There was a time, you should know, when I didn't watch much television. Except for the Smother's Brothers, That Was the Week That Was, and the Ed Sullivan Show (if he had the Beatles on). It just didn't talk to me.
Then there were years, literally, when there simply was no time to watch. Graduate school sucked me in, and there was the marriage thing and working to eat. And years, and years of child-rearing. During those years the television was the enemy. It was the thing that could potentially steal a child's brain, gobble it up.
And as a Sabbath observant Jew, we simply didn't turn on any appliance on the Sabbath, and it wasn't within the spirit of the law to leave a television on for 24 hours. If you leave something on the whole day, that's okay, but you wouldn't leave something on that you'd be tempted to adjust or fix if it broke down.
So we did very odd things instead, non-electrical things. The kids these days don't understand them. One was called Scrabble (or Connect Four when they were younger). Another had to do with printed pieces of paper bound between cardboard shells. I think these were called books. We read hundreds of them.
The best of them had pictures and didn't need many words. They often rhymed. We've talked about children's books before, and even now my son B. buys his nephews some of the books that I read to him when he was a little boy. Quite frankly, I personally like the newer ones even better, with the exception of the Dr. Seuss books and a handful of others from yesteryear.
The books in our house that took the most abuse had to be the Calvin and Hobbs anthologies. Obie Wan loved them, and I believe he started reading them over and over again when he was about 11.
I tried to be a good sport about it and laugh when he showed me pages he liked. But there was a real element of cringe for me. I thought Calvin's parents were SO mean! They had this fabulous creative kid with so much imagination. His tiger existed. His blanket was a cape. He was Spaceman Spiff, bounding effortlessly for a landing.
The world was a dangerous place. Dinosaurs everywhere. Yet Calvin preferred the great outdoors. Intrepid, I believe was the adjective. So he got muddy, so what?! His mother made it seem a federal crime to play.
Well, there I was in Obie Wan's old room the other day, sweeping out a bit of dust, and I found The Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sunday Book (Bill Watterson). I took it upstairs and opened it up to a random page (84, if you must know).
There's Calvin in the top panel.It's hard to read page 84 and think that Hobbes is anything but real, right?
"My parents are the two stupidest people on Earth."
"Just my luck they'd get married and have ME."
Following Hobbes to a narrow cliff, Calvin continues,
"I hate everybody."
Third row, left panel,
"I don't see how anyone could ever fall in love. People are jerks."
Hobbes, smiling innocently offers,
"Sometimes they are, but look at all the colors on the trees today."
"Yeah? So What?"
"I think it's more fun to see something like this with someone than just by yourself."
Calvin thinks about this. He looks up at Hobbes, last panel to the right.
"I guessss so... But I'd still rather see this with a tiger than a person."
"Well, THAT goes without saying."
I'm so glad we restricted television when the kids were young. They watched some, Obie Wan even made it a living, eventually, which was why we excused it, knowing he would go into the creative arts. But neither he nor his siblings saw as much as they would have liked. And I'll be the first to say that television is MUCH better than it used to be, and admit that I really enjoy it. With cable we have so many options, movie classics, weather, nature shows, endless comedy and drama. We can watch wars.
But something different happens when you read, when you only see two dimensions. Something different happens in the brain. I believe it has to work harder to absorb the information, to make sense of what it sees. And it's somehow very real, at least it seems very real to me. More real. Like Hobbs.
More real than television.