BY RACHEL LAVICTOIRE / AJT //
According to Nielsen, a company devoted to consumer research, the average American last month watched 144 hours and 54 minutes of television, spent 28 hours and 29 minutes surfing the internet, and played on a gaming console for 6 hours and 26 minutes.
That’s a total of 179 hours and 49 minutes, or 25 percent of the month. If you factor in eight hours of sleep per night, these numbers suggest that average Americans spends about 37 percent of their waking hours watching television on playing on their computers or gaming consoles.
And how much of this media-filled time is filled with junk? How many of the games are rated “T for Teen” or “M for Mature” and reward players for the number of “kills” they manage in a game? How many seconds pass between TV scenes filled with seduction and scandal?
Our daily lives are unfortunately filled with nonsense. I was hit with this reality while babysitting last year.
After having dessert, the kids wanted to watch some TV. Fine, I thought. We’d spent the night flying paper airplanes, having drawing contests, and building Lego cars – surely an hour of being couch potatoes wouldn’t hurt.
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The boys flipped through their Comcast channels, skipping over “Spongebob Squarepants” and “Fairly OddParents” before settling on what they told me was one of their favorite shows, “Victorious.” It was your average Nickelodeon program: a group of teens (including a boy and girl who really like each other, but won’t admit it) doing funny things in school.
I watched with the boys, eager to get updated on a favorite childhood channel’s current lineup. I took a minute to get acclimated with the characters: The show was about Tori, a 16-year-old girl, and all of her friends. They attend a performing arts school in Hollywood and, rather than algebra and chemistry, these kids were taking classes like dance and songwriting.
In the episode we were watching, the group was working to prove that their friend’s song was worth an “A” grade instead of the “B” it had received.
At first, the show seemed to be filled with a hodgepodge of traditional themes offered up by Nick for years: “friends help friends,” “you can do anything as long as you set your mind to it” and “always try your best.” But I was stunned by the last scene of this particular episode.
Four girls stood atop a staircase in matching robes and called for the attention of the whole student body. A band emerged out of nowhere and began to play. Then, after the first few notes, the girls stripped to reveal mismatched outfits: short skirts, short dresses, long socks, and low-cut shirts.
They sang, danced and harmlessly charmed their classmates as they strutted through the halls. Obviously, the teacher heard it, saw the excitement, and changed the song’s grade to an A.
But why make the change? Did it have anything to do with the song?
If I was an 8-year-old boy watching the show, it would seem to me that several cute girls wore clothes that made them look even cuter and then excited their classmates, so the teacher changed the grade.
I realize I’m being critical, but I’m simply trying to make a point: The creation of a strong moral life starts early. In recent years, it seems it’s all being pushed off-track by bizarre messages focusing on sensuality and the importance of being popular under the guise of living a “normal” teen life.
There are so many novels, so many classic works that focus on the dramatic fall from innocence experienced by every human being. But I’m not sure we experience that anymore; we can’t fall from a height to which we never climbed.
On the subject of innocence, this week’s Torah portion, Tazria-Metzora, outlines a series of laws pertaining to purity. First, we read about a woman giving birth. It says:
“If a woman conceives and gives birth to a male, she shall be unclean for seven days…and on the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. And for thirty-three days, she shall remain in the blood of purity (Leviticus 12:2-4).”
The passage continues to say that when those 33 days are over, the woman is required to give an offering to G-d in order to be freed from the source of her blood and considered pure. The succeeding laws outline purification after sickness, menstruation and ejaculation.
Specifically on the purification of a woman after her menstrual cycle, the Torah instructs:
“She shall remain in her state of menstrual separation for seven days…and on the eighth day, she shall take for herself two turtle doves or two young doves, and bring them to the kohen…and you shall separate the children of Israel from their uncleanness, so that they will not die on account of their uncleanness (Lev 15:19-31).”
Such a law, at least in my opinion, is absurd. It seems unnatural to require a woman to purify herself due to a biological process. Related oddities of halacha – although quite different in practice – include laws regarding food, funeral services, and marriage.
Now, traditionally, the laws are meant to bring us closer to the spiritual state of taharah, or purity; essentially, closer to G-d.
But I’m a Reform Jew – I don’t bathe in a mikvah, nor do I pass on a good lobster. And I’m also a 21st-century American teenager, hooked on crime shows and online shopping. So how is it that I may ever reach this eventual state of taharah?
The answer, as far as I’m concerned, is in following the tradition, even if it’s not done through precise law.
To explain: Maybe I don’t keep kosher, but I clear my head to say thanks to G-d before cracking the shellfish in my hands. And maybe I don’t partake in spiritual baths, but I instead recognize my morning face-wash as the refreshment I need in order to greet the beautiful day that G-d has given me.
The bottom line? At least for me, it seems I can reach purity through meaning, rather than law.
Rachel LaVictoire (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a graduate of the Davis Academy and Westminster High School, recipient of the prestigious Nemerov Writing and Thomas H. Elliott Merit scholarships at Washington University of St. Louis and an active member of Temple Emanu-El and the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. She was recently named to the board of St. Louis Hillel.