If you tried to describe the unique writing style of Ellen Currey-Wilson in her first book, “The Big Turnoff: Confessions of a TV-addicted mom trying to raise a TV-free kid,” you’d have to place her somewhere between an Erma Bombeck and a Phyliss Diller.
But what she has written is a fresh, candid and humorous memoir about going off television cold turkey after she discovered she was pregnant with her son, Casey, and decided she wanted to raise him to be an imaginative, intelligent, well-balanced child and not addicted to television as she was.
When she sat down to write this book, she said she “didn’t censor myself or think about trying to impress anyone.” What she did was write from the heart and let her hidden, off-the-wall humor emerge.
“I was able to step back a little and not take myself so seriously. I think it made for better writing.”
While the book is indeed humorous, her subject matter is serious. She wants America to turn off the TV and get back to living in this media-crazed world. While she admits to owning one television set which she says is kept in a store room, and confesses to watching it for a limited two to three hours a week, that is quite a comedown from the 14 hours a day she said she watched TV during her addiction.
She first got an inkling that children were watching too much television when she was teaching the fourth grade and surveyed her students about television watching although she had already come to the conclusion it was not in the best interest of children.
The reader will quickly discover that Currey-Wilson was a TV junkie who was obsessed with watching sitcoms, dramas, game shows, talk shows and even admits to having withdrawal pains when she decided to unplug her life.
Today, this Portland, Ore., mother is a crusader on how seriously commercial media intrudes and influences our daily lives. She says when she finally stopped watching reruns of Seinfield, she took her crusade to her son’s school and started inspiring parents to get unplugged. She now offers TV-free parenting workshops to the public.
As a result of her campaign, TV Turnoff Week is a national campaign that will be held next week from Monday through Sunday.
This is her first book, but she plans to write others, perhaps straying into fiction, but keeping her humorous approach.
In providing the workshops, she says she has discovered that many parents are excited about TV Turnoff Week and says one of the comments she got was, “I want my child to know what real life is like for a whole week.”
“In my follow-up interviews I have learned that when families discover all the activities they have time to do together, they are happy to keep the set turned off more often,” she said.
While she admits she is not totally opposed to television, “the content of many programs concerns me, but I am equally concerned about the passive nature of the viewing experience itself, particularly for young children. Mostly, I’m afraid we are just getting kids hooked on television at a younger and younger age.”
Currey-Wilson is particularly concerned about the commercials. “Most of them are for junk food and junky toys. I would like to see us follow the European countries that drastically limit marketing to kids on television.”
While Currey-Wilson is serious about her efforts to change America’s TV viewing habits, her approach in this book is laugh out loud humor in which she pokes fun at her own efforts to wean herself from television and worrying that her son will be ostracized for not knowing the theme song to Sesame Street.
Television itself could learn much from Currey-Wilson’s confessions. The challenge is not so much to turn off the TV, but to explore the wonderful opportunity television has to greatly improve itself.
Bill Duncan, 19 April 2007