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::: Living without the Screen (Krcmar)

Excellent book, two thumbs up.  In Living Without the Screen Krcmar goes beyond the usual knee-jerk positions ("tv is bad, it rots your brain, do you want to be a drone?" vs "tv is educational and part of American culture, do you want to socially handicap your children?") to look at the phenomenon of television viewing from a systems perspective.  A family is a system -- each member affects the others, they are more than the sum of their parts because their interactions change the system itself in a kind of closed feedback look.  So TV isn't just a box in the corner, it's a part of the whole system, and occupies a very peculiar position.  It's far more of a presence than, say, a dishwasher, but yet it's not as interactive as another human being (she calls this "contested space").  People use it to meet social needs, educational needs, informational needs, etc.  If you don't have a television, those needs don't go away, they simply are met differently.  

So television is only one component in this family system.  So for example, take the statement, "My kids are so much more able to entertain themselves than kids who watch TV."  Krcmar points out that while this may be true, it may not simply be due to the absence of television, but rather because that family system values independent entertainment skills, fosters them, encourages them, and helps them grow.  In other words, what's important is the whole web of values, choices, beliefs, behaviors, etc., not just the presence or absence of the Box.

She also does a good analysis of why non-viewing families choose not to watch, finding three general categories which correspond to how television is perceived.  1) TV is the content -- this is families who choose not to watch because they object to sex, violence, excessive materialism, etc., or because they think the general quality of news etc is so poor; for the sex/violence crowd they often also don't watch movies or video games or allow their kids computer access.  2) TV is the medium -- this is families who feel that TV is an addiction, that it steals time away from other things they'd rather be doing; for them, control is the issue and these folks are OK with renting movies, recording shows they watch later, etc.  3) TV is the industry -- these families believe that the television industry sees people as stupid, gullible targets, and their purpose is to suck you into buying, believing, becoming drones.  These folks also are OK with renting movies because they see themselves as able to avoid being sucked into the trip since they perceive it.

I'm kind of all three: it's mostly dreck, I have SO many other things that I'll never have time to do them all even without sitting on my butt for three hours a night, and my first reaction to anything that gets popular/critical acclaim is to say, "Well, THERE'S something I won't be interested in."  Although I admit to the guilty pleasure of Iron Chef America and season 1 of Beauty and the Geek (::hangs head in shame::)

What all three groups have in common are, first, strongly held opinions about television (as opposed to regular tv viewers, who don't see what the big deal is, it's just a TV); second, a strong desire to be involved in their children's lives and development (not necessarily controlling, just involved); third, a perception of themselves as iconoclasts, different, rebels, fighting the mainstream culture.  These characteristics apply equally to the fundamentalist Christians that homeschool without television and to the left-wing liberals who believe that American culture caters to the lowest common denominator and mercilessly eradicates original thought.

Overall a very well-thought-out book, logical and convincing.  Her hope, I think, is not necessarily that people will give up television, but that they will realize that viewing in general, as well as each viewing episode, is a choice, and that it should be a conscious choice, not simply an automatic habitual response.

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