Monday, April 10, 2006

The crimes of society against literacy

This evening I caught sight of a billboard that showed a Latino family - two parents, two kids - huddled up on the couch together, smiling and gazing at something off in the distance. The billboard broadcasted the words "TradiciĆ³n" and "It's a Latino thing." The billboard was a cable company ad.

The ad infuriated me, from a political as well as a literacy point of view. First of all, even though Denver has a high Latino population (which I'm sure the cable company has suddenly come to see as an excellent opportunity just waiting to be cashed in on), there are also plenty of others who will instantly assign racial connotations to that image. They will superglue the stereotype of the TV-watching white trash family onto the Latino family, which will serve to exaggerate the stereotypes they have already assigned to Latino people. They will say, "If that's one of their traditions, no wonder they [fill in the blank with any number of problems mainstream society tends to blame on minorities]."

But forget about what people will say - let's address what is fundamentally wrong about an ad like this. It's bad enough that the cable companies encourage people who are well-off and educated to spend more time parked on their @sses in front of the TV - what business do they have selling the imaginary merits of television to a socio-economic group that is already statistically known to face huge challenges in society due to poor education and illiteracy? We already know that television causes problems because it displaces time that could otherwise be spent in pastimes more conducive to education, such as reading or playing. So what does it say about our society that the cable company (whose employees must know the statistics as well as I do) has decided to target an already-challenged socio-economic class with their newest advertising campaign?

This is sick. It is a perfect example of the corruption of our glorious free market society. It's all about advertising and selling. Greed. God help you if your needs oppose theirs.

I remember reading somewhere that the average preschool kid watches 30 or 35 hours of TV a week. That's nearly a full-time job! And the cable company is trying to increase this?

It's partially the writer - and the reader - in me that has a hard time with this. I don't know if it has to do with race, class, or my mom's somewhat old fashioned values, but I didn't really watch much TV growing up. Oh, I can remember a few choice shows, particularly when my mom was making lunch during the summer or a favorite afterschool cartoon during the school year...but that's about it. I could count on one hand the shows I watched with any sort of regularity during my first twelve or fourteen years.

Mostly, I remember the books.

I read constantly. Teachers actually complained that while they couldn't get other kids to read, they couldn't get me to stop reading. I read in class, often straight through another lesson. I read under the covers with a flashlight. (I remember the first book I did that with, too. Five Children and It, by E. Nesbit. I couldn't have been more than seven or eight.) I was even pretty good at reading while I was walking, a talent saved for the particularly engrossing books. When I was in high school I often finished a new book every day.

My little rant does have a point: in many ways, I was far more advanced than my peers throughout my childhood. English class was a breeze, to say the least. I usually already knew the spelling and vocabulary words we were supposed to learn. Often I had already read the assigned books. And writing - imitating the words and turns of phrase I'd read so much of - was second nature to me.

So here is my point: TV displaces reading as a pastime. Reading as a pastime actually educates children, but in a fun way. It also prepares them for (and helps them choose) an educated lifestyle. So by pushing television, the cable company (or society, depending on how you look at it) is handicapping the education of the upcoming generations. And by pushing television on a group of people that is already hurting for proper education...well, I see it as something akin to kicking a dog while it lies half-dead in the street.

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