out that I have always been an avid reader, a habit that goes back to when I was very young and my father would read me to sleep every night with the spellbinding story of “Kidnapped,” by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Reading on my own came a little later, mostly as a consequence of my mom repeatedly reading, to me and my siblings, a tiny booklet titled “Rackety Boom,” by Betty Ren Wright, about an aging blue pickup truck that took care of its human family in myriad ways (for nearly 30 years, I owned a 1960 F100 pickup named Rackety Boom, in honor of that memory). It was easy to match her recitations to the printed words on the page, and reading soon became a central influence on my life.
A fair portion of my reading material, in the Trump era, has come from the wounded political warriors who went through the meat grinder of service in Trump’s White House and, after being kicked out for disloyalty or other perceived crimes against Trump, came out angry, or at least seriously distressed enough to write about the experience.
But I’ve recently managed to get in a few other titles, as well, such as “American Lion” by Jon Meacham, which details the life and times of another controversial American figure, President Andrew Jackson, the principal architect of the infamous Trail Of Tears removal of Native Americans from their ancestral homes in the Southern states in the early 1800s.
From a friend, I recently borrowed S.C. Gwynne’s masterpiece, “Empire of the Summer Moon,” about Comanche chief and warrior Quanah Parker, and the rise and fall of the most powerful Indian tribe in U.S. history.
Right now, I’ve taken up Michelle Obama’s autobiography, “Becoming,” about her life before, during and after her time in the White House when the nation was being led by her husband, Barack Obama.
And I’ve already got a title picked out for my next literary adventure: Isabel Wilkerson’s relatively new book, “Caste: The Origins of our Discontent,” which a reviewer described as an “unsettling history of racial hierarchies” that “draws parallels between America, India and Nazi Germany.”
But, why should you care what I have been, am now or will soon be reading?
Well, I guess there’s no particular reason, though I believe that reading a good book will yield far better results, intellectually and emotionally, than watching just about anything on television today.
It is generally acknowledged that reading a book calms one’s nerves, increases language and reasoning, and can help keep one mentally alert while aging.
On the other hand, according to writer and social analyst Melissa Chu, a 2013 study by Japanese scientists examined the effects of watching television on 276 children, and “found that the more TV the kids watched, parts of their brain associated with higher arousal and aggression levels became thicker. The frontal lobe also thickened, which is known to lower verbal reasoning ability. The more hours of television the kids watched, the lower their verbal test results became. These negative effects in the brain happened regardless of the child’s age, gender and economic background.”
According to Chu, part of the reason for all this is that reading enhances communication between parent and child, while watching TV lowers the amount and quality of such communication.
Given the fact that I have been an incessant devourer or producer of the written word all of my conscious and working life, for which I give thanks to my mom and dad, I endorse Chu’s findings and worry that part of the growing strife, divisiveness and violence in our social and political spheres is due to our spending too much time in front of televisions, computers and “smart” phones, and not enough with our noses buried in books.
Trump, for example, is famous for his disinclination to read anything more complex than a speech prompter, and I suspect that his devotees feel likewise — reading is a waste of time, television is more instantaneously gratifying, and television feeds our biases and preconceptions where reading makes us think too much.
I should add that, in my insistence in not joining a nation of addicts to short video clips and quick texts on our “smart” phones, I still use an old flip phone because I don’t want my brain to be sucked out through my ears.
To sum it all up, the late, great John Prine was absolutely right when he sang, “blow up your TV”; you’ll thank him when you’ve done it.
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