Eleven Years Of TV Watching
In A 72 Year Lifetime!
Anti-TV Movement Gears Up For Turnoff Week
By Kevin Drawbaugh

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Jean Lotus kept her secret to herself until a friend, disgusted by a trashy talk show, threw his TV set out of his third-floor bedroom window one night. With that, she stopped being embarrassed and started proclaiming -- she and her family do not own a television. ``I thought about it. I knew a lot of people who didn't own TVs. And we were all in the same situation. So why not have a little newsletter? That's how it started,'' the Chicago mother of two and former newspaper reporter said. Now a leading voice in the growing anti-TV movement, Lotus publishes a quarterly journal called White Dot from Chicago and has coauthored a book to be published in two weeks in Britain titled ``Get A Life: The Little Red Book of The White Dot.'' Television and its supposed evils will also be the focus of an annual appeal to Americans to switch off the tube for seven days during TV Turnoff Week, April 22-28. Although it may still be a fringe notion, the idea of TV-free living has prime-time potential, said Henry Labalme, executive director of TV-Free America, a Washington, D.C., non-profit organizing group. ``There's so many good reasons for turning off the TV,'' said Labalme, who blamed insomnia, depression, obesity, illiteracy, wasteful consumerism and a host of other modern maladies, at least in part, on too much time spent staring at the box.
The average U.S. household has 2.5 television sets, up from 2.25 three years ago. The total time spent watching television has fallen slightly over the same period to 3.7 hours per day for the average American. That adds up to about 56 days a year, or 11 years over a 72-year lifespan. While reducing the quantity of television watched is the chief goal of TV-Free America, White Dot -- named for the small point of light that flickers briefly on the screen after a TV is turned off -- also criticizes the quality of programming. ``There's a significant segment of the population out there ... who feel the television problem has become so intractable that maybe it is time to turn it off,'' Labalme said. ``Maybe all the efforts of the last 40 years to make television better, to make it more educational, to make it more informative, to clean up the violence and the sexual content ... just have not worked and will not work.'' TV Turnoff Week started in 1995 in the United States. This year it is spreading to Britain, Canada, Denmark, Australia and New Zealand. The campaign is endorsed by the American Medical Association, the American Heart Association, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, the American Federation of Teachers, the Natural Resources Defense Council and others. John Earnhardt, a spokesman for the TV industry's National Association of Broadcasters, said he was unfamiliar with TV Turnoff Week. ``We're all for health and community productivity but obviously local television brings a lot of good to each community that it serves,'' Earnhardt said. TV-Free America, which distributes organizing kits to schools, churches, businesses and others willing to sign up participants, estimates that four million people took part last year. This year the target is five million. ``Arbitrarily turning off the television for a designated week is not the answer. The answer is critical viewing,'' said Scott Broyles, spokesman for the National Cable Television Association, which sponsors efforts to teach parents to manage their childrens' TV watching. ``There is some very educational and positive programming on cable television every day.''
The anti-TV movement has its roots in a groundbreaking 1979 book, ``The Plug-In Drug,'' by Marie Weiss. Three years later, a group called the Society for the Eradication of Television was formed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, by Mary Dixon. ``She really broke the ice for the whole idea ... of living without a TV and being proud of it,'' said White Dot's Lotus, who co-wrote her book with David Burke, an American and fellow University of Chicago graduate now living in England. ``Get A Life,'' not yet published in America, is ``a funny self-help book for TV addicts,'' Lotus said. On White Dot's Web site, she says the book ``shows readers what television does to them; how it's turning adults into babies; how it's domesticating humans like farm animals and how it's setting us up for a science fiction nightmare that's already happened ... TV is taking over the world.'' That kind of language is common in the anti-TV movement. Labalme conceded that it puts activists at risk of being seen as alarmist and elitist in a culture where TV is so pervasive that small sets are now common even in bathrooms. But the anti-TV crowd is counting on a backlash. Labalme said: ``Twenty years from now, people are going to look back and wonder, 'What on earth was everybody doing, spending all that time watching the tube?'''

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