One TV, one family

The salesman at the electronics superstore smiled broadly, but his eyes revealed that he thought I was some kind of religious nut.

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

No matter what, I could not get him to realize that my needs were quite simple. As a journalist, I wanted several news channels and my family likes old movies. What I wanted was a digital system that connected a satellite mini-dish to my television.

"No problem," he said, patiently. Clearly, I wasn't well informed about my options. "You know, they make systems now that allow you to use your satellite dish with more than one television."

That's OK, I said. But I need to hook up one television, in one room.

Undaunted, he whipped out a brochure and proceeded: "Let me show you what everybody gets, these days. It really doesn't cost that much more to get a system that you can hook up two or three televisions. It used to be hard to do that, but not now."

No thank you, I said. I just want to be able to hook up one television set.

The salesman still didn't get the picture. "Don't you want to hook up your other TVs? You can get a system that hooks up to the sets in your bedroom and your children's rooms and everywhere else."

We don't own any other televisions, I explained. We just have one TV, in one room, in our one house, for our one family.

He regrouped. Now he knew what he was dealing with. I was in denial, still fighting the cultural gravity of modern life. I could hear him thinking: "This is one of those holier-than-thou types who think they're too good to watch TV."

I knew what he was thinking because I had to have this same chat with the cable TV people when I lived in Southern Appalachia. Next came this satellite guy in the Washington, D.C., area. I'm sure that I will soon have a similar talk with another eager envoy of the video principalities and powers now that we are moving to South Florida. We all live in the same mall.

Here is what I will say -- again.

Actually, I don't have anything against TV. I teach mass media courses and I wouldn't be trying to teach students how to work in the world of news and entertainment media if I thought it was all rubbish.

Truth is, there's a lot of good stuff -- brilliant, even -- on TV. But there's a lot of garbage, too. So at the start of each week, we try to mark up the TV schedule, looking for programs we will want to watch as a family, or that I want to tape to watch later. We talk about this all the time.

In fact, I believe that more religious leaders need to take the time to praise the good, as well as urge parents to create practical media rules and then keep them. You know that old saying in the Book of Proverbs? "Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it."

Our family rule is that we strive to watch an hour a day on tape or a movie every few days. We also don't let our children watch alone -- even the teen-ager. So we have one television and we keep it in a room that is used by the whole family.

Sadly, in most American homes the television is the true altar.

There are even more options, for better or for worse, once a family is hooked up to a cable or satellite service. We must face those decisions together. We owe that to our children, because we're their parents. We don't want to turn into distant relatives who end up sitting in separate rooms, watching different shows, on private TVs, speaking different languages and living in separate worlds.

If you stand firm, someone will listen.

So far, I have managed to buy a system that will connect one receiver to our one television set, in one room, in our one house, for our one family.