The problem with a presidential election cycle is that it tends to take our eyes off the real issues. So now that the campaign season is behind us and we seem to have averted one real but relatively short-term danger to society, it's time to focus again on a much more insidious threat. For not even if they had been elected to a 50-year joint term of office could the Clinton-Gore team have managed to do to the American public what the simple presence of television in our homes has already done over the last half century.
I thought again about this several nights ago when I sat with my wife and her parents to catch what were supposed to be a few entertaining minutes of the best parodies of American politicians during my lifetime. Two things struck me: The parodies weren't particularly funny. And the language and content were lewd and vulgar in a manner that would never have characterized conversation in our household-or anything that we would tolerate at our dinner table. Yet there we sat, paralyzed for a few minutes by our own embarrassment.
We shut the TV off in mid-program. But the thought crossed my mind: Just how bad would television in America have to get for Christians by the hundreds of thousands to turn it off-maybe for good?
If mainstream TV regularly scoffed at all that we hold sacred; if it lifted up as wholesome that which we find shameful and repugnant; if it consistently wasted our precious time and dulled our own and our children's minds; if it inoculated us against sin; if it enhanced our cheapest materialistic tendencies; if it kept us, even at its best, from doing things that were better-if TV did all these things, and stuck a finger in our eye while doing them, then might we at last pull the plug on the ugly one-eyed monster?
Of course not, because it's already done all that, and we haven't. OK, OK, I know. So that approach demonstrably doesn't work. Beating up on each other because of TV's diet of rot only makes us edgy and defensive. And so we wimp out. The "I-just-keep-it-for-news-and-sports" argument has become commonplace. Don't I have to keep up on world affairs? And figure skating on TV obviously beats a radio play-by-play. So the screens flicker on, not just in our living rooms and dens but in our kitchens and bedrooms as well. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 53 percent of all American children between 2 and 18 have TVs in their bedrooms.
All of that, then, may leave you unprepared for a new book on the subject by Robert DeMoss. Television: The Great Escape, a Crossway release due out later this month, is perhaps overly light and anything but judgmental. It just calls on Christians to make a simple experiment: Cut out all TV for 30 days, and see how you like it.
Mr. DeMoss, who used to analyze and lecture on popular culture for Focus on the Family and still does it on his own, says: "An overwhelming majority of families are frustrated with the role of TV in their homes. They confess to spending far too much time gazing into its colorful glare. They are dismayed at the way their values are often ridiculed. Yet in spite of the declining standards of television content, many say they are 'addicted' and can do nothing about controlling the tube."
"That's why," he continues, "from the Fall of 1999 to the Spring of 2000, I challenged families across America to consider clicking off their televisions for 30 days. Afterwards, they could go back to the use of TV. But for those handful of days, they were permitted to watch no TV at home, no TV at a friend's home, and no TV with a neighbor. No television anywhere. No exceptions. None."
But instead of an angry screed about TV, the DeMoss book is largely a report on the journals some of the people kept while on their TV fasts. It's the variety-and unpredictability-of responses that makes the DeMoss challenge a fascinating one to pass on here. Some people found a big new supply of time. Some found their thought life immediately affected. Some lost weight, while others gained a new sense of their relationship to Christ. Some said their marriages got better.
While reading the DeMoss challenge, I recently also stumbled across a small booklet my father wrote 50 years ago on the very same subject. He too was both philosophic and pragmatic about the issue. "Satan," he wrote bluntly, "who has redeemed for himself most of the TV shows and most of the TV time, is now preparing to redeem, or buy up, millions of hours of time from Christians. They were too sleepy to buy it for the Lord, so Satan will buy it for himself, and the days will grow more evil."
Which way is TV the worst-for its moral failures or its negative impact in practical terms on our lives? Hey, don't waste more time on a silly debate like that. Read Bob DeMoss's book, unplug your TV, and get on to something important.