As a student of literature at the University of Utah, I was introduced to James Joyce and the concept of epiphany as he defined it. For him, epiphany was a moment of realization often manifest in an ordinary circumstance. I studied his short stories searching for that pivotal moment of clarity, and I used metaphor to help me understand what Joyce intended. Epiphany is a strobe flash in a dark room. Epiphany is a yellow headlight in the fog.
It has been many years since I first read Joyce, and it has been my experience that epiphanies are rare or rarely recognized. I was surprised to find one in The Salt Lake Tribune recently.
It was in a story about the people who camped out in subfreezing temperatures in order to purchase an Xbox 360, Microsoft’s latest video game. Bert Moore was reportedly one of many in line.
“You won’t believe what I’ll do for my kids and grandkids,” she said. “All of the grandkids are boys. Football and video games, that’s all there is.?
Parse that: a doting grandmother who wants the best for the kids, who’s selfless enough to endure an overnight wait for a must-have toy. The beneficiaries are evidently dominated by a television screen, a fact grandma accepts without complaint. The flash of insight into the Moore clan is interesting enough, but what is compelling is that the epiphany illuminates a dark corner of our culture.
I don’t mean to be hard on Grandma Moore. She probably is unaware of the correlation between television watching and obesity, hyperactivity and attention-deficit disorders in children. On the other hand, I can’t believe that she has sat in the same room with the young gamers without a sense of unease brought on by their body language.
I can’t vouch for the validity of the studies of television and children, but I can say that I have dealt with a lot of stunted attention spans. For three years, I taught writing to sixth graders. For 50 long minutes each day, my students were expected to sit quietly and write. It was impossible for many to do so. They fidgeted, walked to the wastebasket, sharpened pencils, emptied backpacks and daydreamed. The output was sometimes less than a word per minute. There weren’t many who could focus on writing for half an hour.
When it came to creative-writing assignments, most of the boys borrowed from shoot-’em-up video games. Their imaginations seemed impoverished. The compare-and-contrast essay was inevitably about Xbox and PlayStation.
I came to believe that my students’ performance was adversely affected by too many hours spent in front of a television. I expect that Moore would challenge that judgment as being unscientific, a point I concede. But had Moore visited my class in any September and examined the first batch of papers, she would have easily identified the work of the handful of kids with facility in language. Were she then to talk with those particular kids, she would find they have one thing in common'they read books instead of watching TV.
My advice to grandmothers who want to do right by the kids is as simple as epiphany was for Joyce: Turn off the television set and spend time at the library.
John Rasmuson gave up video games about the time that Space Invaders replaced Pong.