Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Silence vs. the Siren Song

On a homeschooling forum I visit, a mom posted about a problem that's cropping up more and more these days. I had planned to write about it myself, given our family's recent encounter with this nearly-ubiquitous annoyance.

I'm speaking of the growing tendency of restaurants, doctor's offices, car repair shops, grocery stores, and a host of other public places to place large television screens all over their walls, and to keep these TVs on and running during normal operating hours.

On the forum, some people spoke of simply asking if others wanted the TV on, and then turning it off--a bold but successful way of dealing with the thing. Unfortunately, the TVs my family and I have encountered recently stymie this simple approach: they are large flat-panel wall-mounted TVs with no reachable controls, which would require a request to employees or management to turn the sets off.

Worse, both of the TV sets we encountered were tuned in to cable news channels. The office of the cardiologist where I went to get my stress test results (perfectly normal, my heart's in good shape, I just have blood pressure to deal with!) was running a Texas cable news channel, while the fast food restaurant we stopped in at on Saturday was running CNN. So during our lengthy doctor's office wait and our lunch out, we heard the following news stories:
  • A deadly bar fight that ended in the stabbing death of one person and the injury of another;
  • Various car accident fatalities;
  • A doctor arrested for possessing child pornography, with discussions of same;
  • and so on.
Now, my children aren't babies; our youngest is ten. But there is something very disturbing about having adult issues and adult crimes discussed over the heads (literally) of one's children, knowing they can't completely block out the noise even if they don't look at the images. And younger children may not even do that--the screen is so mesmerizing, with its flashes of light and color.

And they absorb it, our children. They hear these words of violence and vice, and see the sometimes-gory or frightening images. It changes the world, a little bit at a time, from a safe and loving place to something filled with indescribable monsters and unimaginable fears.

It's bad enough when the television set is tuned to something most people would think of as "safe" for kids, like an all-news channel. But what happens when these large, out of reach TVs start to display daytime talk shows, soap operas, and other assorted filth from the collection of cultural decay on display over the airwaves? What happens when the adults in the doctor's office or restaurant have decided they'd like to watch the Maury Povich show, and have gotten too caught up in the latest paternity fight to agree to change the channel for the sake of the children present?

In some ways, we've been fighting this cultural battle for some time. Every time we pass a magazine rack in a grocery store or bookstore, we say to our children "Don't look." The same thing happens if we walk past a movie theater whose posters are advertising immoral films, or if we have the misfortune of living somewhere where people often dress for the beach instead of for public places.

But "Don't look" doesn't work for the ugliness radiating from the television screen. The sounds alone are enough to fill the mind with unsettling thoughts and corruption. Adults may have the skills to block this noise pollution, but children do not. They become the innocent victims of our culture's increasing slide into the cesspool of moral degeneracy; their minds and souls are under constant attack by the siren song of a world which denies God and mocks virtue.

And though some might think that having the TV constantly on in public places is fine so long as the shows are geared toward children, the questions then become "Which shows?" and "Whose children?" Not every parent approves of Barney or SpongeBob; not every child is prepared for the latest PG-rated "kids' movie" which features gross toilet humor and perilous situations. Ultimately we're letting the public sector choose what sort of programming ought to be appropriate for our children; this is an egregious trespass by the people making those decisions into the territory of parental rights.

Perhaps most disturbing of all is the reality that we've become the sort of culture that hates and attacks silence. We fill our spaces with loud voices and confusion on purpose; from the constantly-on TV or video games at home to these same toys running in our cars to the expectation that we will be amused and entertained in every public place we enter by the chattering heads on a big screen TV we fight against the very notion of quiet introspection. But a culture that has grown to hate silence is a culture incapable of experiencing God; we cannot "be still and know" when we cannot be still or find stillness, but must be always surrounded by noise.

Whether the frenetic waves of sound come from a garish cartoon with dubious values, or whether they speak in crisply and professionally shocked tones of the violence and mayhem in our communities, the goal is the same: to suck us and our children into the prevailing culture and make us all clamor for it. The disappearance of polite quiet, punctuated by the normal human sounds of conversation, children laughing, crying, or both, and similar ambient sounds, and the replacement of these by the artificial din of recorded voices demanding our attention and promising to amuse or inform so long as we pay them homage is not a good cultural development; it is, in many ways, yet another way that those of us who choose to live at least somewhat in opposition to the prevailing culture find ourselves increasingly incapable of shutting it out.


Anonymous said...

So glad your heart is Ok.

My husband has asked in a restaurant before if the TV could be turned off or at least down, and they happily did this.
I don't like it.
I also find it pretty insulting if you are taking someone out to dinner to spend time with them, and you have to compete with the stupid TV.

Simcha said...

TV-b-gone! I've always wanted to buy one of these. The website makes it look like a joke, but apparently it's a real product:


Wendy in VA said...

The omnipresent TVs drives me batty! Excellent post.

Glad to hear your heart is well. Has anyone mentioned magnesium to help combat the high blood pressure?

Melanie B said...

The most disconcerting incident of the public television I've encountered recently was when I went to the hospital for an ultrasound a few weeks ago. In the radiology waiting room the television was tuned to an afternoon soap. An ad for contraceptives came on. It was so jarring as I sat there trying to pray the rosary and tune out the tv to be bombarded by such an ad in a Catholic hospital.