My Parents Were Brutal Dictators Who Controlled TV Time Like the Video Censors in Today's China

(with the possible exception of the Cold War)

My unelected parents dictated the rules of my youthful world like China’s Communists, if I had known anything about those people in that faraway place who were fighting a revolution there at the very same time in the 1940s.

We had clear one-party rule in our house — two members of the National League of Parental Unity (NLPU) and me, a one-person proletariat. Its self-appointed ruling presidium of two actually and ruthlessly restricted and even censored my TV screen time with firm, non-negotiable limits.

Like China’s Communist Party just did for all video-game players among the younger folks in that country’s 1.4 billion population.

The Wall Street Journal often has quite informative foreign stories that other outlets don’t bother with because they’re too interesting and they also require reporting, The Journal story said China’s National Press and Publication Administration issued strict new regulations Monday on video-gaming for the hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens younger than 18.

It seems many of them have become addicted to binge-playing if you can imagine such a thing, people spending hours after hours in front of a screen watching and playing the same games over and over. Sounds like binge-watching on streaming services. But such an affliction could never happen on this side of the Pacific.

The new Chinese rules, which take effect Wednesday, absolutely forbid all video-gaming Mondays through Thursdays. On Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays gaming is permitted – for one lousy hour. C’mon, man!

Chinese leaders have this crazy idea that video addiction among youths contributes to a whole host of social ills, including poor schoolwork and lax family obligations, which are important in Asia, regardless of government regime.

My parents came from Canada, not China, but they had the very same suspicions. It seems my evening chores like feeding, watering, and caring for the horse, dog, and cats, plus the weed-pulling, barn-sweeping, and poop-spreading tended to be neglected when the TV was available for afternoon viewing.

When full-scale broadcasting first arrived in the late 1940s, we did not have a television in our house. Joey Andrews’ family did have one behind us, which I may have watched from time to time if my parents didn’t know.

Before TV, I had appointment radio listening, especially “Sgt. Preston of the Yukon,” which was really produced in Detroit, which I thankfully did not know at the time.

Finally, when we first got a TV, it was a used 12-inch Dumont black-and-white. The TV remote was me, being told which of the two channels to turn to. Many programs were only 15 minutes long like the “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” puppet show or the “Camel News Caravan” with John Cameron Swayze. He went on to host the Timex watch ads — “Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”

Broadcast days were limited early on. Of course, they began and ended with the National Anthem and a flag waving in the wind. From sign-off to sign-on, stations showed a test pattern, which usually had a silent digital countdown clock until programs restarted.

Staring at that mind-numbing countdown clock taught me how confoundingly long one minute really is. My transfixion with a TV screen doing nothing may have been what caused my parents to set some TV-viewing rules for their only son.

I mentioned my parents were not Chinese nor Communist, but they were, in fact, the totalitarian government of my childhood. That was in the days before parents tried to be friends with their offspring, loving, yes, but always authority figures setting rules and limits as role models.

According to my father, the family’s Supreme Leader, no weekday TV was allowed before 5:30 p.m. kitchen-clock time. Outside playing strongly suggested.

That 5:30 time just happened to be when “The Howdy Doody Show” came on with – Oh, look! — a plate of potato chips from Mom. (Sidenote: Years later I was unprofessionally excited to actually interview show host Buffalo Bob. I told Bob I had watched him almost every day of my childhood. He said, “I know.”)

Limited Saturday morning cartoon-watching was also permitted with one bowl of Rice Krispies. But there better be no milk spilled on the carpet. I actually made my professional television debut one Saturday morning as an official studio audience Buckaroo on Cleveland’s “Buckskin Billy Show.” The guest magician picked me from all the other kids to help with a trick. (My reviews were good, quite frankly.)

China’s new regulations do not cover Rice Krispies, to my knowledge. But they do reflect a mounting official concern there with the mind-numbing effects of prolonged video-gaming promoted by companies more interested in profits, if you can believe such a thing, than training young, obedient Communist minds.

China’s paramount leader, Xi Jinping, himself has voiced such concerns recently. As one result, some rebellious online Chinese celebrities, who’ve boasted of such things as sexual adventures, have suddenly disappeared from social media, much like the authoritarian Twitter and Facebook erased Donald Trump for unapproved statements.

The Chinese clampdown began two years ago when the government banned overnight game-playing for minors and set a 90-minute playing limit, per visit.

The goal, according to state media, is “to effectively protect the physical and mental health of minors.” The People’s Daily pointed out there is no room for compromise or negotiation on the new measures, which show “the government can be ‘ruthless.’”

Enforcement will not be left to parents. A partial description of enforcement said all online games will be required to connect to an anti-addiction system run by a government department. All users will be required to register with real names and government-issued ID cards.

Separately, the world’s largest video-game maker, Tencent Holdings, has developed software to automatically shut down game players after a set time period and a program using facial identification to verify that players are the actual registered users.

Good news for Xi Mingxe. These new regulations will not affect the only child of Xi Jinping. She’ll be able to video-game as much as she wants, if she even plays at all. A Harvard grad in psychology, Xi Mingxe recently turned 29.