In the early days it was referred to as that “electronic box” that sat in the corner of the living room. I can’t remember the first time I watched television. I do remember it being in black and white. I also remember the time we visited a neighbor’s house on a Sunday evening to get our first look at television in Living Color. That was quite a treat.
My earliest memories of black and white television involve characters like Hopalong Cassidy, The Cisco Kid, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. The children’s shows I remember best were Romper Room and Captain Kangaroo. On Romper Room, “Miss” Betty taught us to be a “Do Bee” and not to be a “Don’t Bee.” On Captain Kangaroo, the “Captain” was quite a character. And who could forget his cast of characters – Mr. Green Jeans, Mr. Moose and the Dancing Bear?
That was real, good, clean entertainment.
Before I was old enough to help on the farm, Saturday morning cartoons were a central feature in my life. I remember looking forward all week to Saturday morning. The television was on as soon as the first cartoon show came on and my brothers and I were “glued” (that’s my mother’s word) to the television set until the last of the cartoon shows were over. Those were great cartoon shows. My favorite cartoon characters were Mighty Mouse, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, Yogi Bear, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Daffy Duck, Tom and Jerry, and that “wascally wabbit,” Bugs Bunny. Those days of Saturday morning cartoons were carefree days.
And those advertisers pushed every kind of sugar-loaded breakfast cereal one could imagine – Sugar Pops, Sugar Smacks, Trix (everybody knows “Trix are for kids!), Frosted Flakes (“They’re Gr-r-reat!”) and the list went on and on.
Mary Helen McCall was not to be a victim of advertising. We ate Kellogg’s Corn Flakes – and lots of them!
Every afternoon when we got home from school we could be found watching the Big Show at 4 p.m. on Channel 5. My brothers and I consumed a ton of peanut butter and crackers while watching the Big Show. We also drank a river of chocolate milk and Kool-aid.
Each of our lives has been shaped by that “electronic box.” It literally brought the world into our living rooms.
Not only did it give us access to a larger world, it also introduced us to a world “system” – a world of advertising and marketing – a world of buying and selling. And we bought in to what was being sold.
But it was not just things that were being sold. Along with all the “things” being marketed, a new philosophy was being introduced, subtly.
Eventually, the soap operas and sit-coms began to suggest a new morality. The soap opera hooked audiences with mystery, intrigue, immorality and evil. The sit-coms taught us to laugh at situations we knew to be wrong.
Prime-time, evening dramas have taken things even farther in the ensuing years. We’ve reached a point now where almost “anything goes” on TV. Some shows border on “mind numbing.”
Research now reveals that the average teenager will witness up to 200,000 murders on electronic devises (TV, movies, videos games, etc.) by the time they graduate from high school. What effect will that have on one’s view of the world?
Research also reveals that the higher up the success ladder one goes, the less television one watches. Successful corporate executives watch less than 30 minutes of television a day on average. That should tell us something.
Several years ago I befriended a businessman in the Middle Tennessee area. Over a period of time we became good friends. I asked him one day where he grew up.
“In front of a television set,” he replied, dryly.
Over the years I have given his answer a lot of thought.
As television has given way to computers and computers have given way to video games and video games have given way to cell phones, iPhones, iPads and the like, I am a amazed at how many hours of “brain time” are being poured into electronic devices, especially by the younger generation. Even motor vehicles are equipped with DVD players for the kiddies.
I was the featured speaker at an awards banquet in another state recently. That night, during the evening meal, I saw a young couple take their four-year-old and sit him on the floor in the corner of the banquet hall in front of an iPad. He watched the device for one hour.
They looked in on him from time to time, but for all practical purposes, he was alone with his gadget.
I was left to wonder about his chances of developing any meaningful social skills.
I am left further to wonder where all these electronic babysitters are taking us.
Jack McCall is a motivational humorist, Southern storyteller and author. A native Middle Tennessean, he is recognized on the national stage as a certified speaking professional.