Recently, while on vacation in New Orleans for Mardi Gras and visiting family, we stayed at my sister’s house. She was kind enough to let us have her place while she found accommodations elsewhere. She moved in to this place herself not too long ago and was proud to point out to us the brand new, gigantic, flat-panel television and full Cable TV package she purchased slightly before our arrival. She felt that our four year old daughter Beatrix would especially get a kick over having so many kids channels to watch on such a big screen.
Now, we don’t watch what someone my age would consider a traditional television at home. We do own one — a 15 year old CRT model that resides in our third floor office loft. That said it is very rarely turned on. We don’t subscribe to Cable TV. It is connected to a not much newer DVD player. The digital converter and antenna we have for it have not been hooked up for a couple of years. Beatrix will occasionally remember it when we are up there and shove a DVD in the player to watch. That is the extent of its use.
When we want to watch things like movies and shows, we do so using streaming services on a three generation old iMac 20 inch that resides in our library/den. This means mostly Netflix unless available for streaming otherwise (Hulu, Amazon, iTunes, direct from the show’s website, etc.). One can safely assume that if it is not available via online streaming then we likely have not watched it.
I say all of this to set up the fact that Beatrix has little idea of how traditional TV works and seeing her first real exposure to it was enlightening to say the least.
The first time came after attempting to walk to a parade a few blocks away and getting caught in one of the area’s famous torrential downpour rainstorms and having to turn back. Wet from head to toe and cold, we figured finding something fun for Beatrix to watch on that great big screen would lessen Beatrix’s disappointment at missing the parade. After scrolling through what seemed like a hundred options in the built-in program guide, I finally found a channel that had something on that would hold her interest — Shrek.
I turn to that, Beatrix approves, and we watch. Then, a few minutes later, a commercial comes on. The volume difference is jarring to say the least. I would safely guess it is fifty percent louder than the show. I hurriedly reach for the remote and turn it down…
“Why did you turn the movie off, Daddy?”, Beatrix worriedly asks, as if she has done something wrong and is being punished by having her entertainment interrupted. She thinks that’s what I was doing by rushing for the remote.
“I didn’t turn it off, honey. This is just a commercial. I was turning the volume down because it was so loud. Shrek will come back on in a few minutes” I say.
“Did it break?”, she asks. It does sometimes happen at home that Flash or Silverlight implode, interrupt her show, and I have to fix it.
“No. It’s just a commercial.”
“What’s a commercial?”, she asks.
”It is like little shows where they tell you about other shows and toys and snacks.”, I explain.
“Well the TV people think you might like to know about this stuff.”
“This is boring! I want to watch Shrek.”
“I know, honey. It will be on in a bit. Just be patient.”
The show eventually comes back on. I reach for the remote to turn the volume back up. We can barely hear it now. The difference in volume between the show and the commercial is shocking and I don’t remember it being this bad when I did watch television regularly. Perhaps it is only like this on kids channels. I wouldn’t know.
Of course, not more than ten minutes later, the movie is once again interrupted by a round of commercials.
“Why did they stop the movie again?” Beatrix, asks. Thus leading to essentially the same conversation as before. She just does not understand why one would want to watch anything this way. It’s boring and frustrating. She makes it through the end of the movie but has little interest in watching more. She’d rather play. The television is never turned on again during our stay.
A few days later and on our way back home, after a long day of driving, we arrive at a hotel. We check in, unpack the car of our essentials, make it to the room, and settle in for the night. There was a television in the room with some select Cable TV stations and Beatrix asked if she could watch a show. Sure, I said, so I turned it on, and flipped it to what appeared to be a kids channel. There was a commercial on.
“Is this a show?”, she asked.
“No. This is a commercial, we have to wait for the show to come on.”
I now realize, in hindsight, that she did not understand that all televisions work this way. She thought it was only the one in my sister’s place that was “broken” and “boring”. In her mind, this was a new TV and thus should work differently.
Then, a commercial for The Secret World of Arrietty comes on.
“This! I want to watch this!”, Beatrix exclaims.
“We can’t honey. It’s not out yet. It’s just a commercial.”, I say. She seems more confused so I try an analogy.
“You know when we go to a movie theater, and they show you previews of movies that are not out yet before the real movie? It’s like that.”
“Oh.”, she resigns. Not sure she gets this but I think the television executives and I have finally worn down her curious resolve.
When the commercials are over, it is some live action teen show. She is not impressed.
“Can I choose?”, Beatrix asks. She’s still confused. She thinks this is like home where one can choose from a selection of things to watch. A well organized list of suggestions and options with clear box cover shots of all of her favorites. I have to explain again that it does not work that way on television. That we have to watch whatever is on and, if there is nothing you want to watch that is on then you just have to turn it off. Which we do.
I then do what I should have simply done in the first place. I hook up the iPad to the free hotel wifi and hand it to her. She fires up the Netflix app, chooses a show, and she is happy.
This, she gets. This makes sense.