Agoraphobia, of course, is a fear of leaving the house. Now there's videoraphobia, a disease so new even Phil Donahue doesn't know about it. It is the fear of leaving one's television set - a crippling killer first identified by Rand Vanderkand, doctor of public relations at the Institute of Chic Ailments in Chevy Chase, Md.
We happen to have Dr. Vanderkand right here to talk about videoraphobia, Tell us, doctor, what are the first symptons?
"Well, young man, the first symptoms of videoraphobia - before dilation of the pupils sets sets in, that is - arethat the victims begin to talk in gibberish. To the simple question, Hi, Mom, what's for dinner? the videoraphobe is likely to answer, 'A sandwich is only a sandwich, but a manwich is a meal.' The next thing you know, they will insist on calling their grandpas Walter Cronkite."
"There is worse, my boy. The videoraphobe develops strange elusions and tolerances. They actually get wrapped up in the plots of Charlies's Angels.' They began to imagine that insurance agents are their best friends on this earth, and they will swear on a stack of hotcakes that 'Moon River' is really supposed to go, 'Lip Quencher, wider than a mile, I'm cross-ing you in style, some day'. . ."
Yes, but doctor
"Old dream maker, you heart breaker, wherever you're going - "
Doctor, please, is there anything else to watch for?
"Ah yes. Members of the family should look for tell-tale signs that the victims are clinging to their TV sets. For instance, at 3 a.m., you may find them sitting in the living room watching the 384th reurn of 'Andy Hardy Meets a Debutante'. From there it's just one tiny step to Sermonette and the test patern and then that fuzzy white stuff they put on at 5:30 in the morning . . ."
But don't these poeple have to eat, and sleep, and so on?
Sure. Sure. Especially and-so-on. But they do it all in front of the set. The only times they will get up and leave, we have found in our studies, is occasionally to spray their underarms with deodorant and to gargle with a mouthwash that tastes like a candy cane. Otherwise, the telvision becomes for them the be-all and end-all, how shall we say - well, in doctor talk, we call it the booby tubey."
Now, what happens if the dsease is not treated?
"In doctor talk or people talk?"
In doctor talk.
"In doctor talk, if the disease is not treated, their brains turn to mush, and they become walking stewed prunes, except that they never walk anywhere."
How many known cases do you think there are in this country?
"Oh. I'd say - somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 million."
One hundred million? But that's about the number of people who watch TV every week.
"Harsh questions call for harsh answers, my boy. I never promised you a brighter day. If you want to search for tomorrow, you can go all the way to the edge of night. We only have one life to live, you know."
Yes, yes, doctor, but tell me - can these people be saved?
"If we catch the disease at an early stage, it is fairly simple. We have what is called the hot-turkey treatment. We hook the poor schmoo up to a special television set and bombard him with a succession of unbearable images designed to drive him away."
What sort of images?
"Oh, you know - Karl Malden's nose, Tommy Snyder's eyebrows, Howard Cosell's hairpiece and Helen Reddy's shoulders. If that doesn't work, we have Bob Hope come on without his girdle. Or we show them a tape of Robert Conrad coming on the screen over and over and over and daring them to knock a little battery off his biceps."
Isn't there a less cruel way to cure videoraphobia?
"No. Sometimes it takes as many as 67 episodes of 'The Brady Bunch.' We have to induce vomiting somehow."
And if none of this works?
"Well, the networks were kind enough to give me advance copies of their new fall program schedules. One peep at these and the videoraphobes realize life is hopeless and they give up television. Sometimes they go to monasteries or nunneries and other times they just dash straight for a copy of 'The House at Pooh Corner' and read it with all their might."
Can you give us tips on how to avoid videoraphobia?
"Well, of course you can't avoid watching television - I mean, what would life be but an endless series of real experiences? No, no. But we have found certain products that contribute to the spread of videoraphobia - sprayn' Wash, Shake 'n' Bake, Wipe 'n' Dipe and Groom 'n' Clean. Anything with an 'n' in it."
"Then, too, it's a good idea to develop some other diseases so you have something to worry about, because otherwise, TV eats up that portion of the mind that should be used for worrying. Also, you'll get a pain and ruin your tum-tum."
Can videoraphobia be fatal?
"Ah yes. Sad to say. Only last week a family in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, went to court to get permission to pull the plug on their daughter's television set."
"And the poor dear shrunk down to the size of a little white dot."
Anyway, doctor, what are you doing to fight the disease?
"For one thing, we are trying to get the networks to put some of their shows on public TV so that nobody will be tempted to watch them. So far, they have only volunteered to give us old shows. ABC would let us have 'Mr. T and Tina' and 'The San Pedro Beach Bums' and CBS gave us 'Me and the Chimp' and 'Planet of the Apes.' But both networks insisted we retitle the programs 'The Freddie Silverman Show.'"
Is there anything else that can be done?
"Money, money - we need lots of money for research. We've got to get millions of dollars so we can stamp out this scourge of all mankind."
"We, we thought a telethon would be nice. . ."