Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Thursday, June 21, 2018

We had a near riot in the neighborhood recently, and I thought the police might get called because we broke a sacred rule of life in Third-Millennium America.

I was upstairs cleaning off my nightstand because of a contractual agreement I have with my wife, Sandy, that says I will be denied dinner if the debris isn’t removed every month. Usually, the pile of books has gotten so high that it threatens our safety. Plus, I have to throw out the various snacks I store in there just in case I get hungry in the middle of the night, which is a clear violation of company policy.

My wife was probably cleaning or looking for something clean to make even cleaner when the doorbell, which never works, suddenly started ringing.

"That can’t be good," I thought to myself. "No one comes to the door anymore." They text you or Tweet you. They pay telemarketers to taunt you at dinner time, they send you e-mails pleading for money, they clog your mailbox with junk mail so you have to search to get to the good stuff – all those bills.

As she went downstairs, I looked out the window and saw a beige car parked in the street. Was it the FBI or the IRA or PETA? It couldn’t be Girl Scouts selling cookies because nowadays they work the malls and Wal-Mart instead of doing door-to-door sales. Maybe it was the Jehovah’s Witnesses, since they’re the only ones still willing to do a little footwork.

I stood at the top of the staircase and listened. It was a sales representative for the cable TV company we subscribed to back in the distant past before shows like "Jersey Shore" began to pollute the airwaves.

"We see that you used to be a subscriber," he said. "We wanted to get you back and talk about some of our offers."

"No, thank you," Sandy said.

"But we can give you a terrific deal."

"We’re not interested."

"Can I tell you about some great packages?"

"I don’t want to waste your time."

"But …"

"It doesn’t matter," she said. "We don’t own a TV."

There was a horrified silence as his face turned a whiter shade of pale.

"No TV? That’s impossible," he sniffled. "Everybody in America has a TV."

"Not us."

"Absolutely everybody in America owns a TV."

"Are you suggesting we have to leave America?"

The door closed as he left, crestfallen, and headed up the street to his next victim.

Yes, it’s true. No TV. We’re pop culture illiterates. Well, not entirely, because I read Star magazine to keep up with all the celebrity scandals like those of Sandra Bullock and Tiger Woods so I can make small talk at the water cooler.

My behavior must be a delayed stress reaction to my childhood, when my father owned five TV sets of various shapes and sizes, and strategically positioned one in every room so that the place looked like the electronics department at Best Buy.

From the afternoon through the night, to the dawn’s early light, the TV was on, even when nobody was watching. The average American is glued to the tube four hours a day, but my parents got bonus points for watching it while they slept. (They insisted it cured insomnia.) I lost my desire for TV around 18, which means I’ve never seen "Sex and the City" or "The Sopranos," although I spent a lot of time in my early years watching "Leave It to Beaver" and "I Love Lucy."

When my daughters were young, I splurged and subscribed to cable, until the day I came home and found them huddled around the set, chortling as Jerry Springer and his guests, who looked like refugees from some yet-to-be-discovered planet, talked about mothers having affairs with their daughters’ boyfriends or something equally insane.

In the end, I canceled cable and gave my kids a pair of rabbit ears, which quickly became as obsolete as 8-track tapes.

Having an eccentric for a father can be painful, but I recently discovered I’m part of a very elite group of eccentrics, the one to two percent of Americans who shun television.

According to a study by Marina Krcmar, professor of communications at Wake Forest University, two-thirds of us can be classified as extremists – either "countercultural granola lovers" or "religious-right ultraconservatives." The other third, I suspect, is just plain cheap.

In her book, Living Without the Screen, Professor Krcmar says some people get rid of TV because of the excessive sex, violence and consumerism. Others, because they don’t want the entertainment industry stalking their kids at home or embezzling family time.

Hundreds of studies have concluded that too much TV leads to aggression, antisocial behavior, lack of values and everything that’s wrong in the world. The solution is simple: Turn the set off, spend time with those obnoxious teenagers, read more, pray more, get to know Jesus better, join the gym, go to Mohegan Sun. Or maybe clean your nightstand.

J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.