Monday, September 8, 2008

The Boob Tube

I’ve been pondering our tv habits. For the first 6 years of life I only let the kids watch PBS, but for the past year I’ve allowed the Disney Channel. During that same year, there has been a marked increase in sassiness, preening in front of the mirror, and eye rolling in our house. I was pretty much ready to blame it on Hannah Montana (whom I personally find very entertaining!), when I started thinking about the tv shows of my youth.

Shortly after the Sesame Street, Electric Company and Wild Kingdom era, I remember watching “grown-up shows.” While the Disney channel focuses on tweens, these shows were more for teens and adults. I’m talking Three's Company, The Love Boat, and Fantasy Island. We had a pretty steady diet of these at our house throughout the 70’s.

I missed the more wholesome family fare of The Cosby Show, Family Ties and Growing Pains in the 80’s because by that time my parents had put the kibosh on weeknight tv viewing and I was too swamped with homework to put up a fight.

I think of Three's Company with its bedswapping, boob jiggling and gay mocking. I think of The Love Boat with a whole lotta sex and not a whole lotta love. I mean Doc was terribly unattractive, but he had a different woman in his cabin every night!
And Julie McCoy was a coke-head. Ok, I know that was in her off-screen life, but it’s not as if I couldn’t read the National Enquirer headlines for myself in the grocery store line. Fantasy Island? Super sleazy and super creepy (I’m remembering lots of lightning flashes and voodoo). This doesn’t even include the topics of war, drinking, extramarital affairs-- not to mention cross dressing-- on M*A*S*H.

The show we weren’t allowed to watch was Charlie’s Angels. Our way around that was to have our friends, the Joneses, audiotape episodes for us. Yep, they’d hold a cassette player up to the tv and record the show for us and let us listen to it later. Inspired! We had stacks of Charlie’s Angels trading cards and debated the superiority of one Angel to another. Years later we got to watch the repeats during the summer. Pure bliss.

I’m just wondering if letting my kids watch “kids’” shows, and limiting them to that, is causing them to soak in this weird alternate universe of fashion, bubble gum rock, crushes, and idiotic parents. Would it be better to let them watch some adult tv, such as Tom’s and my favorite reality show The Amazing Race or should we throw the tv out the window altogether? It’s not like I became a bedswapping, coke-snorting voodoo queen by watching the shows of my youth. I doubt any of it rubbed off on me at all. On the other hand, I do see some imitation of these tween shows in my kids and I don’t care for it. Hmmmm.

BTW, who was your favorite “Angel?”


Shana said...

Every word of sass and every precocious mannerism out of my 9-yro daughter, my husband blames Hannah Montana. Which is ridulous. Reality is, she's a precocious, sassy 9-yro girl, with or without the Disney channel.

My most memorable TV viewing of childhood would be Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Mork and Mindy, Cheers, Hill Street Blues and, yes, of course, Love Boat and Fantasy Island. After we got cable, it was all MTV all the time and sneak peeks at the Playboy Channel when the parents were away.

If we are what we watch, then I got royally screwed, because I should be a super hot Vampire Slayer right about now. (I still mourn the loss of my TV friends on Buffy and Angel, and I was a full-blown adult when I watched that.)

As far as TV and kids and school goes, we have the NO TV ON SCHOOL NIGHTS rule in our house. I felt kind of like Hitler when I started this last school year, because my parents allowed me absolutely unfettered TV access seven days a week. But I swear, the NO TV ON SCHOOL NIGHTS rule has changed our lives. I know that sounds absurd, but it truly has.

Funny enough, my older kids, who I did not really restrict on the TV viewing very much, they watch ZERO TELEVISION right now. My oldest daughter, age 21, has no TV in her home. My 15-yro daughter and 19-yro son watch NOTHING. The boy will turn on History or Animal Planet if he is really bored. And the teen loves Heros and Lost, but only to watch the whole season on DVD in one sitting. Apparently that's the way the cool kids do it these days. Who knew.

Is ths the longest comment anyone has ever left you? Is there anything else about my family's TV viewing habits you'd like to know, because I REALLY do not want to go mop the kitchen.

Kate Coveny Hood said...

Kelly - hands down. She was such a lady.

Between your list and Shana's I've had quite the walk down memory lane...

I watched entirely too much TV growing up. But I also read and played outside and did my homework (well most of the time on that last one). I don't know if there is a real answer for this one. Maybe it depends on the kids involved.

Gretchen said...

This is a good topic...

I think sass could be from Hannah Montana, but have you watched it? She's not as sassy as, say, Sharpay on HSM. Or the Bratz characters. Or even the Rugrats characters! I think sass probably also comes from watching friends sass their own parents/teachers/etc. Kids learn from other kids. Which leads me to my next point...

There is a clear division between the tv we watched as kids and the tv shows kids watch now. When we were young, we watched ADULTS doing GROWN UP THINGS. I'm not talking about naughty stuff. I'm talking about Grown ups living in apartments. Grown ups going on dates. Grown ups spending their own money. I can only speak for myself, but I did NOT relate to them because I was only a kid. I enjoyed watching, but I did not assimilate my situation to theirs. On the other hand, Hannah Montana, Raven, Zoe, and all the other tween shows show kids doing their thing. Today's kids see them and think, "Hey that can be me!!!" It creates a fantasy parallel universe for kids, who think it can be real if they want it to be. Enter merchandising, the internet, etc. and a kid feels mere steps away from being the people they see on TV.

Plus, on Fantasy Island or Charlies Angels or even Three's Company, I don't remember them ever saying bitch, ass, bump-and-grind, the nasty, etc. These words are considered okay to use now. I let my kids watch the Amazing Race once, and they said "damn" like 3 times and said "ass" at least twice. I'm sure bitch would not be bleeped either, if it were said.

We have gotten rid of all cable/satellite. Our kids are only allowed to watch PBS, or shows like "ARe you smarter than a 5th grader?" and "America's funniest videos". I can't protect them from everything but this is one area that I have to try. It is just WAY too easy to turn on the tv, and let it run, then leave the room and not know what is being said to my kids. Plus, once something is said, your kids can never "unhear" it.

If you limit the TV your kids will have a hard time with it but over time they will get used to it. When we got rid of cable we signed up for Netflix. This gives us greater control about what our kids are watching, because it's a video of which we know the content. Plus it has a definite beginning and end, not endless show after show after show.... That's another thing that drives me nuts. On Saturday morning, my kids never want to go outside to play or go anywhere because, GOD FORBID they miss Scooby doo. Now I just tell them to pick 2 30-minute shows to watch and that's it. No more cartoon marathons.

BTW I always loved Sabrina. Same reason I liked Mary Ann more than Ginger. She was not the obvious choice.

Anonymous said...

No contest... Jaclyn Smith was my favorite angel. As a brunette I was starved for a role model that was both beautiful AND competent. Until Kelly Garrett arrived on the scene, beautiful belonged to the blondes and competence was only for brunettes with short, questionable haircuts.

As for the question of what to let your children watch and when...
Disney's Little Mermaid was the first movie banished from my children's shelf. The first time I watched it, my stomach turned as the eels sang "Go on and kiss the girl... you want her... she wants you to" and Ursula then told Ariel not to underestimate the importance of body language. At first, I imagined that I was simply too sensitive.... my then 3 and 4 year old daughters were probably not listening that closely. But a few days later when the younger did something wrong, the older mimicked Ursula with, "You fool!!" And so we had our first movie debriefing... who was the good guy? and why? who was the bad guy? and why? do we want to act like the bad guys? And Ariel, despite the fact that she learned her lesson, went into the donate bin with Ursula. None of us were ready to debate the nuances of attracting the right boy & figuring out when to kiss them.

My bottom line.. my girls know that we will have a required family meeting at my discretion to discuss shows that leave me wondering about the 'lessons' it left in their minds. Now that they are 10, 12, and 13, these meetings are far less frequent but much deeper. This allows us to watch a wide variety of shows -- and gives me the opportunity to put in my 2 cents. It really makes a point when I say "no more" to a show. I can even refer to movies as reminders of specific lessons... they roll their eyes when I suggest that they might need to have another viewing of "Mean Girls," but they know exactly what I mean!

I tend to choose shows that have an obvious bad guy, an obvious good guy, and a tendency to make sure the good guys prevail when they do the right thing.

Our favorites today (probably best suited for kids at least 8 to 10 years old)...

George Lopez (the Latino version of the Cosby Show ... the whole family laughs)

Psych (Friday nights... a must try for all parents who loved the 80s and might want to share with their tween kids. Just last week at tense moment, the main character cried, "Sweet Fantasy Island!" Also Corbin Bersen from LA Law plays the dad. Recently Cybill Shepherd from Moonlighting guest starred as the mom)

Monk (also Friday nights... a must try for those of you with a perfectionist child.)

As for what I watched growing up... just about everything, almost every night. As my parents were divorced before divorce was cool and before child support laws were well-structured enough to make sure enough money got into the right pots, I spent most evenings by myself with the TV as company. I turned out all right... more straight-laced than my husband who was not allowed to watch "Three's Company" and was a salutatorian of my high school class despite doing all of my homework with my TV friends chattering away. (Don't tell my kids though.. we don't watch TV until all 3 of them have all of their homework done!)

Pamela said...

Jaclyn Smith is the most beautiful, but I always hoped the plainer, straight-haired Kate Jackson would show up stunning one day. Being a plain, straight-haired one myself.

Hopefully there's no permanent damage done by what we watch. Although I cannot remember to put out the trash or why I just tromped upstairs, I remember that Little House on the Prairie came on Mondays at 800pm, Three's Company at 900pm on Tuesdays, and Dukes of Hazzard at 800pm on Fridays, followed by Dallas. The Simpsons and Cheers on Thursday - some years conflicting on different channels. And the countless episodes of Guiding Light on channel 6 at 300pm. Oh yeah - Zoom on channel 23 at 600pm. Loved that show.

Ah, the memories you evoke...