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POV Philippines by Jon Joaquin

Leaving the boob tube

by Jon Joaquin

My family and I stopped watching free television a few years ago for various reasons. It began when cable TV arrived in Davao City in the mid-1990s and we could finally watch shows from other countries that honestly made local ones look amateurish in comparison. We were also thinking about the exposure of our then-young son to the non-stop assault from TV channels whose shows, especially the noontime ones, were deteriorating into loud and sometimes even lewd affairs.

It was actually strange for a person like me to stop watching TV. I grew up watching the tube, but I dare say it was a far different situation in my younger years with shows like Student Canteen that had educational elements like the “word for the day” and “thought for the day” as well as quiz contests like IQ7. Our heroes back then were the champions of these intellectual games, not the garish and noisy hosts of today.

I know it was called the “boob tube” because it caused people to watch mindlessly, but I think I handled the TV fairly well. In fact I practically learned English from television. The school I went to did not value language so much as it did math and science, so I was left to myself to learn not just from books but also from Ernie, Bert, Kermit the Frog, Big Bird, and the rest of the muppets (and humans) of Sesame Street. There were a lot of informative shows and documentaries back then, most of them black and white reruns from the 60s, and because they were used as airtime fillers I would see them a few times a week and memorized the lines of the narrators.

And then there was Cosmos, the series hosted by the astrophysicist Carl Sagan who made science exciting and understandable for even a young person like me. From him I learned the concept of the googol (1 followed by 100 zeroes) and the googol plex (10 raised to the power of googol) — and that as impossibly large that number is, it is as far away from eternity as the number one. From him I also learned that while we cannot even conceive of a fourth dimension, we know what its shadow looks like: the three dimensions in which we exist. He illustrated this by simply holding a cube against a light and showing its two-dimensional shadow on a table. In the same way, he said, the three dimensions are a shadow of what four dimensions are.

Such days of mind-bending TV shows are long gone, replaced by the perya-like noontime shows, telenovelas that never seem to end, and primetime dramas with themes that are not fit for children who are still awake at that time. My family unplugged the antenna and switched to cable, but even that soon became irritatingly inane. These days we get our entertainment and information online, and we get to control what we see – a particularly high value for us as we still have one preteen in our family.

I write this in the context of the franchise renewal problem of giant network ABS-CBN. I have no comment on the legal and political aspects of this issue, but I do think ABS-CBN can take this as debacle and turn it into an opportunity to leave the airwaves and fully occupy the digital space once and for all. Studies have shown that while most Filipinos do get their entertainment and information from free TV like ABS-CBN and GMA Network, digital is catching up and I believe will eventually take over. In other words, it’s a matter of time before Filipinos stop looking up at TV and start looking down at their phones.

It’s already happening to newspapers, which are already suffering a decline in readership because most of the content is available online. It’s nothing political; it’s simply progress, and smart newspapers owners are moving to the online platform where their materials can spread farther and wider than with traditional print. It’s not without its pitfalls – up to now few newspapers have succeeded in making money out of their websites and social media accounts. But sooner or later that sweep spot will be found, and we will all be the better for it.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the original author, and do not necessarily represent those of the Pilipino Express publishers.

Jon Joaquin is the Editor-In- Chief of the Davao City-based Mindanao Daily Mirror. E-mail Jon at

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