TV the Great Escape: Life-Changing Stories from Those Who Dared to Take Control


Ever since television first illuminated living rooms across America, it has made us laugh and cry, shout with anger and joy, and challenged and changed us with the images it brought us. Slowly, as its technologies have developed over the years, so has our dependence on it. Today many of us would reluctantly admit that we don't know what we'd do without our TVs.

Bob DeMoss, a culture and media expert, describes the possibilities. Combining humor, time-tested advice from 18 years...

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Ever since television first illuminated living rooms across America, it has made us laugh and cry, shout with anger and joy, and challenged and changed us with the images it brought us. Slowly, as its technologies have developed over the years, so has our dependence on it. Today many of us would reluctantly admit that we don't know what we'd do without our TVs.

Bob DeMoss, a culture and media expert, describes the possibilities. Combining humor, time-tested advice from 18 years spent studying the medium, and feedback from more than 50 families who agreed to turn off their TVs for a month, he holds out hope for regaining control of the television in your home. Thought-provoking daily readings that address our relationship with TV from a biblical perspective will motivate, instruct, and sustain your family if you take the "great escape" challenge. DeMoss doesn't call for a permanent boycott; instead, he invites your family to find a balance in your viewing and rediscover the riches real life has to offer.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781581342420
  • Publisher: Crossway Books
  • Publication date: 9/1/2005
  • Pages: 206
  • Product dimensions: 5.53 (w) x 8.52 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Before There Was TV

I find television very educational.
Every time someone switches it on I go into
another room and read a good book.


In January 1980, a twin-propeller plane pierced the clouds above Arctic Village, Alaska, and landed in the fresh mantle of snow that blanketed the perpetually frozen earth. A lone figure bounded out, opened the rear cargo compartment, and retrieved a strange but unique gift—a twelve-inch black-and-white TV set. The rumor that this amazing box refused to stop talking spread quickly through the Indian tribe.

    Gideon James, the happy new owner, carefully carried the TV to his log cabin and, with a host of fellow tribesmen who had crowded into his tiny home, watched channel 9 until two in the morning. That's when the only station they could receive 150 miles above the Arctic Circle finally signed off.

    True, few understood the jokes told by the gray-headed, snickering white man named Johnny Carson whose image first filled the tiny screen. But like the pull of a magnet, the talking box drew them irresistibly. These brave Indian tribesmen were powerless to tear themselves away from the surreal spectacle. It was as if the TV had cast a hypnotic spell over the willing subjects who had focused on the grainy picture flickering before them.

    Todd Lewan, a reporter from the Associated Press, chronicled the impact of TV on this tiny community of ninety-six people. He spoke with a twenty-five-year-old Indian whorecalled that "I wanted to watch it and watch it and watch it. I woke up at 6 A.M. to watch it more. I did this for two weeks. When I went out in the country to hunt, all I could hear was the TV in my head."

    Today, Lewan reported, all sixty-seven of the cabins in Arctic Village have at least one TV set. And with the introduction of television, he discovered that the mothers, who for centuries had made ice cream from caribou bone powder and river slush, now craved Ben & Jerry's. They gave up making "tundra tea" from alpine spruce needles, insisting on Folger's instant coffee.

    Moccasins were traded in for Nikes.

    Wood stoves got zapped by microwave ovens.

    Legendary tales around the campfire were exchanged for the latest Seinfeld or Simpson episode.

    Little did this ancient Indian tribe know that their way of life would be changed forever—for the worse.

    Looking back, Gideon James, a member of the Tribal Council, observed, "The TV teaches greed. It shows our people a world that is not ours. It makes us wish we were something else."

    Fellow tribesman James John, at thirty-seven, sounded bitter as he remembered a more vibrant community life prior to the arrival of the unstoppable talking box. "Before the TV, we were a tough people," he lamented. "Not anymore. Now people only go hunting if they have a four-wheeler." And the kids? "All they do now is play board games, watch TV, act like they've done it all."

    Twenty years ago the arrival of television was highly anticipated as a good thing, a positive move in the right direction. It would connect this distant tribe to the rest of the globe, bringing them a step closer to being "civilized." Now the city fathers are left to wonder if the promise of TV was just a bad illusion.


Television's long arm of influence continued its reach around the globe, from the frozen tundra of Alaska to the Fiji Islands in the South Pacific. The first TV set landed in Fiji as recently as 1995. Prior to the arrival of television, the Fijians had this curious cultural belief that fat was fabulous.

    The bigger the body, the better. Large was in charge.

    Though hard to believe, for years those living in Fiji considered it a compliment when greeting a friend to say, "Looks like you've put on some weight! You look great!" I'm serious. And, ever-hungry for the perfectly robust bod, the Fijians had created various herbal potions that stimulated their appetite. Unlike our national obsession with getting "abs of steel," they sought "flabs of steel."

    But the arrival of Western culture via television's heavy dosage of Friends, Seinfeld, and Baywatch prompted girls in this island paradise to rethink their picture of beauty. Thanks largely to the (initially) one available channel, young women in Fiji came to believe that robust was revolting.

    Anthropologist and psychiatrist Anne Becker, a research director at Harvard's Eating Disorders Center, noted that the number of teens at risk for a variety of eating disorders (including anorexia and bulimia) more than doubled in Fiji in the three years since their introduction to TV. What's more, she discovered that the use of vomiting as a weight-control technique by high school girls increased fivefold during the same period.

    A mere coincidence?

    In her report Becker observed, "The acute and constant bombardment of certain images in the media are apparently quite influential in how teens experience their bodies. There's a huge disparity between what they see on television and what they look like themselves—that goes not only for clothing, hairstyles and skin color but size of bodies."

    Stories such as these cause me to wonder what, if any, the impact of TV-viewing is on the church. When we believers are drawn like moths to television's guiding light, it's only prudent to ask: How might our faith and our values be shaped by what we see?

    To that end I asked hundreds of folks from my church several questions in an informal TV survey. For a starter I asked, "How has television had a positive effect on your Christian growth?" I thought it was telling that many left the question unanswered. Some cited Touched by an Angel and 7th Heaven as examples of programming that had had a positive impact on their lives. A few pointed to the occasional special on the History or Discovery channel. But the overwhelming majority didn't perceive TV as a positive influence in their home.

    How about you?

    How has TV had a positive effect on your Christian growth?

    The second question was: "How has television had a negative effect on your Christian growth?" This time the respondents had much to say. Here's a sample:

    Anette said, "TV has had a gradually corrosive effect on what's acceptable to me. My standard for holiness can easily become the world's standard instead of God's standard."

    Allison said, "It desensitizes me and my family to violence, sex, and worldliness."

    Dwayna observed, "It robs me of precious moments I could have spent with God."

    Jordon said, "Television celebrates relativism and in a subtle way undermines God's absolute standards for my life."

    Gerry said, "I have often found myself numbly staring at it for hours. It dulls my mind and distracts me from important relationships and responsibilities."

    The majority confessed that TV usage in the home promoted laziness and was a huge "time-waster."

    Again let me put the question to you: "How has TV had a negative effect on your Christian growth?"


A handful of people took issue with the notion that there's anything wrong with the content of today's programming or its impact on them. They said I should "lighten up" because it's "only entertainment" and something they do to "unwind and relax."

    No biggie.

    A way to "de-stress" from a hectic day.

    Author John Marks Templeton disagrees with that notion. He notes: "Along with providing short-term relief from stress, television entertainment actually creates changes in the viewer that can prevent him from expressing his greatness." Templeton adds, "Individuals who watch television regularly become passive witnesses of what is projected onto the screen. As a result, they tend to become reactive rather than proactive in their approach to life."

    In other words, over time the viewer wallows in passivity.

    Real life requires too much effort.

    Creativity is left unexplored.

    Meaningful conversations are left unspoken.

    Relationships remain shallow.

    What's more, Templeton says, "Through extended periods of viewing, people tend to grow less discerning; they simply accept what they are shown without regard for the value of its message or aesthetic quality."

    Need proof?

    Four brief examples from TV land underline this concern.

    There's a popular television show sweeping the nation. In it people punch each other with the barbaric zeal of Attila the Hun, pull out their opponent's hair like a ravenous caveman protecting his turf, and spew enough coarse expletives to keep pace with a veteran sailor.

    Another night of pro wrestling? Good guess—but no.

    Just business as usual on the Jerry Springer Show.

    And millions of Americans are tuning in—upwards of eight million every day. What's the attraction? Kinky sex—a thirty-two-year-old divorced woman announcing her engagement to her nineteen-year-old stepson. Maybe it's a guest revealing his/her sex change to his/her spouse prior to their marriage. Transvestites. Hookers. Strippers.

    Nothing is sacred.

    Decadent themes such as these, which would never have been permitted twenty years ago, have propelled the Jerry Springer Show audience share to increase by nearly 200 percent in the last year. Springer, in a moment of rare self-disclosure, told an associate, "I know I'm going to hell for this."

    If our tastes are like the Titanic, then Springer's show is the tip of the scandalous iceberg destined to sink our sensibilities to a new low. Take, for instance, the deal CBS penned with Howard Stern in 1998. Even before the ink was dry, Stern went public to paint a picture of what viewers can expect from his warped imagination. In a press conference he explained, "We'll have sex and nudity and lesbians. Standards have gone down to an all-time low, and I'm here to represent it. It's a miracle; I prayed to God for this."

    Although not known for his promotion of traditional family values, Woody Allen got it right when he observed, "In Beverly Hills they don't throw their garbage away. They make it into television shows."

    Comedy Central's South Park could be considered that kind of trash. Here four animated cartoon tykes wallow in toilet humor and debasing themes. A recent episode entitled "Cartman Gets an Anal Probe" might even make MTV's Beavis and Butthead blush. Flaming flatulence and mutilated animals are all played for laughs in South Park. The show is routinely given television's strictest rating of TV-14.

    If cartoons aren't your bag, the WB network hopes you'll join the action on Dawson's Creek—their highest rated show. Each week there's a one-in-three chance that your teenage daughter will be watching. What will she see? Past story lines have included teacher-student sex, adultery, and impotence. Themes such as these prompt the frequent TV-14 rating.

    The evidence suggests that our current cultural climate is unencumbered by a moral compass. As a nation we've traded in reason for a rating system. Common sense for corporate irresponsibility.

    Our morally numb society prefers to engage their recliner rather than their brains. This lack of discretion on our part ultimately fuels the networks' race to be racy.

    And a generation of young eyes are glued to the screen.

    Have I overstated the problem?

    Let's take an inventory of the facts.

    First, a study of more than 3,000 children in the United States funded by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 53 percent of all children ages two to eighteen years old now have a television set in their bedroom. Worse, almost half (49 percent) claimed that their parents had provided no rules about what they could and couldn't watch. While many parents have abdicated their God-given responsibility to "train a child in the way he should go," the media elite who have assumed that role have, in their collective wisdom, continued to push the boundaries of decency and acceptability.

    During the final months of 1999, the Parents' Television Council compared the content of television shows during the prime time "family hour" with the same period just two years prior in 1997. They found:

    Violence was up 86 percent.

    Sexual content was up 77 percent.

    Foul language rose 58 percent.

    Gary Levin, a columnist for USA Today, during the fall of 1999 echoed my concern: "TV was once so pure you couldn't show a roll of toilet paper in a commercial. Today, critics say, TV often resembles a toilet. Never mind protecting the kids from the suggestive banter on Friends: Prime time is saturated with sex, and more explicitly so than ever. A look at the TV season that's unfolding this week will leave even jaded viewers stunned at what they see. A scene in Fox's upcoming Manchester Prep shows a teen lustily eyeing her stepbrother's manhood in the shower. And the word penis is nearly as ubiquitous as the laugh track this fall."

    Columnist John Leo puts it this way: "In the old days, the Brady Bunch never thought about sex, as far as we knew. Their modern counterparts on TV never think about anything else." He adds, "These shows are also carriers of heavy cultural messages, the most obvious being that parents are fools. In the teen soap operas, parents are absent, stupid, irrelevant, zanily adulterous, on the lam, or in jail. The unmistakable message is that kids are on their own, with no need to listen to parents, who know little or nothing anyway."

    And, according to a study commissioned by the Shell Oil Company, 60 percent of Americans believe the decline in moral values is the most pressing problem facing the nation. The report surveyed adults to identify what, in their view, were the leading factors contributing to this decline. Families not teaching children good values topped their list (88 percent). The rise in drug abuse was second (83 percent), and the fact that society is too tolerant of bad behavior placed third (80 percent). Fully 73 percent polled said "adult language/sexually explicit TV" contributed to our country's deteriorating morality.

    When it's all said and done, the only "winners" are the cash-hungry corporate sponsors and the equally greedy network executives who pollute the public airwaves by putting profits ahead of social responsibility. And yet can we blame them when millions of us, including a vast audience of churchgoing believers, continue to demonstrate an unwillingness to demand better?


Everywhere television has been introduced, change happens. Some of those changes have been important, even valuable. But more often than not, the changes are undesirable. Why? In TV land it's the value system of a few that is inflicted on the many. In turn, the many make changes in their lives based upon the view from the few.

    As the picture of life presented by the few becomes increasingly tarnished, the changes that take place in the rest of us—if we're honest—are alarming. We've come to tolerate the intolerable. It's been said, television brings people into our living rooms whom we wouldn't permit to come through the front door.

    What's worse, we've wasted our precious time feeding on electronic Twinkies. Above and beyond all this, the real tragedy is something else: Our excessive TV indulgence robs us of precious time that can never be replaced. A conversation with a child struggling with homework, a helpful phone call to someone in need, reading a book that might elevate our spirits and stimulate our imagination—these opportunities are lost forever.

    If, as I and other conservative media pundits maintain, television's influence on society is largely negative, what's a poor couch potato to do? Some have proposed participation in a letter-writing campaign to network executives. Others prefer boycotting advertisers. And, of late, there are those who favor the longer-term strategy of "infiltrating" Hollywood with writers, actors, and producers who possess a Judeo-Christian perspective.

    While each of these approaches has merit, there's another option. I believe this alternative can produce the fastest results for your family. It's simply to send your TV on an extended vacation. Give it a rest for, say, thirty days and watch what happens!

    I believe that the simple decision to unplug TV for a month has the power to revolutionize our relationships with our spouse, our children, our world, and most importantly with our God. How? It's a matter of our focus. In the words of the apostle Paul: "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things" (Col. 3:1-2).

    Take, for instance, Tom and Vicki from Jacksonville, Florida. They were fed up with the state of television and needed to change the focus in their home. They decided out of desperation to give my thirty-day TV-free challenge a try. After just a handful of days they sent me this note: "Bob, our children who never get along, much less play together, are getting along and playing together. We even put them in the same bedroom! It's really weird. It makes we wonder if the TV had something to do with it since that's the only thing that has changed."

    And James and Debbie from Austin, Texas, told me, "The greatest gift to me of having the TV off for a month has been the gift of time. Time for the kids' imaginations to take hold to creatively express themselves."

    Later you'll read what many others have eagerly reported.

    Are you ready for a radical change? Do you desire to take back the control of your life from TV and begin really living? Would you value a more balanced role for television in your home? Great! In the pages ahead I'll show you and your family how to really fall in love with life in a whole new way.

    I assure you the rewards are remarkable for those who try!

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 9
Foreword 11
Introduction 13
Part I Hollywood Squares
1 Before There Was TV 21
2 Try It--You'll Like It 31
3 Whose Idea Was This, Anyway? 41
4 What, No Barney? 49
5 It's All in Your Mind 55
6 Rediscovering Radio 65
7 Journal the Journey 77
Part II And Now a Word from Our Sponsor
Day 1 Guard Your Heart 95
Day 2 You Are Dismissed 99
Day 3 Know Your Stuff 102
Day 4 Cultivating Contentment 105
Day 5 Proper Speech 109
Day 6 Galactic Implications 112
Day 7 A Matter of Time 115
Day 8 A Bridge of Friendship 119
Day 9 Making Memories 122
Day 10 Fear Not Failure 125
Day 11 When You Haven't Got a Prayer 128
Day 12 Too Close to the Flame 132
Day 13 Backstage Bloopers 135
Day 14 Food for Thought 138
Day 15 Treasure Island 141
Day 16 Spicy Speech 144
Day 17 Busting Blockbuster 147
Day 18 Tempting Temptation 150
Day 19 Genuine Imitation 153
Day 20 It's the Real Thing 156
Day 21 How's the Water? 159
Day 22 Use It or Lose It 162
Day 23 Greed Feeder 165
Day 24 Space Invader 168
Day 25 The Silver-Screen Shuffle 171
Day 26 Spare the Rod 174
Day 27 Let's Make a Deal 178
Day 28 Be Your Own V-Chip 181
Day 29 There Is a Season 184
Day 30 Watch What You Watch 187
Afterword: Life Can Be Rosy Without Rosie 190
Appendix A The Journal of Carl and Jennifer 198
Appendix B The Five-Minute TV Survey 204
Other Resources from Bob Demoss 207
Notes 208
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