So you're thinking of giving up the TV habit. Fine. Your life will be enriched beyond your expectations. Your conversation will be enlivened, communication within your family enhanced. In a month, you'll hardly remember that Charlie's Angels ever jiggled across your living room.
But a word of warning: If you do cut the electrical umbilical cord, don't tell a soul. Pretend it is a secret as your elderly aunt's membership in a nudist ski club; the sad truth is, the hardest thing about giving up TV are the reactions of everyone else.
We pulled the plug permanently three years ago. We were tired of succumbing to the allure of shows we really didn't want to watch, of countless mornings-after which we'd see with the clarity of a new day the many hours lost to irresistible piffle.
When our set emitted a puff of smoke and then died, we took it as a sign. The TV was sent to the Goodwill store, and we hunkered down for a long siege of cold-turkey withdrawal.
It was easier than we imagined. True, it was months before we stopped planning our evenings in half-hour prime-time segments. For a while, we sublimated our occasional lust for junk by rereading old Robert Ludlum novels.
Gradually our leisure hours began to fill up. We became more active in community groups. We took classed, participated in more sports, practiced long-neglected musical instruments. We saw more of our friends.
We discovered that quiet evenings at home, without video accompaniment, were anything but boring.
But there were problems. "Did you see such and such last night?" we are asked almost every day. At first, we answered with naive honesty: "We don't have a TV anymore."
That's what we said, but what was heard was more like this: "We are above that kind of worthless trash."
Reprocessed through the miraculous machinery of rationalization, our simple choice is seen as an act of arrogance, and it invariably elicits defensive responses.
"There are a lot of good things on these days" is a favorite, always delivered with a challenging edge that stops conversations cold. Or, "I only watch public TV." We quickly uncovered the industry's best-kept secret: "Wall Street Week" is the most popular program in broadcasting history.
Conversely, we have yet to meet anyone who admits watching "Dallas," "Laverne and Shirley," or any other program in the top-40.
"That's very nice for you" is another reply, "but I find TV relaxing."
Who suggested otherwise? We didn't hoot at your viewing habits, or try to recruit you into some bizarre anti-TV sect. We don't have a microwave oven, either, or a food processor, or a thrifty foreign car, but these equally glaring omissions in our life style do not make you edgy and defensive. e
So why all this strange defensiveness: Are people embarrassed about watching TV, so they compensate by trying to make the rest of the world feel just as bad? Are they feeling guilty because, secretly, they prefer old "Gomer Pyle" reruns to "60 Minutes?" Don't people understand that TV is one of an incredible number of leisure-time choices available to us? That it's not a religion, or a whole way of life, or a fundamental component of democracy?
Word of our eccentric bahavior quickly spread. At parties, we are sometimes introduced as "those people who don't have a TV," which often results in curious, one-sided debates on the wonders of PBS, or the impossibility of being a well-informed citizen without the nightly presence of Dan Rather.
Some people regard our little secret as a baffling but strangely charming phase; others act as if we have leprosy.
When a cable TV salesman came around the other day, all polyester and tooth enamel, he was taken aback when he learned why we do not want a HBO hookup. As we stood at the door, he craned his neck to see inside, no doubt to see for himself the crushing poverty that is the only possible explanation for our aberrant behavior.
At least we do not have children, people say; barring "Sesame Street" from the home is tantamount to child abuse these days. And what about our isolation from the mainstream of a society that increasingly views life through the abbreviated, neatly packaged perspective of the medium? With the spread of cable and two-way cable, well-meaning friends warn, our continuing abstinence will relegate us to the lonely fringes of the community.
Such arguments do not move us. We have not once been tempted to re-introduce TV into our lives. We are perfectly content with our altered life style. The problem is, no one else is.
So, some advice. If you are thinking of giving up TV, do it. You will probably be astonished by how easy it is, how soon the vacuum created by its absence will be filled by pleasurable and satisfying activities.
But be extraordinarily careful not to tell anyone. When people ask if you saw a particular show, limit yourself to a simple no." Or, read the TV columns every day, and when the question is asked, lie. Buy a nonfunctioning set and haul it out when you have company, so your guests will be reassurred that you are not some kind of subversive flake.
And enjoy your secret.