Tv-free Existence Speech for AnakTV

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TV-Free Existence Speech for AnakTV

St. Paul College, Dumaguete City, September 2005

Daniel B. Simon, US Peace Corps Volunteer
When I was twelve, my family moved from St. Louis, Missouri to Long Island, New York, over 1000 miles away. A moving van drove all our belongings. (Inig abot ang moving van) The first thing out of the van was our beloved TV. I asked the moving man to put the TV in my room. My mom saw where he was going, and said, “actually, we won’t be needing that here. Just put it somewhere in the basement.” I was in shock. I thought the TV would be back in about a day or two. But, I soon realized there would be no more TV in the house forever. My parents were tired of constantly fighting with me and my siblings to turn off the TV and come to dinner, go to sleep, or at least change the channel to something more appropriate!
Still, I argued. My dad told me I really learned how to argue that summer. My dad recently admitted that there were a few times he nearly relented, and gave us back the TV. I argued because I was worried that my new classmates wouldn’t be my friends if I couldn’t discuss the latest TV episodes. I was worried I would lose touch with my favorite baseball team the St. Louis Cardinals. I was worried I’d be bored and boring, and not know what was going on in the world!
But shortly, my worries were forgotten. The Cardinals had a really bad season in 1992, so I decided I really didn’t like them so much anymore. When my classmates talked about TV, I just kept quiet. You can learn a lot just by listening, so sometimes I was able to keep up with what was happening on TV without devoting any time to watching. When my classmates accepted me into their barkada, and came over to my house, we found other things to do, such as play board games, go outside for a Frisbee catch, or just plain talk (chika chika na lang.)
It also became clear that, without TV, there was a lot less stress in our house. My parents no longer had to act like police. We always ate dinner on time, as a family. I seemed to get my homework done on time, and I realized I wasn’t so tired in school (di na nako kapoy kaayo sa eskuala,) because I hadn’t stayed up too late. To fill my free time, I rode my bicycle around the neighborhood, climbed some trees (nothing as scary as a coconut tree) and even got a part-time job after school for some pocket money. I also made regular visits to the library to borrow books. Pleasure reading became a daily habit. Instead of watching TV to find out the news, I read the newspaper or listened to the radio. It is safe to say the boredom I was worried about never became a problem.
But sometimes my friends felt sorry for me that I couldn’t watch TV at home, so they invited me to their houses to watch. I’m not sure if you’ll believe this, but I wasn’t really interested to accept their invitation. I had other, more exciting things to do. Plus, I noticed that the more TV my friends watched, the fatter they became (nadako-dako sila.) And the kids who knew the most about TV seemed to get worse grades.
Soon I was proud that I lived in a TV-free house. When I applied for college, I even wrote my admission essay about how nice it was to live without TV. Apparently, the admission committee liked it, because I was awarded a scholarship for my course. When my parents took away the TV, I promised myself that I’d get a TV as soon as I moved out. Dreams come true, and sometimes they become nightmares! When I moved out to start college, my mother’s grandmother gave me her old TV because she couldn’t see the screen so well anymore. Every time I came back to my dorm room from classes, my roommate Alan was watching my TV. I had a hard time studying with the TV on, and Alan liked to watch until late at night. The only time I could “hear myself THINK” was when he went to class, or went to the fast food restaurant to but take-out food to bring back to the room. After a few weeks of this constant TV, I called my dad (nitawag ko sa akong dad) and begged him to come visit me. I begged him to pretend to be shocked and angry when he discovered a TV in my room. That was my excuse (pasumangil)so my roommate would not be offended when my dad confiscated the TV. From then on, my roommate had to go elsewhere to watch TV.
I have had the privilege to spend time with Filipino families all over Bohol and the Philippines. They are some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. They always make sure I am comfortable, happy, and of course well fed. But when I visit, it seems like the TV is always on, even if nobody is watching!
Once I visited friends on a Sunday around noon. It seemed that the girl in the living room didn’t even notice there was a stranger in the house. I kept waiting for her to introduce herself, until I couldn’t wait any longer. She looked towards me long enough to say “oh, hi.” Then her eyes darted back to the screen, during a commercial break! At dinner, she, and sometimes her mother would bounce back and forth from the dinner table to the TV to follow whatever drama was on. It was hard for me to have a discussion when my dinner-mates were constantly leaving the table. Even during fiesta, I have seen guests, who may not have seen each other for the entire year or longer, watching TV!
At another house i visit a lot, dinner is always scheduled after the TV news. It seems that with all the good news in the world, all that is broadcast is bad news. I always find it a little hard to eat dinner after murders, corruption, kidnappings, fires, bombings, and landslides are reported. (Thank god Filipino food is so delicious!) The TV stays on throughout dinner, and once again, it’s hard (pero, lisod man) to have conversation when all eyes are on the TV (tanan mga mata focus sa TV.)
A friend of mine is an extremely bright recent college graduate. But probably due to nervousness, she did not pass her Board Exam last 2004. When I first met her, she told me she’d be taking the exam again this year. There are plenty of books in her house for her to do her review, but the TV proved too tempting, and now she says she might take the exam next year. Almost every night she watches TV until her eyes became droopy and she goes to bed. Sometimes, her friends come over to chika-chika, but most of the time, all eyes are on the TV. One of her friends already has a cute young daughter. Some nights, her daughter complains that she wants to go home already. Her mom told her to wait na lang until the end of the show, or even the show after that. Kids learn habits from the adults around them, especially their parents. Right? (Di ba?)And whatever happened to telling kids bedtime stories?
In one place I stayed in the Philippines, I’ll never forget the night there was a big storm. There was a loud boom on the roof and i assumed a tree had fallen. In the morning, i discovered, that in reality, the antenna had come crashing down. It looked as if it was beyond repair. I thought, finally, some peace and quiet! But within hours, a jack-of-all-trades neighbor had repaired the antenna and made the picture come in clearer than ever before.
Filipinos are very industrious, some of the hardest-working people I ever met. Before I came here, I read that Filipino parents cared so much about education that they’d sell their last carabao just to pay for their kids’ education! I believe for many this is still true. I have never been so humbled when I see the sacrifices many Filipinos make for their children. However, I have been mighty surprised at how many homes have television here. It seems to be the first investment many families make when electricity arrives. I think a Japanese surplus TV set can be owned for less than 1000 pesos ($20.) No wonder the Philippines ranks 2nd in the world in TV viewing per household at 21 hours per person weekly. Thailand is #1 at 22.4 hours per person weekly. USA is #6 at 19.0 hours per person weekly. (June 2005 NOP World Culture Score Index)
Last month I visited Batanes, the mythical northernmost islands of the Philippines. Oh my god, they are so high-tech. Electricity arrived there only ten years ago. Now there are plenty of satellite TVs and fancy cell phones. My friend told me that since TV arrived in Batanes, the percentage of unwed mothers has gone from nearly zero to the highest percentage in the nation. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but there sure is a lot of sexy stuff happening on TV these days.
Back in Bohol, when I meet kids walking to school in the morning, many of them aren’t even carrying a notebook! And it seems to me that lunchtime in the Philippines means kids run home from school to watch dance troupes in revealing clothing. And another sexy star, I forget her name (nakalimot ko iyang ngalan) screech “correct!” over and over.
Last Monday (Sa niaging Lunes) “National Heroes Day” was observed in the Philippines. I asked a bunch of kids who the national heroes were. Of course they knew the names Rizal, Mabini, Bonifacio, etc. But they couldn’t tell me why these people were heroes. To these kids, it was just another day with no school, perhaps a day to catch up on TV. So, I wonder, who are the heroes of children today?
Who here knows the name of the most recent winner of “Star in a Million?” (We have a prize for the winner.) How many of you stayed up late to find out who would win? Jerome Sala is from Bohol. The same week in Bohol, a fisherman saw rescued 23 dolphin-watching tourists whose boat had capsized. A radio commentator wondered why there was a special “Jerome Sala” day in Bohol, when all he had done was be handsome and sing a few incredible numbers (gwapo ug nindot nga tingog lang niya.) Meanwhile, nobody even knew the fisherman’s name, and he’d saved the lives of 23 human beings.
Who has seen the show Friends? These are stereotypical New Yorkers, right? When I’ve traveled, a lot of people ask me about the show. I tell them “sorry, I’ve never seen it.” They tell me how beautiful, bright, funny, and rich the characters are. More or less perfect! And so, I ask them who they know that are as beautiful, bright, funny, and rich as their friends on Friends. They can’t think of anybody. These people don’t exist. Even the actors themselves don’t qualify in real life. Do you think Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt want the whole world to know their marriage failed? Is this the America people around the world aspire to live in? Is DIVORCE what parents around the world want their children to learn about when they turn on the TV?
I don’t want you to think that I think all television is purely negative. I have a friend in Bohol who is handicapped. It is very difficult for him to walk. He can’t even attend church for mass. But he can watch on television, which makes him feel like part of the community. Right now, I’m working on a dengue fever video project that will demonstrate to people exactly how to prevent mosquitoes from breeding. Hopefully, a TV network here will air it.
Since I’m from New York, a lot of people ask me where I was when September 11th occurred. (It’s hard to believe that was almost 4 years ago.) Actually, at the time, I was an English teacher in Japan, and was relaxing at the local onsen (public bath.) I didn’t know the Japanese language but a man approached me and told me I better pray. Then I looked at the TV and saw the Twin Towers burning. I walked home confused and tried to figure out what had happened. Over the next few days, through television, I was able to feel closer to home and understand better what was happening in the lives of my family and friends. It was comforting. And I even have a secret. I love to watch that crazy yellow family, The Simpsons. (But that’s only 30 minutes a week, or only 22 minutes if I watch on DVD without the commercials.)
I’m very excited to learn that there are people in the Philippines that care about the effects of TV on children, and glad to know that there is an organization working to help make changes for the better good of our children and our future through responsible, sensitive children’s television. But there is only so much they can do themselves. They need all the help they can get from everyone in this room, and I’m sure that if you’re in this room today, it’s because you care. Ultimately, it will be friends, family, teachers, and especially parents who will make the difference. Changing the behavior of children is not easy. But it is surely not impossible.
In my personal experience, I was outraged when my parents took away our television, but now, not a day goes by that I don’t think about how glad I am to have spent more than half my life away from the television. My siblings and I have my parents to thank for that, and we love them very much. We always have, and always will!

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