74 Channels and Nothing's On

My childhood next door neighbor had cable television and no phone, a combination I found odd and my parents found repugnant. "If you can't afford a phone, then you can't afford cable." Not that they wanted to. If my parents had enough money for cable they probably would have donated it to our local PBS station during pledge week. After all, we might have been poor but we had standards. I was secretly a cable addict, getting my fixes at the baby sitter, or at a sleepover. Sometimes I held true to the family ideal and abstained from the more vulgar displays. At a second grade slumber party the tube was tuned to MTV and George Michael's "I Want Your Sex" came on the screen. "It's my SONG!" the host's mother howled and began bumping and grinding along to the synthesized beats, with the other little girls joining in. I ran around the corner and hid my red face, my heart beating fast.

Other times I let down my guard and witnessed a fairly impressive amount of sleaze over the years. I can remember David Lee Roth's plump rear end in leather chaps, bouncing to the tune of "Yankee Rose." Madonna doing all the things Madonna is known to do. R rated movies and eventually, even worse. My parents lectures were all true. Once that stuff gets in , it never gets out.

I never expected to have cable TV as an adult. I wasn't a big TV watcher when I lived on my own. My roommate had painted her TV red and put leopard fur on the control panel, and I watched 90210 with her every Wednesday night, but the TV had no remote control, and I can't stand to watch commercials, so I rarely watched anything on my own. Usually I was writing poetry or reading or using the internet. There were Bible studies and concerts to attend, thrift stores to peruse. I had better things to do.

Then I got married. While I liked to fall asleep while reading my husband had always used the TV as his lullaby. I found it very distracting to read while the TV was going so I had to accustom myself to his habits. We'd cuddle up and watch The Late Show with Conan O'Brien or Seinfeld on DVD. We only had a few channels, so we rarely surfed. I learned to get sleepy with the TV on, although I still can't sleep all night with it playing the way he can. I have to turn it off just before I fall asleep.

My husband had cable growing up and he decided to get the basic package when we moved to a new apartment. I enjoyed having something to watch while I nursed our baby. When we bought our house we upgraded our package again. Now we have digital cable with On Demand TV, and approximately 74 channels.

A curious thing has happened. My husband has become a library addict, and brings home close to 10 books every week. Between working 40 hours a week, class or studying 4 nights a week, and spending time with his family he doesn't have much time for TV. In his free time, he reads. When I have free time, my first impulse is to grab the remote. Nursing babies with clutching hands make it hard to hold a book, and the light from the TV doesn't wake up a sleeping babe.

I'd like to say that I only watch The History Channel, or Animal Planet, or TLC. I do watch all of these, but the bulk of my cable TV consumption is divided into a few different categories.

#1. Reruns of sitcoms I have already seen 45 times. This includes Seinfeld, Scrubs and The Cosby Show. All have their merits, but how many times do I need to see Jerry or George break up with a woman for some nitpicky reason (man hands) or watch J.D. dump Eliot (only wants what he can't have) or see Dr. Huxtable turn on the jazz and waltz Claire up to their bedroom (every single episode ends this way!)

#2. Rubbernecker Special. Includes heavily edited episodes of Sex and the City, VH1's Rock Of Love with Bret Michaels, I Love New York 2, basically anything trashy and stupid that for some reason sucks me in. Repulsive, yet I cannot look away.

#3. "Oh No You Didn't!" This includes anything that I stare at, open mouthed, because I cannot BELIEVE that what I am seeing is actually on television. This isn't things I actually watch...but it's things that I pause for a few minutes on just to see how far they will actually go. I feel too old to actually be titillated by any of this stuff, so I watch just long enough to shake my head and cluck my tongue.

Pretty depressing, isn't it? Even the educational shows cause problems. I've learned a lot from "What Not to Wear" but while increasing my knowledge it also increases my discontent. I get the impression that Stacy and Clinton don't understand that sometimes you have to choose between buying food and buying even one t shirt. Guess what? When you have a family, food wins.

Which brings me back to the idea of poor people having cable. When you bundle your cable in with your phone and internet it seems so reasonable. And upgrading...what is 10 more dollars a month? Before you know it you are paying FIFTY DOLLARS A MONTH to watch TELEVISION. Television that is 90% knuckle dragging morons surrounded by twits in bikinis spouting off foul language.

It's cute the way TV execs think that if you remove the middle syllable of a curse word then no one will know what you are saying. Remember when the whole word was bleeped out? Remember when you weren't supposed to curse on TV? There are no longer standards of behavior for those being broadcast because everyone knows the editing booth will take care of it. Well, the booth might be able to turn a vowel sound into a beep, but it can't transform a tirade of vulgarity into something intelligent and worth listening to.

I'm also tired of looking at people's rear ends. There are prudes in the world, but there are also people who just want sex to stay, well, sexy! And when you are inundated with it night and day there is so little mystery that it ceases to become interesting. The kind of sex that is repeatedly shoved down our throats on TV is less like fine chocolate and more like sludge. Tell me, which would you rather have?

Having cable was an interesting novelty for a while, but now I really understand why my parents didn't want it. It's the same reason I am not comfortable having it in a houseful of children. My sons are at an age where I have the control, but they are smart and curious and it won't be long before they can work the remote. The idea that they will find stupidity, sleaze and disrespectful behavior to be normal is a horrible thought. It's not that these concepts are exclusive to television, or cable television, but 74 channels = 74 more ways my kids can be corrupted when I'm not around.

I doubt I will ever be able to convince my husband that the TV is unnecessary, but I'm hoping he can see the value of an extra $50 a month. $50 dollars can buy a new outfit that Stacy and Clinton would approve of. A nice dinner out to one of those restaurants I am always seeing commercials for. $50 could repair my sewing machine and I can finally actually create something instead of just watching other people do it.

$50 a month can buy a lot of books.