A stranger in our home


On my Facebook page this week, my sister posted a link to an NPR interview about Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson’s anti-gay statements and commented, “Perhaps the topic of your next blog?”

On the schoolyard at my daughter’s kindergarten, one of the parents said to me, “That Duck Dynasty guy is out of control. Good for A&E for kicking him off the show.”

At a party I hosted this weekend, a guest commented, “So, what do you think about this Duck Dynasty guy?”

For those of you who might be feeling out of the loop, Duck Dynasty is a reality show about a Louisiana family whose business involves making products for duck hunters, primarily the “Duck Commander” duck call. Phil Robertson, the inventor of the “Duck Commander,” is the patriarch of the “Duck Dynasty,” and is known for his staunch Christian religious beliefs. In an interview with GQ Magazine, Robertson offered up these thoughts regarding human immorality:

“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

Later, in the same interview, Robertson gave this answer to the question, “What, in your mind, is sinful?”

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

There’s more, but you get the point, I’m sure. This is why Phil Robertson is the talk of the town. And this is why, not surprisingly, Robertson got booted off his show.

But you know what? Before this debacle, I had no clue who Phil Robertson was. I’d never heard of Duck Dynasty. And why is that?

Because I don’t watch television. At all. And I have to say, choosing not to watch television solves a lot of problems.

I’ll backtrack a little bit and share with you how we, as a family, came to this decision. Five years ago, back in 2008, I started learning more about the Waldorf approach to education. I had a friend who attended a parent-child program at a local Waldorf school, and I started taking my daughter to that program as well. Every week, the teacher gave us articles to read, addressing a wide range of topics – sleep, nutrition, play, discipline and limit-setting, creativity, toy choices, and the importance of nature, to name a few.

And media. There were lots of articles about media. Waldorf schools are known for their anti-media policies, some schools enforcing those policies more strongly than others. In a nutshell, Waldorf advocates believe that media exposure in early childhood diminishes their creative and imaginative power, and they connect media consumption (particularly involving screens) to delays in fine and gross motor development, sensory integration and processing disorders, and social and behavioral problems, to name a few.

This philosophy, interestingly, is consistent with what the scientific literature reveals. Hundreds of studies have linked extensive television viewing with social, cognitive, and emotional problems, and some studies have identified a cause-and-effect relationship. A 2012 study of 70,000 children in Hong Kong, for example, showed that the more television these kids watched per day, the lower their self-esteem. A longitudinal study conducted by Deborah Schooler and Sarah Trinh of the University of the Pacific indicated that, for girls, extensive television watching was associated with lower levels of body satisfaction. Nicole Martins and Kristen Harrison of the University of Indiana reported in a 2012 study that, for White girls, Black girls, and Black boys (but not for White boys, interestingly), more television watching was associated with lower levels of self-esteem. And, in an experimental study conducted by Charlotte Markey of Rutgers University and Patrick Markey of Villanova University, participants who watched a reality show involving cosmetic surgery were more likely to desire surgery for themselves than participants who watched a show with a neutral message. The research is clear – study after study after study shows that higher levels of media consumption impacts our well-being in a negative way. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 2 years old watch no television, and that beyond that age parents limit their children’s screen time.

I’ve been aware of these research trends for years, and in many ways I’ve heeded the warnings revealed by these collective findings. I made a decision a long time ago, for example, not to expose myself to the unrealistic body standards featured in women’s fashion magazines, knowing that consuming those types of images has a toxic effect on one’s own body satisfaction. But I hadn’t pulled the plug on my not-so-great television-watching habits, and certainly hadn’t considered protecting my daughter from television and other forms of media. However, one article we were given in the Waldorf parent-child class – actually, one single statement in that article – stopped me in my tracks, and got me thinking about television-viewing and overall media consumption in an entirely new way. The author of the article, Susan Johnson, M.D., said this:

“We don’t allow our child to talk to strangers, yet through television we allow strangers into the minds and souls of our children everyday.” 

A stranger in my own home. I’d never thought of media in quite that way. But it’s absolutely true. When I turn on the television, I’m inviting a guest into my home – and I’m also inviting all of the beliefs, opinions, values, and behaviors of that guest. But unlike interactions with real people, I can’t have a give-and-take conversation with the television-guest. I can’t tell it to quit saying offensive things, or to stop engaging in disrespectful behavior, or engage that guest in a dialectical conversation.

But I can set limits with it. If the television-guest is blaring offensive, derogatory, microaggressive, violent, and soul-draining messages and values, I can Turn. It. Off. I don’t have to watch it or listen to it. In fact, I can take it a step further and remove it from my house entirely. Guests who blatantly disrespect the physical and emotional integrity of my family have no place in my home, and television is no exception.

Even though they’ve come under fire for supposedly violating First Amendment rights, I think A&E made a smart move in deciding to suspend Phil Robertson from their show, for no television viewers (or GQ readers) should be subjected to his drivel. However, I also believe in the power of personal action. If I don’t watch Duck Dynasty or know who Phil Robertson is, then I won’t be assaulted by his anti-gay rhetoric. If nobody watches Duck Dynasty, and nobody pays attention to Phil Robertson, then his words have no power over us.

None.

Instead, we can surround ourselves with as much positive messaging as possible – not just as a way of counteracting the harmful messages that are ever-present in our toxic media culture, but as a way of reinforcing the goodness and beauty we all carry within ourselves.

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2 Comments

Filed under children, homophobia, media, mental health, psychological research, religion

2 responses to “A stranger in our home

  1. I like the quote on strangers from Waldorf, and I like your conclusion (to surround ourselves with as much positive messaging as possible, both to counteract harm and reinforce innate goodness).

    I am concerned about judging this as bad: “participants who watched a reality show involving cosmetic surgery were more likely to desire surgery for themselves than participants who watched a show with a neutral message.”

    Saying that cosmetic desires affect our well-being in a negative way is an unnecessary judgment call. I think there’s something suspicious about valuing cosmetic superficiality, but imagine this: if you could alter one aspect of your self-expression that would increase your charismatic influence, would you do it? If it’s a simple personal habit like saying “please” and not picking your nose in public, you’d accept that desired change. If someone feels that their nose shape interferes with their interaction with others, then who are we to judge their feelings or decisions?

    As a trans woman, I have to fight health insurance because the procedures my doctor (and international medical organizations!) indicate are “medically necessary” for me are excluded by policy administrators as “cosmetic” procedures. I have all too much experience arguing the distinction between cosmetic vanity and reconstructive necessity. While there is a distinct difference between negative body image and dysphoria, trans women additionally experience significant social ostracism from facial deformities caused by testosterone poisoning. As the WPATH SOC states, “for certain patients an intervention like a reduction rhinoplasty can have a radical and permanent effect on their quality of life, and therefore, is much more medically necessary than for somebody without gender dysphoria.”

    Where do you draw the line when most plastic surgery mixes reconstructive and cosmetic components? However that discussion plays out, one thing is clear: it’s difficult to dismiss “cosmetic” surgery as vain or harmful.

  2. Sometimes my cisgender blinders are working on overdrive, and this was one of those instances. Transilhouette, you make an excellent point. I have a feeling that the researchers who conducted that study had their cisgender blinders on, too. I hope the intent of my post came through – the idea that we do have some control over the messaging we allow into our space. I would also hope that, for trans and cis people, the choice to have cosmetic or reconstructive surgery would come from a self-empowering place, rather than as a result of the media making that person feel like shit about themselves.

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