Matter of Laugh or Death
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
MODERN HERESY: NO CABLE TV
During conversations with my co-workers and neighbors, the topic will occasionally turn to religion. When I admit that my family goes to church every week and that we take our faith very seriously, I often get some strange looks. The situation can be a bit awkward.
But nothing is more awkward—nothing causes people’s eyes to bug out as they back away from me in terror—than to admit that my house does not have cable television.
If this was 17th century Salem, I would be burned at the stake for heresy. (Of course, I don’t think the cable systems in eastern New England in the late 1600s had very many channels—Larry King was on only once a week rather than every night.) Not having cable TV is the modern equivalent of rejecting society’s common faith.
If I told people, “I’m dating a goat and we plan to be married in the fall,” they most likely would smile and wish us well. (Although the folks at PETA might be upset: “The poor goat is marrying beneath her social class!”)
But when I tell people, “No, I didn’t see the game on ESPN last night because we don’t have cable,” they twist their faces as if sucking on lemons and walk away in disgust. No cable?! What a weirdo!
My wife and I made the decision to disconnect the cable about ten years ago. Our daughters were ages seven and three at the time and we were becoming increasingly alarmed by their viewing habits. The seven-year-old would flip the channel to MTV when we weren’t in the room, despite our strict prohibition against it. When we would catch her, she would say, “Oh, is this MTV? I thought it was Sesame Street.” “No, dear,” we would explain, “I don’t think Bert and Ernie have done any songs lately about mutilating their girlfriends and then shooting cops.”
More worrisome, however, was the three-year-old. She had developed an obsession with the Purple Pied Piper of Perdition: Barney the Dinosaur.
At first we thought it was cute. Barney and his young friends would dance around on the screen singing “Old McDonald had a Farm” and other Mozart classics, and our little daughter would sing along. But then she began to demand that we purchase the full line of Barney merchandise: Barney underwear, Barney bed sheets, Barney lunchbox (“But you don’t even go to school yet, honey,” my wife said, to which my daughter replied in an Exorcist-like growl, “Buy the lunchbox, Mother, or I’ll mutilate you and shoot a cop”), Barney vinyl siding, Barney radial tires, and Barney mutual funds.
When our sweet little three-year-old demanded that we fly her to Virginia for the annual Barney Civil War Reenactment (“I don’t remember Ken Burns discussing Colonel Barney and the Purple Volunteers at Second Manassas,” I said), we finally put our foot down: no more Barney. “Let’s try MTV,” I desperately suggested while flipping the channel. “Instead of ‘Old McDonald,’ let’s watch Madonna sing about sleeping with everyone listed in the Detroit phone book. It’s much more wholesome.”
My wife and I stayed up all night discussing the crisis. “This is out of control,” I said. “What are we going to do?”
“There’s only one solution,” my wife replied.
“All right,” I said. “I’ll call the travel agency and book a flight to Virginia.”
“No!” she yelled. “The solution is to disconnect the cable.”
I thought about it for a moment. No more Barney. No more Madonna. No more Bert and Ernie shooting cops. “Yeah, that’s a great idea,” I said. “Let’s do it!”
At first we had a little trouble getting the cable company to understand our request. “Did you say disconnect the cable?” the customer service rep asked. “Hmm, we’ve never done that before. I don’t know if any of our technicians know how.”
Finally a technician came and sliced the wire on the side of our house. “Purple siding? That’s cute,” he said. “No cable? That’s sick!”
Not surprisingly, our children were shocked by our decision. Although it’s been ten years now, they have yet to forgive us or speak to us (not completely a bad thing). They are convinced living without cable TV is grounds for child abuse charges. But my daughters don’t realized they have acquired a useful skill few American teenagers possess: the ability to read.
My wife and I don’t mind being social outcasts. We understand that we have rejected society’s common faith. And we’re resigned to the fact that our neighbors recently erected a huge stake on our front lawn. It is painful, however, to watch our two daughters eagerly help the neighbors gather fire wood.
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