Family Ties

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 23, 2001


Getting a game show education As the school-free children sat lifeless in front of the television, my son drooled out the words, “I can’t believe I’m watching Martha Stewart Living.'” From the kitchen I strained to hear Martha’s austere theme music. He wasn’t joking! He was disgusted that he was cableless and had to resort to such programming. I was disgusted that he was so persistent in his need to waste time that he had to resort to such programming. I sneered, “What does that tell you?,” expecting him to admit the error of his ways. He would surely confess something like, “You’re right; we’re watching too much television,” and get up to turn it off. His completely unrepentant answer woke me from my delusional reverie. “It means we need a satellite,” he mumbled, captivated by Martha’s methodic instructions for refluffing used cotton balls to make a coonskin cap. Martha does have some interesting ideas, but I don’t know when they’ll ever need to use the skills she demonstrates, such as potting bulbs and antiquing a chair. Nevertheless, children do have a minimum daily requirement of television, don’t they? Especially in summer. And Martha is far less nefarious than lots of other programming the poor, cableless among us have to suffer. Besides, in our home, she’s just the warm up act for the real deal. The main attraction in this house is the The Price is Right.’ Talk about skewed demographics! Aside from the wildly hopping devotees on contestants row, the audience for this show is old, but also very young. My husband misses the allure of The Price is Right.’ To him, it is just a loud and obnoxious distraction as he tries to work. The man rarely shouts, but I could set my clock by the frustrated command of “Turn that down!,” that comes from the vicinity of his office every weekday morning around 10:08. He does not understand what an education the children receive from this program. Even the children do not understand the learning opportunities available with this show. They are just watching to see host Bob Barker defend himself from very oversized flying flabby breasts. These seem to be a necessity for contestants row, the starting point for any player attempting to win prizes. Beneath the deafening casino atmosphere and visual comedy, “The Price is Right’ is an hour of math. As the viewer follows the contestant through the process of winning that car, we compare numbers, figure which figure is greater and lesser, and wait on the edge of our seat for the results. Acquisition of the prize would definitely be an “A.” When the player spins the giant wheel, we mentally add the numbers to measure their success. The viewer is constantly multiplying dividing, adding and subtracting. But it is not just a math education offered here. The commercials for this program amount to biological science 101. I have had to explain the connection between high blood pressure and heart disease. How relaxation and heartburn are related. I have had to explain how friction and sweat can create a condition called jock itch. I have explained how, in other parts of the body, sweat can be controlled by something called antiperspirants. We had a small discussion of the role of laxatives, and how they can alleviate something called constipation. What is fiber and how does that help you go to the bathroom? Why does a grown-up need a diaper? It’s called incontinence. Breathing medications assist with a really long word – emphysema. How is that different from asthma? Why are breathing conditions such strange words? What is a migraine? Why don’t they just call it a headache? What is a posterior? Why do we need vitamins? And if none of that works, it’s a good thing you have life insurance. Commercial availability for this program is riddled with offers of cheap life insurance for people over 65, pitched by people I’m distressed to realize I recognize. I’ve heard foreign contestants on this program tell Bob Barker they learned English watching “The Price is Right.’ They’ve learned much more than the language. They now understand our culture. Consumerism. In America, it’s all about products. MARY ANN FITZMORRIS writes this column every Saturday for L’Observateur.