As a child, TV was more than just convenient leisure. I felt like more than just a consumer. I find it strange that Nick Couldry in his ethnographic article ‘Theorising media as practice’ (2004) identifies these as some of the key qualities of a child’s television watching.
As a more-lonely-than-not child, I survived on a steady diet of other worlds fed to me directly from the ‘hands’ of the TV. To me it was an escape; an adventure all laid out for me.
And it always had a happy ending.
I do however find that Couldry’s remarks upon the diminishing parental mediation of their children’s television viewing are relatable. I am thankful that my parents were relaxed in this sense as it allowed me the space to experiment with my watching habits and find content that I enjoyed.
Couldry observes that parents would decreasingly regulate the length of their child’s TV screen-time. True for me.
He also points out that parents would not evaluate what their child was watching with so much stringency. Again, true for me—I was watching Lord of the Rings before I was watching Disney (and I still love it).
Lastly, he also notes that co-use of the television with children declined, meaning there was less discussion about the programs. Also true.
Of the few fragmented memories of my childhood TV watching, these are clearest:
After school. Come home, find a snack. Sit in front of the TV, channel on ABC Kids/ABC3; don’t move until Rollercoaster ends at 6pm and the news starts.
School holidays. I stayed in and watched all ten seasons of Stargate SG1. Then all five seasons of Stargate Atlantis. It was addictive; I did this way too much. I still do this sometimes (don’t judge me).
As I grew older my relationship with TV changed. In high school I would only switch on for reality TV.
The other memory I have is unique against the rest.
I had just come home from school, probably my last day for the year. I got a strange text from my dad, something along the lines of ‘Don’t go into Sydney’. It confused me. Some instinct that told me to turn the TV on like I used to all those years before.
What I saw filled me with dread. A terror attack. Martin Place, Sydney. Hostages, snipers, telephone demands–a siege. Endless loops of news reporters saying the same things. Waiting for new information and hoping something would change. Praying.
It was in that moment I wished that my parents would come home from work and sit with me. Turn the TV off, change the channel, talk to me about it, mediate what I was doing somehow. But they wouldn’t.
What had once been a security blanket had become a window into the darkest parts of the world. And I didn’t like what I saw.
Without at first realising it, from then on, I chose for my media consumption to come from a controllable place on my computer. From streaming services and social media.
But I’ll never forget what it was like that day. The sun blaring through the window; my legs sticking to the leather couch. My eyes burning into the screen, and my fear ice-cold.
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Couldry, N 2004, ‘Theorising Media as practice’, Social Semiotics, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 115-130