A BIG TURNOFF: The year has rolled around another cycle and, before you know it, it’s TV-Turnoff Week again. In the spirit of other penitential acts of civil disobedience against the modern world like Buy Nothing Week, this is the week when we’re supposed to unplug the idiot box (not terribly difficult, unless it’s your job to write about the damn thing) and the computer (less easy, especially in an age when many of us need a computer more than a car to earn a living.)


The real target of TV-Turnoff Week is apparently families of couch potatoes, according to a Washington Post article on the event. The sponsor since it began in 1995 has been the Center for Screen-Time Awareness, a Washington lobby group whose website for the event is full of colourful cartoon posters that bring to mind similar campaigns to encourage children to eat more fruit and vegetables, pick up litter, and stop beating each other senseless at recess when the teacher isn’t looking.


Robert Kesten, head of the Center, told the post that he’s a big believer in “participating in life rather than watching others live theirs,” which has the same tone as the more-than-faintly smug sort of thing that neighbours say to each other when the block’s lowest common denominator gets an above-ground pool, or leaves their holiday decorations up till school is out for the year.


The website has a list of things a family can do while the tube is off for the week, activities like writing a letter or starting a garden, cooking a meal or making a friendship bracelet. Some things on the list – watching the clouds or listening to music – are generally about as passive as watching TV, and actually go a step past Kesten’s idea of a worthless activity by eliminating “others” altogether from the watching or listening.


And while it might be fun for a few moments to make paper bag costumes and have a parade – another suggested TV-free activity – these are the sorts of things that many parents spend their day doing, in between ferrying youngsters to classes, games and play dates and sneaking off to stock up the larder or hit the hardware store. At the end of the day, it’s hard to begrudge them a few scant hours of relaxation in front of their vice of choice.

My big problem with Kesten and TV-Turnoff Week is the implication that TV is, by nature, worthless and vegetative, a soporific shadow of life playing on the cave wall. Whether this was even true in the days of rabbit ears and a half-dozen clear UHF channels is debatable; it’s even less supportable in the era of hundreds of channels, some of which feature programming that we’re told is better than all but the best movies. While reading a book or watching clouds might sound more virtuous, I know that there are some worthless books out there, and more than a few dull clouds. There might be better ways of killing time, but it’s sure that there are a lot worse.