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The Chocolate Factory and Disconnecting the TV

July 12, 2010

Mrs Teavee let out a scream of horror. “You mean only half of Mike is coming back to us?” she cried.

“Let’s hope it’s the top half”, said Mr Teavee.

It’s happening again – I’m reaching the end of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory with my boys, and I’m starting to get emotional. Mike Teavee, the technology-addicted child has just become the first human to be teleported by TV (with all the unfortunate side-effects that produces). In just a couple of chapters Charlie will receive the promise of the whole chocolate factory.

I can’t help but think of The Chocolate Factory as Roald Dahl’s Beatitudes. Poor Charlie Bucket inherits the earth while various other stereotypically awful children get their just desserts (did Dahl actually like children?!). Embarassingly, I can’t read the final chapters without a lump in my throat as Mr Wonka explodes Charlie’s expectations and flies in to rescue his grandparents.

But this week the story has special relevance. We’ve disconnected the TV, something Roald Dahl would definitely have approved of. His poem about TV (below) makes clear how unimpressed he was with the Telly – hence the rather messy come-uppance suffered by Mike Teavee in Chapter 27.

How will we manage without a TV? How long will we last? Til Thursday? But this is as good a chance as we’ll get to see if we can survive on Planet Reality. Can I survive without football highlights? Will I be able to relax? Will the new online broadcasting make more acheivable the TV-less life we’ve toyed with for years now?

We shall see. But one thing is certain – Roald Dahl knew plenty about children’s imaginations. He may occasionally have forgotten that books count as technology too, with their own pitfalls and drawbacks. But he was probably right that TV easily over-extends its reach into children’s mental lives. I’ll leave the last words to him (from chapter 27 of The Chocolate Factory):

The most important thing we’ve learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
Them near your television set —

Or better still, just don’t install
The idiotic thing at all.
In almost every house we’ve been,
We’ve watched them gaping at the screen.
They loll and slop and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out.
(Last week in someone’s place we saw
A dozen eyeballs on the floor.)
They sit and stare and stare and sit
Until they’re hypnotised by it,
Until they’re absolutely drunk
With all that shocking ghastly junk.
Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
They don’t climb out the window sill,
They never fight or kick or punch,
They leave you free to cook the lunch
And wash the dishes in the sink —
But did you ever stop to think,
To wonder just exactly what
This does to your beloved tot?
IT ROTS THE SENSE IN THE HEAD!
IT KILLS IMAGINATION DEAD!
IT CLOGS AND CLUTTERS UP THE MIND!
IT MAKES A CHILD SO DULL AND BLIND
HE CAN NO LONGER UNDERSTAND
A FANTASY, A FAIRYLAND!
HIS BRAIN BECOMES AS SOFT AS CHEESE!
HIS POWERS OF THINKING RUST AND FREEZE!
HE CANNOT THINK — HE ONLY SEES!
‘All right!’ you’ll cry. ‘All right!’ you’ll say,
‘But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children? Please explain!’
We’ll answer this by asking you,
‘What used the darling ones to do?
‘How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?’
Have you forgotten? Don’t you know?
We’ll say it very loud and slow:
THEY … USED … TO … READ! They’d READ and READ,
AND READ and READ, and then proceed
To READ some more. Great Scott! Gadzooks!
One half their lives
was reading books!
The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!
And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
Such wondrous, fine, fantastic tales
Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales
And treasure isles, and distant shores
Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,
And pirates wearing purple pants,
And sailing ships and elephants,
And cannibals crouching ’round the pot,
Stirring away at something hot.
(It smells so good, what can it be?
Good gracious, it’s Penelope.)
The younger ones had Beatrix Potter
With Mr. Tod, the dirty rotter,
And Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland,
And Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and-
Just How The Camel Got His Hump,
And How the Monkey Lost His Rump,
And Mr. Toad, and bless my soul,
There’s Mr. Rate and Mr. Mole-
Oh, books, what books they used to know,
Those children living long ago!
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks-
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They’ll now begin to feel the need
Of having something to read.
And once they start — oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hearts. They’ll grow so keen
They’ll wonder what they’d ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did.

2 Comments leave one →
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