When I came to write up my Ph.D thesis about TV in India, mid 90s, I soon realised that the moral nervousness about the medium in India was the playing out of similar debates that had occurred wherever TV had arrived into unsuspecting households. I found a self-published book by a concerned man, one Martin Large, eager to communicate the dangers of television for children, in which Roald Dahl’s poem was quoted.
The most important thing we’ve learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
Them near your television set…
In almost every house we’ve been,
We’ve watched them gaping at the screen.
They loll and slop and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out…
Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
They don’t climb out the window sill,
They never fight or kick or punch,
They leave you free to cook the lunch…
“All right!” you’ll cry. “All right!” you’ll say,
“But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children! Please explain!”
We’ll answer this by asking you,
“What used the darling ones to do?
How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?”
Advice on Television – Roald Dahl, quoted in Who’s Bringing Them Up? Television and Child Development. Large, M. 1980. Stroud: Michael Large for the TV Action Group.
I wondered what Martin Large is up to nowadays. Thanks to the wonders of the interweb it’s easy to find out. Turns out he runs a publishing company: “family printing tradition goes back several hundred years… an old family tradition has it that the printer and publisher William Caxton was an apprentice with a John Large, to a Robert Large in the City of London who traded in books and paper.”
A belief in the sanctity of the written word is somewhat unsurprising given this background.
But he has updated his 1980 treatise and written Set Free Childhood: A Parents’ survival guide to coping with computers and TV. Different technology, same debates and concerns. History continues to repeat itself.