Thursday, January 14, 2010

Five Years Without Television

At the start of our life together, my bride and I resolved that we would not get television service in our apartment for at least the first year of our marriage. June will mark five years since the resolution, and we have not connected our television to anything but a DVD player and an electric outlet.

Too much time has passed for me to remember if our resolution was based on the advice of someone whose crown was greyer than our own. If so, it also escapes me to whom we owe the acknowledgment of wisdom. Perhaps we found the recommendation in a book or magazine, perhaps we just saw it lived out by couples that we admired. Regardless, enough time had passed at the end of our first month without television to know with certainty that we had made a good decision. By the end of the first year we knew that we would never look back.

Below is a brief list of ways in which my life is different because we have not had television for five years. The perceptive reader will notice that they are all advantages.

We've Saved Money. This is perhaps the most obvious (and certainly the most tangible) advantage, and not one to be glossed over. If cable would have cost us $50 a month (probably a low estimate), then in 60 months we've saved $3,000. Very small is the list of things for which I would willingly part with $3,000. Access to "So You Think You Can Dance" does not make the list.

We've Insulated Ourselves from Temptations to Covet/Consume Excessively. What regularly sets me aback when I do find myself in front of a television are the commercials (that and how much more of a sports game can be observed on an HD screen). They are excessive in number. They are increasingly explicit and immoral. They unabashedly generate urges of greed, indulgence, and lust to drive viewers to consume. I am subjected to enough indecency in my daily commute (five different strip clubs currently advertise on NYC taxi cabs)--I relish the fact that I can do something to tear down an altar of consumerism by not connecting our cable.

I've Watched Far Fewer Sports Games. While on the one hand I do miss the chance of witnessing truly classic sporting events as they happen, there are fewer matchups and sporting events that get enough of a rise out me anymore to make me pine for the good old days (the older I get, the truer Ecclesiastes becomes to me). These five years of my married life mark the first time I've actively tried to reduce the quantity and quality of time that I invest in the sports world/culture. Without television of our own, to watch any sporting event now necessitates buckling a seat belt, burning gasoline, and inviting myself over to my parents or Ben's house. In much the same way that politicians know the surest way to discourage any activity (tax it), I have found my craving for sports irreversibly quelled by the limited viewing access I've had for the past five years. [The following is partially unrelated and entirely anecdotal, but where else am I going to share it? I am more than a little tickled to report that I've managed to finish the regular season ranked 1st and 2nd in two consecutive Fantasy Football seasons while watching a combined total of maybe half a dozen NFL games.]

I Haven't Watched a Single Rap Video, Award Show, "Reality" Show, Dance Competition, or Dating Show For Five Years. I could identify fewer than 10 American Idol contestants by mug shot, and fewer than five contestants by name.

"We Don't Have TV" Has Become My Most Reliable Party Trick. People's reactions are telling (often alarming) when I confess that we've never had television. The most common reaction is an innocent but awkward pause in the conversation, but my revelation often kills the conversation completely. Rightly so--what is there for humans to discuss other than television? The saddest observations I've made occur when people react as if I'm neglecting a great service of personal betterment by remaining unplugged. "There are children in Africa who are dying to know who's getting voted off the island tonight--how can you be so indifferent?"

It Has Been a Practical Way For Me to Obey Matthew 5.29. In this verse Jesus says, "
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell." It is no small understatement to assert that the temptation to lust and to crave what is sexually immoral is heightened by watching television. I know my weaknesses. I know the spiritual dangers contained within an hour of a network broadcast, and I know that the dangers are deliberate. A friend once candidly shared his observation that his former (huzzah!) cable provider placed the empty channel number where the Playboy channel would otherwise be immediately after the sports channels. Coincidence, or a cunning tactic? It doesn't make me a beacon of righteousness just because I never connected my cable, but the decision has certainly acted as an agent in the purification of my relationship with my wife.

It Has Furthered the Health of Our Marriage. Beyond the realm of sexual purity alluded to above, keeping television out of our home has forced us to *dramatic pause* TALK to each other far more. Granted, the elimination of the computer and Netflix might potentially contribute to the deterioration of at least a couple aspects of our relationship (after all, it is possible to have too much of a good thing, right?).

It Makes Us Better Hosts. Can anyone remember a significant conversation he or she has had during the Super Bowl? Or during Must See TV? What is ever learned about someone by watching television with them? When I watch football with a friend I always resolve to initiate conversation during the commercials. What happens more often than not is that the commercials are more interesting than the game and the moments are lost to shiny objects and cheap laughs. I wonder if my relationship with my college roommates would be deeper in the present than exchanging Christmas cards and an occasional phone call if we had spent fewer hours watching Joe Millionaire and Crank Yankers. Perhaps the factors contributing to the present distance relate more to geography and gender, but I think all four of us agree that we were at our relational best with the TV off.

Removing television from a home will not have the magical effect of promoting an immediate level of increased sanctity. Keeping a television from a child's room will not cause them to suddenly engage in dinner conversation. Yet for all the reasons above, it is highly unlikely that cable television will ever gain entrance into any place that we call home.