TV TurnOff Week

Jesse Hirsh (
Tue, 15 Oct 1996 10:23:43 -0400 (EDT)

Rising Above the Dreck
TV Turnoff Week '96 is October 14-20

Night after night, we sit for long hours in dark
rooms. Identical images flow into our brains,
homogenizing our perspectives, knowledge,
tastes, desires. We spend more hours watching
nature shows than experiencing the real thing;
more time laughing at TV jokes than making
jokes ourselves; more often experiencing
simulated sexuality than having sex ourselves.

Twenty years ago the environmental movement
shocked the world into realizing that our natural
environment was dying. Now, our mental
environment is facing a different kind of

Micro jolts of mind pollution flood into our brains
at the rate of 3,000 marketing messages per day
-- twelve billion display ads, three million radio
ads and over 300,000 TV commercials are dumped into our collective
unconscious like toxic sludge. As a result, our attention spans are
diminishing, our imaginations giving out and we are increasingly unable to
remember the past.

TV Turnoff Week is a collective attempt to save our most precious
resource: the clarity of our own minds.

Television Statistics

According to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the average American watches more than
4 hours of TV each
day (or 28 hours/week, or 2 months of nonstop TV-watching per year). In a
65-year life, that
person will have spent 9 years glued to the tube.

Family Life

1.Percentage of households that possess at least one television: 99
2.Number of TV sets in the average U.S. household: 2.24
3.Percentage of U.S. homes with three or more TV sets: 66
4.Number of hours per day that TV is on in an average U.S. home: 6
hours, 47 minutes
5.Percentage of Americans that regularly watch television while eating
dinner: 66
6.Number of hours of TV watched annually by Americans: 250 billion
7.Value of that time assuming an average wage of $5/hour: $1.25
8.Percentage of Americans who pay for cable TV: 56
9.Number of videos rented daily in the U.S.: 6 million
10.Number of public library items checked out daily: 3 million
11.Percentage of Americans who say they watch too much TV: 49


1.Approximate number of studies examining TV's effects on children:
2.Number of minutes per week that parents spend in meaningful
conversation with their
children: 3.5
3.Number of minutes per week that the average child watches
television: 1,620
4.Percentage of day care centers that use TV during a typical day: 70
5.Percentage of parents who would like to limit their children's TV
watching: 73
6.Percentage of 4-6 year-olds who, when asked to choose between
watching TV and spending
time with their fathers, preferred television: 54
7.Hours per year the average American youth spends in school: 900
8.Hours per year the average American vouth watches television: 1500


1.Number of murders seen on TV by the time an average child finishes
elementary school:
2.Number of violent acts seen on TV by age 18: 200,000
3.Percentage of Americans who believe TV violence helps precipitate
real life mayhem: 79


1.Number of 30-second TV commercials seen in a year by an average
child: 20,000
2.Number of TV commercials seen by the average person by age 65: 2
3.Percentage of survey participants (1993) who said that TV
commercials aimed at children
make them too materialistic: 92
4.Rank of food products/fast-food restaurants among TV advertisements
to kids: 1
5.Total spending by 100 leading TV advertisers in 1993: $15 billion


1.Percentage of local TV news broadcast time devoted to advertising:
2.Percentage devoted to stories about crime, disaster and war: 53.8
3.Percentage devoted to public service announcements: 0.7
4.Percentage of Americans who can name The Three Stooges: 59
5.Percentage who can name at least three justices of the U.S. Supreme
Court: 17

Answers to 10 Frequently Asked Questions

"Why turn off the television completely? Can we do it for just one day?"

Turning off the television for seven full days helps participants realize
that life without television is not
torture and may actually be more fun. A week-long TV-Turnoff allows
sufficient time to develop
habits likely to be more productive and rewarding. A one-day turnoff
provides too little challenge.

"Is all TV bad? What about the Discovery Channel or PBS?"

All TV is passive, sedentary and non-experiential. Most viewers tend to
watch show after show --
not individual programs. Instead of watching a documentary about birds,
go out (with binoculars if
you have them) and see how many live birds you can identify in your
neighborhood. The purpose of
National TV-TurnoffWeek is to leave behind judgments about the quality of
television and focus
instead on creating, discovering, building, participating and doing. Turn
off the Discovery Channel
and make your own discoveries.

"What about media literacy and teaching critical viewing skills?"

By going without television for a week, people will learn a great deal
about their television habits and
will likely be more critical viewers if and when they decide to return to
the tube. Television looks and
sounds different after a Turnoff. The canned laughter and camera tricks
often seem contrived after a
week without the tube. A TV-Turnoff is a step along the path to media

"I can't give up my programs! Don't interfere in my home!"

Participation in National TV-TurnoffWeek is voluntary and meant to be
fun. It is intended to build
family and community spirit. Coordinate your Turnoff in a way that does
not alienate or offend
parents -- they already have their hands full. Send a letter to parents
that asks for the family's
participation in the Turnoff (see index). Indicate the support of the
principal, the teachers, PTA or
other groups that you have. Parents are more likely to sign on if they
know that school professionals
support the project.

"Do we have to plan an activity every night?"

Some organizers feel providing an activity every night doesn't mimic real
life and allows for a big
letdown after the Turnoff, so they plan just a few. Plan activities you
might consider doing the
following week. In-school activities are a possibility also, and most
organizers agree it is good to
have at least one family activity during the Turnoff.

"What about the name TV-Free America? Are you advocating the complete
eradication of

TV-Free America encourages Americans to reduce, voluntarily and
dramatically, the amount of
television they watch in order to promote richer, healthier and more
connected lives, families and
communities. A TV-Turnoff is an effective way to help break the
television habit. While it may be
unrealistic to think participants will never watch television again
(although a few won't), many will
regard the medium in a much different way henceforward.

"How can we best appeal to teenagers?"

Make the Turnoff fun and provocative. Copy and distribute articles and
essays about the
environmental and social issues surrounding television and have students
debate the opposing views.
Some teachers have awarded extra credits to participating students who
keep a journal and write an
essay about their week without television. Past TV-Turnoff organizers
have asked local businesses
(theaters, skating rinks, miniature golf courses, bowling alleys, etc.)
to offer discounts to students,
families,and individuals who show a signed TV-Turnoff "Pledge Card."

"I need some peace and quiet when I come home. The television occupies
the kids while I
fix dinner."

Invite the children to help with simple tasks or have them talk with you
while you prepare dinner.
Developing a few special (and regular) pre-dinner activities and habits
for children is a very
worthwhile investment. Some parents also find playing with kids for just
a few minutes helps relax
the kids as well as themselves.

"Our neighborhood is unsafe. Better that my kids sit in front of the
television at home than
risk harm outside."

There are many indoor activities that are fun, productive and TV-free
(see list). Ask neighbors to
help develop alternative indoor and outdoor activities for participating
families. Point out that
neighborhood improvement will never occur as long as residents merely
retreat to the fictional,
vicarious world of television. Getting to know your neighbors is the
first step in making a
neighborhood safer.

"I can't afford the cost of these 'substitute' activities!"

There are many free and simple activities (lists) sponsored by libraries,
environmental groups,
museums and universities. Local newspapers will have listings of free,
public events. Outdoor
recreation is an activity that is generally free and healthy!

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Jesse Hirsh -