Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Parental Discretion Advised

When I was younger my siblings and I were forbidden to watch the television phenomenon known as Three’s Company. Probably for the same reasons you were forbidden to watch it. Right, too many pratfalls. Once children see how funny it is to trip and fall backwards over a couch, and that the crowd will go wild with applause when you do, they will immediately begin training for their own stunts. Homeowners’ insurance policy rates would go up, and we’d all be in a world of hurt. So to curb a national incident, parents everywhere told their children that they were not allowed to watch Jack, Janet, and Chrissy throw around double mix ups, double takes, and double entendres down at the Regal Beagle.

It was not uncommon for youth my age to be banned from Three’s Company. In fact, it was as American as Ma and Apple Pie, baseball and the Pledge of Allegiance, traffic and highway shootings! But my television restrictions did not stop there, ladies and gentlemen. My parents also forbade me to watch such popular small screen sensations as Diff’rent Strokes, The Facts of Life, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and The A-Team, among others. And it wasn’t due to the language or suggestive subject matters. You want I should tell you why I was not allowed to watch the Dukes and Boss Hogg squabble over bootlegged moonshine in Hazzard County? “Because those shows are stupid,” said my dad, laying down the law.  (How Mork & Mindy made it through the approval process remains a mystery. Child Protective Services is still investigating.)

That’s right, not because of promiscuous behavior, not because of excessive violence, not because of vulgar language or suggestive humor…but because he thought the writing on these shows was sub par. 
I still remember the very night the regulations were established. Fall, 1979. We were sitting around the dinner table, and my younger sister, Holli, naively making conversation, announced, “Dad, before you got home from work we were watching Happy Days…”

“HAPPY Days?!” Dad cut her off. And by the tone of his voice, it was clear that he was not thrilled with our viewing choice. It was, in fact, foreshadowing that what lied ahead were most certainly Unhappy Days.

“Yes,” Holli continued, completely and dangerously unfazed, “and before that we were watching Sha Na Na…”

“SHA NA NA?!!” Dad answered back in bold, all caps, cutting her off again.

“Why are you still talking, Holli?!” I thought to myself. “Why are you so determined to have us all killed?! How are you not picking up on Dad’s disapproving voice? Now I’ll never see puberty, which is a shame, as I was so looking forward to my voice cracking.”

And that was it. Just like that, the hammer was lowered. Regulated television viewing. What’s interesting is that my parents were not overly moral about television. They were not the type to threaten to throw out the television or unplug it. They didn’t lecture us about mindlessly spending hours in front of the TV (because we didn’t, because there were only 13 channels). My dad’s legitimate concern was that these shows were not entertaining to him, but were, by his definition, dumb. And he would not expose his children to such drivel.

What DID we watch? M*A*S*H, All in the Family, Rockford Files, Magnum PI. See, it wasn’t that he didn’t like television in general, he just didn’t care for specific shows. 

In fact, to illustrate my dad’s appreciation for television, I will share with you a quick story. We were moving across town, and everything we owned was loaded into the moving truck, including the TV. We couldn’t unload the truck until the next day. It was a Thursday.

“Dad,” I began, as we sat, eating Kentucky Fried Chicken on the furniture-less kitchen floor, “it’s Thursday, and we’re going to miss Magnum PI.”

“I’ve thought about that,” he said, searching through the bucket for a leg. “And I think I’ve figured it out. The furniture section at JC Penney has their couches facing their new, color televisions. We’ll just go down to the mall and make ourselves comfortable.”

“That’s brilliant,” I said, marveling at his ingenuity.

“Not completely,” he said. “JC Penney closes at 9 p.m., and that’s when Simon & Simon comes on.”

Yes, my dad had discriminating tastes. And now that I have children at that same age, I totally get it.
I don’t want to brag, but when they were younger, Katie and I successfully steered our children’s youthful, impressionable minds around the dangerous waters of horrific television programming, circumventing the likes of Barney, Teletubbies, and Pokemon (and any and all other Japanese anime, for that matter). To this day, they could tell you virtually nothing about any of these icons. And that’s my contribution to the world. Ah-you’re welcome, Society.

However, they are older now. And when I hear my children quoting lines to each other at the dinner table, and I ask, “What’s that from?” it’s a sure bet that the conversation is going to go like this:

“It’s from the Suite Life of Zach & Cody…”

“SUITE LIFE OF ZACH AND CODY!?” I will say, hearing my father’s voice echoing in my head.

“Yes, Daddy, and before that the babysitter let us watch That’s So Raven.”


And then, the hammer will come down for the next generation. And while they will grow up unable to relate to their peers’ viewing choices, they will be exposed to far superior television programming. Like a DVD library of old Mork & Mindy episodes.

Nanu-nanu, and good night.