Hugs ‘n’ kisses for the idiot box

Lisa: It’s not our fault our generation has short attention spans, Dad. We watch an appalling amount of TV.

Homer: Don’t you ever, EVER talk that way about television.

—from The Simpsons

“Aw, we missed the Turn Off the TV event at Shoppers’ Square,” I say, showing my kids the newspaper. “Wanna not watch TV for a week?”

The room goes silent but for the drone of Fox News. My kids give me a look. My daughter walks over and hugs our 32-inch JVC.

“But the TV raised us,” she says.

“There’s a new episode of The Simpsons on tonight,” my son adds.

It’s not like I do much boob tubin'. The list of hit shows I’ve never seen spans more than a decade and includes Hill Street Blues, Friends, Melrose Place and ER. No Survivors or Fear Factor. I watched half an episode of The Bachelor once as an act of journalism.

I’m a cultural misfit, an ignoramus of the airwaves.

As it turns out, while I was pursuing a postgraduate degree and working two jobs, my kids were self-educating via TV.

What else is there, really, for the modern teen to do? Play video games?

Bart to Homer: It’s just hard not to listen to TV. It’s spent so much more time raising us than you have.

To ward off this silly “no TV” talk, my 13-year-old flips the movie Anger Management into the DVD player. I am entertained as Jack Nicholson compels Adam Sandler to stop in traffic and sing “I Feel Pretty.”

“We should watch West Side Story,” my daughter suggests.

Marge: It’s not like you go to museums or read books or anything.

Homer: You think I don’t want to? It’s those TV networks, Marge. They won’t let me. One quality show after another, each one fresher and more brilliant than the last. If they only stumbled once, just gave us 30 minutes to ourselves, but they won’t!

I take my oldest daughter driving. We listen to a Rancid CD—"Where do you go now when you’re only 15?"—and talk about living a harmonious life. My daughter sees herself hunkering down in a cottage in the woods somewhere with no running water or electricity.

“You’d spend all your time gathering firewood and hauling water,” I warn. She figures that’d be good. She’d compose jazz tunes for her clarinet and not think about troubling social or political issues. Every week would be Turn Off the TV Week.

Marge: No one told us how hard it was to raise kids.

Homer: Then we figured out we could just park them in front of the TV. That’s how I was raised and I turned out TV.

It’s sunny, in the 70s, yet we stay inside. The boy’s recent skateboarding injuries preclude outdoor adventures. We play a board game, Stratego. My younger daughter has a pile of homework. For English, she constructs a model of Queen Mab, from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.

After dinner, we watch West Side Story. We fast-forward through Tony’s longer solos. We watch Natalie Wood’s lip-synch as soprano Marni Nixon sings, “I Feel Pretty.”

“Are they going to sing and dance when the fighting starts?” my son asks. He keeps an eye on the clock. “Malcolm in the Middle is on in five minutes.”

“S’alright,” I reply. “In five minutes, Riff will be dead and Tony will have killed Bernardo, his girlfriend’s brother. We can watch the rest tomorrow.”

“Nah, tomorrow’s that one show on the History Channel.”

Marge: This should be a time … for communication.

Homer: That’s a good idea, dear. Bart, turn on the TV.