Television is My Dragon. This is How I Slew It.
I enjoyed television very much growing up. My friend Randy Robertson and I realized one day in seventh grade that we knew when every tv program aired, every night of the week and Saturday morning, for CBS, NBC and ABC and the local station broadcasting from San Francisco. I had my favorite shows; on Sunday night it was Disney’s “Wonderful World of Color.” Some shows I never watched—”Gunsmoke,” for one, probably because some other show was on at the same time. Every afternoon we watched “The Three Stooges.” When “Chillers from Science Fiction” began to air during the dinner hour, my parents let us watch it while we ate.
These are still happy memories, but I have not watched television in more than 50 years. Like most conversions, I did not realize all at once that a great change had occurred. I wanted to give up childish things. I wanted to fight for a great cause and have a real-life adventure. I wanted to study; that conversion happened when I read Dorothy Sayer’s essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning.” Reading and writing and speaking became a demanding romance, what Thomas Chalmers called “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” I realized that I have saved 1000 hours a year by doing anything besides watching television. Somehow, I sold my possessions and moved my family overseas. Somehow, I earned two master’s degrees and a PhD. These were more important to me than television, and I, at least, could not have both. It was a battle in my mind to do win against my attraction to television. Speaking in public was a hardship, and it took something out of me. I simply had to give quite a lot to effort to preparing to speak. Fortunately, I have a wife who shares my conviction that television is not life-giving or good for us. I have no time or interest in judging anyone; I only know that what I want to do is quite ambitious. I am on a mission to change the world. I do not judge others in these matters.
When the Blincoes lost on “Family Feud” in 1981 we went to a neighbor’s house to watch the airing. Same thing when I lost on “Jeopardy!” in 1988. (No wonder I don’t want to watch again!)
When we moved to Jordan, we rented a house with a television. Jan watched an Arabic language soap opera that aired from Egypt. It was quite popular. We moved to Iraq, and after two years we bought a tv so we could watch videos that someone was sending us from America. We watched ten videos a lot: “Home Alone,” “Aladdin,” “Apollo 13.” When our Kurdish neighbors began to get televisions, they watched soap operas. Sadly, our evening visits to their homes, which had been enjoyable, took a sudden turn. Conversation ceased. It was a lesson for me in my own weakness. The old me likes tv too much.
When I was 45 we returned to the US and left everything in Iraq we could not fit in our car. We bought our first home when I was 46. We also bought a tv. On Friday nights our son enjoyed watching videos with his friends. We enjoyed watching the Rose Bowl parade on New Year’s Day. When the technology advanced, we gave the tv away. As technology has made it possible to watch tv and movies on one’s phone or laptop, we have said “No thank you” to Hulu or Netflix or whatever. I did this because I am powerless against its pull. Every day I cover my ears, like man in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and shout, “Life, life, eternal life.” Every day is a victory over self when I can say “yes” to ambition and “no” to temptation.
When I sat with my mother during her final days, we enjoyed watching television. She had worked hard all her life, and now she was in bed. I enjoyed it a lot. When it’s my turn to go, when the kids take the car key and tell me it’s time to slow down, I may ask for the remote and turn on “Gunsmoke.” The reason I am writing this is to ask if any of my readers want to join me in making a pledge, a pledge to adventure, the Pilgrim’s Pledge to “Life! Life! Eternal Life.” A pledge to resist the temptation of television. You can help me, and I can help you if we make the pledge together. Let me know. And thank you very much for reading my story.