Randy Greenwald

Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

Mike Teevee

The simplest explanation for the lost passion for reading is to blame the television. My favorite presentation of this charge comes from Willie Wonka’s Oompa Loompas as they sing regarding the demise of poor Mike Teevee. This is especially fun to read to children. But there are plenty of us adults who might need to pay attention to it as well.

Enjoy!

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. Rat 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.


(With gratitude to Roald Dahl!)

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4 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    I love the poem, especially as one who grew up in a home with no tv and a family of readers. The readers continue in the younger generations.I’m still mulling over whether it’s “nature or nurture”; I think I am ready to conclude it’s a combination of the two. One thing is certain: if it’s nature (a “reading gene”), then your reading youngster did not inherit it from you and Barb. That furthers my thought that nurture has a huge influence.–ae

  2. Geoffsnook

    Randy,Its funny, actually scary, at how much Connar, our 3 month old, stares at the TV screen every chance he gets. He actually looked around me one time so that he could see the TV screen. That was our sign that we can’t have the TV on if he has it in his line of sight. So when I’m watching Ray’s games I have to shield his body or pause them, or turn them off all together.Thanks for the challenge to read. I need to hear it. It will be harder since football season is coming up!I like reading, but it is also a discipline for me.Finally, please never make reference ever again to Oompa Loompas. I hate those things. I really do. Those things freak me out. I hate Willy Wonka and that movie. It’s a horror film if you ask me. Rack me, I’m out. War the Rays taking the pennant in 08.

  3. Randy Greenwald

    Nurture no doubt has an influence. I think that’s been proven. And what are you saying, ae, about my children not inheriting our genes? :-)And, Geoff, I apologize for the O-L reference. I hope the trauma does not disable you completely. I post the encouragement to read, knowing how weak I am myself. But, for my nighttime reading, just finished a long project and picked up, finally, Moneyball, finally. Fascinating.The wife and I tried for years to NOT own, and then not to BUY a television. But I grew up with TV on all the time. I think that is why I’ve grown to have such a love/hate relationship with the thing. I’d rather read a book. However, one can’t watch the Rays play ball in a book!

  4. TulipGirl

    We’re with you on the love/hate relationship. I grew up without TV, and miss a lot of pop culture references. Hubby didn’t have a TV in his late teen/early 20s. In general, we haven’t been fond of the TV, and haven’t had cable since. . . well. . . since it came with our flat in Ukraine.Buuuut. . . we’ve gotten into the habit of watching dvds/videos/hulu. . . movies or tv shows. And we’ve had the glowing blue-eyed monster babysit the kids from time to time. Can’t escape it completely. (Don’t want to.)Btw, I posted that Oompa Loompa song a few years ago. I read it aloud to the boys on the first day of school that year, announced a moratorium on tv watching, and we dove into school and reading and adventures together.

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