Tom Hodgkinson: 'We took a TV home. I admit I am weak'


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The Independent Online

The television is back. Five years ago, in a fit of anti-capitalist pique, I unplugged this instrument of Beezlebub. I decided that I didn't want all its horrors flooding into the family home. I didn't want The X-Factor, CBeebies, Dick and Dom, the Ten O'Clock News or the dreary gloom of EastEnders. Mr Murdoch and his evil ways could stay out of my house for ever. Like Plato, I decided to banish the playwrights and their portrayal of negative character traits from my ideal Republic. My children would grow up unsullied by the false promises of consumerism. Instead, they'd learn useful skills, carpentry and violin.

The children were not pleased that they were being denied a basic human right. But they had to put up with it. I figured they weren't really deprived: after all, there were piles of DVDs and iPlayer soon arrived on the computer and Victoria and I borrowed a box-set of The Wire and enjoyed that. I'm not quite so puritanical as to deny that there is nothing good about the telly. Clearly there is work of genius out there.

So it went on for five years. We were blissfully TV-free. I read an absolute stack of books. If I was on my own in the evening, I would drink real ale while reading, and that was a real joy.

The problem with television is that it tends to leave you feeling deflated and even a little depressed when the programme is over. You have a feeling of dread that now you have to return to reality. It is the bread and circuses of our day. But reading a good book is genuinely nourishing.

It was truly wonderful to be without all the advertising. Watching the children being brainwashed into wanting things by clever techniques and repetition had driven me crazy. In a frantic world, the respite from murmuring distraction and greed-producing propaganda was hugely welcome.

The problem, though, with banning TV is that you are seen as a crank. Victoria would accuse me of imposing my tyrannical ways on the rest of the family. An action that I took in order to defend my freedom was interpreted as removing the freedom of other people – that is, the freedom of my family to watch the telly. "You're a Puritan!" Victoria railed. I defended myself by saying that in actual fact I am very much against the Puritan revolution of the 17th century and its attack on the merry old ways of England. But I got the point.

And, after some degree of pressure, I began to think: "It's all very well for me to reject the world and its evil creations, but my children are going into the world. They are hungry for it. They have not yet been jaded by it. Do I have the right to prevent them from seeing it, even if I happen to disapprove of it?"

So it was that a few weeks ago, with a mixture of sadness and excitement, I found myself in the aisles of Comet with my 11-year-old son Arthur, inspecting the wondrous machines now available. We eventually selected a flat-screen LCD model and took it home. It reminded me of the day our father brought back our first colour telly in the 1970s. It was a thrilling moment. Later, Arthur said: "That was the best day of my life."

So if any readers out there have thrown away their telly, having read me fulminate against its evils, I apologise. You will accuse me of selling out. If it was purely up to me, I would do without it. But, in the end, a combination of nagging and libertarianism defeated by earlier resolve. And in any case, I admit it, I am weak. As Ovid put it: "Monitis sum minor ipse meis," which translates as "I fail to live up to my own precepts."

And how has it been? Well, my main worry was that I would become addicted to it and spend evenings watching the telly rather than reading and drinking beer. That has not happened: I think five years was enough to get me out of the habit. Occasionally, I watch TV with the kids and I see the adverts. They still make me foam and fulminate: toothpaste and tissues seem to be advertised very regularly, and with a sinister degree of manipulation. Apart from that, Horrible Histories has been good fun. Who could fail to find Outnumbered brilliant and hilarious? I have managed to miss completely Downton Abbey, and that has given my Puritanical side a huge degree of self-righteous pleasure. But we did watch loads of films over Christmas. And now we can watch Doctor Who along with the rest of the country. Our children feel normal. Hello, world.

Tom Hodgkinson is editor of 'The Idler'