13th Sep 2010

Mike Teavee

And who, you may ask, is Mike Teavee? To be honest, and despite having watched the original film version numerous times – usually over xmas pudding and brandy – this character from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had passed me by. But ‘the boy who does nothing but watch television’ has finally come to my attention while reading Dahl’s book… to my sons, I hasten to add. And a cultural historical archetype – kid-gone-crazy-over-tv – he is too! Teavee is precisely the sort of amoral, screen-obsessed, square-eyed, gunslinging juvenile delinquent held up for objection by moral crusaders of the fifties and sixties like Mary Whitehouse, Fredric Wertham and many others. Even the Oompa-Loompas (Dahl’s politically incorrect, economic-migrant factory workers) join in the chorus of disapproval:

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…

The more recent film version of Charlie had to adapt Teavee to modern times – he’s now addicted to the internet and online gaming more so than small-screen cowboys and indians – but the message was still the same: media make kids (especially boys) into monsters. The younger the child, the more potent the influence. And the same debate rages on today, not least over fears about ASBO culture, child pornography, eating disorders, ADHD, health scares about eye-straining and even physical disability (e.g. RSI). Which brings me nicely to the theme of behaviourism and media effects – the first topic I will be covering with my Level 2 Media Theory students in the next couple of weeks.

I grew up on Dahl, Blyton, Tolkien, Lewis’s Narnia, Superman, Batman, Star Wars, Doctor Who, etc. The Westerns were mostly out of fashion by the time I was fiddling with my first remote control device (and no, it wasn’t attached to the TV by a cable – I’m not that old!!!), so perhaps even Mike Teavee was before my time. And I don’t think I was ever like him – but then again, maybe I should have paid more attention to him, and the film, and less to the brandy!

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