Forty-Two Inches

Family watching television, c. 1958

The Good Old Days: before large flat screen TVs. Image via Wikipedia

Gareth Higgins (the man who is bringing us the Wild Goose Festival) stayed at our  house earlier this week. He was in town for the the 2010 Emergent Village Theological Conversation. Yesterday morning before leaving, he teased me a bit. Noting that we have in our otherwise rather modestly appointed home a 42″ flat screen television, he asked me how a “hippie Christian” like me could have such a blatantly materialistic object.

Without thinking, I became defensive, and I’m afraid to say, rather unpleasantly so. “We have that television primarily for Rhiannon,” I said curtly. “She has so few pleasures in her life, we bought her the best TV we could afford.”

Gareth, gentleman that he is, hastened to reassure me that he was only joshing me, and noted ruefully that it’s embarrassing to be a professional film critic (as he is) and yet have so many friends with better TV’s than his own!

Like so many men, ours is a warm friendship shot through by banter, and I quickly regained my composure with him. But I’m left pondering about how quickly defensive I became. Partially it’s because I rather disapprove of television myself (I think Jerry Mander has got it about right). And yet, in all truth, I do enjoy our television, which is nowhere near the largest of consumer TV’s but is more than adequate for our small home. So I live in the tension of enjoying it and not-enjoying it. Add to that all the pain that lies beneath having a child for whom most of life’s pleasures are denied her by her handicap, and wanting her to enjoy something which, again, I have deeply ambivalent feelings about — and I suppose it’s not surprising that I so quickly became defensive in response to an innocent line of teasing.

How rich we human beings are, and how profound our sometimes complex and contradictory ways of being in the world. To admit that I like something that another part of me disapproves of: this is a tricky matter. To recognize that my disapproval has been “out voted” by that part of me which likes the thing I disapprove of, along with my desire to care for someone else (like Rhiannon), requires both self-awareness and a liberal dose of humility. And then, not to get defensive when someone teases me right in the cross hairs of this kind of personal paradox: there is a skill I have yet to learn, alas!

Living with Hospice
A Gift for Lorraine
Seven Lessons I'm Learning on the Grief Journey
Rhiannon's Vigil and Funeral
  • Darrell Grizzle

    Dude, I didn’t know you have a 42-inch TV! I suffered through watching the Soccer World Cup this summer on my tiny little 27-inch TV! Next year I’m at your house for ALL the games of the Rugby World Cup! Go ahead and stock up on Hobgoblin Dark English Ale for me and my mates.

  • Carl McColman

    I am embarrassed by the fact that I have such a large television and I usually keep it hidden. But, alas, Gareth found me out.

  • Tony

    It’s not the TV per se…it’s your relationship to it. Like guns and alcohol, television is capable of both great good and great harm. Context matters.

  • Mary

    Have you thought that underneath it all, the defensive response was actually perceived as an attack on your Ego? It really didn’t have anything to do with the Pros and Cons of size and viewing choices. Ego just loves to justify itself.

  • Laura M. LaVoie

    I think I kind of have an issue with the fact that you feel the need to be embarassed and ashamed by owning a televison, no matter how big or small. Not specifically with you, of course, but with the fact that there are parts of our society that feel owning a television or a big television or owning anything they don’t own is somehow wrong or shameful. You know what, I *love* television. I love the art of television, I love the writing, the directing, the acting. I think it is a powerful and meaningful entertainment medium and I don’t think that anyone should feel as though they are hiding a bad habit or doing something illegal because they watch or own a television. In fact, I love television so much I’ve become an entertaniment blogger for the Juggler, a PNC blog. There should be no reason anyone has to justify their own choices or lifestyle to anyone else, period.

  • Carl McColman

    Mary: of course it’s about ego, which is why I felt it was worth blogging about!
    Laura: oh no! Now I have to be embarrassed about being embarrassed about owning a large television! :-) Seriously, though, despite the part of me that is Jerry-Mander-esque, in general my embarrassment is not so much about the TV, as about the size. Not exactly consistent with my stated values of living simply. But again, the point of this post is how messy life is, and how we so rarely live up to (or down to) our “stated values.”

  • tana

    We have a newly-aquired 60″, this after our 52″ bit the dust. This is part of being in a marriage – if I were living alone I would not have a television and I would not pay the cable bill, which is more embarrassing than the TV. (Think of the people who could be fed with the $eh-hem dollars.) But, it is a joy for my husband who likes his baseball and football and scyfy channel.

    My problem is in not succumbing to it. Because it’s here, it’s an easy escape, and I love stories. I love to laugh. It’s an easy go-to when I’m tired.

    I have to remember that the thing is not the enemy. It’s the way in which the thing is used, the way the thing can be idolized. Having more things means making more choices and more opportunities to fail myself and thusly, others. The cable bill is not the enemy. The television is not the enemy. It’s another opportunity to find balance in my life and to practice self-control.

  • Carl McColman

    Well said, Tana.

  • Amhas Jack

    Thanks for being with us in Portland this past week. I really enjoyed listening to you speak and I can now even better understand and realized so much more about what you discussed in your recent book, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism.
    I look forward to your new book and being there when next you return to the Pacific Northwest.
    Yours in Christ.
    Amhas Jack

  • maggi sale

    Aye! That Celtic form of humour can rebound when we least expect it! His first words as Gareth entered my Glasgow home was “Ah! A mystic’s home!” I am now wondering if I was missing something!

  • Cheryl Bryant-Rushing

    When I moved into my third story apartment nearly twenty years ago, I told my daughter that we couldn’t get television as we were “up too high.” Recently divorced, I determined — Garp-style– to raise my nine year old without any ( including media) contribution. A place of peace, this loft up in the trees with classical music softly in the background, that’s how I pictured our life together…

    People often asked where we kept the television. In those early years my ego often answered in attack. Aloud, I marveled anyone had time to watch television, and furthermore; why would a conscious adult sacrifice precious moments of their life to watch imaginary characters live imaginary lives? “Participation is the name of this game,” I continued, unable to rein my opinion in, “life is too rich and too short to relegate oneself to an observer,” I concluded, my voice shrilly puncturing the peace of my TV-less environment.

    It took years of solitude to learn each person navigates their own way through life and how they do so is none of my business. . . I thoroughly enjoyed your post today! I love your self-honesty and candor. Your blog is a delight. Transparency is a rare talent for a writer, kudos.

    P.S. By the way, my daughter now 27, single and living alone, (selectively) watches TV. She thoroughly enjoys it.

  • tana

    Carl – thank you.

    Cheryl – wonderful post. I think we’ve all been there about some ideology in our lives. It’s a totally relate-able post.

  • mike

    You should be more than embarassed. Using your daughter’s situation to cover your self interest in this was more on the line of shabby. Every materialist has a ready at need excuse for specific materialism. And the planet can go to hell while you do not.

    • Carl McColman

      Mike, with all due respect, you’re assuming an awful lot here.

  • tana

    Mike. I’m going to be a little more direct and say that your comment has a hateful tone to it.

  • Pallas Renatus

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while, Carl, and one of the recurring things that impresses me is how honest you are about your own motivations and reactions, even with yourself (which is often the hardest person to be honest to!). I’d like to thank you for sharing, as it continually gives me something to aspire to.

  • mike


    I apologize to you and your readers for making my profound distaste for America’s appartently endless taste for consuming endless quantities and sizes of stuff to no particular end so personal. It is great that your child enjoys the television.

    I also have a child and I fear the world she will inherit will be unlivable. There is simply no excuse for this.

  • Carl McColman

    Thanks, Mike. And I hear you. I think it would be wise for everyone in North America to seriously consider ways to reduce our level of consumption.

  • zoecarnate

    That Gareth. What a troublemaker…