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Turn off your TV set! PRAVDA.Ru interviews Jean Lotus from International Campaign Against Television

Recently, PRAVDA.Ru interviewed Mrs. Jean Lotus from the International Campaign Against Television.

Greetings Mrs. Jean Lotus! We are very happy that you are willing to grant PRAVDA.Ru this exclusive interview.

I would like to start by asking you about how White Dot, the International Campaign Against Television, was created. How did the idea for this campaign come about? What are the goals of this campaign? Please tell us some of the activities of your organization.

The White Dot anti-television movement seeks to return to people a lost art: living their real lives. Weekly, Americans spend 28 hours watching other people's (fake people's) lives on television. That's 60 days a year, 24 hours a day. Average US households have 3 televisions each. Twenty-five percent of children under age six have a television--in their bedroom!

As we White Dotters walk the empty streets of America on summer evenings, passing the tuburcular-blue glow shining from every window, we wonder "Where the hell IS everybody?" We started White Dot because we were worried about what TV is doing to our culture. It has replaced our friends, parents, neighbors. We know the people on "Cheers" but we don't know the name of the family next door. What could TV possibly be giving us that is worth what it's taking away?

Americans are constantly complaining about their lack of time, but they have become so boring by watching television that they can't see that they could double their leisure time just by cutting out TV.

White Dot wants human beings to wrest their lives away from the grip of the plastic box. We believe television is boring. It makes people who watch it boring. We believe it is more than an appliance, it is a friend. But TV is not your friend. It causes you to get fat, violent and anxious. What kind of appliance does that to its friend? Would your toaster do that? TV causes people to stop thinking for themselves, to fear being alone with themselves, to demand entertainment at all times and to overspend and become materialistic. It gives kids nightmares and causes hyperactivity. It destroys the desire to read in small children and steals away the very time they need to develop their minds and bodies.

The last generation of people who could amuse themselves without a television is dying out. White Dot wants their secrets. We want to return people to the lost arts of letter writing, conversation, true love. Genuine human experience is being dredged through a mucky film of TV experience until real personalities wither away through lack of use.

The idea for the campaign came about in two ways. First, I, along with my husband agreed that we would raise our children without a television and would not have one in the house. But the reaction from friends and family was shock. "What about Sesame Street?" "Your children will not know anything about popular culture!" "You'll never get a babysitter!"

Then second, one day our college friend Allen Sierkowski (now a Catholic seminarian in Michigan) came home from work to his lonely apartment and watched four hours of soul-destroying talk shows. He got up and threw his television off of the third floor balcony. Then he called us. We agreed, we should form a society.

I discovered that 4.5 million Americans (1.7 percent) live without a television. White Dotters are extremely self-aware of their tv-lessness. Knowing that, I started a 'zine for people who didn't own a TV or who just were sick of television.

I was lucky enough to appear on CNN several times. Every time, I said to the camera, "It's OK if you turn this off right now!" Haven't you always wanted to see someone on televison say that?

David Burke (head of White Dot UK) was a brilliant stand-up comedian and investigative journalist living in England. When British press became interested in White Dot, he started a branch there. Using his comic skills and flair for the dramatic, David stood on a broken TV in front of Westminster Abbey with a bullhorn. He called on Prince Charles not to televise his coronation--to draw attention to TV addiction in the UK. The British press and television were very excited about the idea, especially TV-Turnoff Week. Dave's funny responses on the radio got him a book offer from Bloomsbury Press. I helped him write Get A Life.

Since then, he has also written Spy TV, an in-depth look at the privacy violations inherent in interactive television.

The activities of the organization vary from year to year. We always support TV Turnoff Week in the USA and UK every year. We provide a forum for people who want to read about other TV-Free people and ask parenting questions, TV etiquette questions etc. We also support TV-Free people who are harassed by the British TV licensing police demanding 100 pounds per set. (These authorities can't believe anyone lives without a television.)

Our primary goal is to introduce the idea that television is an Optional part of human existence--and a pretty dismal one at that. We want to turn TV watching into an occasional activity instead of a lifestyle.

You are the co-author of the book Get A Life! , which deals with the effects of the television on people. Please tell us something about this book and what prompted you to write it.

At the end of the 20th Century, White Dot had to point out that, given everything, television was a dismal failure as a technology. It's promises were never fulfilled: it couldn't educate. It couldn't bring culture to the masses; instead, it cheapened culture into something unrecognizable.

In the final analysis, television is good at only one thing: making us watch more television. This has made filthy rich the people who produce television. But a society of doers turned into a society of viewers. The unintended social costs are outrageously high: violence, plummeting academics, isolation; we are impulsive and restless. TV is killing our humanity, not to mention that it is a pathetic waste of time.

Get a Life examines the effects of television on all aspects of humanity. Using the metaphor of livestock breeding, we show how TV is molding us into interchangable automatons with TV personalities. Investigative journalism reveals the evil workings of the TV industry and their newest targets: schoolchildren and toddlers. We also include a self-help book for the addicted and a survival manual for the newly TV-Free.

Your expertise is in child development. In your opinion, what effects does the television have on children? Do advocate that children should not watch any television at all, or only certain kinds of programs?

I have four children 7, 5, 3 and 1 who have all been raised without a TV in the house. Of all age groups, the pre-school child in America is the biggest consumer of television (over 4 hours daily). Yet, this is the audience to whom TV does the most harm. Why? Because TV and video watching crowd out important developmental skills: crawling, building, jumping, speaking, strewing, grasping, drawing. The human brain needs real experiences before age three to program it for the rest of life.

Sitting a child in front of a television steals away part of their development. Sitting them down for four hours a day is a crime. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under age two watch NO television at all. They also recommend less than two hours for other children. The AAP says no child should have a TV in the bedroom, but so many US children do.

"Childrens' television is terribly addictive--for the parents," wrote Marie Winn in 1979 in the Plug-In Drug. It is a cumulative building up of TV watching as a lifestyle that is harming the world's children. Specifically, studies have shown that TV-inactivity makes children obese: one fifth of US children are obese today.

Studies have also linked TV watching with violence in children and the adults they become. Felons interviewed in one prison study had committed more violent crimes the more television they watched as a child. Taking away the television actually reduced acts of violence among children in one recent study.

TV-watching interferes with academics. More than two hours a day is shown to drive down the school performance of children.

My personal experience is that parents use TV as a repellant when small children are whiney and clingy. "Here comes the babysitter, go watch some TV." "You're hungry and dinner isn't ready, go watch some TV." The truth is, children need to learn to deal with their emotions. They're whiney and clingy because they haven't learned to be brave and control their emotions. And TV watching isn't going to teach them. In fact, if we met an adult who ran to watch TV every time he was upset, we would pity him. This is what we're raising our children to be!

Children are extremely pliable and can entertain themselves, even if they insist that they can't. They just have to be given the childhood to teach themselves. I'm so proud of how resourceful and helpful my children are. I don't think anything about them is that different from their peers: they just don't watch television.

Please tell us about TV Turnoff Week, which is to be held from April 22 to 28, 2002.

Thousands of schools all over the world celebrate TV Turnoff Week. Children agree not to watch for a week. Often the rest of the family also participates. Schools offer prizes and alternative activities: like a game night or tickets to the roller skating rink. Teachers love TV Turnoff week "because the children are so fresh and new," said one to me. Children really enjoy this activity, especially because Spring is coming and they can play outside for the first time after winter.

Adults celebrate TV Turnoff Week by vowing to get caught up on hobbies, reading, house-fixing chores or sleep. A complete fast from television for one week allows you to step back and see what points in the day you turn it on, and how much real life you're missing.

A guerilla group in Vancouver goes on a TV turnoff week pub crawl with hidden remote controls in their pockets. At every pub they stop inside and turn off the televisions from their seats.

In your opinion, does the Internet have similar effects on people as television viewing? Do you consider the internet to be an alternative to television?

It's too soon to say. Certainly, the internet conveys more information than even a newspaper, and so is superior to television in that way. However, large media companies are attempting to merge TV and the web so in 10 years, we can assume that there will be more "push" techology (which makes money) than "pull" technology (which rewards quality). Also, a study co-sponsored by Microsoft showed that depression increased among heavy internet users.

Certainly, the easy availability of hard-core porn on the internet is worrying to parents: we've never had to worry about that being accessible on TV.

Thank you so much for your patience with waiting for my reply. White Dot is thrilled by your interest.

Questions by Justin Cowgill

For more information about White Dot and the International Campaign Against Television, please visit www.whitedot.org

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