By Conrad Spencer
I was raised as a Baptist, but I’m not a particularly religious person, which is why it was odd this last weekend when I had the idea to give up TV for Lent. I don’t think I’ve ever given up anything for Lent, but this year the idea had an odd sort of appeal.
I know I’m not doing it for the usual Lenten reasons, but my reasons may be marginally related. Rather than suffering to better identify with Christ’s 40 days in the desert or removing some barrier of the material world from my relationship with God, it’s more about trying to reconnect with life, and to ease the guilt I feel for spending too many hours in front of the tube. It’s a secular humanist sort of penance.
By most standards, I don’t even watch that much TV and, nerd that I am, a lot of that is PBS. Still I watch enough to make me feel guilty over time that could have been spent doing something better. If you asked me, I’d tell you that reading , listening to music, and interacting with friends and family are activities I enjoy more than TV, but the use of my hours doesn’t reflect that.
This isn’t the first time I’ve cut out TV. In college, I never watched TV regularly, and even since then I’ve gone on anti-TV binges for weeks at a time, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever cut it out entirely. Whenever I’ve cut back on viewing, I’ve always found that I’m happier and more energetic. The desire to watch decreases over time, probably because I’m no longer assaulted by promos for shows I simply must watch. It confusing to me, then, that the habit always seems to creep back into my life.
There are shows I like, but then I also find myself watching highly mediocre shows simply because they’re there. Regardless of the show, it’s the commercials—the dumbed-down, exploitative commercials—that bother me the most. And there’s always the unsettling feeling that I could be doing something better, and more enjoyable.
So the rule—no TV—is pretty simple, but I do make a couple of exceptions. The first is for breaking news or weather of the “tornado bearing down on my house” or “North Korea launching a nuclear attack” variety, not the “Anna Nicole Smith is dead” variety. Secondly, I will allow for movies which (generally speaking, and there are numerous examples to the contrary) have greater artistic merit and no commercials.
For anyone interested, there is a great list of facts and figures about our TV viewing habits here. The one that struck me was that 54 percent of 4-6 year olds would rather watch TV than spend time with their fathers, and I wondered how my six year old would answer the question.