CAIRO: As parents of a young child, we are faced everyday with new and troubling decisions. This morning’s crise de jour: How much television should she watch?
It’s a difficult moral problem, one that leads to many sleepless nights, especially when Al-Qahira Al-Youm goes off the air.
When that happens, once the talking heads are silenced, you are left with naught but your own thoughts, and that is never a happy circumstance. When we first decided to get married, we went through the usual series of negotiations that all young couples engage in, where to live, how to furnish the flat,what kind of ceremony to have,how many people to invite; and while there were many potentially contentious issues, one odd sticking point was the television. She was for it, he was against.
He soon changed his mind, however, when he realized that without the television there would be no us, but then came the inevitable argument over where to put it. Both she and he had some colorful suggestions, but the most difficult clause in the treaty concerned whether or not to place one in the bedroom.
Many people do, you know. And in other places as well: the bathroom, the balcony, the kitchen, the garden. Some simply have them everywhere and leave them on all night and day.
Have you ever been invited to someone’s home where the TV is never off? Trying to talk to your friend while he has one eye on you and one on the match is hopeless. A variation on this theme is the host who turns to the music video channel as a source of entertainment for the a’ada, but again: Attempting a conversation while Ruby is riding her bicycle is like trying to do your homework at After Eight.
Perhaps it’s better just to give up and do the communal viewing thing.That this is popular today is evidenced by the fact that instead of the television being just another piece of furniture, entire rooms are now being arranged around the built-in plasma screen, complete with surround sound speakers, reclining ergonomic chairs, acoustic ceiling tiles and tiny little tables for drinks and snacks. It’s a good thing the refrigerator is in another room, otherwise some people wouldn’t get any exercise at all.
What to watch is also an issue. In the “good old days there were only a couple of channels, and they aired mostly political speeches, football and readings from the Quran. Now there are dozens of stations to flip through. But does quantity mean quality? Is more better? It’s like entering a restaurant and being forced to choose from a menu the size of an encyclopedia. If only there were some tasty choices among them!
There’s a button on the TV for almost everything: brightness, color, contrast, volume. Unfortunately there’s no button for turning up the intelligence. As Rod Serling once said, it’s difficult to produce an incisive and probing television program when one is interrupted every few minutes by 12 dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper.
So, even with all of that variety, most of us end up watching shows about other people talking. It’s so much easier than actually having to think of stuff to say ourselves. We love it. We love to be entertained in our living room by people we would never invite into our home.
Which brings us back to this morning’s battle of wills. The problem for us is that breakfast and Barney go hand-in-hand in our home. Dieticians will tell you that this is not a good thing, that people learn to consume indiscriminately, eating what they watch and not watching what they eat. But it’s a losing battle. If it wasn’t for the fat purple dinosaur, our daughter would be a skinny green bean.
As with all parents, we worry constantly about content. It’s a troubling family issue.Watching television often means fighting, violence and bad language-and that’s just deciding who gets the remote control. Talk about setting a bad example. And as for sex on television, well, it probably can’t hurt you that much-unless you fall off.
Of course, those who don’t have a television don’t have it easy either.They have to generate their own sex and violence.
Can an argument be made that in a democratic society it is actually preferable if most people just sit back and consume their daily dose of Desperate Housewives and El-Beit Beitak? What if all these people started reading instead! That would be an unmitigated disaster.
As the TV journalist Ibrahim Issa recently said in an interview: “There is an explicit antagonism in many families over books, because books are the gateway to culture,culture is the gateway to politics, politics is the gateway to opposition and opposition leads to prison.
We can’t have that now, can we?
Nadia Wassef is one of the owners of the Diwan bookshop. David Blanks is a historian. This column appears regularly every Saturday.