Someday, I would like to see a television series about a family that sits around the set watching a series about a family that sits around the set. It might not make the Nielsen top 10, but it isn't such a strange idea. Especially when you think about what's going on right now.
Night and night, inside the tube, warm and wiggly families spend their prime time "communicating" like crazy and "solving problems" together like mad. Meanwhile, outside the tube, real families sit and wait for a commercial break just to talk to each other.
About the only subject that never comes up before our glazed eyes in what the medium does to our family life. But I suppose we already know that.
According to a recent Gallup Poll, television comes out as a major heavy in our family lives. One the scale of problems, TV didn't rate as bad as inflation, but it can neck and neck with unemployment.
According to a recent Roper Poll, it even causes fights. When people were asked what husbands and wives argued about, money was the champion. But television was strong contender.
Husbands and wives were far more likely to fight about television than about that old standby, sex. But, considering how much more time we spend in front of the tube, that may not be such a shock.
To a certain extent, we blame the programs. In the Gallup Poll, for example, people worried most about the overemphasis on sex and violence. But surely half of those fights between husbands and wives must be about the more fundamental issue of turning it off.
Deep down below our poll-taking consciousness, we know that the worst aspect of our addition isn't what's on TV, but how long the TV is on. We can't help being aware of what happens when we spend more time facing the screen than facing each other.
In that same Gallup Poll, a large number of us said that the way to improve family life is by sharing -- sharing family needs, recreational activities and chores. But when you are watching, you aren't doing. The only experience you are sharing is a vicarious one.
I am absolutely convinced that the average wife feels tuned out by the 12th consecutive weekend sports event because she is being tuned out. The average kid develops that distant, slack-jawed, hypnotic, hooked stare because he or she is hooked.
In the same way, the people who spend night after night in front of the tube should worry about it. They've become an audience and not a family. Television simply presents us with one model of family life. Watching it makes us fit another model.
But the striking thing in all of this research about how we feel and behave is the role of choice. On the one hand, we have real anxiety about what TV is doing to us. On the other hand, we allow it to happen.
We choose to turn it on and each other off. We choose peace and quiet when we let the kids watch TV instead of running around the living room. We choose to "relax" in the semi-comatose slump.
The average viewing time of the American child between 6 and 16 years of age is 20 to 24 hours a week. A large percentage of parents no restrictions on either the number of hours watched or the type of program viewed.
At the very least, we behave as if we were powerless to wrench each other away.
I grant you that there are a lot of things that touch on our families that are totally out of our individual control. We can't regulate foreign affairs. We can't set the price for oil. We have about as great a chance of controlling inflation we do of capping Mount St. Helens.
But a television set has a dial and a plug. And we have hands. It is absurd to let our feelings of impotence in the world start creeping into our private lives.
Just once, we ought to create a private show about a real-life family that kicked the habit.