“It’s just hard not to listen to TV,” says Bart Simpson to dad Homer. “It’s spent so much more time raising us than you have.”
Just one of many irony-packed moments in The Simpsons – the US’s longest running TV scripted drama – that ponders the impact of television on society, education, family relationships and responsibility.
Ever since it was invented, TV has been taking the rap for much of “what’s wrong with kids today”, from poor health and attention span to swearing and aggression. So it’s not hard to understand why some parents – invariably dubbed “middle class, pushy parents” – are getting rid of TV sets in the home and restricting the use of devices so their little darlings can’t watch Pretty Little Liars and Pets Do the Funniest Things when they should be doing their homework.
Not owning a TV is a status symbol among parents who prefer to believe that their children will flourish academically without one and want to take a principled stand against mass entertainment and its brain-washing, mind-numbing commonness. “We don’t actually have a TV,” I was informed loftily the other day by a mum of primary school age children when I innocently asked them if they liked Horrible Histories. They’d read all the books so weren’t missing out, she told me, but shot an icy warning glare when I pointed out, unhelpfully, that the sketches and songs were brilliant.
Maybe she’s got a point, which she will prove when they win scholarships, discover a cure for all cancers, broker world peace and write the seminal novel bringing unexpected truth and beauty in words that resonate across the universe and time itself.
But really, would TV impact negatively on their potential? TV watching is actually in decline at 2.1 hours a day for 7-16 year-olds (compared with three hours a day online), with 60 per cent via phone, tablet or laptop, 38 per cent mostly on demand. And 32 per cent have no favourite television programme.
What? No weekly must-see? No Poldark to dream about, or Hitchhikers or Dr Who to travel through space and time with, or Clangers to fire the imagination? Now that is sad. Those who think TV is an intellect-stunting menace should consider that DH Lawrence once said he wondered why in Shakespeare, “such trivial people should muse and thunder in such lovely language”, presumably before settling down to pen something saucy to show after the watershed. He would have appreciated Homer Simpson’s eulogy: “Television – teacher, mother, secret lover.”
Television introduces children to new worlds, thoughts and ideas. And it keeps them quiet. We have much to thank it for.