TV in the Marianas

A typical home on Saipan, circa 1974.

THERE was a time when TV was considered the bane of modern civilization. Intelligent people called it the idiot box. For the sake of humanity, some concerned parents — and educators — wanted all of us to observe “No TV Day”…preferably every day.

About a year ago, the Wall Street Journal’s interior design columnist discovered a startling fact: no one among her three daughters wanted a TV. “What is wrong with these people?” the columnist wrote. “Who doesn’t want a perfectly good flat-screen TV set? Millennials. It turns out that my three daughters’ preference for watching TV on a mobile phone or laptop screen is typical of their generation. In fact, only 16 percent of U.S. adults ages 18 to 29 say it would be ‘very hard’ to give up watching TV on an actual TV set, according to a Pew Research Center survey….”

As for zoomers (14-24 years old), watching TV at home is not even among their top four entertainment activities,  according to Deloitte’s 2021 Digital Media Trends survey.

Almost half-a-century ago, however, TV was still a big deal, even in the NMI, then known as the Marianas District of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. The TT was administered by the U.S., and in 1974, the cover story of the Micronesian Reporter — a quarterly journal published by the TT government — was about “Television in the Marianas.”

At the time, broadcast TV had been in operation on Saipan “for more than four years, offering entertainment and some education programs for roughly six or seven hours each afternoon and evening on a single channel.”

“Wherever there is a television signal,” the Reporter stated, “people will go to great lengths to receive it. The Marianas are no different as you can easily see by the tall antennas and ‘snowy’ pictures people are willing to endure….”

The writer, a former Peace Corps volunteer, said he had studied “the role of TV on Saipan and Tinian,” but he could not “prove definitely that TV caused certain attitudes and behavior” although “associations can be shown.”

In the Marianas in 1974, “the average person…spends about 20 hours a week in front of the TV set…. It is safe to say that if the number of hours of broadcasting were increased on Saipan, people would spend more time watching, especially on weekends.”

The writer — whose name is not Captain Obvious —  then went on to share with his readers what he believed were some of the effects of TV on the local people’s attitudes. “Among teenagers, increased television viewing is associated with being more certain about life in the future, being less concerned with preserving ‘our present way of life’ in the face of economic development, and being less satisfied with housing conditions in the Marianas.”

As for parents, they were worried about the violence depicted in some TV shows. “About 25% of the parents surveyed reported that their young children learned ways of fighting from TV. Much of this is the very obvious ‘Kung Fu’ [starring David Carradine] imitation….” And yet, “in terms of attitudes in the Marianas, no statistically significant relationships between level of TV viewing and willingness to use violence have been found in elementary school and junior high aged students.”

The author said if there was going to be television in the Marianas, “then adequate provision must be made for well-planned local programming; otherwise you will see…a decrease, for example, in political knowledge among people who shift their attention from radio to TV.”  In those days, news programs were “not very popular, but the most popular program in the Marianas is the local news.”

Meanwhile, at TT government headquarters on Capital Hill, the Reporter said one of the main concerns regarding the power-rotation schedules that had to be imposed to save diesel fuel at the generating plant was that TV viewers on Saipan would be able to see the first 15 minutes only of “Hawaii Five-O.”

Today, thanks to the generation that grew up staring at the TV all the time, anyone with a smartphone can watch “Kung Fu” and “Hawaii Five-O” — the original shows or their re-booted versions — anytime as long as there’s internet connection.

And so today, concerned parents — and educators — want us to observe…“No Screen Day.”

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Editor

Zaldy Dandan is the recipient of the Best Editorial Writer Award of the Society of Professional Journalists, and the CNMI Humanities Award for Outstanding Contributions to Journalism. His three books are available on amazon.com

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