TV as Solace - or Omnipresent Beast?

First, a full disclosure: I have a "Kill Your Television" bumper sticker on my car and have been without a TV set for most of the last three years.

I recently caved in and bought one at a rummage sale for $25 and taped a little "Kill Your Bumper Sticker" sign on it so it wouldn't feel at a disadvantage.

I have never had cable. My celebrity face recognition skills are abysmal. But I get by.

And I am convinced that something evil and pervasive is taking over the world, and that no one will do anything about it - not because everyone is ignoring the problem, but because everyone is listening to it. Watching it, mesmerized, 3.5 hours a day on average.

TVs are everywhere now. They're in elevators and at the gas pump, not to mention airports and even that haven of quiet contemplation, the passenger train.

Think of the moments spent in waiting rooms steeped in the joyful anticipation of the appearance of the beloved, time spent imagining what those first exchanged looks will express after a long separation. And think of those thoughts, interrupted by broadcast news about some nasty triple murder, or a pitch to buy some family vehicle that is taller than anyone in your family and that you'd never drive into the outback to see the cute animals that star in the commercial.

I would occasionally say a prayer while pumping gas, as it seemed like a productive use of time. But now something I don't want to see or hear is trying to sell me something I don't want to buy, as I pump. It's as if I can't even escape the telephone solicitors by leaving my house and seeking the solace of the great, wide world. The world is trying to sell me something.

If I'm in an elevator with pumped-in commercials, where do I go to hide? On a trip from Seattle to Portland last year, I noticed TV screens in the playroom on Amtrak, so children could watch "The Lion King" while their parents wondered why they spent all that extra money and time for the experience of train travel. There were TV screens in Rocco's Pizza, too, so teenagers could watch MTV rather than each other. And there were TV screens in every car of the high-speed train coming back from Portland, so I could have watched movies instead of the light and greenery of the Columbia River, the Nisqually Delta, and the Tacoma Narrows.

Why not just project broadcasts directly onto our retinas, so we don't have to live at all? It's not hard to think of relationships that suffered because watching TV or videos was so much easier and less threatening than conversing. Maybe it was Barney who pushed me over the edge. Maybe I hate hearing the preschoolers I volunteer with spouting clichs and talking mean to each other the way kids do on TV.

One of my best friends said something awful the other day, when I told him I was feeling glum around dinner time, eating alone when I'd prefer to be surrounded by family and kids. He said, "Sweetheart, that's what TV is for." It's not. It's just not.

But wait. I recently read about the exception that proves the rule that TV is an abomination. There's a station in Alaska that has the right idea - the Channel Channel, a cable show that broadcasts a view of Gastineau Channel near Juneau, live, 24 hours a day, with classical music playing in the background. People love to watch the boats going by, the airport fogging in.

Think of it, nature as a form of video solace.

Benjamin Young, a counselor who works from his home in Mendenhall Valley, keeps the channel on his projection-screen TV, so he can watch the light changing throughout the day. "It generates an environment of comfort, not only for my clients, but for me," Young told the Juneau Empire.

People with VCRs programmed at home walk in front of the camera so they can tape their appearances on TV. Campaigners carrying political signs try to get free air time for their candidates. Someone vacationing from "outside," as Alaskans call the lower 48, had enjoyed watching the Gastineau station so much that he called to request videotapes of the broadcasts to watch at home.

Imagine, all that fuss over the opportunity, the privilege, of watching life progress from minute to minute.

* Tina Kelley is a freelance writer in Seattle.

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