Pop Goes The Culture

by Chris Noonan Sturm

We recently heard a statement from our 9-year-old son that we never imagined we would hear. He said: "I don't want us to buy a TV."

It was downright un-American. We worried that he would lose his U.S. passport, or wouldn't be admitted to Disneyworld, or would flunk his Scholastic Aptitude Tests.

"Why don't you want a TV?" we asked cautiously, afraid to break the spell we believed he was under. (Maybe alchemy and the Golem do exist -- we had visited the Jewish Quarter recently...hmmmm.)

"I like to listen to the radio," he answered.

Granted, Prague does have some great radio stations -- but great enough to replace TV? What red-blooded American child would ever NOT want a TV?

Our household does offer other childhood diversions: mountains of Legos, shelves of books, stacks of board games and a computer with some shoot-'em-up games.

Unlike my mother, who wanted to throw the "boob tube" throught the window when I was growing up, my husband and I are not TV haters. They lurk in a storage facility at home, swaddled and awaiting our return. We had one in the States -- a big, fat, color console with a remote control and a VCR we used so much it was in the repair shop every other month. We were such good TV watchers that we served as a Nielsen ratings family.

And we're not culture snobs who look down our noses at pop culture. We'll run out to a Spielberg flick, wallow in McDonalds' fast food and watch every second of the Academy Awards. My husband's favorite female movie star is Pia Zadora. You can't get much tackier than that.

As a family, we've never been without TV. We just haven't gotten around to buying one here yet. Actually, it's been a welcome respite from the usual bombardment of commercials, talk shows, non-stop news, etc. I've read a couple of books and finished several conversations with my husband -- rarities since becoming parents.

But we are wondering when the kids will go into pop-culture withdrawal. They don't gobble Happy Meals once a week, watch videos and movies, go to indoor playgrounds, tour the canyonlike aisles of Toys R Us, visit amusement parks. They haven't seen Nickelodeon, Bill Nye the Science Guy, the Discovery Channel, Home Improvement....

They don't seem to miss any of that yet, but how long can Legos last? Or a monthly subscription to Highlights magazine? When will they become bored with the Charles Bridge scene? Will they tire of the cobblestone streets, the Barque architecture, the Castle?

It's occurred to us that they'll have a pop-culture "gap" during the years we're living here. Our kids may not understand any of their American peers' references if they have to do with TV shows or commercials that were popular during our life in Prague.

Does that matter? Not enough to make us pack up and go home -- or to rush out and buy a TV just yet. Pop culture may be the United States' most powerful export, but there's more to life than cable TV.

Just don't take away my Internet connection....

(Originally appeared in the Prague Post English-language weekly.)

(c) 1994-2001 David and Chris Sturm
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