It had been another meeting of the official unofficial Hardyville Y2K
committee. That is, it was supposed to have been. Somehow these meetings
seem to keep getting disrupted. This time it was kids. Screaming brats,
to put it bluntly.
A new couple who’d moved here from the City, Mary and Marty, had been
invited to the meeting, and they’d showed up with three animals who
shrieked, chased, hit, whined, pulled, fidgeted, cried and fought their
way through our attempted meeting. Marty seemed not to notice them,
while Mary, brushing at her hair, made occasional noises about
hyperactivity, attention deficit and not wanting to quash their natural
Our unofficial Y2K official, Carty, (still with us despite his
threats to leave the country) tended to business as best he could,
calling for quiet now and then. He was unusually patient with these
people, who he apparently knew. But you could see just how much he
wanted to quash something or another.
At the end of the meeting, a few of us sat around finishing up what
passes for food at the Hog Trough, where we hold our meetings. Marty was
sitting there, huddled, not having said a word all night, while Mary
tried to pry little Juniors and Juniorette off the ceiling tiles. And
that’s when Carty drew us all in and started speaking in a
“I just learned something,” he rasped, looking especially at Marty.
“It’ll give you the creeps, and you won’t want to believe it. But it’s
true. They’re doing something to our children.”
Huh? It wasn’t like Carty to speak of anonymous “theys.” We all bent
forward to listen.
“Here’s what they do. It’s happening all over the country. I know it
sounds crazy, but I can prove it. Every day when we’re not thinking
about them, strange adults put our kids into darkened rooms where they
make them stare at flickering lights until their brains go into
something scientists say looks like hypnosis. It would scare you if you
saw what happened next. After your kid has stared for just a few
seconds, he goes from being an active, noisy, normal kid to just sitting
there, like a rag doll. Like an empty thing, waiting to be stuffed.
“This is just what the strange adult wants. The next thing, images
and messages begin to pour into your kids’ half-asleep minds. Messages
like, ‘Only bad people own guns.’ ‘People can’t take care of themselves.
Government has to do it.’ ‘If you don’t buy the right things, no one
will like you.’ ‘Diversity means everybody looks different, but thinks
alike,’ ‘The world is a scary place; your leaders are the only ones who
can protect you.’
“This crap pours into your kid’s head hour after hour, and even
though your kid seems to be awake, he isn’t really thinking, just
sucking in sounds and images. What’s really weird is, even though it
looks like he could get up and walk away, he acts like he has to
sit there. And he does. It’s not just the propaganda messages that are
getting to him, either. The main message is to learn to just sit there,
sucking other people’s stuff in instead of finding your own stuff out.
“It scares the hell out of me. It really does.”
There was a bang and a shout from the vicinity of the kitchen. Mary
rushed in that direction as Carty went on.
“If you’ve noticed your kids acting real grouchy or bored or mad or
unable to sit still for a minute, this might just be the reason,” he
concluded, looking hard at Marty. “All this hyper this-and-that stuff
… it might have a lot to do with these strange people making them
stare at flickering lights for hours, doing nothing while a whole lot of
stuff flashes, real fast and frantic, in front of their eyes. Every day,
I’m telling you. Every single day!”
Marty just looked uncomfortable under Carty’s Jesse Ventura gaze, for
a while. But finally someone else spoke up.
“Oh, Carty, that’s a bunch of paranoid bullfeathers and you know it.
There’s no ‘strange adults’ doing things like that to our kids.”
“There’s not? But I said I could prove it, didn’t I?”
“Prove it, then.”
“Okay, what do your children do, with your blessing, the minute they
come home from school?”
“They turn on the. … Oh, shoot, Carty. You’re not talking about any
strange adults. You’re just talking about watching TV.”
“Any parent who’d plunk his kids in front of an electronic hypnosis
box every day for hours seems strange enough to me. Doesn’t it to
“But you made it sound like a cult or a gummint plot or something.
It’s just harmless entertainment.”
By now, Mary had scraped Junior Number One off the light fixture and
was in a corner, limply trying to persuade Juniorette it wasn’t nice to
peel off the restaurant’s wagon wheel wallpaper.
“We personally never let the children watch anything violent or with
too much sex in it,” Mary half boasted, half protested from the corner,
where Junior Number Two had begun smearing someone’s leftover food onto
“So it’s OK for them to watch four hours of ABC News and Sesame
Street while they’re hypnotized, instead?” Carty asked.
“We’re always very conscious about their TV watching,” Mary said,
untangling Junior Number One from a customer’s legs. “We discuss what
they’ve seen afterwards.”
“I’m sure you’ve got some real good discussers there,” Carty
Marty finally spoke, “It keeps them quiet.”
“Back in the Victorian days, people used to keep their kids quiet by
giving ’em opium, you know. Maybe that was a better idea. At least the
poor kids got to think their own thoughts. It didn’t drive them out of
control afterward, either.”
“Carty,” Dora said, “I don’t like the influence of TV that much. But
we all survived it when we were kids. Aren’t you exaggerating the
Carty waved around the distinctly middle-aged crowd. “Most of us here
didn’t start in on it when we were babies. You been paying attention to
things like test scores, attention deficit disorders and decreases in
just plain old logical reasoning ability since we had our first complete
TV-baby generation? Flickering lights, man. These kids got flickering
lights on the brain. It makes some of ’em stupid and dull, and some of
’em stupid and crazy.”
At that moment, a tray smashed to the floor, as one of the Juniors —
I lost track this time — crashed into Janelle-the-waitress at a dead
run. Mary rushed over. Juniorette also dashed over to pick on brother,
slid on spilled soup and began to scream as though her head had been cut
off — which, in fact, some of us were beginning to wish it had. Carty
just leaned back, shook his head and mused aloud, “TV babies. TV
“They’re just high-spirited!” Mary snapped. “They’re perfectly normal
children and I don’t have to take these insults from you! It
doesn’t have anything to do with TV.”
“Really,” someone whispered amid the chaos. “She might just be out of
control of them. It happened before TV, too, you know.”
“So how much TV do you let them watch?” Carty persisted.
“None of your business. Just none of your business!”
“That much, huh? How come?”
“You are the most obnoxious, nosy man! … ”
“Cheaper than opium, is it? Easier to deliver the dose, too, I’ll
bet. But boy, those aftereffects.”
“Comon, Marty,” Mary snarled, lifting ‘Ette out of the morass by one
arm and dragging whichever Junior by another. “We don’t have to put up
Marty looked vaguely around, wondering if he might be responsible for
another child, but seemingly unable to remember which or where. He
started to rise, in an equally vague way.
Carty reached out and laid a hand on his arm. “This is TV turnoff week,” he said by way of casual information.
Marty spoke for the final time. “We can’t stop them from watching
TV,” he almost whispered. “We can’t do that.”
“Well, then, you’ve got an even worse problem than you know, don’t
you?” Carty shrugged. “Good luck.”
The Mary-Martys and eventually the entire congeries of Juniors
finally gathered themselves and exited, with only minor additional
damage to the premises. Everyone enjoyed a moment of quiet. But finally
Carty noted, “I’ve just got one problem with TV turnoff week. It ought
to last all year. I mean, I’m not saying ban the box or anything. I’m
just saying most people don’t use TV. It uses them. And their kids.
Groupthink and groupsit. And I’ve never seen so much denial about
anything in my life. TV freaks make alcoholics sound sensible.”
“But television is a vital information source,” Dora objected. “It’s
also part of our cultural cohesion.”
“Hey, read a book. Read an Internet. Start your own culture. The main
thing is, who the hell needs a box that hypnotizes you so big
corporations and governments can send messages straight into your brain?
Have a life. Have a family. And by the way, anyone who wants to join me
in bringing their TV sets to the shooting range this Saturday is more
than welcome. Targets is one thing they’re really good for.”
If you think you need your TV set — particularly for the sake
of your children, you might want to read The
Plug-In Drug: Television, Children & the Family by Marie Winn.
Another provocative, though flawed, book about the influence of
television is Four
Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander.