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“Brain Poison”

This afternoon I found myself ruminating over a comment on Kimli’s blog. The post wasn’t really about anything, but the comments section turned into a discussion around this man’s statement, which began as such:

I don’t have a TV in the house and never have. I don’t have a gaming console in the house and never will. We have no processed sugar of any description, no junk food, few plastics, no trash toys. Our vacations are bike tours and backpacking trips, rather than Disneyland and roadside food.

The first thing I did, actually, was email the full quote to my mom and thank her for not bringing me up that way. Gotta show appreciation, you know.

The commenter himself actually sounds like a nice person who just happens to have a parenting style which involves spitting on pop culture, as is his wont. I haven’t dealt with parents like that all that often, but what I have dealt with are some of the results of that sort of parenting. I have dated those results, even.

I am better than you because I don’t have a TV.

I’ve heard that one often. I’m sure some of you have, too. Maybe some of you actually believe this yourselves. Frankly, I’d find other ways to measure people than by the contents of their living rooms; from the limited sample size of my experience, not having a TV doesn’t make a person more interesting or cultured than anyone else. In fact, saying that statement out loud makes you a douche.

You have a cat? I’ve never had a pet. You should feel lucky, I said I’d never date a girl with a cat.

I’ve heard variations of that one a couple times. It was so relieved to hear this, having had no idea up until that point that I should feel ashamed for being a pet owner. Their gracious condescension in debasing themselves to be with me is so selfless. Please excuse me while I go off my cat in order to be worthy of them.

Sometimes when I’ve met the parents of people who have said such shit to me, they have bragged about how they brought up the child: with only classical music playing in the house, sent to private schools, given private lessons and memberships into exclusive clubs, etc. Plus anything having to do with the child being kept away from the average, the public, the mainstream. Their kid (well, adult at this point) is so amazing because of this upbringing that I’m supposed to be in awe of their superiority. Oh, the parents say, you’re doing well yourself? You’re in a successful career? That must be so great for you, given how you were brought up so ordinarily. Keep breaking down those walls, young lady! Don’t ever let your upper-middle-class childhood hold you back!

What worries me about people who think like this is that they’re narcissists. And/or they’ve brought up narcissists. Who believe they are great because of X and other people are not great because of Y and every person in the world is judged and categorized by these rules that were drilled into them in childhood. You as an individual doesn’t matter; it’s what you look like on the surface. You watch TV, so you must be a dull slob. You have a cat? I feel so sorry for you! Such people make friends based on these categorizations because they need actors to play the parts of their friends in the movie of their life. I’ve seen people only make friends with “losers” in order to make themselves look good in comparison. Or they want their wife or girlfriend to dress a certain way because in their heads it symbolizes and reinforces their ego.

When I was younger, I was enthralled by narcissists. Plagued with low self-esteem, I envied and aspired to be like the people who just seemed to exude confidence and be so absolutely sure of everything they did and every judgment they made. I actually felt bad for not living up to their standards (damn cat, why must be you be so cute?) and it was the biggest relief when I got over it and saw them for the jerks they are. So I worry when I hear parents boasting about how they’re bringing their child up to be extraordinary and away from the petty masses who would only bring them down with their “brain poison”. Here’s hoping the kids come to their senses.

(Hats off to The Last Psychiatrist for explaining this. Highly recommended reading.)


  1. Donna says:

    I don’t own a tv, and I’m pretty happy that way.

    But that’s not to say that I don’t watch TV. I don’t watch a lot, but not because “omg, I’m so much better than that” (Although I, too, dated a guy who was like that, and was young enough to buy into it — I got over it.) but because I mostly got out of the habit… but those shows I do watch, I download instead.

    So, I don’t have a tv. But not because I’m better than you, I just don’t have the space. :D

  2. jhawke says:

    great post. and not just because it seems to validate a personal belief I have been struggling with since becoming a parent.

    my husband would use it as proof that we should get a cat. I think it means we need a bigger TV.

  3. Jeff says:

    Hi, I’m the nice guy who’s also a narcissist.

    I don’t mind pop culture; I think Lady Gaga is a genius. I think Amanda Palmer is a female David Bowie (back when he was interesting). I don’t have much time for either, but I wish I did. My daughter was running around the other day singing “Coin Operated Boy”. Whatever.

    I do think that we’re in an age of unprecedented media saturation and I think it’s not good for kids in particular, because they are the least able to resist and the most directly targeted because of that. In the same way that the sun I was raised under is not the same one that my daughter is exposed to, the rest of the world has changed too and we need to change with it.

    I’ve got no beef with other parents who want to raise their kids differently; if you just accept that everyone, including all the previous generations, are just doing the best they can according to the information they’ve got, then it’s all OK.

    The comment that you put at the top of your page was a reply to someone who said that I wanted society to raise my kid rather than doing it myself. The point I was making is that I am, in fact, doing it myself, and apparently you have an issue with that. Ok; want to raise my kid for me?

  4. I am not too proud to say I grew up with (and loved) shows like Dukes of Hazzard, GI Joe, and the A-Team and playing Sierra Adventures. Pop culture is a wonderful thing that I’d hate to deny anyone.

    To deny kids access to pop culture is, in my opinion, akin to denying them vaccinations. Do the backpacking trips and cook them healthy meals, of course, but also let them watch Pixar movies and play Angry Birds. Media saturation isn’t good, obviously. But neither is media deprivation. There needs to be a happy medium between the two.

    Childhood is (among many things) about learning to socialize well with others. Their peers are immersed in these references, and use them to relate to the world. How can your children socialize with others if they don’t share common reference points?

  5. Gillian says:

    @jhawke What personal belief? Maybe I’ll get an idea if I go through your more recent blog postings?

    @Darren I’m totally with you on that.

    @Jeff I suppose I wasn’t clear, but I didn’t mean to specifically call you a narcissist, but more that people who say things like your comments on Kimli’s blog often have narcissistic traits (especially if it comes across as bragging, though that’s easier to detect in real life than in text). Your comments sparked memories and I used it as the basis of a blog post, and that’s really it. If it weren’t for the trackback link on Kimli’s blog you wouldn’t even have known I’d written this! :)

  6. Garth says:

    I don’t own a TV either*, but I do read The Onion:,429/

    *actually I do

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