The man from Wharf Cable was a consummate salesman. In 10 minutes, the smooth talking youngster had persuaded the Spice Trader to sign up for a Cable TV contract and pay for a year's worth of films on the pay-TV channels. This may not seem particularly remarkable, but anyone who knows this writer will realise the man's peerless sales skills. The Spice Trader loathes television. He knows it to be an evil corporate weapon designed to subliminally distort people's brains. He tours schools in Hong Kong, giving lectures against television. He refuses to let his children watch anything at all. Subsequently, the Wharf Cable people efficiently installed the various boxes into the living room, collected their cheque, and went off to the next building. The first night, the black box just stood idle, since the family was conditioned to do other typical Hong Kong family things in the evenings, such as converse with each other, read books, make pirate software, burn copies of the Basic Law and so on. The second night, my wife said: 'We've got TV now. Shall we watch something?' But we were both reading books much too good to put down. The second week, we decided we would watch a film on the machine. But there was nothing remotely appetising in the programme guide. Weeks passed, and we still hadn't got around to switching it on. At about this time, I was intrigued to discover (through reading) that there were other people as suspicious about the corporatisation of television as I was. A Canadian group called the Media Foundation had produced three chilling video ads highlighting the dangers of the medium. 1. A young man stares at a television screen. He is unmoving, transfixed. Voiceover: 'The living room is the factory. The product being manufactured is you.' 2. In another anti-TV ad, soft-focus black and white close-ups of naked, writhing female flesh fill the screen. 'Obsession. Fascination. Fetish,' says the voiceover. It looks like an ad for fashion or cosmetics. Then a question is asked: 'Why are nine out of 10 women dissatisfied with their bodies?' The camera pulls back and you see the woman is a bulimia victim vomiting into a toilet. 3. In the third, a little girl sits alone with a toy rabbit watching one of the most common scenes on television: Two men smashing each other up. Voiceover: 'Whose child is she? Yours or the networks?' The third month, the Spice Trader began to get antsy. 'We're paying all this money for this equipment, I suppose we really ought to watch something,' I said. But again, we were all into really good books. The fourth month, I read a report which said that sociologists were worried, because toy-makers were framing children's television programmes with advertisements selling related merchandise, thus illegally turning entire half-hour slots into solid commercials for their products. 'Advertising, especially on television, constantly creates new wants rather than serving real needs,' said Kalle Lasn, an anti-media campaigner in Vancouver. The fifth month, I was watching some Hong Kong three-year-olds playing in a field. They were running around, pretending to shoot each other with imaginary guns. My child tried to join in but was baffled, not understanding what a gun was. You never see weapons in children's books. You see them every night on television (I'm told). In Britain, a pressure group called Enough decided that television advertising had ushered in an age of mindless consumerism. They instigated a 'No Shopping Day', asking people to keep their purses closed for a single day a year. Similar events were staged in America, Canada, Australia, Sweden and Holland - but not Hong Kong. One evening during the sixth month, I pressed the 'on' switches on the television. A grinning image of Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai filled the screen. I immediately snapped it off. And who would blame me? A Hong Kong friend tells me that her two-year-old daughter wakes up in the middle of the night and calls out, not 'Mama,' but 'TV'. And that brings us up to the present day. The flat is full of well-thumbed books. The black box sits rotting in the corner, its only companion being the domestic helper who occasionally dusts it. And we have received a postcard from Wharf Cable. Our paid-in-advance year's worth of pay-movies is about to expire. We'd spent a lot of money and hadn't got around to watching a single thing. This is the first time I've wasted a fortune and felt relieved.