Back to US Life Histories
Growing up with Television
The game was coming to an end and the Bulls were up. During those final seconds of the game my heart was pounding and I was filled with such excitement. The countdown, "10, 9, 8, 7, . . . ," drove me insane. The Bulls won!! I wanted to scream, but I knew I could not wake up my parents. The people in the city made enough noise for me. That night the gunshots were like a bag of popcorn, popping every second. The sound of people screaming was incredible. It was awesome to hear that I was not the only one with all this joy, and that the whole city was filled with it. I watched the news before going to school the next day. I learned of how, in reaction to the Bulls triumph, people had burned cars and caused riots. I can't describe how shocked I was.
During this time (I was about eleven), my life was very lonely. My parents worked six days a week. Sometimes they would even work on Sundays. They would leave the house at 6:00 a.m. and wouldn't come back until 6:00 p.m. I would go to my seventh grade classroom at Robert Burn School everyday. Then I would come back home, stopping to buy my chips from the corner store and watch cartoons like, G.I. Joe, Thundercats, and Silverhawks. I was alone in the house with no one around but the TV.
Besides being a very lonely time, it was also I time when I remember being very scared on a regular basis. I was terribly frightened by gangs and gangbangers. It all started when, earlier that year, my father, our neighbor, and myself went to the gas station to fill up our van. I remember always being scared when I was with my neighbor because he used to always wear a Playboy sweatshirt, which is a gang sign.
When my father and my neighbor left to pay for the gas, these two gangbangers rolled by in the car and stopped. They both got out and gave my father a look. That's when they jumped my father. One of them pulled out a knife, and before the police came, they threatened that they would burn down our house. I could barely sleep that night, or for that matter, for many nights to come.
Sometimes, at night, gunshots would awaken me. Sometimes, they would be regular guns, and, sometimes, I would even hear machine guns. It just seemed that every night there were gunshots. I had friends on my block. Two were gangbangers, and two were not. Sometimes we would play football or baseball. Sometimes, my stupid gangbanger friends would want to throw bricks through car windows, or break people's windows. I would always decline, telling them that I had to go home. The reality of the matter was that I would much rather watch television than go hang out with them.
The truth was that television meant a lot to me, probably a lot more than it should have, but it did have a positive effect on me. Being so attached to after-school television helped keep me out of trouble. It kept me focused on things other than what was bothering me. It created a fantasy world I could go to escape from the problems that surrounded me such as, my parents not being around or the gang problems that plagued my neighborhood.
It also educated me, since my parents were not around to do it. Even cartoons, like G.I. Joe, taught me loyalty and the value of friendship. I remember a few extremely significant pieces of programming that stick out in my mind. One is the anti-drug commercial where someone would crack an egg into a hot frying pan and say, "This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs." It was a famous commercial that almost everyone remembers, but I can honestly say that, for me, it was effective.
Another show that I appreciated was the McGruff after-school specials. The shows and commercials would run advice such as, "Stay away from alleys" and "If you see someone smoking, just walk away." It would always end with the signature line, "Remember, take a bite out of crime."
There were some negative aspects of my habitual television watching. I was not getting enough exercise, and I was gaining weight.. This along with the fact that I lacked certain social skills made it difficult to relate with other kids. Television taught me a lot, but it never taught me how to apply what I was learning in real life. It caused a cycle. Because of the bashfulness it caused, I became even more alienated from the world around me. In turn, I wanted to escape from it even more. I would watch television more, and so on. Although there was much more programming that was not as exciting or memorable, I still watched it.
Nowadays, I don't see as much educational programming for kids as there was when I was younger. I guess I feel that the positive aspects outweighed the negative ones. I hope that kids who are left alone today have something to occupy their time and keep then away from trouble like I did.