That Box in the Corner: Are You Still Watching?

Well, there it stands gathering dust in the corner. Our television set, I mean. It’s not one of those svelte (or puny) supermodels, mind you, but the burly variety that reminds you of all the weight you put on sitting in front of it. An elephant in the room, you might say, taking up space instead of demanding—let alone warranting—much of my time. During the last few weeks, while our phone line was down and I had no access to the internet, I came to rely on it again, for company and up-to-date news; but it only confirmed what I already knew: television as I grew up with and was raised by it (posing, as I am here in front of my old black-and-white set) is dead.

Sure, Wednesday is Desperate Housewives day here in the United Kingdom (the only television serial I follow regularly and with pleasure); but I rarely sit through an episode while it actually airs. Since it is canned entertainment anyway, there is no need to be subjected to the commercials that once sustained broadcasting but now seem largely responsible for the demise of the medium. These days, you might as well wait and pay handsomely for the DVD box set, consumer reasoning that Channel Four now attempts to counter by selling online the expensive programs they purchased overseas.

Live (or almost live) entertainment still attracts millions of viewers. Shows like American Idol (which is shown here on Fridays, in an edited, spin-throughable omnibus version hosted by the pretty if pretty superfluous Cat Deeley) are undoubtedly popular with advertisers since their find-out-after-the-break cliffhanger design very nearly succeeds in gluing you to the tube. To be given a chance to watch even the inconsequential happen as it unfolds is a shrewd exploitation of our longing for immediacy, for being in the (k)now. To some, like me, a yearning for community might be an even greater pull; but I suspect that the on-demand culture and its manufacturing of exclusivity has done much to kill the democratic urge of communal watching.

While cut off from the web, I even resorted to watching Fox news—the ambassadorial embarrassment responsible for giving Europe wrong ideas about an imperialist, see-if-I-care America—just to get that old feeling of being right there (however much to the right there) with the rest of the Western world or some sizeable portion thereof. It is the sense of belonging I just don’t experience fishing for clips on YouTube. As much as I, in the connective failure that is broadcastellan, go on about the wonders of old-time radio (the kind of live entertainment that was compromised by the advent of tape-recording), I do miss the old tube . . .

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